Yoon pushes proposed ordinance on term limits for mayor
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Monday 23 November 2009 1:11 PM

From The Boston Globe

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Less than three weeks after Boston residents voted to give Mayor Thomas M. Menino an unprecedented fifth term in office, one of his vanquished challengers is still campaigning against him, in a fashion.

City Councilor At Large Sam Yoon is pushing mayoral term limits, sending a message via Twitter on Friday that “Term limits encourage incumbents to use, not hoard, political capital.’’

The Tweet followed an e-mail to supporters Thursday, informing them that a proposed ordinance that would put term limits in place has been sitting in a council committee for months and probably will die unless his fellow councilors act now.

The ordinance would not affect Menino, whose tenure will reach 20 years if he serves out a full fifth term, but would limit future mayors to two four-year terms.

“If eight years is good enough for President of the United States, then it ought to be good enough for Mayor of Boston,’’ Yoon said in a statement. “Term limits are a basic check and balance on the executive branch.’’

Some of his fellow councilors, however, are less than exuberant about Yoon’s push, particularly since voters just returned Menino for another term. Councilor Maureen Feeney, who chairs the government operations committee where Yoon’s initiative is sitting, said elections are held every four years, at which time voters can remove any officeholder.

“We have term limits,’’ she said, referring to the elections process.

Councilor John Tobin, a government operations committee member who watched his own mayoral term limits legislation die a few years ago, said his office has received tons of e-mails and phone calls from Yoon supporters but he, too, is reluctant to support the initiative.

“They’re a little late for the party,’’ he said.


Cascading consequences
The possibility of a Martha Coakley victory in the US Senate race has politicians giddy at the prospect of an open attorney general’s seat.

But the rare open statewide post is creating its own potential domino effect. With several elected officials eyeing Coakley’s job, others are now lining up to run for the jobs held by the candidates for attorney general.

Among them is State Senator Michael Morrissey, of Quincy, who says he will run for Norfolk district attorney if Coakley wins and if the district attorney, William Keating, runs for the seat.

“I’ve been a trial attorney for 25 years, and am a founding and managing partner of a good-sized law firm,’’ said Morrissey. “I’d get to use both my trial background and management skills in running what is the largest law firm in Norfolk County.’’

Of course, Morrissey, like any politician in Massachusetts who moves up the political ladder, would see a tangible benefit, too. His new pay, $148,000, would be nearly double his current salary of $75,000, and would guarantee him a much higher pension when he retires.


Campaign corrections, Pt. I
Endorsements have been flying in the US Senate race, so much so that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with them all.

Apparently, it’s too much for the campaigns to keep up with, too.

US Representative Michael E. Capuano on Wednesday sent out a press release touting the endorsement of 20 Massachusetts mayors.

Among them was Mayor Scott W. Lang of New Bedford.

One problem: Lang says he didn’t give his endorsement.

“While the mayor holds the candidates for Senate in the highest regard, he has not made any endorsements,’’ a mayoral aide, Catherine Rollins, told Jack Spillane of the New Bedford Standard-Times.

Within six hours, Capuano’s campaign sent out a “correction’’ version of its mayoral endorsement list that dropped Lang’s name.

But he still had 20 mayors endorsing him. The new mayor, who had apparently given his consent within those six hours? Mayor-elect Richard Cohen of Agawam.


Coakley’s new partner
Also on the endorsement front: Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Senate bid was endorsed last week by several business leaders, among them Jack Connors Jr.

Connors is listed in Coakley’s press release as chairman emeritus and former chief executive of Hill Holliday. What’s not listed is that Connors is also the chairman of Partners HealthCare.

The Globe in January reported that Coakley had launched an investigation into whether Partners had illegally colluded with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts to increase the price of health insurance. No court action has been taken.

“Jack Connors support for Martha Coakley’s candidacy for US Senate has no impact on her decisions as Attorney General,’’ Alex Zaroulis, a campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Another twist to the Connors-Coakley endorsement: earlier this year, Connors had formed a partnership with businessman Stephen Pagliuca to explore a possible effort to purchase The Boston Globe. Pagliuca, of course, is now one of Coakley’s rivals.

Adding further intrigue into the endorsement: Connors had teamed up in an unsuccessful effort to buy the Globe and create a nonprofit foundation that would have had a stake in the newspaper.


Corrections, Pt. II
Attorney General Martha Coakley’s campaign for US Senate has been bedeviled by the details at times in the special primary race for the seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy.

The Medford Democrat has acknowledged she misunderstood the instructions on her financial disclosure statement and failed to report some assets. There was a blooper in the mandatory disclaimer on her first television ad – the words on the bottom of the screen said “Paid for Martha Coakley for Senate,’’ omitting the word “by’’ after “paid.’’

And last month, the campaign had an unfortunate error on the invitations it sent for fund-raising events for Coakley in Washington.

“Martha Coakley for Senate will not accept contributions from currently registered federal lobbyists, registered foreign agents, political action committees, or minors under the age of 16 for this event,’’ said the invitation.

A noble sentiment, arguably, but not one espoused by the candidate, who, unlike some of her primary rivals, accepts contributions from registered lobbyists and political action committees. And, in fact, these particular fund-raisers were hosted and sponsored, in part, by multiple registered lobbyists.

“Those invitations were sent in error,’’ said Alex Zaroulis, spokeswoman for Coakley’s campaign. “As soon as we discovered the error, we rectified it and re-sent the corrected invitations,’’ without the prohibition on lobbyist and political action committee donations.


About those earmarks
Democratic US Senate candidate Alan Khazei has been a harsh critic of congressional earmarking – funding for pet projects tucked into spending bills by lawmakers, often to the benefit of the clients of lobbyists who raise campaign funds. In one debate, Khazei, the cofounder of City Year, said: “These things should be put to an up-or-down vote. It’s a pay-for-play system in Washington.’’ He was also critical of thousands of earmarks in the economic stimulus bill.

But City Year, the prototype for AmeriCorps, was a modest beneficiary of earmarks, receiving five for almost $1.4 million from fiscal years 2004 to 2008. They included $750,000 for design and construction and later renovation of its headquarters, $425,000 for truancy and dropout prevention programs in Philadelphia, and $200,000 to expand the Young Heroes program in New Hampshire.

“Alan is for a transparent process,’’ said Michael Meehan, senior adviser to Khazei’s campaign. “City Year asked for and received federal funds. Alan is against the pay-to-play earmark process that has dominated Washington,’’ he said, referring to the fund-raising links to many earmarks. “City Year didn’t participate in pay to play . . . and didn’t hire a lobbyist to get federal funds.’’


Robinson’s finances
Jack E. Robinson, Republican candidate for US Senate, was paid $694,862 in salary and legal fees as vice president of Benistar, a Simsbury, Conn.-based insurance and health benefits management company, and has business interests and other assets worth $6.3 million to $27.8 million.

In his financial disclosure form, Robinson reported a half-interest worth $5 million to $25 million in Nat Tel LLC of Stamford, Conn., a holding company that owns Bahamas-based Oceanic Digital Communications, a cellular telecommunications company in the Caribbean. He also reported a joint interest in two rental properties in Naples, Fla., and one in Houston, with a combined worth of $600,000 to $1.25 million and which generated annual income $11,000 to $32,500.

Robinson also reported a bank checking/savings account with a balance of $250,000 to $500,000 and a Fidelity Cash Reserves account of $500,000 to $1 million. Among liabilities, he listed mortgages on the rental properties totaling $165,000 to $380,000 and credit card debt of $15,000 to $50,000.

Under “agreements and arrangements,’’ the Duxbury businessman reported he will take leaves of absence from his positions at three companies “if elected.’’


We need to take our country back
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Friday 20 November 2009 4:47 PM

From Tampa Bay Online

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The Democrats and a few R.I.N.O. Republicans are pushing hard to transform the health care system in this country into a European/Canadian system that is sure to provide less-than-quality care for all. We also will be taxed now for a health care system that won’t be implemented until 2013.

That doesn’t make sense, or does it?

If the Democrat health care bill passes the Senate, the federal government, for the first time in our history, will force citizens to buy a product whether they want it or not. If anyone refuses to purchase a government approved health care policy, the government, via the Internal Revenue Service, will impose an added tax and can impose prison time. Of course Congress, the body that wants to pass this bill so badly, will be exempt from this mandate.

When did we lose our liberty? When did the federal government become so powerful that it became the master instead of the servant? It was when we baby boomers were busy making a living and leaving the matters of governing to our elected officials.

These officials, wanting to ensure their continued stay in a cushy government job, saw the vast wealth that had accumulated in the Social Security fund and began creating social programs giving the “less fortunate” among us the funds that were earmarked for our Social Security payments.

Congress promised to repay these funds but as history has shown, the federal government has a bad track record of keeping promises; see the history of Native American treaties.

Now that we boomers are starting to retire, there aren’t enough funds for the federal government to keep its promise of Social Security payments so they now plan to tax us again under the guise of “healthcare reform,” while tearing down a health care system that 80 percent of Americans are happy with. This bill is a sham and a travesty that will elevate our federal government to the power that England had over us when the colonies revolted.

We are almost at the point of imposing on ourselves the very thing that we hated and broke away from 233 years ago; total government control.

We need to take back our country. We need to impose term limits on Congress and end all perks after they leave office including retirement; they are not royalty. We need to demand that when Congress votes on a bill that they only vote on that bill and do not add last minute pork or amendments. Lastly we must demand restraints on how Congress spends our hard-earned tax money.

Larry Lunsford


Uribe's Third Term
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Friday 20 November 2009 3:36 PM

From The Wall Street Journal

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A modern, democratic president with a 64% approval rating at the end of his second term has reason to be proud and wonder if he could win again. It’s at precisely such a moment, however, when he should also remember that a properly functioning democracy never depends upon one man and requires the peaceful transfer of power.

We refer to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, whose second term expires in August. When he took office in 2002 his country was beset by guerrilla terrorism. Millions of Colombians have benefited from his policy of “democratic security,” which has restored order and confidence in government. But now his supporters are trying to win a constitutional amendment that would allow him to run for a third term, and Mr. Uribe has not told them “no.”

He should. Last week’s ruling by a National Electoral Council panel invalidating millions of petition signatures supporting the required referendum on the issue is a perfect opportunity for Mr. Uribe to do so.

Some legal analysts dispute the ruling and say the constitutional court is not likely to rely on it when making the final decision about the legality of a referendum. But the decision certainly complicates both the legality and politics of any third-term attempt, and the matter is now unlikely to be resolved for months. Meantime, the May election looms and Mr. Uribe’s party has no candidate.

Mr. Uribe has been a champion of the rule of law, and a lunge for a third term will threaten his legacy as a leader who has laid the groundwork for a new Colombia. It would also set a bad precedent for future rulers, some of them left-wing populists, who may point to it to justify their own attempts to remain in power.

Latin America has a long history of popular leaders who decided they were too valuable to step down. Latins even have a special name for the strongman who won’t go away: the caudillo. When the region returned to more democratic governments in the 1980s and 1990s, after decades of dictatorship, term limits on presidents were widely adopted. But they didn’t last long. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa have all used referendums to grant themselves indefinite rule. Hondurans recently blocked Manuel Zelaya from doing the same.

Mr. Uribe is supposed to be another kind of president, a reformer who understands that Colombia needs a government of laws and not of men. By strengthening the institutions that defend freedom over nearly eight years, he has built a better country. His final gift would be to preserve those gains by allowing the transition of power to a new leader

Obama and the Great Firewall
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Posted by Howard Rich | Columns
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| Friday 20 November 2009 10:11 AM

Barack Obama predictably proclaimed “American values” on his recent trip to China, criticizing government censorship and praising an unrestricted, unregulated Internet as one of the lynchpins of modern democracy.

“I’m a big supporter of non-censorship,” Obama said. “I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access — is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.”

Later, in a question and answer session with college students, Obama oh-so-gently expressed his desire to see China (and the rest of the world) adopt an American-style marketplace of ideas.

“I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable,” said Obama. “They can begin to think for themselves.”

These remarks – though perfunctory – nonetheless create a curious set of conflicts for Obama on his first visit to the communist nation.

For starters, America has by-and-large forfeited its right to lecture the Chinese government on anything given our increasing reliance on Chinese loans to fund our continuing government expansions.

At $797.1 billion (and counting) China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. public debt – an amount that has increased by 10% since January.  Additionally, the growing trade gap between the U.S. and China represents America’s largest bilateral deficit, something Obama’s organized labor allies are urging the president to address through a variety of new import duties.

Of course there’s only so much leverage that a borrower can hope to exert over his banker.  And while the fact that America is relying on Chinese capital to cover its various bureaucratic bailouts doesn’t necessarily preclude Obama from lecturing Beijing, it certainly reduces the gravitas that his remarks might otherwise carry.

Much more fundamentally, however, Obama’s comments regarding freedom of information abroad simply do not square with his actions at home.

Like his great economic betrayal of the American middle class, Obama’s “non-censorship” rhetoric in China conceals a burning desire on the part of his administration to censor here in America.

For example, just last week Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency forced two of its employees to remove a YouTube video that was critical of the administration’s proposed energy tax hike – claiming that the video violated “agency policy.”  Also, who can forget the White House targeting messages sent by a private health insurance company, Humana Inc., or setting up an “email hotline” which encouraged private citizens to turn in anyone who was caught criticizing Obama’s socialized medicine proposals.

Obama’s administration has also waged a non-stop war against FOX News, despite the fact that data from the Center for Media and Public Affairs rates the network as much more balanced in its reporting than any of its national counterparts.

More sinister than any of this, of course, is the underlying assault on free speech being advocated by some of Obama’s top appointments.  For example, Federal Communications Commission “diversity czar” Mark Lloyd and the spokeswoman for current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski both belonged to an organization that supports the regulation of talk radio and the Internet as a means of bringing about a “marked shift to the political left.”  Former “Green Jobs Czar” Van Jones – who was forced to resign his post earlier this year after his communist past was exposed – was also a board member of this radical organization.

In addition to such “pro-censorship” appointments, Obama has also signaled a willingness to look at a bailout of the struggling U.S. newspaper industry – one that would place this branch of the Fourth Estate squarely under the thumb of government influence.

The bottom line is that preaching American “openness” abroad – while failing to practice it at home – is yet another Obama hypocrisy.

Of course, in an ironic twist, the President’s message to the Chinese students about “free flowing information” was promptly scrubbed from China’s government-controlled Internet.

Let’s keep fighting to make sure nothing like that ever happens here in America.

New London the loser in battle over eminent domain
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Thursday 19 November 2009 4:30 PM

From Chron.com

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Amtrak riders passing through New London, Conn., can catch an odd sight in an otherwise picturesque New England setting: a fancy corporate center standing next to a street grid emptied of nearly all its buildings. This used to be the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, a working class enclave that would have been largely forgotten had it not been central to a controversial 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain — the government’s right to take private property for public use.

New London had wanted to replace the area’s weathered cottages and auto-body shops with a cityscape more amenable to the corporate types at the new Pfizer research park. The city bought some of the properties and seized those whose owners refused to sell.

The old neighborhood is now gone, and soon Pfizer will be too. The multinational drug company just announced plans to close its New London facility. It expects to complete the withdrawal by 2011, just when its tax deal with the city runs out. So much for those pretty architectural drawings of high-end condos, restaurants, offices and marina.

How many American cities and towns have turned themselves inside out to attract and keep the big corporation? And how many later learned that their heroic efforts to please went largely unreciprocated? What municipal leaders often see as their economic salvation the corporation regards as but one piece on a global chessboard.

New London extended Pfizer a handsome deal whereby the company would pay taxes on only 20 percent of its property’s assessed value for 10 years. (Other local taxpayers made up the difference.) The company received a $5 million grant for engineering work.

Fort Trumbull had long lived with the smells from a nearby sewage treatment plant, but the city fixed that for Pfizer. The neighbors’ ability to share the sweeter air was short-lived, due to the $75 million plan to turn their area into a waterfront district for fancier folk.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution lets government seize private property for public purposes — such as roads or military bases — as long as owners are fairly compensated. But the definition of public use had been expanded to include giving condemned property to other private owners in the name of economic development. In its famous 1981 Poletown decision, the Michigan Supreme Court permitted Detroit to condemn an old neighborhood for a General Motors factory.

The Fort Trumbull property owners and their supporters asked the Supreme Court to stop that practice. Some of the holdouts had not cared for the city’s offer. Then there were old-timers, such as 86-year-old Wilhelmina Dery, who wanted to die in the house where she was born. No price was right for her. To the distress of many, the justices decided against the property owners. And what a bittersweet victory that’s become for the city.

Some in New London have comforted themselves with the thought that even if Pfizer empties its building, the company still has to pay tax on the property. They should know that when Pfizer closed a campus in Ann Arbor, Mich., two years ago, it promptly asked the city to cut its tax assessment in half. It eventually sold the complex to the University of Michigan, which as an educational institution pays no real-estate taxes.

New London remains blessed by fine old architecture, a waterfront setting and a choice location between New York and Boston. It will reinvent itself. In the meantime, it must live with this huge irony: Two years hence, the auto-body shops banished from Fort Trumbull would have been employing more people in New London than the pharmaceuticals giant they were sacrificed for.

Harrop can be e-mailed at fharrop@projo.com

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Stealth Unionization
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Thursday 19 November 2009 2:17 PM

From Investor’s Business Daily

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Labor: While the focus was on card-check legislation that would allow workers to be bullied into union membership, a federal board has quietly changed a rule to let unions organize without a majority of workers.

The National Mediation Board, an agency charged with resolving labor disputes in the rail and airline industries, has approved a rule shift that heavily favors unions.

Under the change, OK’d by a 2-to-1 vote early this month, a union will be certified if a majority of those voting cast “yes” votes. Under the previous 75-year-old rule, certification required a majority of eligible workers, not just those voting. It’s conceivable that a company, or group of workers in a company, could be organized even if much less than a majority is in favor of unionization.

Take Delta Air Lines, which is facing union votes among its flight attendants and ground workers after absorbing Northwest Airlines to become the world’s largest carrier. It could be forced to deal with a union of 20,500 flight attendants with more than half not wanting to be members.

Unlike other major carriers, Delta has remained virtually free of the burden of a unionized work force. Only its pilots are organized, and it seems Delta employees continue to be proud of their independence. Just last year, before the addition of 6,500 Northwest flight attendants, a union attempt failed when fewer than 40% of Delta’s 14,000 flight attendants voted to organize.

The new rule, now subject to a 60-day comment period, was proposed by a union — the AFL-CIO — and it reeks of politics. The two mediation board members who voted for it were Democratic appointees. One, Linda Puchala, a former flight attendant union leader, was appointed by President Barack Obama. The other, Harry Hoglander, is a former airline pilot and official in a pilots union.

Seems these two, taking their cue from the same Democrats intent on forcing health care reform on an unwilling public, rammed through the change. Mediation Board Chairman Elizabeth Dougherty, a former Bush aide who voted to keep the rule in place, told nine senators in a letter:

“The proposal was completed without my input or participation, and I was excluded from any discussions regarding the timing of the proposed rule.”

While her colleagues were fronting for organized labor, Dougherty thoughtfully questioned the board’s authority to implement the change. Her argument, one we find compelling, is that the power to alter the rule rests in Congress.

If the rule becomes permanent after the 60-day comment period, the potential for workers who don’t want union representation to be forced under the control of organized labor increases greatly.

The Delta employees, and any others, who have been fighting off unions for years might find themselves subject to a master they didn’t ask for.

Latin American leaders look to repeal term limits
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Tuesday 17 November 2009 1:05 PM

From < a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com">The Washington Times

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Horrified by the excesses of dictatorship, Latin Americans discarded the strongman model at the end of the 20th century and limited politicians’ time in power.

Now a new wave of populist presidents is trying to do away with those limits, arguing that they impede real change. As leaders in country after country move to extend their rule, opponents fearing a return to the “caudillo” era of authoritarian power have done everything to stop them – from throwing eggs to staging coups.

“It’s a new political model of what I call low-intensity dictatorships,” said Manuel Orozco, a Central America analyst at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.

Term limits were the backdrop for a June coup in Honduras, where proponents said they were trying to prevent an illegal attempt by President Manuel Zelaya to extend his time in office. Mr. Zelaya denies any such intention.

Nicaragua joined the fray with a Supreme Court ruling giving President Daniel Ortega the right to seek re-election as many times as he wants. Opponents, calling it an illegal power grab, threw eggs at the judge in charge.

Similar scenarios have played out in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, where some leaders have made progress on entrenched issues such as poverty or violence but are accused of quashing dissent.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has spent his country’s oil wealth liberally on education, health care and food subsidies for the poor. He also has closed critical media outlets and used a majority in Congress to vastly diminish the powers of opposition mayors and governors.

In December, Venezuelans voted to allow Mr. Chavez, known as “el Comandante,” to seek indefinite re-election.

Mr. Chavez first gained prominence for staging a failed coup in 1992. Far from being appalled at the assault on a 30-year-old democracy, many poor Venezuelans considered the young army lieutenant colonel a hero for trying to overthrow a president accused of stealing millions in public funds.

The Edsel of Education Reform
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Tuesday 17 November 2009 10:47 AM

From The Wall Street Journal

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We hate to say it, but don’t be misled by headlines. The biggest headline in education circles last week was that the Ford Foundation is making a whopping $100 million grant “to transform secondary education in the nation’s most disadvantaged schools.”

Our eyes raced to see which piece of the vibrant school-reform movement Ford was going to support. Would it be America’s 4,600 charters schools, many outperforming their traditional school peers and some even closing the race gap? Maybe it would be Teach for America, busting at the seams and turning down Ivy League applicants by the hundreds. Or, who knows, maybe Ford’s really on the leading edge, and would want to support voucher programs in cities like Washington.

Would you believe the recipients of Ford’s largesse are the teachers unions? Yup. The folks at Ford are giving new meaning to the word “retro.”

Ballyhooing the $100 million, the foundation’s president Luis Ubinas said, “Improving our schools, and giving the most vulnerable young people real educational opportunities, benefits all of us. With this initiative we want to shake up the conversations surrounding school reform and help spur some truly imaginative thinking and partnerships.”

And yet the Ford press release contains not one mention of charter schools, vouchers, merit pay or even Teach for America. Literally speaking, this really does shake up, not to say shock, “the conversations surrounding school reform.”

Ford’s formula for reform involves more money, less accountability and a bigger role for the unions. “Many state finance systems fail to allocate enough resources to provide quality schooling for all students,” Ford’s daring analysts write. And, “standardized tests are a blunt and inadequate tool by which to gauge student learning and school effectiveness.”

But one of the screaming ironies of public education, known to all, is that some of the worst school districts in the country spend the most money on students. Standardized tests may be a “blunt” instrument, but they are also the only way that parents have had of holding bad teachers and terrible students accountable. This is why the unions dislike student testing, as well as teacher pay based on student performance.

One of Ford’s first grants will go to the new American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund, a “union-led initiative to make grants to AFT affiliates nationwide for innovative efforts established jointly by teachers, administrators, and parents.” Here’s guessing the main such innovation will be more money for everyone regardless of results.

The fact that Ford is supporting the unions—the biggest barrier to school reform in America—is no surprise. The foundation has funded just about every major failed liberal establishment program since the Great Society. Head Start, Job Corps and the Community Development Corporation were launched from Ford templates. In the 1970s, the foundation supported forced sterilization programs to curb overpopulation in the third world. A few years ago it gave money to an Arab NGO that wanted to wipe Israel off the map. It also largely paid for the University of Michigan’s defense of affirmative action at the Supreme Court.

Last Wednesday, by contrast, the Gates Foundation offered $10 million to help the wildly successful KIPP charter schools expand in Houston. One might have hoped that Ford’s administrators would have looked at some of the real innovation being done by philanthropies such as Gates or the Walton Foundation and seen how truly far behind the times Ford’s ideas are.

Oh, well, another $100 million for education down the drain.

Charter schools in Virginia
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Monday 16 November 2009 1:05 PM


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The Washington Times

Does the Virginia gubernatorial victory handed Republican Robert F. McDonnell mean that voters support his education agenda? Voters and school-choice advocates won’t know the answer until after the General Assembly convenes in January and the governor-elect is sworn in. In the interim, education, religious and business advocates are scheduled today to release the results of a voter survey on school choice and education reform that was conducted before the Nov. 3 elections.

During the race for governor, education reform was a constant with Mr. McDonnell, a proponent of charter schools who said Virginia needs a vibrant system with additional educational opportunities.

As a candidate, he said the state should be in “the vanguard of the charter school movement.”

“I agree with President Obama: we need more charter schools in America,” the then-candidate says on bobmcdonnell.com. “That need is particularly pressing in Virginia, where we currently only have four charter schools, one of the lowest numbers in the country. As Governor, I will propose the expansion of public charter schools in the Commonwealth. Nationally, public charter schools were a bipartisan creation, designed nearly two decades ago to empower teachers, parents and communities to come together and create a new form of public school that was free from restrictive regulations and systems. Public charter schools offer competitive educational opportunities for all families, not just those who can afford them. I believe that parents should have more control over their child’s education, creating competition between schools resulting in higher quality, innovative programs to educate our children.”

Mr. McDonnell is right.

Virginia is out of sync with its national counterparts when it comes to public charter schools.

Although Virginia fares better than one of its next-door neighbors – West Virginia has no charters – the commonwealth has just three charter schools, a fourth scheduled to open next school year and none in Northern Virginia. That runs counter to a new report that says the demand for charter schools remains strongest in urban areas and shows no signs of abating.

Virginia’s slow growth in the charter movement could lead to a partisan skirmish in Richmond or, as former Fairfax County School Board member Chris Braunlich put it, Mr. McDonnell’s plank may have been “stopped at the shores of the Potomac River.”

“In a post-election newspaper interview, Virginia Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw declared his opposition to expanding the charter school law on the grounds that they weren’t needed in suburban areas – thus throwing under the bus children in urban schools where up to 40 percent of the students do not graduate from high school on time,” Mr. Braunlich, vice president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, writes in the institute’s Jefferson Journal.

Parents say they choose public charter schools for many reasons; chief among them are autonomy from bureaucracy, academic variety, and safety and security.

The considerable growth of charters in recent years is proof of parental satisfaction and demand, advocates say. They point to several facts that did not exist less than two decades ago: Public charters have become an effective alternative to traditional schools; there are 4,578 charter schools in 41 states and the District of Columbia with total enrollment of roughly 1.4 million students; the market share for charters is greatest in cities such as New Orleans, Detroit, Washington, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and New York.

“The explosive growth of public charter schools in D.C. is a consequence of their freedom to innovate and accountability for improved student performance,” said Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools. “Middle and high school students in schools where a majority of children are economically disadvantaged are nearly twice as likely to be proficient in reading and math in D.C. charters as their peers in the regular public schools.”

Yet while Washington’s charters are free to innovate, Virginia has tethered its charter school law to local school board control, which can stifle reform.

Indeed, reform is a core aspect of the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top education initiative, which calls for “expanding support for high-performing public charter schools.” Some states are vigorously competing for those federal dollars. Connecticut, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee, for example, took a two-fisted approach by beating back proposed cuts to charter school funding and raising their caps on charters.

Yet, while experts and advocates are encouraged as charters grow in size and number in urban areas, some are cautious. They say quality is as important as quantity when it comes to charter schools, which are publicly funded and semiautonomous. Oftentimes, they say, local school boards, the very entities set up to authorize charter schools – as is Virginia’s case – meddle by getting involved in the day-to-day management of charters.

“The most successful charter schools … have important common qualities,” Mr. Braunlich says. “Among them are high expectations, extra time for students, effective (and multiple) assessment tests and a strong faculty and team spirit.

“But these successful qualities flourish best in places where there is a strong balance between offering schools a high level of school autonomy and freedom and demanding strong accountability systems for student performance. … Forcing restrictions on charter schools that limit the level of innovation and flexibility those schools can use tend* to result in failure. And focusing on inputs rather than student outcomes puts the emphasis on the wrong end of student learning.

“Learning how quality public charter schools operate – and how effective charter authorizers genuinely supervise, rather than manage, those schools – is an important step in revamping Virginia’s charter school law and offering new opportunities for educationally at-risk students.”

A Merry TARP Christmas
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Taxes
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| Monday 16 November 2009 10:00 AM

From The Wall Street Journal

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The Journal reports that the White House may abstain from some payouts under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) as a way to reduce the deficit. That would be good. But after bequeathing to the children of America the largest deficit since World War II, with plans to generate more than $9 trillion in new debt, Team Obama should go all the way and put TARP out of the taxpayer’s misery.

All Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has to do is avoid signing a TARP renewal by its statutory expiration date on December 31. Judging by the reader comments on our Web site, we’d guess that millions would happily leave out cookies and milk for the jolly Washingtonian who shows up with a sack full of nothing for auto makers.

Alas, the signals remain mixed. Despite the news about TARP repayments, Treasury continues to make TARP “investments” and as of last week had spent $472.5 billion with plans to spend more than $560 billion of the total $700 billion available under the law. This leak about partial TARP repayment could be an attempt to reduce any outrage if Mr. Geithner does decide to renew TARP for another nine months. On the other hand, a decision not to renew TARP would immediately return more than $200 billion to the Treasury.

Deciding not to renew the program would be the gift that keeps on giving, because it would prevent any money returned in the future from being recycled into other politically-favored subsidies. End it, Mr. Geithner, don’t spend it.

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