Letter: No votes for incumbents
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Friday 29 October 2010 1:00 PM

From The Rockford Register Star

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It’s time for term limits in government. It’s time to get rid of the career politicians. It’s time to let someone else play the game.

If the highest elected office in our nation has term limits, then so should every other elected position in the nation. From village boards, to county boards, to state reps, to school boards, to clerks and judges and treasurers and mayors and everyone in between.

It’s time to take back our country from the incumbents and insist on term limits. It doesn’t matter what party you stand for.

We can’t let these politicians sit in office for 10, 15, 20 years and beyond.

And while we’re at it, it’s time to insist on lowering the pay scale for our politicians. The median U.S. household income is about $50,000. No politician should be making even 1.5 times that.

They all claim they’re going to balance the budgets, cut spending and help the economy. The first way is to reduce the astronomical paychecks they’re doling out for themselves. It can be accomplished.

I know I won’t be voting for incumbents this November.

Eminent Domain in Coal Country Called a Billion-Dollar Land Grab
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Friday 29 October 2010 12:11 PM

From Courthouse News Service

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WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (CN) – With help from a law office, Pennsylvania and a county redevelopment agency abused their condemnation powers to help a coal company get its hands on billions of dollars worth of coal deposits, the Borough of Centralia and its citizens say in a federal class action. Centralia claims the conspirators used the pretext of an underground fire to make a land grab: a gross abuse of their powers of eminent domain.

“The original government pretense, if indeed it was ever legitimate, has long since expired,” the complaint states. “In short, the purported ‘Centralia Mine Fire,’ which allegedly threatened the Borough of Centralia, no longer provides, or never did provide, a viable explanation for the application of government power (exercise of eminent domain) and the taking of these American citizens’ property.” (Parentheses in complaint.)

“These defendants covet billions of dollars worth of extremely valuable anthracite coal which lies beneath the surface of the Borough of Centralia. These persons and entities, by and through political connections and the manipulation of governmental agencies and entities, are, among other things, illegally taking the property of the plaintiffs through the unlawful use of government police power.”

The complaint continues: “Plaintiffs allege that their rights are being violated by abusive government officials and entities, in concert with private persons, and that they have been exploited by the defendants to accomplish their unlawful ends. The persistent efforts of this private/government enterprise have resulted in a massive and continuing fraud reflective of both civil and criminal RICO violations. Perhaps the most succinct characterization of this process is expressed in the wisdom of the Hon. Scott Naus of the Court of Common Pleas of Columbia County when he obviously questioned, through the choice of his words, the basis for the suspicious rush to judgment by individuals and government entities who were purportedly seeking to respond to the dangers of a fire that has never materialized as a threat to Centralia. The fire has never been investigated. No court has ever held a hearing to determine whether the fire is, or ever was, a threat to the Borough or these plaintiffs. Despite pervasive conflicts in the ‘evidence’ of the alleged ‘threat’ posed by the fires, and the additional evidence of questionable political rationales, the fire that has never reached, and will never reach, Centralia has been allowed to act as an engine of private aggrandizement resulting in the unlawful denigration of citizens’ rights.”

The class claims that hundreds of fires occur in Pennsylvania abandoned mines, particularly the anthracite coal mining region in and around northeast Pennsylvania. The so-called “Centralia Mine Fire” started in 1962 in an abandoned coal stripping pit that Centralia used as a trash dump.

The class adds that any evidence that the fire actually endangered Centralia was “contrived,” and that “no court has ever held a hearing to determine whether the fire is, or ever was, a threat,” that “certainly it does not threaten Centralia now and is retreating at its worst.”

The class claims the defendants – including the Columbia County Redevelopment Authority and the Rosenn Jenkins and Greenwald law office – used the underground fire as a pretext for a “massive fraud designed to acquire access to the coal under the condemned area.”

The class claims the Borough owns all the coal beneath it and the defendants cannot get their hands on the coal unless Centralia ceases to exist.

The class claims the fraud was carried out by Rosenn, Jenkins and Greenwald on behalf of it client, co-defendant Blaschak Coal Co., in corporation with government entities and individuals, including Rosenn, Jenkins attorneys John Zelinka and Gary Taroli, and Steven Fishman, spokesman and counsel for the defendant state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Rosenn, Jenkins has represented various predecessors in interest of Blaschak, which have asserted rights to the coal since the 1980s, the class says. Blaschak has significant holdings in the condemned area, including roughly 52.8 acres of surface rights in Centralia.

The class claims that any “examination of the applicable maps showing the geology and water table in the area would demonstrate that the ‘Centralia Mine Fire’ would never, and could never reach Centralia.”

They say that the state and county agencies claim to be protecting Centralia through the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Act from the “alleged raging presence of an oncoming fire, but there is no evidence to support the position that the fire presented a real and present unabatable hazard to any of the residents.”

The class adds: “Plaintiffs believe and aver that sometime during the course of the efforts to extinguish the fires that a plan was hatched among and between RJG, Nogard, Blaschak, and their principals to use the fire as a pretext to justify the removal of all the residents of the Borough, and, as such, to extinguish the Borough, so that access to billions of dollars worth of coal under the Borough of Centralia and Conyngham Township could be mined. Plaintiffs further believe and aver that this conspiracy also involved a number of local and state public officials, and other private persons, all of whose identities are not yet known, but will be developed through discovery.”

They add: “(T)he fire that has never reached, and will never reach, Centralia has been allowed to act as an engine of private aggrandizement resulting in the unlawful denigration of citizens’ rights.”

The class claims that Rosenn, Jenkins knew about the tremendous coal vein 20 years after the “Centralia Mine Fire” began, but before the class knew the coal existed, when it made a claim to the subsurface mineral rights under Centralia in 1981, while representing the Nogard Coal Co.

In 1983, the class says, the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines Office of Surface Mining “issued a report trumpeting the dangers” of what it called the “Centralia Mine Fire.”

That same year the Columbia County Redevelopment Authority, as agent for the Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs, “started a voluntary relocation effort for the citizens of Centralia Borough, although the fire is believed to never have existed under the Borough.”

The class claims that citizens of Centralia agreed to settlements because they felt threatened – but they felt threatened because they had been misled about the fire and were unaware of the coal deposits beneath them.

Four hundred of approximately 465 properties were transferred through a “voluntary program,” leaving owners of roughly 60 properties to face formal eminent domain proceedings – all of which were filed in the Columbia County Court of Common Pleas in 1993.

Never in any proceedings was the basis or necessity for the use of eminent domain in Centralia ever explained, the class claims.

As “irrefutable evidence” that the defendants knew there was no real threat from the fire, even as they bought out the residents of the borough, the class says that Blaschak “built a warehouse for mining activities literally right across the Borough line in or around 2004, within the purported fire impact area. Upon information and belief, this facility is to be a hub for mining activity in the Borough after it ceases to exist.”

They add that this “reflected the inside track that RJG’s clients had on manipulating the condemnation issues.”

The class claims that Rosenn, Jenkins and its clients bought them out on the cheap, because they were “feeling threatened, and being misled about the dangers of the fire.”

The complaint continues: “None of these were aware of the incredible value of the coal beneath them nor that there were plans to acquire the coal and mine in the Borough, although the approximate $90,000 amount received by a former Centralia mayor for her property, an amount believed to be far in excess of the values offered to other residents, suggests that persons other than the named defendants, all additionally to be determined through discovery, were complicit in the scheme.”

The class claims their property has been illegally taken through unlawful use of government police power and exercise of eminent domain. It seeks injunctive relief and punitive damages for conspiracy, fraud, civil and criminal misconduct, violations of due process and equal protection, punitive damages.

The class is represented by Don Bailey of Harrisburg

You can find a PDF copy of the filings at the bottom of the story posted on The Courthouse News Website
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‘Waiting for Superman’ a wake-up call for education reform
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Friday 29 October 2010 11:49 AM

From the Orlando Sentinel

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“Waiting for ‘ Superman’ ” certainly won’t top “Toy Story 3″ at the box office. There were five people in the theater when I saw it.

But hopefully it’ll do for the school reform movement what “An Inconvenient Truth” did for the global warming movement.

Both were directed by Davis Guggenheim.

He becomes the latest liberal defector to the conservative cause of overhauling public education.

And he does it well, introducing bleeding-heart liberalism into a battle that has been mired in the wonky, tangled weeds of test scores, learning gains, performance pay and school choice.

Guggenheim shows us the children whose futures are pegged to failing public schools. We see desperate parents trying to get them out. We see their fate riding on the whims of lottery balls rolling out of a turning cage.

Beat the 5 percent odds and you win a first-class education in a top-performing charter school. You get the inside track on a college degree and a ticket out of the inner city.

Lose and you go to the dilapidated blockhouse down the street, a prep academy for a state prison more than a state university.

It is an emotional appeal with victims, villains and heroes.

The villains are unwieldy bureaucracies and teachers unions, which bargain for contracts that stifle excellence and protect incompetence. The priority is job protection, not education. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, comes across as Cruella de Vil, with poor kids the helpless Dalmatian puppies.

One hero is Michelle Rhee, the former public schools chancellor of the District of Columbia who closed failing schools and waged a campaign against incompetent administrators and teachers. Another is Geoffrey Canada, a Harlem educator so frustrated by the system he formed his own charter schools as an alternative.

The reformists’ message boils down to this: Given the right setting and the right teacher, every child can succeed. Good teachers work miracles; bad teachers can ruin lives. Yet there is no recognition of the difference between them.

The film also brings in Bill Gates to make a broader argument. It is that America’s future security depends on our ability to compete with the rest of the world. It is an economic battle for growth and prosperity, with winners and losers determined by who best educates their youth.

International science and math scores show us falling behind at an accelerating pace. Even top-rated suburban schools are failing to keep pace.

A Clear And Present Threat
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Posted by admin | Columns
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| Friday 29 October 2010 9:19 AM

A new Gallup poll shows that forty-six percent of Americans believe the federal government “poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.”

The other fifty-four percent? Obviously they aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in their country.

At first glance, this statistic has barely budged from where it was four years ago – when Democrats seized control of the U.S. Congress. A look at the partisan breakdown of respondents tells a different story, however. Just prior to the 2006 elections, fifty-seven percent of Democrats felt threatened by the government compared to just 21 percent of Republicans. Today those numbers have flip-flopped – with sixty-six percent of Republicans feeling threatened compared to only 21 percent of Democrats.

Meanwhile, the number of independents who feel threatened by the government has remained steady at roughly 50 percent – although that number is seven points higher than when Gallup first asked this question in 2003.

This data highlights several political truisms – most notably the ability of absolute power to corrupt absolutely (no matter which party is in charge), as well as the misplaced faith that certain segments of the electorate still place in the two-party system.

“This complacency is very unfortunate,” writes Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “Republicans presumably want to limit government control over the economy, yet it was the Bush Administration that put in place policies such as Sarbanes-Oxley, the banana-republic TARP bailout, the corrupt farm bills, and the pork-filled transportation bills. Democrats, meanwhile, presumably want to protect our civil liberties, yet the Obama Administration has left in place virtually all of the Bush policies that the left was upset about just two years ago.”

Indeed Republicans and Democrats in Washington have not only collaborated to ring up record deficits over the past decade, they’ve also joined forces to dismantle the free market and steadily erode our civil liberties.

These numbers show something else, though. They are a reminder that the GOP wave likely to wash over Washington this fall is drawing significant strength from unflinching independents – or voters whose convictions are not swayed by partisan rhetoric. Should Republicans achieve the gains many are predicting for them this year, the unavoidable reality is that they will be held accountable by a much more engaged, much more libertarian-leaning constituency that bears little resemblance to the GOP of a decade ago.

The modern GOP emerged from the realigned South – which emphasized religion, morality and tradition – and from Westerners who have always valued our founding ideals of independence and privacy. This “South-West Axis” formed a potent electoral alliance that began producing consistent Republican wins beginning in 1968. In fact prior to the two most recent election cycles, this axis was only really derailed once – by Watergate.

The “South-West Axis” also swept the GOP to a landslide Congressional victory in 1994, despite generic ballot polling that showed Democrats with a slim majority over Republicans just days before the election. Yet every time America has handed Republicans the car keys, GOP politicians have crashed and burned – even when the handwriting was clearly on the wall.

“As the Republican Party embraces the big government it once fought against, and increasingly stakes its political fortunes on cultural hot-buttons such as gay marriage and flag burning, libertarian-minded voters are up for grabs,” one political analyst wrote during the summer of 2006.

And indeed they were. As a result of the GOP’s failure to adhere to its founding principles, Republicans lost thirty House seats and six Senate seats in 2006. Two years later the party lost another twenty-one House seats, eight Senate seats and the presidency.

In both of these elections, Democrats capitalized on Republicans’ fiscal excesses. For example, prior to the 2006 election sixty-five percent of voters agreed that “Republicans used to be the party of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and limited government, but in recent years, too many Republicans in Washington have become just like the big spenders that they used to oppose.” Two years later, that number had climbed to eighty percent.

Meanwhile, 2008 polling in swing states like Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Virginia (all of which were carried by Barack Obama) showed that voters trusted Democrats more than Republicans to keep federal spending in check – turning conventional political wisdom on its ear.

The truth is that both parties have demonstrated a contempt for American freedom and free markets that has pushed our nation into its current economic malaise.

The only good news? With unconstitutional individual mandates, massive tax hikes and crushing debt payments looming, it won’t be long before the rest of the country realizes just what a threat to their liberties their own government has become.

Expiration date for lawmakers
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Wednesday 27 October 2010 11:06 AM

From The Washington Times

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Change is coming to Washington, and there’s hope on the horizon that America will ensnare the big-government colossus that’s consuming our wealth and curtailing our liberty. But even after next week’s elections, the temptation of pay-to-play politics, in which career officeholders sell access to the public till, will remain a threat. It’s time to address the crisis of out-of-control government by imposing term limits on members of Congress who overstay their welcome on Capitol Hill.

Last year, Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, introduced a constitutional amendment to limit senators to two consecutive six-year terms and members of the House of Representatives to three consecutive two-year terms. Tea Party activism has placed the nation on the cusp of political transformation, but victory will be short-lived unless it’s accompanied by a legal mechanism for ensuring Congress is composed of citizen legislators who don’t see public service as a lifetime meal ticket.

Each election offers the chance to limit the term of individual representatives, but the power of incumbency and related federal overspending make it imperative to curb tenure for the lawmaking class responsible for the nation’s fiscal dire straits. The Democrat-controlled Congress has collaborated with President Obama in piling up a federal public debt of more than $2.5 trillion during Mr. Obama’s first 19 months in office. According to Terence Jeffrey of CNSnews.com, that’s more than the public federal debt accumulated by all presidents from George Washington through Ronald Reagan. This government spending is rife with waste as billions flow to favored political constituencies such as unions and green technology firms.

Thomas Jefferson foresaw the temptation of treating elective office as a sinecure and advocated term limits “to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office the members of the Continental Congress. . . .” His warning went unheeded, and it wasn’t until the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951 that presidential service was restricted to two terms. Time in the legislative branch should be similarly limited.

An amendment restricting congressional officeholders would need to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate and House and three-quarters of state legislatures. Such widespread endorsement is rare in an ideologically diverse country, but Americans agree on this issue. A September Fox News poll shows that 78 percent of voters support term limits, including 84 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats and independents. The trend has mushroomed in recent years; currently, 37 states impose term limits on their governors and 15 restrict the service of their legislators.

Someday, the venality of human nature may disappear, and pigs may fly. Until then, it’s a good idea to have laws checking the power of erstwhile public servants who serve themselves above all else.

The Truth Behind Superman
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Tuesday 26 October 2010 4:27 PM

From The Heritage Foundation

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The documentary film Waiting for Superman follows five children and their families as they struggle to find educational opportunities. Fed up with the ineffective public schools in their communities, but unable to freely transfer their tax dollars to a school of their choice, the families enter lotteries for the few available slots in private and charter schools. As an unapologetic denunciation of the American educational system, the film features families openly weeping at the prospect of losing the lottery and returning to the public schools.

Opinions will vary about the movie’s dramatic style and presentation. Some viewers are themselves moved to tears, while others chafe at the what they see as an overly emotional message too high on idealism. Put Ross Douthat of the New York Times in the latter category. The film is “manipulative, simplistic and more than a little bit utopian,” he wrote in a recent column. He was quick to add, however, that the director’s “prescription—more accountability for teachers and bureaucrats, and more choices for parents and kids—deserves all the support his film promises to win for it.”

Douthat’s point is well taken. No educational intervention can magically make every student above average, and people who leave the theater in search of a panacea will inevitably be disappointed. But utopianism aside, school choice programs have led to significant positive outcomes that justify the public’s strong support.

Take charter schools. They receive public funding but are allowed to operate without the regulatory burden faced by ordinary public schools. The U.S. Department of Education recently published a rigorous evaluation of charter schools nationwide. The report’s authors found that parents are by large margins more satisfied with charter schools—and with the academic and social development of their children who attend—than are public school parents. For example, charter schools were rated “excellent” by 85 percent of parents, while non-charter schools received the “excellent” rating by just 37 percent of parents.

The overall impact of charter school attendance on test scores was insignificant. In other words, students of similar ability scored about the same on tests whether they went to a charter school or to a regular public school. This is the dose of realism that Douthat has referenced—test scores are notoriously hard to raise through intervention.

But given the higher levels of parental satisfaction produced by charter schools, test scores are clearly only one factor parents consider when deciding which schools are best for their children. In fact, parents probably understand the limitations of social policy better than most academics and policymakers. Rather than obsessing over elusive test score gains, parents seem to have a more nuanced and child-specific set of criteria: They want schools that are safe, cultivate a positive attitude about learning, and best fit their children’s abilities and interests. Only school choice programs can satisfy these diverse preferences and expectations.

Whether a viewer’s reaction to Waiting for Superman is one of passion or skepticism, the real take-away from the film should be that school choice programs benefit both students and their families, and that expanding the programs will expand the benefits.

Obama’s “Big Lies” Getting Bigger
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Posted by admin | Columns
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| Friday 22 October 2010 11:27 AM

While you can’t fool “all of the people, all of the time,” it is surprisingly easy to fool a sufficient number of them to get elected.

“People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

That’s an excerpt from a World War II-era military intelligence report – a document which explored the psychological profile of one of our nation’s (and the world’s) most dangerous enemies. It also represents perhaps the most succinct encapsulation of the modern-day propaganda method commonly referred to as “The Big Lie.”

Who was the subject of this particular intelligence report? Adolf Hitler.

And while history is unlikely to witness a repeat of anything approaching the horrific genocidal barbarism perpetrated by the murderous Nazi “New Order,” that doesn’t mean American politicians of both parties aren’t still employing the same propaganda techniques utilized by its reviled leader.

In fact, after Bush Republicans used “The Big Lie” to grow government and rack up huge deficits (while telling us they were for “limited government and less spending”) President Barack Obama is now using it to expand government further and rack up even larger deficits under the banner of “hope and change.”

Of course Americans still searching for “hope” amidst our ongoing economic malaise know that the only real “change” has been the cost of these lies – which keeps adding up at the expense of our liberties.

How many “Big Lies” has Obama told? Frankly, it’s becoming difficult to keep track of them.

Most recently, the top actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid – a pair of programs that shouldn’t even exist in the first place – revealed that millions of American seniors will have to pay increased out-of-pocket health care costs next year for “less generous benefit packages” as a direct result of Obamacare.

This is due to government’s failure to acknowledge basic economic realities – which is already costing taxpayers hundreds of billions each year (even as these programs’ unfunded liabilities continue to soar).

Last month, a Kaiser Family Foundation report showed that family health care costs are up by 14 percent in 2010 – with even larger increases forecast for future years, again as a result of Obamacare.

“Health reform mandates new levels of coverage that will increase employers’ costs at least until 2014,” a Kaiser analyst noted.

Beyond higher costs, “Obamacare” is already reneging on government promises regarding prescription drug plans – another benefit that never should have been subsidized by taxpayers. According to a study released earlier this year by Avalare Heath, as many as 3.7 million seniors could be forced out of their prescription drug coverage under the new law next year – ostensibly so the government can provide them with “more meaningful choices.”

All across the country, Obamacare’s costly new mandates are driving Americans out of their existing coverage and forcing them to pay increased out-of-pocket expenses – perpetuating the worst inefficiencies of government-run health care.

“This much is clear: If the law with its expensive mandates remains on the books, millions of Americans are going to lose the health care plans they have now — plans the president repeatedly promised they could keep,” Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe wrote recently.

Obviously, these ill effects don’t even begin to address the damage done by Obamacare’s individual mandates and costly tax hikes – which not only trample on the Constitution but also violate Obama’s promise not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $200,000.

Of course we’ve been lied to by this administration before. Obama promised to bring transparency and accountability to government, but then he negotiated his health care bill in secret so that he could steer billions of dollars to his biggest labor union supporters. Then Obama removed new disclosure requirements for these union leaders – making it impossible for the public to know how they’re spending all of this taxpayer-funded largesse.

And who can forget “The Big Lie” of Obama’s so-called stimulus plan – which administration officials said would save or create more than 3 million jobs and keep unemployment below 8 percent? Clearly those assumptions – along with Vice President Joe Biden’s promised “Summer of Recovery” – were diversions designed to fool the American people.

As America heads to the polls in November, let’s hope we don’t get fooled again. We’ve had an elegant sufficiency of “Big Lies,” now what we need are real citizen leaders who are willing to tell us the simple truth about all of these unsustainable programs.

‘Superman’ debate: Waiting for the teachers’ unions
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Friday 22 October 2010 11:11 AM

From Sign on San Diego

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Among the recent rash of education reform movies to hit our nation’s Cineplexes – “The Cartel,” “The Lottery” and most recently “Waiting for Superman” – a common thread has been the demonization of the teachers’ unions. They have been portrayed as the key stumbling block to badly needed education reform.

The unions seem to be shocked and furious that they are portrayed in such a dismal way and have issued statements and news releases that the films are inaccurate, unfair and out of touch with what really goes on in schools and that the filmmakers are engaging in “teacher bashing” and should “talk to real teachers.”

None of the above is true. It is also worth noting that the unions have proposed no real constructive reforms of their own except for the tired old “We need more money” mantra. In fact, the public is no longer buying into the brand of reform that the unions are selling and have come to see that the reformers are on to something.

For example, the public is very much in favor of charter schools – by more than 2-1, according to a survey by the Education Next Program on Education Policy and Governance. Charter schools, which are public schools but without so much of the district and union red tape, are the stars of “Waiting for Superman.” Not panaceas, they can be shut down after a few years if the students aren’t learning. But most are successful, according to a decade-long study in New York by Carolyn Hoxby, an economic researcher at Stanford. Only about 100 of the nation’s 5,000 charter schools are unionized. Hence, teachers’ unions don’t like them and do their best to make sure there are caps on the number allowed in each state.

While the public has repeatedly shown overwhelming support for charter schools, with other forms of school choice it depends on who and how you ask the question. Vouchers – cash payments to defray the cost of a private school – have become less popular in the last few years, but “tax credits” and “scholarship programs” are looked on with favor. However, African-Americans and Hispanics are much more likely to be in favor of school choice no matter how the question is asked.

The unions fight choice wherever the legislation comes up because private schools are not unionized and, as more and more students leave public education, the union loses money because of a dwindling dues-paying base. The most blatant case of a union wielding its political power was in Washington, D.C., when last year, Congress, after receiving a threat from National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, dutifully killed off the extremely popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, in which some poor kids could escape their failing public schools and go to a private school. This was no backroom threat; it was posted on the NEA website.

Pay for performance? The unions are hidebound by the archaic factory model whereby teachers’ salaries are pegged to the number of years they have taught. Teacher quality is of little interest to union bosses. However, the public thinks differently. In a recent poll conducted by Time magazine, 71 percent of the responders said better teachers should make more than mediocre counterparts.

Perhaps the most egregious thing that teachers’ unions do is to make it almost impossible to get rid of a bad teacher once that teacher has gained tenure. According to the Time poll, only 28 percent of people agree with teacher tenure. Bad or inadequate teachers, appropriately called lemons, instead of being fired are simply moved from school to school in a practice known as “the dance of the lemons.”

At the same time, every state has some kind of automobile “lemon law.” These laws provide a remedy for purchasers of cars in order to compensate for vehicles that repeatedly fail to meet standards of quality and performance. Hence, it would seem that the unions care more about the quality of a car than the quality of our children’s education.

In issue after reform issue, the public has come around to the reform side. In fact, reform, which used to be the dominion of conservatives and libertarians, has crossed over and liberals and progressive are now embracing reform – one of the rare issues that has become truly bipartisan.

Kevin Chavous, an Obama-voting Democrat, leads a group of determined pro-choicers called the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Joe Williams, a former newspaper reporter in New York, heads up the Democrats for Education reform. Davis Guggenheim , the director of “Waiting for Superman,” is an admitted “unrepentant liberal.” And even Oprah Winfrey has gotten into the act, featuring a couple of shows dedicated to educational reform the week “Waiting for Superman” was released in New York and Los Angeles.

What does all this portend for the unions? They have been exposed. Having lost the war of ideas, but flush with money, they will keep flailing away trying to sell the public their tired old “more money will fix things” canard. As for their claims of teacher-bashing in the movies – nonsense. Good teachers were praised constantly.

“Superman” and the other films unflinchingly tell the story of why public education in America is failing. The unfortunate reality is that teachers’ unions protect not the good teachers but the bad teachers. Teachers’ unions are clearly losing the battle because they are out of ideas and the public is finally realizing that the unions are not about the kids or the quality of education at all. In time, the unions will be marginalized and education will be freed to educate children and allow excellence to return to classrooms across America.

Sand taught in public schools in Los Angeles and New York for more than 28 years. He is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

Harlem activists seek eminent domain law reform
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Tuesday 19 October 2010 1:56 PM

From The Columbia Spectator

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As the controversy over Columbia’s proposed expansion plays out in the court system, some critics are arguing that the legal system that gave the University a green light is deeply flawed.

Attorneys and neighborhood activists gathered on Saturday at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for a conference called “Columbia University’s ‘Land Grab’ and its Impact on Harlem and Beyond: A Case of Power, Greed, and Corruption.” While most discussions up to this point have honed in on the legal aspects of this court case, the panelists also debated the scientific, political, and socioeconomic issues associated with the University’s intended 17-acre campus expansion in Manhattanville.

This weekend’s discussion came on the heels of a significant court case in which the New York State Court of Appeals declared this summer that eminent domain—the process by which the state can seize private property for “public use” in exchange for market-rate compensation—can be used to obtain private properties in West Harlem. This ruling was a major victory for Columbia, as it effectively paved the way for the University to acquire the remaining private property in the neighborhood.

Now, the attorneys representing two property holdouts, who have refused to sell to Columbia, are appealing the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing that the decision promotes an abuse of eminent domain law and violates fundamental constitutional rights.

One of the two attorneys­—Norman Siegel, representing Tuck-it-Away Self Storage owner and property hold out Nick Sprayregen—spoke at the conference, explaining this same argument to an audience of about 40 people in a discussion called “New Challenge of Eminent Domain in the U.S. Supreme Court.” But he went beyond the basics, offering several recommendations to fix what he calls the broken system of New York state eminent domain procedure law.

Siegel expressed concern with the current legal definition of “blight”—the condition of disrepair beyond the potential for natural relief. Though designation of an area as blighted is necessary to invoke eminent domain, Siegel said that vagueness in the language of the definition favors developers as it stands.

“Vagueness invites subjectivity, subjectivity invites selective enforcement, and selective enforcement invites favoritism,” he said. “The state legislature needs to hold public hearings soliciting public comments so that it can draft better laws clearly spelling out what constitutes blight in the context of the use of eminent domain.”

Siegel also proposed reforming the process to challenge eminent domain. He noted that in New York state, unlike in every other state in the country, there is no trial court in eminent domain cases allowing a private property owner to cross-examine the developer. Rather, the case automatically begins in an appellate court.

In addition to being revised to provide trial court cases, Siegel also proposed that New York’s eminent domain law be changed to prohibit a government agency responsible for approving the use of eminent domain from hiring the same consulting firm to conduct a blight study that the developer of the project has also hired.

“There’s something terribly wrong with that system, and yet that’s what happened in the Columbia situation,” he said, referring to the collusion that he argues occurred between the University and the firm that carried out the blight study.

Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice, echoed Siegel’s point, explaining that vaguely defined terms favor developers and disproportionately impact low-income black residents.

“We see bogus blight happening across the state using vague criteria, even when the developer himself causes the blight, even when the city causes the blight,” Walsh said, adding that in a study conducted of 1,000 eminent domain projects, two-thirds of the people displaced were black.

But developers, city government agencies, and consulting firms are not the only ones to blame, according to Tom DeMott, CC ’80 and a member of the local activist group Coalition to Preserve Community. In his talk, “The People’s Struggle against Columbia University’s Expansion,” he discussed another set of stakeholders who he says have been at fault throughout this court battle: politicians.

“When you get a ruling like that [the Court of Appeals decision] and when there’s been opposition for eight years, you would think the elected officials might get off their asses and do something about it,” DeMott said.

Local elected officials’ compliance with the University’s plans, he said, have allowed local residents to “be victims of eminent domain.”

Audience members said the panels taught them a lot about the expansion.

“I’m very perturbed right now,” West Harlem resident William Greene, who lives near the footprint of the expansion, said in an interview. “I learned today that we need a lot more public outcry. People haven’t been heard.”

Raese, Manchin would limit their Senate service
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Monday 18 October 2010 11:57 AM

From The Charleston Gazette

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for Senate say they would limit the time they serve if they win the seat of the late Robert C. Byrd.

Republican John Raese says he wants to fill the two years left on Byrd’s unexpired term and then serve one more six-year term before handing the seat over.

“There is a human nature to try and re-elect yourself, and that’s when I think our politicians get in a lot of trouble,” the Morgantown businessman said. “If we had term limits, it would take that situation and remove it.”

Raese said the ideal term should be two six-year terms for senators and three two-year terms for representatives. But he also believes it would be difficult to get such legislation passed.

Manchin said he would like to serve Byrd’s unexpired term, and then two more full terms before retiring from politics.

“I’m telling you that I will be two full terms maximum, if I’m elected and able, two full terms,” Manchin said. “I guarantee you, 12 years will be more than enough time.”

John Raese has also signed the U. S Term Limits Pledge, supporting a Term Limits Amendment next year. You can view his Pledge

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, as well as the signed pledges of other candidates at, USTermLimitsAmendment.org
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. Also view USTL’s Press Releases for all the candidates who have signed the pledge, at TermLimits.org
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