Monday, January 31, 2011

Another voice against the unnecessary costs of high-speed rail

Last week I wrote a post wondering why some politicians, like our President, have an obsession with high-speed rail.

As my blog feeds to my Facebook page, we had a good discussion there about the concept, the funding and the alternatives.

Today, I came across Wendell Cox, writing in National Review, agreeing with me that high-speed rail is a budget-buster. He writes:

If the nation is going to reduce its out-of-control spending, the first step is to stop spending money on things we do not need. Despite President Obama’s call in his State of the Union speech for linking 80 percent of the nation by high-speed rail, it is hard to imagine a more unnecessary program.

For example, people who travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco — along the route planned for one of the nation’s first high-speed-rail projects — already have choices. They can fly, drive, take the bus, or travel by train. True, some would prefer to tax their fellow citizens so that they can have another choice, high-speed rail. But indulging this desire would be as legitimate as funding government grocery stores for people who prefer not to shop at their local grocery chains.

Cox provides details on cost overruns (as common as 80% and, in some countries, more than 200%), and environmental claims. I hope you'll take the time to read the entire article.

Pigford fraud and the growing scandal

One of the speakers at Americans for Prosperity's RightOnLine conference in San Diego this weekend was Andrew Breitbart, who gave us an update on the Pigford lawsuit/settlement scandal during lunch.

I took a ton of notes, but knew my friend Ed Morrissey, from was going to do a taped interview with Breitbart and thought you'd be better off hearing the story from Breitbart himself.

In case you've never heard of Pigford, it was a class-action lawsuit filed by black farmers who were discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As Breitbart explained, "Roughly 157 farmers got screwed by the USDA. They were all black. The real tragedy is the USDA's effort to get farmers into financial distress so that they lose their land and large farm conglomerates can buy them up."

The case is Pigford vs. Vilsack (Vilsack is the Secretary of the department, though it was originally Pigford vs. Glickman, then the Secretary), and Pigford I, as it's now called, was a settlement on April 14, 1999, for that case for discriminatory actions by the USDA from 1981-85. Pigford II was an extension of the time frame for the lawsuit and was signed by President Barack Obama (without fanfare and media attention as Breitbart points out) on Dec. 8, 2010.

There were about 18,000 black farmers originally impacted by the discrimination, but at the time of settlement, the government estimated the number of black farmers eligible for the $50,000 payout at 22,000.

Breitbart claims there is about 95% fraud in the settlement because, according to what Congress has passed, you didn't have to actually be a farmer and lose your land, you just had to say you 'attempted to farm' during the authorized time frame.

How did all this come to Breitbart's attention and why has he focused the last seven months on investigating it? Shirley Sherrod is to blame for that.

You may remember the big to-do when Breitbart posted a video of Sherrod telling about her own racism against white farmers. She was fired (though they called it a resignation) from her job as Georgia Director of Rural Development for the USDA (without benefit of due process Breitbart explained) and vilified for her remarks. Later, Breitbart was vilified for not putting Sherrod's entire speech on his website and there was an overwhelming demand for her to be reinstated. President Obama ended up apologizing to her and offered her an internal position within the USDA, which she declined to accept.

As part of the news coverage of the incident, many news stations and people on the left side of the political spectrum started linking this incident to the Pigford settlement that was under Congressional consideration. As Breitbart explained, he started getting emails telling him this was all about Pigford and people were saying that the White House was fearful that it might result in the Pigford settlement funding being pulled from the congressional bill. "I was then blamed for the loss of the funding for a lawsuit I didn't even know existed," he said. "They thought I was setting a trap for everyone because Sherrod and her husband and their communal farm were scheduled to get millions in the settlement."

But it made him curious as to why Sherrod needed to go so quickly, so he started looking into the matter, talking with the original parties to the suit and discovered a massive fraud that, he said, "makes Watergate look tame." And it goes all the way up to the White House as, Breitbart pointed out, President Obama was the sole sponsor of the settlement when he was in Congress.

Now, Breitbart has hired a filmmaker to do a documentary tracking down truth. "I told him, 'please take your documentary cameras and go prove we wrong.'" Breitbart said he wants to know why an effort to sign up people who claim they 'attempted' to farm is still going on today and is, as he believes, this really just "reparations gone pro." In talking about the original claimants, he said:

"The government systematically tried to get them off their land and it's a tragedy of epic proportions. They've gone, in large numbers, to tell anyone who will listen that Pickford screwed them over. Neighbors are getting rich and these farmers still don't have their land back.

I told those black farmers that I'm not going to stop until they receive their justice. They're still waiting for their justice."

TheWashington Examiner adds more details - and questions - to the issue:

The Pigford matter goes back a long way, and to say the least has a checkered history, as this May 27, 2010 item at Agri-Pulse demonstrates (bolds are mine):

As part of a April 14, 1999 class action case settlement, commonly known as the Pigford case, U.S. taxpayers have already provided over $1 billion in cash, non-credit awards and debt relief to almost 16,000 black farmers who claimed that they were discriminated against by USDA officials as they “farmed or attempted to farm.” In addition, USDA’s Farm Service Agency spent over $166 million on salaries and expenses on this case from 1999-2009, according to agency records.

Members of Congress may approve another $1.15 billion this week to settle cases from what some estimate may be an additional 80,000 African-Americans who have also claimed to have been discriminated against by USDA staff.

... Settling this case is clearly a priority for the White House and USDA. Secretary Vilsack described the funding agreement reached between the Administration and advocates for black farmers early this year as “an important milestone in putting these discriminatory claims behind us for good and in achieving finality for this group of farmers with longstanding grievances."

However, confronted with the skyrocketing federal deficit, more officials are taking a critical look at the billion dollars spent thus far and wondering when these discrimination cases will ever end. Already, the number of people who have been paid and are still seeking payment will likely exceed the 26,785 black farmers who were considered to even be operating back in 1997, according to USDA. That’s the year the case initially began as Pigford v. (then Agriculture Secretary) Glickman and sources predicted that, at most, 3,000 might qualify.

At least one source who is extremely familiar with the issue and who asked to remain anonymous because of potential retribution, says there are a number of legitimate cases who have long been denied their payments and will benefit from the additional funding. But many more appear to have been solicited in an attempt to “game” the Pigford system.

Here are just a few questions about Ms. Sherrod that deserve answers:

•Was Ms. Sherrod's USDA appointment an unspoken condition of her organization's settlement?
•How much "debt forgiveness" is involved in USDA's settlement with New Communities?
•Why were the Sherrods so deserving of a combined $300,000 in "pain and suffering" payments -- amounts that far exceed the average payout thus far to everyone else? ($1.15 billion divided by 16,000 is about $72,000)?
•Given that New Communities wound down its operations so long ago (it appears that this occurred sometime during the late 1980s), what is really being done with that $13 million in settlement money?

Here are a few bigger-picture questions:

•Did Shirley Sherrod resign so quickly because the circumstances of her hiring and the lawsuit settlement with her organization that preceded it might expose some unpleasant truths about her possible and possibly sanctioned conflicts of interest?
•Is USDA worried about the exposure of possible waste, fraud, and abuse in its handling of Pigford?
•Did USDA also dispatch Sherrod hastily because her continued presence, even for another day, might have gotten in the way of settling Pigford matters quickly?

This is a story that is just in the beginning stages of being told.

Go here for the taped interview and be sure you watch all the way through to the end.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blade's state deficit figures don't add up

This is a screen shot of the front page of today's Toledo Blade.

You'll note that in the lead story, "States face deficits as stimulus dries up," they have a graphic of the budgets of Midwest states.

According to the credit on the graphic, the data is from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which the paper describes as "a Washington think tank."

They're really a liberal group that pushes for more federal spending for social programs, as their website explains.

Interestingly, the description of the Tax Foundation, which is also quoted in the story is: "The conservative Tax Foundation,..." However, their web page actually gives instructions for how journalists should refer to them:

How Should Journalists Describe Us?
The Tax Foundation is a nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, D.C.

The bias of The Blade in failing to describe a liberal think tank as 'liberal' is not a surprise to regular readers. But calling another group 'conservative' in spite of their instructions on how to be described is an error the reporter should not make and the editors should not allow.

But I digress.

The real issue in this post is an even more blatant error in the above graphic - figures that don't add up.

You'll note that the chart shows, for various states, the 2011 budget, the projected 2012 shortfall/deficit and the percentage of the budget that deficit represents.

But it incorrectly calculates the Michigan percentage. A $1.8 billion deficit is 21.7% of an $8.3 billion budget.

The article also states:

"Michigan's new governor, Rick Snyder, announced in his state of the state speech on Jan. 19 that he would seek to eliminate the "job-killing" Michigan Business Tax that generates a hefty $2.2 billion a year for Michigan's tax coffers and replace it with a 6 percent corporate income tax.

What that means for the state's $1.8 billion shortfall is not yet known. On paper, at least, Michigan's budget is in better shape than Ohio's because it has a deficit of 8.6 percent of its 2011 budget."

(Note, again, the clear bias by putting 'job-killing' in quotes and referring to the tax revenue as 'hefty'...)

But the story and the graphic cannot both be correct.

If the $1.8 billion deficit is 8.6% of their 2011 budget, the 2011 budget would have to be $20.9 billion - not the $8.3 billion listed on the graphic.

If the $8.3 billion budget number is correct, then the deficit is actually 21.7%, much worse than Ohio's 14%.

Over the weekend, I attended the Western Regional RightOnLine conference - an Americans for Prosperity training session for on-line activists. Throughout the sessions, the speakers emphasized the value of citizen journalists - individuals who serve as a check and balance on the increasingly unreliable and biased main stream media.

Thank you, Toledo Blade, for so quickly providing me with a perfect example to share with my fellow bloggers.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

RightOnLine #1 - New Media and the Free Market Movement

Notes from RightOnLine:

* new media drives MSM coverage, influences the public policy agenda, increases and enhances activism and spreads messages to a broader audience.
* policymakers pay attention to new media, especially when they're the ones being talked about.

A tale of two states: Texas and Georgia

* both are strong conservative states, but Texas's left-wing blog began to dominate the state legislature. The blogger's posts were read by legislators during their sessions and the elected officials started to debate the posts on the floor, rather than the merits of the issue...

* Georgia's on-line discussion revolved around a conservative blogger who is now in charge of He's not only influenced state politics, but now is a national commentator.

This is an example of how social media can be a powerful tool, but it requires the 'right' to be networked better.

The area where bloggers can make the most difference is at the local level - the government that is closest to you, whether it's township trustees, city councils or state houses.

So the question is: what are you doing to be involved?

Live Blogging from San Diego

I'm in San Diego today for Americans For Prosperity's Western Regional RightOnLine conference and I'll be live blogging the sessions.

Today's agenda includes a presentation on "New Media and the Free Market Movement;" training sessions on blogging, social media, twitter, using humor and on-lin video, radio and podcasting; Andrew Breitbart as the lunch speaker; policy panels on States in Budget Crisis, the importance of state and local citizen journalism, investigative reporting skills and a showing of the movie The Cartel.

American Egyptians in Toledo plan show of support

I wanted to share with you this press release from a group called American Egyptians in Toledo:

Stand in solidarity with the demonstrators, stand for a democratic possibility in Egypt and the Middle East!

Today, Saturday, the 29th of January, American Egyptians and concerned citizens who support human rights will be gathering at the intersection/corner of Sylvania Ave and Talmadge Rd. in Toledo at 3:30pm to stand in peaceful solidarity with the demonstrators in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.

In the last weeks we have been witnesses to spontaneous uprisings across the Middle East, signifying the beginning of an end to decades of political and social repression. It began with Tunisia, the ousting of Ben Ali, and has now spread to Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya and Jordan. Since January 25th was declared a ‘day of revolt’ against torture, poverty, and government corruption in Egypt, demonstrations have continued all over the country. Rumors disseminated prior to the 25th provided information about what was seemingly going to be an average demonstration – meaning, several hundred demonstrators and several thousand police officers surrounding them – yet what has happened is quite remarkable.

Demonstrators have outnumbered police... and demonstrations were not confined to their usual quarters. The first day, marked by tens of thousands of demonstrators, Journalists arrested, blogs shut down, newspapers closed, has increased consistently throughout the country and what started as a small movement has been joined by masses from all social classes, religious affiliations, and political persuasions calling for an end to tyranny and true democratic possibility. Government crackdown has characterized the last 48 hours and continues. As of late Thursday evening (in the US), Internet and SMS(text) services are blocked and phone usage (both cell and landline) is cut in advance of a scheduled day of mass, organized, peaceful demonstrations. In some cities, including Suez, electricity and water are cut off. All of this in a country that is one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid. Egypt receives $1.7 billion military aid annually aid feeds ‘National Security’ and the weaponry being used to repress these demonstrations.

We are asking for the US to respond to these democratic movements and for a firm stance to be taken against repressive, violent regimes. This is a moment of far- reaching democratic possibility and must be supported!

Friday, January 28, 2011

TIYC Winterfest and Iceboat Regatta

Have you ever been on an iceboat? Have you even seen one? They are amazing vehicles and lots of fun - and this weekend is your opportunity to learn all about them.

The Toledo Ice Yacht Club is hosting their annual Winterfest and Iceboat Regatta at Ottawa River Yacht Club and the event is open to the public.

Saturday, there will be iceboats set up for viewing, so you'll be able to see the various kinds and learn about how they're made - and almost all of them are hand-made. There will also be some sailors who can take participants for a ride - if there's enough wind.

Ottawa River Yacht Club is in Point Place at the corner of Edgewater and 140th Street.

Wind and other conditions permitting, you can view the other boats sailing and racing on Maumee Bay. The best location for viewing and safe access to the ice is at the end of 125th Street.

So bundle up, bring the kids and enjoy some winter sports here in Point Place!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jail time for Ohio mom is prime reason we need school choice

Kelley Williams-Bolar is going to spend 10 days in jail and three years on probation because she wanted a better education for her children.

Outrageous, it seems, but it's true - and it's a prime example of what is so very wrong with our educational system today.

Williams-Bolar wanted her kids to have a good education so she sent them to a school in the Copley-Fairlawn School District. The problem is that Copley-Fairlawn is not her home district, though it is the district where her father lives and where she lives part-time. She put her father's address on the enrollment papers and had him confirm the living arrangements, landing her in trouble for lying about her address and falsifying records.

School officials claimed she was cheating the system because her kids were getting an education they didn't pay for. In Ohio, you can attend out-of-district schools but tuition is often charged. When Williams-Bolar refused to pay the $30,000 in back tuition, she was charged with the crimes.

According to this news report, "Those dollars need to stay home with our students," school district officials said.

I'm certainly not in favor of lying nor of skirting the rules and laws and I don't condone what Williams-Bolar did, but I understand her situation and believe it should make everyone stop and think about how our school system is structured, especially during National School Choice Week.

Why shouldn't a parent have a choice as to which school their child attends? Why should a parent who pays taxes for an education have to pay even more because of an arbitrary geographical line? Why can't the taxes she pays go with the child rather than stay under the control of politicians? Why should any child be restricted in their ability to learn just so a political subdivision can have control?

The only reason to maintain the existing system is to maintain The Cartel that runs that system. The focus of our schools is no longer on what is best for the child - it's on what is best for the teachers or the administrators or the politicians or the power structure or the political party - everything but the child. We lock children into failing schools simply because of where their parents live and then we are shocked when we find out they can't get a job or that our nation is falling behind others in the world.

In Toledo, we have Pickett Elementary School that has been in academic emergency for over 10 years! Think about that and what a disservice we've done to those children.

The message of School Choice Week is this:

"...we need a K-12 education system that provides a wide array of options. We need an effective education system that has the flexibility to personalize and motivate students and allow parents to choose the school that is best for their child."

If Williams-Bolar had had such an option, she wouldn't be going to jail for the sake of her children. No parent should face that choice.

Quote of the Day

From a recent Walter E. Williams column:

"Everyone who receives government largesse and special favors deems his needs as vital, deserving, proper and in the national interest. It is entirely unreasonable to expect a politician to honor and obey our Constitution and in the process commit political suicide. What's even worse for our nation is that voters ousting a politician who'd refuse to bring, say, aid to higher education back to his constituents is perfectly rational. If, for example, he's a Virginia politician and doesn't bring higher education grants back to his constituents, it doesn't mean Virginian taxpayers will pay a lower income tax. All that it means is that Marylanders will get the money instead. Once legalized theft begins, it pays for everyone to participate. Those who don't will be losers.

That's the nation's dilemma. The most important job for people who want to spare our nation from economic collapse is not that of persuading politicians to do the right thing but to convince our fellow Americans to respect the limits of our Constitution. In his speech to Virginia's ratifying convention, James Madison said, "Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bell to deliver 2011 State of the City

REMINDER from the City of Toledo:

Mayor Bell to deliver 2011 State of the City, January 27th

Mayor Michael P. Bell will deliver the 2011 State of the City address at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 27, 2011, in Nitschke Auditorium on the campus of the University of Toledo. This public event is free and open to the community. There are no tickets required for admission and seating is on a first come, first available basis. Capacity in the auditorium is 1,000 seats. Convenient free parking for the event is located in campus lots 19 and 20.

The obsession with high-speed rail

I don't understand it. I don't know why so many politicians are obsessed with putting high-speed rail across the United States.

I do believe it makes sense, including economically, in some areas of the country (like the East Coast or California). But it certainly doesn't make sense for Ohio, as I explained in this post:

In Ohio, we're having the on-going discussion about so-called high-speed rail.

I write 'so-called' because the latest proposal to spend $400 million in federal stimulus dollars would give us a system that connects only three of Ohio's major cities; costs more than $400 million to build; won't be 'high' speed as it is projected to be slower than actually driving; and, worst of all, will require Ohio taxpayers to subsidize it to the tune of $17 million a year! Oh - and that $17 million of taxpayer funds it will need is only if the rail system actually meets its ridership projections. And that's the supporters' own projection of costs!

Incoming Governor John Kasich is opposed to the plan and wants to use the $400 million for other transportation purposes. But the federal government is threatening to 'give' the money to another state if we don't do what they want us to do with it.

But in last night's State of the Union address (prepared remarks), President Barack Obama again pushed the idea:

"Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. (Applause.) This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down. (Laughter and applause.) As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway."

So we'll have 'access' ... but that does NOT ensure usage. In fact, people who already have access to rail do not use it for any number of reasons including schedules and price.

And at what cost? Well, in Ohio we know that the 'privilege' of access will cost taxpayers $17 million a year - on top of what the system itself is supposed to generate. That's a price that's too high.

But liberals just love this idea. In fact, our local paper still supports the idea for Ohio, conveniently ignoring the facts as well as the costs of the proposal.

Why - in spite of studies and data on rail projects which show such projects are boondoggles at best:

Over the past four decades, American cities have spent close to $100 billion constructing rail transit systems, and many billions more operating those systems. The agencies that spend taxpayer dollars building these lines almost invariably call them successful even when they go an average of 40% over budget and, in many cases, carry an insignificant number of riders. In a new study, Cato scholar Randal O'Toole uses the latest government data on scores of rail transit systems to evaluate the systems' value and usefulness to the public.

When you have individuals pushing an idea that we know cannot be self-sufficient, doesn't meet the projections for usage and requires billions of dollars over and above revenue to operate, a reasonable deduction is that they have an obsession with the idea.

Logic and reason are not being considered because, if they were, these people wouldn't be jamming the projects down our throats.

In spite of facts, figures, data, financial estimates, rider estimates, objections from states and individuals, they keep pushing the idea. One can only conclude that there must be ulterior motives we do not yet know. How else to explain the efforts of the President and many in Washington to insist on massive amounts of spending for high-speed rail? Especially when we're clearly broke?

Is it that they think they know better than we do? Is this part of the long-term effort to eliminate our reliance on oil? Is this a way to make us more dependent on government and government-run transportation? Do they just like it and are using the power of their offices on a personal preference?

I don't know - but I do know that if they succeed, it will cause us more harm than good.

I hope the governors will say no to the federal greenmail and that the new makeup in the House of Representatives says no to this unnecessary spending.

Quotes of the Day

On the 2nd Amendment:

"The purpose of the right to bear arms is twofold; to allow individuals to protect themselves and their families, and to ensure a body of armed citizenry from which a militia could be drawn, whether that militia’s role was to protect the nation, or to protect the people from a tyrannical government." ~ Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Assoc. Prof. of Law, Univ. of Tennessee

"The prohibition is general. No clause in the Constitution could by any rule of construction be conceived to give congress a power to disarm the people. Such a flagitious attempt could only be made under some general pretense by a state legislature. But if in any blind pursuit of inordinate power, either should attempt it, this amendment may be appealed to as a restraint on both." ~ William Rawle, (1759-1836) lawyer, had been asked several times by George Washington to serve as Attorney General

Monday, January 24, 2011

Toledo gets $2.15 million offer for The Docks from Chinese group

Press Release:

Bell Administration to Forward Proposal for Sale of Docks

Mayor Michael P. Bell expects on Tuesday morning to deliver a proposal for the sale of The Docks restaurant complex to Toledo City Council for consideration.

The proposal offers $2.15 million for the property and is offered by a group of investors, Dashing Pacific Group, based in China. The relationship with the investors was initiated in September when Bell and Dean Monske, Deputy Mayor for External Relations, joined a multi-city tour of China seeking business development. Representatives of Dashing Pacific have since made two visits to Toledo to further explore the opportunities that exist for expanding their businesses in North America, once in October and once in December.

Both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, along with a representative of the investment group, will be available to answer questions at a 9:30 a.m. media briefing on Tuesday, January 25th in the Mayor’s office.


Approaches to consider for a better educational system

I was disappointed by a recent interview Toledo School Board President Bob Vasquez did on the radio, because I was hoping to hear 'out-of-the-box' thinking from the committee tasked with "transformational change" of our schools.

As I wrote at the time:

"... if the school board members and the transformational change committee are not even looking at what other school districts are doing to actually transform,... I fear we will be right back where we started: declining performance of our students and increasing deficits."

Since our Board of Education doesn't seem to be seeking out the various ideas and approaches other school systems are trying, I thought I'd begin highlighting some of them to add to the discussion. If you like these ideas, I encourage you to share them with your friends and neighbors, fellow parents and elected officials - especially school board members.

I want to start with some information a blogger friend sent me about what's going on in Colorado.

Ben DeGrow is a Colorado-based public policy analyst with a focus on education labor issues at the Independence Institute. He sent me a link to the Douglas County School District's website detailing their school choice efforts. Yes, you read that correctly. This is a public school system looking at how they can enhance school choices for their students.

"The Douglas County School District (DCSD) is the third largest school district in Colorado, with nearly 60,000 students. It is a high performing school district that is fortunate to have quality teachers and a diverse curriculum. DCSD prides itself in innovative programs designed to meet the educational desires and needs of students, parents and the community. In recent years, DCSD has embraced school choice by offering a wide variety of neighborhood school programs, option schools, charter schools and on-line learning. With this history in mind, the DCSD Board of Education commissioned a School Choice Task Force (Task Force) in the summer of 2010 to explore ways to meet the increasing demand for choice in public education. The Task Force is made up of parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders.

The appeal of school choice centers around a belief that greater choice meets the desires of parents, and improves the quality of education by fostering innovation and competition. Students have different learning needs and styles and benefit from a variety of choices in schools and in curriculum.

The objective of the Task Force is to initiate the process of building a blueprint for a school district that desires to offer the greatest amount of school choice in Colorado. This will include not only more choices among neighborhood schools, charter schools, and magnet schools, but also partnerships with private schools."

Could you imagine such a discussion and task force in Toledo? Consider the purpose of the task force: " explore ways to meet the increasing demand for choice in public education." Would such a purpose even be uttered in Toledo???

Of course, when the school board held a meeting for public comment on the recommendations from the task force, the voucher proposal generated the most discussion. But, as one task force member said, “It’s not about private versus public, it’s really about more choice, and I see that great for kids, great for parents, and great for the district.”

Wow - what an approach! And it caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal which wrote:

"The proposals on the table in Douglas County constitute a bold step toward outsourcing a segment of public education, and also raise questions about whether the district can afford to lose any public funds to private educators.

Already hit hard by state cutbacks, the local board has cut $90 million from the budget over three years, leaving some principals pleading for family donations to buy math workbooks and copy paper.

"This is novel and interesting—and bound to be controversial," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative, educational think tank in Washington, D.C."
"These days, you can build a custom computer. You can get a custom latte at Starbucks," said board member Meghann Silverthorn. "Parents expect the same out of their educational system."

Yes, bold, novel and controversial. But at least this school system is having the discussion - and they're focused on the correct thing: how to make the school system better for the students, by giving students a choice as to what suits them best.

Some may say the DCSD is not a good comparison for TPS because they have a much smaller population and higher income than we do, and they have better test scores. But just like school systems around the country, they have budget problems and are examining all kinds of options that would give their students the best education - even when those options are controversial.

This is what 'transformational change' is all about - and we should be willing to do the same if we want to ensure a good education for all our children.

The Cartel Movie and RightOnLine

On Friday, I'll be in San Diego, CA, thanks to a travel scholarship from Americans for Prosperity, to attend their Western Regional RightOnLine Conference and a screening of the education movie, The Cartel.

The movie is the primary reason I'm going, as it details how massively our educational system has failed our children. Here are some details from the movie's website:

Teachers punished for speaking out. Principals fired for trying to do the right thing. Union leaders defending the indefensible. Bureaucrats blocking new charter schools. These are just some of the people we meet in The Cartel. The film also introduces us to teens who can't read, parents desperate for change, and teachers struggling to launch stable alternative schools for inner city kids who want to learn. We witness the tears of a little girl denied a coveted charter school spot, and we share the triumph of a Camden homeschool's first graduating class.

Together, these people and their stories offer an unforgettable look at how a widespread national crisis manifests itself in the educational failures and frustrations of individual communities. They also underscore what happens when our schools don't do their job. "These are real children whose lives are being destroyed," director Bob Bowdon explains.

The Cartel shows us our educational system like we've never seen it before. Behind every dropout factory, we discover, lurks a powerful, entrenched, and self-serving cartel. But The Cartel doesn't just describe the problem. Balancing local storylines against interviews with education experts such as Clint Bolick (former president of Alliance for School Choice), Gerard Robinson (president of Black Alliance for Educational Options), and Chester Finn (president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute), The Cartel explores what dedicated parents, committed teachers, clear-eyed officials, and tireless reformers are doing to make our schools better for our kids.

This movie will force the scales to fall from the eyes of policymakers, education officials, reformers, intellectuals, teachers, and taxpayers. Putting a human face on the harm done by the educational cartel, The Cartel takes us beyond the statistics, generalizations, and abstractions that typically frame our debates about education—and draws an unequivocal bottom line: If we care about our children's futures, we must insist upon far-reaching and immediate reform. And we must do it now.

It's not a *new* movie, but in light of the on-going discussions we're having locally about Toledo Public Schools, and the showing last year of "Waiting for Superman," I believe the information is still timely as we search for ways to 'reinvent' our local school system.

I'll also be live blogging the events at Saturday's RightOnLine, including a panel discussion with radio hosts (Roger Hedgecock) and a policy panel focusing on the topic of 'states in budget crisis.'

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Space Station viewing

If you'd like to see the International Space Station passing overhead, it looks like Tuesday morning will be a good time.

It will pass over the Toledo area from 6:41 - 6:43 a.m. You'd want to look to the West-Southwest, maximum elevation is 88 degrees. It will be a 'very bright' magnitude, so locating it with bare eyes should be easy if it is clear enough.

Should the weather not cooperate, there are a other chances to see it this week:

* Wednesday, 7:07 - 7:09 a.m., West, elevation 32 degrees
* Thursday, 6:01 - 6:04 a.m., North-Northeast, elevation 50 degrees
* Friday, 6:27 - 6:30 a.m., North-Northwest, elevation 29 degrees.


Quotes of the Day

"If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions." ~ James Madison, letter to Edmund Pendleton, 1792

"Search the Constitution and you will find no power granted to the legislative branch to make laws governing agriculture, housing, medicine, energy, private ownership or weapons, and a great deal more." ~ John F. McManus

"The people cannot delegate to government the power to do anything which would be unlawful for them to do themselves." ... whenever the Legislators endeavor to take away, and destroy the Property of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther Obedience, and are left to the common Refuge, which God hath provided for all Men, against Force and Violence. Whensoever therefore the Legislative shall transgress this fundamental Rule of Society, and either by Ambition, Fear, Folly or Corruption, endeavor to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other an Absolute Power over the Lives, Liberties, and Estates of the People; By this breach of Trust they forfeit the Power the People had put into their hands, for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty." ~ John Locke

"The people are the masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who would pervert it!" ~ Abraham Lincoln

Friday, January 21, 2011

Prime example for banning 'me-too' clauses in union contracts

I've previously written about 'me-too' clauses in public sector union contracts - how they distort the give-and-take of a negotiation process and lead to increased costs for taxpayers.

Nearly all the government union contracts in Lucas County contain them, in effect guaranteeing that any benefit negotiated by one union will be shared by others - without the corresponding concession that resulted in the first union gaining the benefit.

Whether wages, pensions, educational reimbursement, or any other term that can be negotiated, it is likely that you will find such benefits are identical across the governmental jurisdiction because of this clause in the contracts.

My position when in office was that 'me-too' applied to concessions as well as benefits. I often told unions they could have the benefit if they were willing to give up whatever had been traded to get it, which effectively ended all such discussions on the matter. While I believe such clauses distort the negotiation process and are bad in a significant number of ways, today we have a prime example (an 'unintended consequence' effect) showing why they should be banned.

The Toledo Police Patrolman's Association (TPPA) has filed a grievance with the City of Toledo over the merger of the Toledo and Village of Ottawa Hills Fire Departments. You're probably wondering why in the world police would object to this merger. They're not objecting, they just want their 'me-too' clause enforced.

In 2009, Toledo City Council approved a contract extension for the TPPA and it included the following:

Other Bargaining Units The City will provide the TPPA with any greater economic benefits provided to the Toledo Firefighters and/or the Toledo Police Command Officers Association that they may receive either through settlement or impasse proceedings including fact finding and/or conciliation.

So the city - meaning council and the mayor - have previously agreed that any 'economic' benefit that the Firefighters or the Command Officers may negotiate, regardless of what they give up in order to get it, must be given to the members of the TPPA. These are the legally-binding terms the city must meet as they approved the contract and the language.

One of the things negotiated in the fire department merger was protection of seniority for the Ottawa Hills employees. When they become Toledo employees, they will earn wages and vacation time based upon their number of years with Ottawa Hills.

And that's a problem for the TPPA because they have members who previously worked in other jurisdictions who did NOT get similar credit when they became Toledo police officers. They are making the logical case that this is an economic benefit afforded to another union and they are, per their contract, guaranteed the same.

"The TPPA demands that each affected member be properly reimbursed for their back wages and annual vacation accrual. The TPPA further demands the affected members continue to receive the appropriate rate of pay and annual vacation accrual according to the steps they should have began with had they been properly credited with their prior service."

To make matters worse, I understand that TPPA, as well as the Toledo Police Command Officers (TPCOA), Firefighters Local 92 and the Battalion Chiefs union all told the city ahead of time that they would pursue such a grievance if the city went forward with their plan for granting seniority to the Ottawa Hills employees.

If the TPPA wins the grievance, it will cost the city millions to pay back wages and vacations for 200-300 police officers (estimated number affected) and the other related employees, since they were first hired into the city. It will also dramatically increase the 2011 budget and, accordingly, our projected deficit. Remember - last year they deferred overtime payments into 2011 to help 'balance' the 2010 budget and pay out the time at a higher rate of pay. Those payments will be even more if TPPA wins.

When they calculated how much the merger could cost us, did the city include the cost estimates of how much more it would be if they lost the grievances they were told would be filed? I certainly don't remember hearing about them.

Now, you could say (and I'm sure the city will argue) that a merger is a much different circumstance - and they should be correct. But this is a union contract and arbitrators and judges who decide such things are not bound by common sense - or even taxpayer interest. They are bound to examine the terms of the contract before them and TPPA can make a strong argument under their me-too clause.

But you just never know when it comes to deciding a grievance, which is why such terms should not be in contracts in the first place.

Unions should not expect to get something they didn't bargain for simply because someone else did. Unions should negotiate their own terms and be willing to abide by them. If they like the terms in another union's contract, they can seek to include them when their contracts expire.

But it is the elected officials who make the final decision and they should 'just say no' to any contract that includes such unfair terms - and they should be replaced if they don't have the will to do so.

In the meantime, Toledo administrators will spend time to fight the grievance and hope for a favorable outcome. Should they lose, they will be forced to either grant the seniority, vacation and back pay to hundreds of employees, or renege on the terms of the merger.

Either way, I believe the real losers are the Toledo taxpayers.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Don't rush to accept Chinese investment in Toledo

I don't know if he was the first to say it, but my father-in-law was the first one I heard recite the sentiment that America will never be taken by force - but it can be bought.

This opinion is widely shared by many who know that Americans will resist, with their last breath, any foreign invader who comes ashore intending the conquest or destruction of our nation. But what if the goal is not to take us by force, but to slowly, over time, become our keepers?

With the current amount of our nation's debt owned by the Chinese, some are very concerned about the implications, especially with Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit going on in Washington, D.C.

Now we learn that unnamed Chinese investors are interested in purchasing waterfront property in Toledo.

To a city that never got out of the last recession, this one has hit us especially hard, so news of investors is welcomed by many. But Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH9) isn't so thrilled, "because she believes it would be a calculated move by the government, rather than individuals looking for opportunity."

There is validity to her concern. While I certainly don't mind a corporation or individual investing in our area or purchasing property, I do mind if a foreign government does. The only exception I would see to a foreign government - especially a communist one - owning land is if they are building an embassy on it. But that's not what is planned in this instance.

Before we leap without looking, we need to give serious thought to multiple aspects of any potential transaction.

The first thing we need to know about these potential investors is whether or not they are a state-owned enterprise (one of the roughly 150 companies that report directly to the Chinese central government) or one of the subsidiaries (one owned by a municipal or provincial government in which the central government is a major shareholder).

Should we have a healthy distrust of a potential investor that is actually controlled by a communist government structure? Or, in this era of a global economy, do we overlook the communistic aspect in favor of potential jobs and tax revenues?

As this 2008 Forbes article explains, it's not so clear anymore:

In one portrayal, they are infiltrators to be viewed with suspicion. An example: Aluminum Corporation of China's (nyse: ACH - news - people ) recent multibillion-dollar purchase of a stake in Rio Tinto (nyse: RTP - news - people ) has raised fears about China's agenda for the acquisition of Australia's resources.

The other version sees state-owned companies as muscle-bound goons: without the smarts of a private company but with plenty of brawn. In this characterization, they are relics of a failed economic experiment that still dominate the national economy--controlling natural resources, utilities and many other vital sectors. Their power and influence--particularly their links to the ruling Communist Party and government--give partners and competitors pause.

Both views, however, fail to recognize that as the Chinese economy evolves, it is no longer so easy or desirable to pigeonhole state-owned enterprises. The line between them and private sector companies has blurred considerably.

There is also the question of which properties we should allow them to purchase if we decide we do want their presence.

As above, are they interested in acquiring our natural resources? Our relatively inexpensive waterfront property is a rarity in the world, much less here in the United States and I've been amazed that it hasn't been bought up before now. It's also our greatest asset and something I worked to emphasize when I was in office. But do we want our most valuable asset owned by a company controlled by a communist foreign government?

Restricting the sale of such property isn't a new idea. The government of Mexico has a restriction in their Constitution that prohibits foreigners from owning waterfront land. As this website explains:

The law declares that the Mexican nation has original ownership to all land and water in Mexico, as well as minerals, salts, ore deposits, natural gas and oil; but that such ownership may be assigned to individuals.

The Mexican Constitution prohibits direct ownership of real estate by foreigners in what has come to be known as the "restricted zone." The restricted zone encompasses all land located within 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) of any Mexican border, and within 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) of any Mexican coastline. However, in order to permit foreign investment in these areas, the Mexican government created the "fideicomiso," (FEE-DAY-E-CO-ME-SO) which is, roughly translated, a real estate trust. Essentially, this type of trust is similar to trusts set up in the United States, but a Mexican bank must be designated as the trustee and, as such, has title to the property and is the owner of record. The Mexican Government created the "fideicomiso" to reconcile the problems involved in developing the restricted zone and to attract foreign capital. This enabled foreigners, as beneficiaries of the trusts, to enjoy unrestricted use of land located in the restricted zone without violating the law.

A "fideicomiso" is a trust agreement created for the benefit of a foreign buyer, executed between a Mexican bank and the seller of property in the restricted zone. Foreign buyers cannot own real estate in the restricted zone due to Constitutional restrictions. The bank acts on behalf of the foreign buyer, taking title to real property. The bank, as trustee, buys the property for the foreigner, then has a fiduciary obligation to follow instructions given by the foreigner who is the trust beneficiary. The trust beneficiary retains and enjoys all the rights of ownership while the bank holds title to the property. The foreigner is entitled to use, enjoy, and even sell the property that is held in trust at its market value to any eligible buyer.

In order to allow foreigners to enter into the agreement contained in the Calvo Clause, Mexico requires all foreigners to apply for and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prior to contracting to acquire real estate in Mexico.

While we have no such prohibitions in our Constitution, the City of Toledo is the owner of the properties in question and, as owner, can place restrictions on the sale of the property. The city could even retain ownership of the land and offer, for example, a 99-year lease, preserving the ability of both parties (seller and buyer) to protect their interests in the transaction.

The potential sale of city-owned property to a foreign entity might be an issue that will unite previously opposing groups. I can see developers, free-market supporters, environmentalists and public access groups joining together to ensure the land is not owned outright by a foreign government whose long-term interests might conflict with our own. The communist Chinese government is well-known for taking a very long-term approach to accomplishing their goal of dominance.

There will be those who embrace the idea without any details, simply because it may bring needed jobs and tax revenues to the area. There will be others who reject it outright because it's communist China.

I believe the proper approach is somewhere in between: welcoming the interest of foreign investors while protecting American land from ownership by a foreign government. If it's done correctly, we can all be happy with the outcome.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Disappointing interview with TPS president

I listened to the interview of Bob Vasquez, President of the Toledo Public School Board, this morning with Fred Lefebvre on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD. I was very disappointed.

I thought it was a good interview with good questions asked and honest, direct answers - I just didn't like what I heard. Vasquez, who was just re-elected to the position of president, set up a committee at the end of last year to look at transformational change - you know, 'out-of-the-box' thinking about how to deal with the structural issues within TPS that leave them with ever-increasing deficits. Considering that they're facing a $38 million deficit for next year, this seemed like a good thing.

But when Fred asked him if the committee was looking at anything like what Detroit is considering, or if they'd looked at just auctioning off their schools, his answer was a resounding 'no.'

Why not?

Why not consider what New Orleans schools did following Hurricane Katrina? It's resulted in increased scores for the students and has been called "a laboratory for education reform." They were even named the most “reform friendly” for education by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Why wouldn't this committee at least have looked at this example?

Perhaps New Orleans is too far away. So why not consider what Cleveland is doing in reaching out to charter schools?

Are they considering The Parent Trigger, a law recently passed in California? As the linked article explains, "if half the parents whose children attend a failing public school sign a petition requesting reform of the school, the school must either shut down, become a charter school, or undergo one of two other types of reform."

As The Heartland Institute explains:

"There is little disagreement, then, that public schools need to be improved. The disagreement is about what reform ideas show the most promise.

Responsibility for organizing and funding schools rests mostly with the states, though the federal government plays a growing role since adoption of the No Child Left Behind law. Much of the focus of the reform debate is on funding – either federal or by the states – but this attention is misplaced. There is actually little relationship between spending and student achievement.

Many reform proposals call for changes that would require more resources - smaller class sizes, higher teacher pay, improved teacher training, more preschool programs, and more technology in the classroom. But past reform efforts of this kind have consistently failed to produce the improvements expected.

What is missing from these resource-oriented and management-oriented reforms is competition and parental choice. Because the public school system is the exclusive provider of “free” K-12 education, its annual revenues -- and revenue increases -- are largely independent of student achievement. As a result, public schools have no structural incentive to improve their overall performance, despite the best efforts of dedicated teachers and principals within the system. Competition would change all that."

Is the committee looking at how to bring competition into the discussion? Sadly, according to Vasquez, they've broken into two groups - one learning the intricacies of a public school budget and mandates and the other looking at how to raise the money for a facilitator.

Yes, you read that correctly - a facilitator. As I wrote in December:

Of course, one of the key recommendations to make the light of day was to hire a consultant to run a huge public forum in February so that people could 'feel' like they have a say in the process of changing TPS. The cost? $72,000. But that's a bargain because the original idea was to pay the consultant $240,000 for six months to guide the schools district through the public forums and then help implement the agreed-upon changes. So what will the $72,000 get us? Three months of service from the Cady Group to do the forum and then 'teach' groups how to work together.

Of course, with a $38 million budget deficit for the 2011-12 school year, where will TPS find the money to pay someone to host a forum? Perhaps they could actually heed the suggestions and comments they get at their monthly board meetings as an alternative.

Maybe they could just read The Heartland Institute's education page as well.

I do give Vasquez credit for one of the things he discussed. He said he was getting information from the administrators that they were looking at what they could do in light of the union contract. He said the administrators should look at what they wanted to do to address the problems and then they'd go to the union to work things out. That's the right approach, as no union contract should dictate the possibilities a school system explores in order to work more efficiently and to better educate the children.

But if the school board members and the transformational change committee are not even looking at what other school districts are doing to actually transform, if they're not seeking out ideas from groups like Heartland, I fear we will be right back where we started: declining performance of our students and increasing deficits.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How much do TPS employees make?

Press Release from Buckeye Institute:

2010 K-12 Teacher Salary and Estimated Pension Data added to Searchable Database along with Search Counter

COLUMBUS - The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions today released on its website the 2010 K-12 salary and estimated pension data for all Ohio public school teachers. Unlike the data collected for previous years, the 2010 data includes salary and pension information for many superintendents, principals, and other administrative staff members. The pension data includes each teacher's salary based on a 2,080-hour year (40 hour work-week, 52 week year) so users can properly evaluate teacher pay, as most teachers are contractually limited to working 1,350 hours per year.

In 2010, approximately 1,800 school employees earned over $100,000 per year. Due to increasing staffing costs, Ohio's 613 public school districts are expected to face a $7.6 billion funding deficit by 2015, with personnel expenses consuming 96 percent of tax revenues.

In the last election, citizens used the Teacher Salary Database to hold their school districts accountable for spending choices, citing that average teacher salaries had grown at rates that, in many cases, far outpaced inflation.

In addition to the new data, the website now contains a search counter which records the number of searches performed in the eight database tools (State Salary, Federal Salary, Higher Ed Salary, Teacher Salary, Local Salary, School Data, County Data, and State Lobbyists). Since the website's launch on April 30, 2010, visitors from 473 Ohio cities, the 49 other states, and 119 foreign countries have spent over 20,000 hours conducting almost 1.5 million data searches.

Buckeye Institute President Matt A. Mayer stated: "With so many school districts under financial duress, it is now even more important than ever that taxpayers know how school districts are spending their money. Instead of cutting staff positions, sports, bussing, and other programs, most school districts could balance their budgets without raising taxes through cutting staff compensation packages by a small percentage."

The Teacher Salary data tool is available at


Click HERE to go directly to the teacher salary search page. If you want a particular school system, just fill in that box, the year and how you'd like the data sorted (by last name or salary). The database also lists the days worked.

Here are top five wage earners in the Toledo Public School system:

Foley, John, toledo city, $165,050.92, 260 hours worked
Romano, Daniel M Iii, toledo city, $133,570.00, 260 hours worked
Kilbride, Janice I, toledo city, $122,557.00, 260 hours worked
Gilliland, Earl John Jr, toledo city, $118,676.00, 260 hours worked
Rivera, Lonny J, toledo city, $110,974.00, 260 hours worked

Interestingly, in the top 20 wage earners (#17) is Susan Koester, who earned $83,493.00 as the principal at Pickett Elementary School, though she is no longer the principal there. According to the Ohio Department of Education Report Card for the 2009-10 school year, Pickett met only 1 of 8 state indicators and did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress. The school is also significantly below other schools in the district in terms of their achievement. And, if I remember correctly, Pickett has been in 'academic emergency' for about 10 years now.

I'm sure you'll find things of interest in this searchable database.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Blade's bias gets outside attention

My friend, and fellow Ohio blogger, Tom Blumer, takes a look at the recent dust-up over the Brian Wilson 'monkey comment' as it's now become known.

In case you missed it, the Toledo Blade took an on-air comment from NewsTalk 1370 WSPD afternoon host Brian Wilson, chopped off everything but about 14 seconds and then shopped it around to, primarily, African-American members of the community to see if they could manufacture community outrage over the implied reference of children to monkeys, and the 'obvious,' (so they promoted) racism of the statement.

Eventually, the editorial board issued an apology, clearly admitting that they took a comment out of context, but they still blamed Wilson for saying something that he should have known they would distort.

I looked at the issue in terms of how the local paper 'pushed' an idea they wanted to promote rather than just do what papers are supposed to do - cover the events of the day.

Blumer's post looks not only at a summary of the ridiculousness of the actions by The Blade, but goes further to examine why the comment was more important than the serious issues facing Toledo Public Schools, including their performance and deficits.

He includes a rather damning chart from the Ohio Department of Education that shows African-American students are not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress. He writes:

As bad as the school district is, children from every other identified ethnic group managed to get acceptable results on the latest ODE report card (not that ODE is setting the bar particularly high). Why not African-Americans? What would MLK say?

What indeed?

Blumer also has high praise for Michael Miller's Toledo Free Press column on the matter:

"The next day, the Free Press’s Michael Miller posted a column that would be in the running for the NewsBusters Hall of Fame if it had gone up there."

And he should know - he's a frequent contributor to NewsBusters. He also writes:

Congrats to Miller and all those involved at the Free Press on their persistence. As to the Blade, it must really be a drag to know that those old, reliable tricks that used to work like a charm have lost their power to deceive.

Heaven help Toledo if people like those who run the Blade ever regain control over what “responsible” speech is in that city. If the Blade’s bludgeoners get their their way, parents might not even be able to deliver a “monkey see, monkey do” scolding to their children when their little ones do something dumb in imitation of their friends who have done something dumb.

Be sure to read the entire post at BizzyBlog. Tom understands the problems we have in Toledo - even if most Toledoan's don't. But with news-scaped* stories such as this one, we're beginning to.

(*New term which will be clarified in a future post.)

Quotes of the Day - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

From his "I Have A Dream" speech on August 28, 1963:

"But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone

From his "Loving Your Enemies" speech on November 17, 1957:

"We look at the struggle, the ideological struggle between communism on the one hand and democracy on the other, and we see the struggle between America and Russia. Now certainly, we can never give our allegiance to the Russian way of life, to the communistic way of life, because communism is based on an ethical relativism and a metaphysical materialism that no Christian can accept. When we look at the methods of communism, a philosophy where somehow the end justifies the means, we cannot accept that because we believe as Christians that the end is pre-existent in the means.

From his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech on December 10, 1964:

"I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Are we heading to 'pre-crime'? Are we already there?

On Friday, when I filled in for Brian Wilson on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD, we discussed a recent article by Radley Balko, a senior editor at Reason Magazine, about abolishing drunk driving laws.

No - he doesn't think we don't need a law to address what happens when people drive under the influence. He just believes - for logical and common sense reasons which he identifies in the article - that a single law, 'driving while ability impaired,' would address the need and give law enforcement a better tool to address behavior while protecting our liberties.

In the article he writes:

If our ultimate goals are to reduce driver impairment and maximize highway safety, we should be punishing reckless driving. It shouldn't matter if it's caused by alcohol, sleep deprivation, prescription medication, text messaging, or road rage. If lawmakers want to stick it to dangerous drivers who threaten everyone else on the road, they can dial up the civil and criminal liability for reckless driving, especially in cases that result in injury or property damage.

Doing away with the specific charge of drunk driving sounds radical at first blush, but it would put the focus back on impairment, where it belongs. It might repair some of the civil-liberties damage done by the invasive powers the government says it needs to catch and convict drunk drivers. If the offense were reckless driving rather than drunk driving, for example, repeated swerving over the median line would be enough to justify the charge. There would be no need for a cop to jam a needle in your arm alongside a busy highway.

Scrapping the DWI offense in favor of better enforcement of reckless driving laws would also bring some logical consistency to our laws, which treat a driver with a BAC of 0.08 much more harshly than, say, a driver distracted by his kids or a cell phone call, despite similar levels of impairment. The punishable act should be violating road rules or causing an accident, not the factors that led to those offenses.

And I believe he's right. But then I came across this article, "Drunk Driving and 'Pre-Crime'?" by Eric Peters on, and the urgency to examine such laws becomes even more apparent.

Peters writes:

There was a time, long ago, when a driver had to actually cause an accident – or at least, do something tangible that gave evidence of actually impaired driving, such as weaving over the double yellow or limping along at suspiciously slow speed. This was the probable cause needed by a cop to pull the suspect over.

Fair enough.

Then in the ’90s we got (courtesy of Clintigula) the criminalization of drinking – irrespective of our actual driving. The mere presence of trace amounts of alcohol in one’s blood became sufficient to arrest a person for “drunk” driving – even though all the person did was run afoul of a notoriously unreliable Breathalyzer machine.

It did not matter that people process alcohol differently; that some people are much better drivers even with a little booze in their systems than others are completely sober. And more besides.


Most people now equate having “x” amount of alcohol in your system – in ever-declining percentages – with “drunk driving.” It is an epic victory of demagoguery and propaganda.

And it is also by definition an example of pre-crime. You haven’t done anything – but you’re in trouble because of what you might do.

Peters and Balko both bemoan similar situations. Balko talks about check points where every motorist is stopped and checked to see if they've been consuming alcohol - and the willing acceptance by many that this infringement upon their liberties is somehow okay if it keeps a 'drunk' driver off the road. He also examines the way your blood alcohol content (BAC) can vary both over time and individual to individual, noting that an arbitrary number has no relevance whatsoever to your ability to drive.

Peters sarcastically criticizes the way the law treats someone who is drunk, but not even driving:

Consider: You are liable to arrest for “drunk driving” in America today even if you aren’t driving at all. You merely have to be in your car – even if you’re in the passenger seat and the car is parked. People who have had one too many and decided to sleep it off in their car have been arrested for DWI just the same as if they had been straddling the double yellow at 65 MPH with a gin and tonic in one hand and their left leg hanging out the window.

The courts have said that drinking “x” amount of alcohol not only defines “impairment” – it also amounts to intent to drive drunk, whether you’re driving or not. And that intent – imputed, perceived, ginned-up out of nothingness – is what matters

People often criticize those who claim the 'slippery slope.' But this is one and we need to be aware of the implications.

As Balko explains, it's no longer 'drunk driving' - it's 'drinking and driving,' changing the issue to the act, not the impairment. And because of the issues with blood tests for BAC, some are even suggesting that officers making traffic stops be allowed to forcibly take your blood on the side of the road.

Peters shows how the intrusion into our liberties is already somewhat accepted by the public:

Gun laws – and the TSA – already operate on this principle.

You have no record of criminal misconduct or mental illness. You’re a taxpayer, a responsible citizen. Yet in several states (and of course, Washington, D.C.) you’re assumed to have criminal intent, and thus, denied the right to own a firearm. If you possess one anyway – even if you have done nothing with it to harm or even threaten to harm another person – then you’re subject to being cuffed and stuffed just the same as if you had actually used it to threaten or harm others.

Pre-crime again.

The TSA subjects people at random – and en masse – to rough and humiliating searches, including invasive physical pat downs, just like cops do to felony suspects. Not because of anything they’ve actually done or even hinted they may do but only because the TSA apes impute “terrorist intent” to anyone who desires to travel by commercial airplane.

Ipso facto.

Just like having a drink before you drive makes you a “drunk” driver – no matter how good your actual driving happens to be.

We’ve upended perhaps the most basic concept of Western jurisprudence – that for there to be a crime, or wrongdoing, there must be an actual criminal act, or wrongdoing.

Peters takes it to the next step - or perhaps I should say he slips a bit further down the slope - by speculating what impact such an approach might have on political speech, in light of the recent shootings in Arizona.

Soon, what will matter is what you think – and more, what others (those in power) think your thoughts might lead to.

To give voice to a sentiment such as “the government is corrupt and something needs to done,” will amount to evidence of advocating violence – perhaps even of committing violence – much as a motorist who has consumed an arbitrary amount of alcohol is ipso facto a drunk driver.

And he's probably correct. We've taken the first steps toward that with 'hate crimes' where you are presumed more guilty of, say, murder if you can be proven to have 'hated' something about your victim. Or rather - hated something defined by government about your victim - like race, gender or sexual orientation. That you killed your neighbor because you hated that he wouldn't control his barking dog is somehow not as terrible a crime as if you killed him because he's gay.

Already - what you were thinking when taking a life is of more importance than actually taking a life.

In America, we've had discussion of banning 'hate speech' though so far, our First Amendment has been ruled to protect such comments. But other countries, many used by our politicians as examples we should emulate, do have laws against such things.

So is it too much to think that laws criminalizing such thoughts and speech - a 'pre-crime' sort of approach - are coming our way? I shudder to think....

Friday, January 14, 2011

Toledo's 2011 budget

What have you heard? What does it look like? Did we have a deficit in 2010? Are we looking at cuts for 2011? Where are any cuts going to come from? What meetings has Toledo City Council held on the subject?

Are you as clueless about this as the rest of us? Are we on track to passing a final operating budget by January 31, 2011?

The mayor released his proposed budget in November as required by law.

At that time, we learned we will have a deficit to address for 2011, partly because the 2010 budget was 'balanced' by deferring overtime payments and pay increases to 2011. So, despite the fact that we are not anticipating any significant increase in income in 2011, we're going to have to pay for items from 2010 on top of the items already in the budget for 2011.

There are many questions to be asked about our budget this year. I want to know what revenue items from 2010 failed to meet their projections. We know the city 'balanced' the budget with projected income from the sale of city property. Did we sell everything we planned to - and at the price we estimated? What about the projected income from sale of property in 2011? Are any of these properties the same ones that didn't sell in 2010?

Will the city stop the practice of pushing costs into the next year where they just keep accumulating without any plan for paying them?

Will council members stop spending on unnecessary things (like helping pay for the cost of the Symphony to go to Carnegie Hall) in order to have a budget that fits a realistic expectation of our income?

Will our income projections be realistic?

I'm waiting to hear when council will hold meetings on the matter. You'd think they've have them scheduled considering that we must pass our 'balanced' budget by March 31st.

If I hear anything, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Filling in on WSPD

I'll be filling in on WSPD for Brian Wilson on Friday, January 14th, from 3-6 p.m. You can listen at AM 1370 or on line at this link. It's Fishing Line Friday so I'll hope you'll join me!

Unaswered questions

I have a lot of them, so I thought I'd start a list.

On the City of Toledo/Village of Ottawa Hills fire department merger:

* How can Ottawa Hills save money AND Toledo save money when transferring the responsibilities of staff and operations from one to other? Common sense says that both cannot be true as the costs are not actually being reduced. It may be true that Ottawa Hills will save money if they shut down one of their stations, but if they can pay Toledo less than it costs them to run the department, Toledo cannot assume those costs and save money since we already know that the amount of reimbursement is less than the full expense.

* Ottawa Hills will pay a set fee for 20 years. But in that 20 years, the costs of salaries for the individuals will rise (this is government employment after all). Also, there will be increased maintenance costs for equipment and facilities as they age and, eventually, a need for replacements. Other factors, such as inflation, will also raise the costs. Why would Toledo accept a set fee for 20 years in an amount less than what it's currently costing, knowing that the costs will increase in that time? What provisions are we making for evaluation of the costs?

* The union has said it will file a grievance as the authorized strength of the Toledo Fire Department is currently at 103 and this merger take the staffing above that number. What are the costs of fighting this grievance and what are the potential costs to the city if we lose?

On the shooting in Arizona:

* I understand why so much attention is - rightly - focused on Representative Gabrielle Giffords. We also know that a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were killed. But why aren't the names of the others who were killed mentioned more prominently - at least, as prominently as the ridiculous claim by idiots that Sarah Palin, tea parties and conservatives are to blame? In case you've missed it, here are their names:
John Kroll (63) - a Federal Court Judge

Gabe Zimmerman (30) - one of Congresswoman Giffords' aides

Christina Taylor-Green (9) - an elementary school student and granddaughter of Major League Baseball executive Dallas Green

Dorwin Stoddard (76) - a pastor at Mount Avenue Church of Christ. Stoddard's wife Mavy was wounded in the leg, but is expected to recover.

Phyllis Scheck (79)

Dorthy Murray (76)

On the decision by Toledo City Council to begin discussions with Lucas County for garbage service:

* If the city is willing to allow Lucas County to take over the task, why didn't we just privatize the service years ago? Why did we purchase all new equipment (automated trucks and garbage cans for everyone) if we're just going to turn over the department to someone else?

* In the past, the reason for not privatizing was the union contract with the Teamsters which requires Toledo to keep all the workers and, if we don't, to still pay their PERS contributions (which include the city portion AND the employee portion). If the city's contractual obligations prevented us from making any changes to the department in the past, won't it still prevent changes today? And, if not, what makes the difference in terms of the union contract? (Having read the contract, I don't see any - but then, I use common sense.)

* Lucas County thinks that other jurisdictions may want to join their new service which will result in greater participation and, thus, lower costs. But what other jurisdiction in Lucas County would want to turn their current service over to the county? All of them already have a process by which they handle their garbage and the people in those jurisdictions seem rather happy with their options. Basing a decision on the 'hope' that other jurisdictions will help give us a quantity of scale seems, well...foolish.

* What members of council and which mayor were stupid enough to agree to a union contract that requires the city to continue to pay into the PERS system for any employee of the garbage department whose job is transferred???? That's insanity and certainly NOT in the best interests of the citizens of Toledo.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Abolish the IRS

"After the 16th Amendment was ratified, an income tax was imposed starting in 1913 with rates ranging from 1 percent to 7 percent with the top rate applying only to incomes in excess of $500,000. By 1916 that top rate had risen to 15 percent, on income in excess of $2,000,000. The top rate exceeded 90 percent at its peak in the early 1950s. The first 1040 form -- instructions and all -- took up only four pages. Today there are some 4,000 pages of tax forms and instructions. American workers and business are forced to spend more than 5.4 billion man-hours every year figuring out their taxes. Since those hours could be put to a more productive use, and almost surely would be in the absence of today’s incomprehensible tax code, the result is a large dead-weight output loss of some $200 billion each year. ... The IRS now has more enforcement personnel than the EPA, BATF, OSHA, FDA, and DEA combined. With its 115,000-man workforce, it has the power to search the property and financial documents of American citizens without a search warrant and to seize property from American citizens without a trial. It routinely does both. Economist James L. Payne has written a most revealing analysis of the IRS, a 1993 book entitled Costly Returns. He arrives at a stunning conclusion, the total cost to collect our federal taxes, including the effects on the economy as a whole adds up to an amazing 65 percent of all the tax dollars received annually. The U.S. tax system, says Payne, has produced hundreds of thousands of victims of erroneous IRS penalties, liens, levies, and tax advice. In answering taxpayer questions, for example, the IRS telephone information service has in previous years given about one-third of all callers -- as many as 8.5 million Americans -- the wrong answers to their questions. A 1987 General Accounting Office study found that 47 percent of a random sample of IRS correspondence -- including demands for payments -- contained errors. Incredibly a GAO audit of the IRS in 1993 found widespread evidence of financial malfeasance and gross negligence at the agency. The IRS could not account for 64 percent of its congressional appropriation!" ~ Dr. Lawrence W. Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education

This quote is from 1995. Think it's gotten any better since then?

Let's abolish the IRS and go to something simpler.

Quote of the Day

"We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions." ~ Ronald Reagan

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Today's news stories are equivalent of push polls

A combination of events over the weekend prompted me to again take a look at the state of our current media.

It's no surprise that declining credibility, increased biases and a lack of reporting facts have led to a loss of customers for newspapers and many of the TV news broadcasts. The availability of facts on the Internet and the increased usage of Internet sources for news gatherers has brought those three areas into clear focus for many people.

As a result, the main stream news (a generic term not meant to include everyone) has not gone back to basic reporting, but rather has increased their spin content as if more of the same will somehow produce a different outcome.

The attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the manufactured racism charge and outrage over a statement from WSPD talk show host Brian Wilson are just the most recent examples.

With the shootings in Arizona, we didn't even have an accurate account of the victims and their conditions before talking heads, politicians and leftists started blaming Sarah Palin and the tea party groups. As of the writing of this post, a Google search on "left blames Palin and tea party Arizona shooting" yields 329,000 entries. Even our own representative, Marcy Kaptur, blamed rhetoric and 'anger' for causing people to lose their minds and, presumably, do crazy things like go on a shooting spree (comment played on WSPD on 1-10-11).

We know today that the shooter was more left than right in his limited political views, but was, more importantly, a sick man who should stand alone in his accountability for his own actions.

In the case of Brian Wilson, the talk show host made a reference to today's education process being like teaching animals learning a trick - just because they can do what they are taught doesn't mean they've been educated, he opined.

But because Wilson used a monkey as the animal example, he must have been expressing a racist view - at least, that's the spin.

In both of these cases, it wasn't just the reporting - or lack thereof - of the facts; it was the way the media decided to go about gathering responses to the incidents.

In the Rep. Giffords case, talking heads immediately starting asking people if the 'hate-filled rhetoric' of the right was to blame for the shooter's actions. The focus wasn't on who the shooter was and any type of investigation into the man and his motives. No - the spin was immediately that his attack must have been prompted by the words and political positions of Sarah Palin and various tea party groups.

Interestingly, while prominently noting that Palin had Rep. Giffords as a target in the last election, they failed to mention that DailyKos and the Democratic National Committee also used similar imagery for the district. The main question being asked of people is not 'what made this guy do such a horrendous thing' but 'how much influence does angry, hate-filled rhetoric from the right have in the case.' The assumption is that whatever people on the political right have said must have caused this man to shoot a Democrat. And politicians, not wanting a good crisis to go to waste, are eagerly responding - or driving the message even further.

With Wilson's comments, the local paper took 14 seconds of a 5-minute discussion and asked people to respond to the out-of-context comment. They didn't want to ask about the premise of Wilson's statement - that our schools are teaching to the test rather than teaching students how to think. No - they wanted people to see racism in the reference to monkeys, implying through their choice of African Americans to interview, that Wilson must have been referring to only to black students in the school system. In further updates, interviewees take 'offense' at students being called monkeys. Of course, the reaction from school board members and others involved in the school system has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Wilson's station is calling for a complete and total overhaul, even perhaps a dissolution, of the system.

In both these cases, this spin from the media is the equivalent of a push poll - asking a loaded question in order to generate a pre-determined response. From Wikipedia:

A push poll is a political campaign technique in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll. In a push poll, large numbers of respondents are contacted, and little or no effort is made to collect and analyze response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll.

The American Association For Public Opinion Research identifies such polling as a violation of their code of ethics and says this:

Political advocacy calls made under the guise of a survey abuse the public’s trust. They gain the attention of respondents under false pretenses by taking advantage of the good will people have toward legitimate research.

When disguised as research, these calls create negative images of legitimate surveys, especially when they distort issues or candidate characteristics in order to influence opinion.

They go beyond the ethical boundaries of political polling by bombarding voters with distorted or even false statements in an effort to manufacture negative attitudes.

The hostility created in this way affects legitimate surveys by reducing the public’s willingness to cooperate with future survey requests.

So how is a push poll any different from what the media is currently doing on a regular basis with their questioning and efforts to manufacture outrage?

The 'reporters' take an editorial or opinion position - often a political one - find an instance or event and then go around asking people to comment on their conclusions, using, in the resulting story, the quotes they obtain that fit their pre-determined position.

That's not journalism, but it is the equivalent of a push poll...which the media all decry - unless it's their own.

But it's worse - because it's presented as news, which they then claim is an unbiased presentation of facts, and it is, for many, the only source of the information they will see.

And then, depending on the source of the 'news,' the clearly agenda-driven story will be repeated by other media outlets or used as a basis for their own coverage of the instance. If it's sensational enough, it will be repeated by others around water coolers or on the Internet and become the impetus for even more outrage and 'demands' for action.

Perhaps we should modify the AAPOR code to apply to journalism:

Advocacy questions and stories made under the guise of unbiased news abuse the public’s trust. They gain the attention of readers under false pretenses by taking advantage of the good will people have toward legitimate reporting.

When disguised as news, these questions and the reporting of the answers create negative images of legitimate news, especially when they distort issues or candidate characteristics in order to influence opinion.

They go beyond the ethical boundaries of legitimate news by bombarding readers with distorted or even false statements in an effort to manufacture negative attitudes.

The hostility created in this way affects legitimate news reports and media in general by reducing the public’s willingness to believe what they read.

But if we did so, then what would the media do?

Their only alternative would be to report actual facts without trying to 'interpret' them for us or lead us to think/believe a certain way.

I won't hold my breath.
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