Friday, November 28, 2003

Education - What matters...
 
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. " -Upton Sinclair

I think what bothers me so much about the President's No Child Left Behind initiative is that it establishes a system for education that is so far removed from the system I envision and to which I have devoted my career. NCLB looks at a student as a product, or 'widget' if you will, that can be acted upon and fashioned to 'perfection', according to their idea of perfection and standards. I believe that education is about creating environments and experiences so that each student can, relying upon their innate skills, traits, character, and personality, develop in the direction those skills and their interest will take them. NCLB follows a corporate model that needs to create a functional unit to fit in to its preordained cog. I believe destiny depends not on our predetermining what each person is meant for but rather depends on each person's independent journey toward self-actualization. To do that, we create the best possible experiences for all students to learn the subjects we put before them, whether it is learning to read and write or to do algebra. We have ways of evaluating and making sure that the methods we use are effective, but I don't think prescriptive standards and exit exams are the best way to do that evaluation. But don't take my word for it -- here are some others who have thought hard about these issues:

Bush Flunks Schools by SUSAN OHANIAN: [from the Nation, December 1, 2003 issue]
The ESEA [No Child Left Behind Act] is like a Russian novel. That's because it's long, it's complicated, and in the end, everybody gets killed. --Scott Howard, former superintendent, Perry, Ohio,

At first, many people liked the sound of "No Child Left Behind," President Bush's education plan. Who could object? The press and the public responded positively to the sentiment--until the failure-to-measure-up labels started rolling in. But now, New York Times education columnist Michael Winerip says NCLB (pronounced "nicklebee") "may go down in history as the most unpopular piece of education legislation ever created."

Across the country, thousands of federal scarlet letters have been posted on schoolhouse doors.
According to a Machiavellian federal formula, many schools well respected in their communities didn't make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). In Florida, only 22 percent of the schools earning A's under the state's ranking system received the NCLB imprimatur; overall, 87 percent of Florida's public schools were judged inadequate. NCLB wonks are quick to point out that nowhere in the law is the word failure used. True. But everybody reads the "in need of improvement" tag as a euphemism for failure. And schools "in need of improvement" are penalized, so the distinction is a sham. Click here to read more.


Other Ohanian articles:
June 2003: Capitalism, Calculus, and Conscience

DECEMBER 2002 * Volume 84 * Number 4: MISGUIDED POLICIES
In a time when "statistical abstractions" drive education, Susan Ohanian and Dave Posner wonder where education is headed.
"Is Satire Possible?", by Susan Ohanian
"Education for the 21st Century", by Dave Posner

News from the Resistance Trail.
Is That Penguin Stuffed or Real.
Some Are More Equal Than Others
Goals 2000:What's in a Name?

"For many families, home is where the school is. Ranks of home-schooled double in a decade"
Jane Gross, New York Times
Friday, November 14, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
New York -- In Penny Kjellberg's modest living room in Manhattan, one of her 11- year-old twins conjugates French verbs while cuddling a kitten. The book shelves sag with "The Encyclopedia of the Ancient World," "The Idiot's Guide to Understanding Einstein" and Ken Burns' videos about the Civil War. Kjellberg's other daughter devours a book about Ulysses with periodic romps outdoors when she gets antsy.

The Kjellberg twins, Caroline and Jessica, were in a highly regarded public school until two years ago. But they were bullied, their mother said, miserable, and referred to psychiatrists when they misbehaved in class. So Kjellberg, neither a hippie nor a fundamentalist, decided to educate them at home.

"I was always too afraid to take that giant step outside the mainstream," she said. "But now that
circumstances have forced us out, our experience here on the sidelines is so good that I find it harder and harder to imagine going back."

The Kjellbergs' choice is being made by an increasing number of American families -- at least 850,000 children nationwide, up from 360,000 a decade ago, according the Education Department.

Newcomers to home schooling seem a different breed from the religious right and libertarian left who dominated the movement for decades, according to those who study the practice.

They come to home schooling fed up with the shortcomings of public education and the exorbitant cost of private schools. Add to that the new nationwide standards -- uniform curriculum and more testing -- which some educators say penalize children with special needs, whether they are gifted, learning disabled or merely eccentric.

THE NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT, A PLAN FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF PUBLIC EDUCATION: JUST SAY NO by Gerald W. Bracey
Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency (EDDRA)

(Gerald W. Bracey is an Associate of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation and an Associate Professor at George Mason University. His most recent books are The War on America's Public Schools (Allyn & Bacon, 2002) and Put to the Test: An Educator's and Consumer's Guide to Standardized Testing (Revised edition, Phi Delta Kappa International, 2002). The opinions are his own.)
The No Child Left Behind Act is a trap. It is the grand scheme of the school privatizers. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) sets up public schools for the final knock down.

Paranoia? Hardly. Consider that the Bush administration is de-regulating every pollution
producing industry in sight while cutting Super fund cleanup money. It has rolled back regulations on power plants and snowmobiles and wants to take protection away from 20,000,000 acres of wetlands (20% of the total). President Bush's response to global
warming: "Deal with it!" by which he means, adjust to it while we make the world safe for SUVs. The president wants to outsource hundreds of thousands of government jobs to private corporations. He wants, in other words, to get the government out of government.

Would an administration with such an anti-regulatory, pro-private sector policy perspective turn around and impose harsh, straitjacket requirements on schools, demands that would bankrupt any business? Of course not. Unless it had an ulterior purpose.

Leaving Children Behind: How NCLB Will Fail Our Children (in PDF)

Monty Neill, published in November 2003 Phi Delta Kappan.
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing is an advocacy organization working to end the abuses, misuses and flaws of standardized testing and ensure that evaluation of students and workers is fair, open, and educationally sound.

We place special emphasis on eliminating the racial, class, gender, and cultural barriers to equal
opportunity posed by standardized tests, and preventing their damage to the quality of education.
Based on four Goals and Principles, we provide information, technical assistance and advocacy on a broad range of testing concerns, focusing on three areas: K-12, university admissions, and employment tests.
For more about us and our mission click here.


Senator Wellstone was outspoken in his comments about the unfairness of NCLB and its model of single measures for success here are his comments from a March 2000 speech.


 




JFK
 

It's worn out over time, but my kids still ask me, "So where were you when Kennedy was shot?" I do remember -- sixth grade, returning from lunch. I was the first student in the classroom because I was told to come in over recess to work on my handwriting. The teacher sat stunned staring at a spot a few feet in front of her. There was nothing there. Then my friend and neighbor John came running in, "The president's been shot." He stopped and like a fade to gray so does the memory. I know we didn't have school the rest of the day but I can't remember what happened next.

Burned even more vividly in my mind, though, is the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald.

It was disturbing. I remember how odd it was to have the adults so anxious and glued to television sets. I walked over to my neighbor's house to see what he was up to. I pet their Cocker Spaniel, Blackie, pulled open the aluminum storm door and walked into the living room. The TV was on, but everyone was in the kitchen. On the screen, a man in a big white hat and a smaller man in a black sweater were walking out of a doorway. Suddenly a shadowy figure blurred across the screen, shots rang out and the man in the black sweater grimaced and fell to the ground. I'd seen people shot on TV before, but that was make believe, and I knew this was real, live on television. The only time I had seen anything so shocking was later during the Vietnam war when the evening news showed a tape of a South Vietnamese plain clothes policeman execute a prisoner right in front of the camera. Pistol shot to the head.

It would be years before I would realize the importance of John F. Kennedy. I was too young to be filled with the hopefullness he brought, too young to catch the energy of the challenge and optimism of the pledge to put a man on the moon, or feel the pull of the adventure of the Peace Corps. I had a sense, though, that suddenly the world was young not old, that idealism matters and there was much to be hopeful about. Then he was killed. I did catch the replay when Robert Kennedy was killed and did catch the crushing disappointment when hopefulness, idealism and innocence were ripped away.

The Kennedys made you feel good about doing good. They made us trust that we could look into the future and see a hopeful and decent America. So many from my generation or a little older have been motivated by that optimism to strive for great things. Both Paul Wellstone and Bill Clinton fall into that group. Perhaps we too can find some of that optimism now to reach out to each other and reach out to brothers and sisters across the globe to do better, to care more about each other and less about our own individual fortunes, assuring that the tide rises for all of us. I am a Democrat because I believe that democracy and politics in general is about improving people's lives, not just those those at the top of the food chain, but everyone. It's time we faced up to the reality that individual effort can only make a few people rich, perhaps one in a million, and a good bit of it is luck not hard work. If we work together, that wealth gets spread around. If we remember those less fortunate than ourselves, we bring them along, and we all move forward together. It is my great fear that the current state and national administrations are intent on dismantling what infrastructure and policy that still remains to encourage us to work together for the common good. If they have their way, there will be little if any safety net or policies left to protect us from the rich and powerful.


The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza Home Page

John F. Kennedy assassination still stirs memories, debate 40 years later

Forums - The Public Execution Of John F. Kennedy
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 09:23:00 -0600

The Nation: John F. Kennedy
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 09:02:34 -0600

Column: John F. Kennedy's life, as his death, is haunting to this day
By Rabbi Jonathan P. Kendall
Special to the News
November 21, 2003
Someone once said that memory was an act of resurrection. One sifts through the ashes of the past and miraculously retrieves isolated moments that become vivid and iridescent. Their clarity rises above other events either because their imprint is associated with great happiness or intense pain.

We all remember the births of our children, special birthdays and graduations, just as we can summon from the depths of that mysterious reservoir of memories instances of failure, embarrassment and tragedy. Some of these ensigns are personal and anecdotal; others are collective. As an example, we will all remember Sept. 11, 2001 - where we were, what we were doing, what we felt as that ugly morning unfolded.

For some, 40 years ago is remote and inaccessible, especially since over half the population of our country had yet to be born! But for those of us who lived through Nov. 22, 1963 and the days that followed, there are awful, melancholy and graphic echoes of scenes that reach out to us from across four decades. They remain just as haunting, just as disturbing, just as challenging today as they were when they were fresh. These are communal memories, but also highly personal ones - a kind of integrated national recollection tethered to our individual hopes, dreams and nightmares.

The late 1950s and the early 1960s were a period of great transition in America. Dwight Eisenhower was probably the last president who could qualify as a "father figure." America was booming and Ike was an iconic national leader whose persona was larger than life.

We were locked in a frightening struggle that pitted East against West, communism against democracy, good vs. evil. Life was simpler, black and white, and none of the complexities and subtleties that test our mettle today intruded on our lives then.

But there were tectonic changes on the horizon. Stirring were racial consciousness, more than just a dynamic rub between generations, and a kind of societal drift that threatened our placid internal life as much as the Soviets intimidated our safety.

The torch was passed in 1960 to John F. Kennedy and his election was an astonishing break with the past. The "new frontier" of which he spoke was more real than any of us dared to imagine. The youth of the country were captivated, positively mesmerized and galvanized by this young man. And he was no political naif or flash in the pan. He could negotiate with the best of his adversaries and hold his own.

JFK brought a wonderful sense of vision to the enterprise of government while his intellectual and rhetorical gifts were simply unprecedented. President Kennedy was, by every measure, a person of extraordinary depth and texture.

Unfortunately, our memories of him are as much about his death as they are about his life. In fact, the template against which his presidency is assessed seems to always bring us back to muffled drums, a riderless horse with stirrups reversed, a little son's salute and that long funeral cortege to Arlington.

We wonder what might have been. That is human nature. After all, we mourn for the years that were denied JFK - and us - rather than for the years he enjoyed. Would we have been mired in Vietnam? Would there have been such a total erosion of public confidence in government and national leadership if JFK had lived and Richard Nixon had remained in retirement? Would the press's feeding frenzy over Watergate - which many are convinced began the slippery slope toward sensationalism and an almost total disregard for decency in public discourse - have been at least forestalled? It is a long way from JFK's soaring and lofty words to "I am not a crook," and beyond to "I did not have sex with that woman." A very long way, indeed. But this is the stuff of pure speculation.

Some celebrated JFK's death because they saw in him a threat to the status quo; we mourned his loss for the same reason. No nation can remain in stasis forever. Many of us cherished President Kennedy expressly because he was an agent of change at a time when the entire world stood on the cusp of monumental transformations. And as icing on the cake, he was handsome, elegant, eloquent, intellectually robust, and courageous. He embraced and enshrined values that reflected the noblest and best of our traditions as a nation. We didn't just like him; we admired him and sought to emulate his inclusive, energetic understanding of America and our future as contributors and participants in her life.

It should go without saying that Nov. 22, 1963 was a cataclysm for the majority of my generation. We shed unashamed tears for him and many of us miss him even now. Not, you should know, because the comparisons with his successors are often so invidious and not because of the way he left us.

We miss JFK because his life and his death became a metaphor for all that was right and all that was wrong in our country. Wistfully, we wonder if we could have held those polarities in check a little longer. Many of us are still sorting through those things - we who remember - filtered as they are through the prism of loss, the passage of time and the bittersweet, subjunctive lens of what might have been.
Jonathan Kendall is the Rabbi of Temple Beit HaYam in Stuart.
Copyright 2003, TCPalm. All Rights Reserved.

The day it all ended
James O. Goldsborough
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 08:58:01 -0600

America's Kennedy: The Enduring Allure
BBC NEWS
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 08:54:35 -0600

A new generation feels little link to JFK
Philadelphia Inquirer 11-21-2003
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 08:50:35 -0600

The Seattle Times Opinion: JFK We still wonder what might have been
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 08:48:20 -0600

Opinion: John Nichols JFK's personal touch won
Wisconsin (captimes.com)
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 08:46:45 -0600


"The Kennedy Legacy"
DANIEL SCHORR
The Christian Science Monitor
Copyright 2003 Nando Media
Copyright 2003 Star Tribune

"It takes upbeat politician to get folks to the party"
Ellen Goodman
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 08:36:04 -0600
There is nothing contradictory about anger and idealism.


 



Sunday, November 16, 2003

Seagren, Sykora, Cox Hold Education Listening Session
 
This past week Bridgewater school hosted an education focused legislative listening session with Rep. Alice Seagren, chair of the House K-12 Education Finance Committee Rep. Barb Sykora , Chair of the House K-12 Education Policy Committee and Rep. Ray Cox of Northfield. The meeting was advertised as chance to comment Governor Pawlenty's education initiatives, namely the 'Super Teacher' bill, the 'Truancy/Driver license revocation' bill and the 'Reading by Second Grade' bill. However most of the conversation seemed to be about the new 'Social Studies Standards' , 'School finance' and the possibility of linking testing results or rather individual improvement with funding.

On this last issue, Rep. Seagren indicated there was no plan to link learning progress with funding. One questioner indicated to do so would be unfair, because the potential improvement of students who were not doing so well would easily exceed the paced progress by students who were doing well. That would skew the results and increase the likelihood that schools with a majority of students who were performing well would get less money than those who started out low but improved by one or two grade levels. Rep. Sykora supported this view and said it was her belief that we have in the past wasted money by rewarding those who fail. This seemed strange reasoning to me, that providing funding for schools with a great need is rewarding their failure, when in a time of limited resources it makes sense to apply resources where there is the greatest need. But she went on to explain the basis for her belief -- that it was her view that we should really be spending resources on the gifted students because indeed they will be the ones running the country. I refrained from pointing out that that did not seem to be the case in the present White House to say nothing about the ethical and moral implications of that statement.

Social Studies teacher Kevin Dahle brought up the Social Studies Standards, and St. Olaf History Professor Bob Entenmann added his concerns about the nature of the standards. His feeling is that rather than enhancing student learning, these standards will diminish a student's chances for deeper learning. He recently wrote in an article to the Star Tribune:
Our children need a strong foundation in history and social studies to prepare for citizenship. This is why the Legislature mandated standards that are "clear, concise, objective, and grade-level appropriate."

Unfortunately, the proposed standards do not meet these criteria. They are often not grade-appropriate, they often include inconsequential trivia and they leave out much that is significant. They pay little attention to analysis and critical thinking.

The draft standards in American history in particular promote a kind of patriotism that depends on a selective memory -- and forgetting -- of our past, paying little attention to conflict, tensions and ambiguities in our history. Patriotism should not depend on ignorance. Our kids will not love our country less if they learn that it is not perfect. The proposed standards need to be changed fundamentally. Our children deserve to become knowledgeable and thoughtful citizens.

Rep. Cox offered that he felt that Bob knew more about this subject than anyone else and mentioned his article. I imagine this means that Rep. Cox will be taking what he has heard from Prof. Entenmann and using it to challenge the final draft of the standards if they don't meet the Legislative mandate he quotes. We'll be watching for his leadership along these lines.

Rep. Sykora seemed to think that in time the discord about the standards would subside. "There's no fuss about Language Arts and Math anymore." But I'd guess that was because people were busy commenting on the Science and Social Studies proposed Standards. The comments made regarding the Science and Social Studies proposed Standards are posted on the Dept. of Education website. Little was said about the make up of the committee creating the standards and their agenda. It would be interesting to know why the commissioner feels that bank executives and advocates of a right wing agenda have more representation on this committee than career teachers. There's a very specific article in City Pages that addressed this slant in perspective, representation, and agenda called "Cooking the Books: Right-wingers divine new education standards", by Britt Robson. Regarding the political bias of committee members:
The backgrounds of some committee members are also notable. There's Bruce Sanborn, listed on the education department's website simply as a parent and, long ago, a schoolteacher for two years. But Sanborn is also chairman of the board of the Claremont Institute, whose mission is to "restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life." The institute will present Rush Limbaugh with its Statesmanship Award at a dinner in Los Angeles on November 21 and has recently named Reagan-era education commisioner William Bennett its Washington fellow. (In a fundraising letter for the conservative Heritage Foundation, Bennett once wrote, "Armed with public opinion, we can wear down the [teachers'] unions.")

Matthew Abe is similarly listed on the website as an involved parent. There is no mention that Abe runs the Minnesota Education Reform News website, with a mission to "inform Minnesota citizens about the shortcomings of performance-based, anti-knowledge, behavior-, and attitude-based education." The site links to EdWatch, the new name for the conservative, Christian-oriented Maple River Education Coalition.

According to Norman Draper at the Star Tribune, there was not total agreement in the committee quoting one of the committee members
"We had a very contentious debate about that," said Westonka schools social studies teacher Marc Doepner-Hove, a member of the U.S. history committee who disagrees with the majority. "What struck me so much about the debate is the strong sense that we need to put the examples back into the [requirements] or the teachers won't teach them or won't know what to teach. To put it as bluntly as you can, they don't trust the teachers."

Finally here is comment from Michael Boucher, Minneapolis' South High Social Studies teacher
(StarTribune 11- 15):
The new standards are more of an embarrassment than the Profile ever was. They are a mishmash of fact and fallacy, and are woefully inadequate for Minnesota's children. Educators are looking for guidance as to what students need to know and be able to do, but this list masquerading as standards gives no real guidance and actually makes the burdens for teachers and students worse than the old curriculum standards.

When asked about Pawlenty's Super Teacher plan, that is, to pay selected teachers $100,000 to teach in a school for struggling learners to see if the problems of troubled learners can't be solved there seemed to be little agreement on the specifics of what this plan would mean. Would they work all in one school? What would happen if improvements were not made? What happens to these bonuses the second year? What effect would a pay structure like this that few could participate in have on collective bargaining? Rep. Seagren seemed concerned about the proposal and offered that she knew that teachers were motivated to work in these settings by other things than money. "Teachers need to be reasonably compensated but teachers have other motivations and I am not sure this will achieve the desired affect." To which Rep. Cox expressed that he believed money was very important to teachers.

I have had the opportunity to work with Rep. Seagren on a few occasions when working on legislation concerning Alternative schools, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for her as a legislator. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience and is balanced in her approach. Most of the teachers in attendance seemed attentive but one commented to me afterward that he wished there
had been more listening and less rhetoric.

I was unable to get to the session at its start, so I don't know if the any time was given to Pawlenty's other main "Excellence and Accountability" initiatives. The remaining two prongs of his agenda, although motivated by an attempt to solve difficult problems, strike me as efforts to legislate something that is not easily enforced by legislation, and by methods that are off the mark.

The first prong of the three part Pawlenty "Excellence and Accountability" is "Reading by Second Grade," which is not a novel idea - it's the focus of much discussion nationally and in Minnesota was the title of 1999 Senate File 232!

The other is the proposal to take away driver's licenses from students who miss school. It's also not a new idea, but it's one that strikes me as a hardship that does nothing to address the reasons why students don't attend and focuses particularly on the poor or those students who have to shoulder adult responsibilities at a young age. It's focus is punitive, not remedial. When I was sixteen and my father passed away, I was the only driver in my family. Had my situation been different, a measure such as this could have had a devastating impact on my family. I know that there are other instances where sometimes young drivers, because of circumstances are forced to take on more responsibility for the family, for example, some students miss school on occasion to care for younger siblings so mom can go to work because she just can't afford to miss anymore. Will the new law take into account special circumstances? Who will decide? How will we know if indeed it really has an effect on the behavior of teens?

Minnesota Public Radio had a story about this:
DFL legislative leaders were quick to criticize the plan. House Minority Leader Matt Entenza says the governor is looking for simplistic, sound bite solutions. Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, says Pawlenty is using his education initiatives as a way to cover up budget cuts he pushed last session.

"What's effective in keeping kids in school is not gimmicks, but getting parents involved in an authentic way, not taking over their role, and making sure that kids who are truant have the proper supports, the proper time on task," says Greiling. "They need to spend time in summer school. They need to spend time after school. The governor cut those programs. Those are what really work."

Minnesota Issue Watch in a related story says:
In response to 1995 legislation, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office initiated the Truancy Intervention Program in all five school districts in the county for students age 12 to 16. This early intervention program, first, holds meetings with groups of parents of identified truants, then, if attendance does not improve, an individual attendance contract is negotiated with the parent and child. If truants fail to honor the contract, the parent and child are referred to the courts. Filings for truancy petitions have dropped almost 73 percent in the past two years. A total of 4,101 students from 70 schools have been processed through the program; 76 percent of them improved their attendance, according to the program's 1996-1997 year-end report.

The Republican agenda for education like NCLB doesn't make the grade.

 



Saturday, November 15, 2003

St. O. Pol. Awareness Com. presents - Nadine Strossen and Patrick Buchanan
 
St. Olaf Political Awareness Committee presents:

Nadine Strossen and

Patrick Buchanan
This was forwarded by Bob Ciernia and has been edited a bit:
The St Olaf Political Awareness Committee is pleased to present a debate on civil liberties between two of America's foremost scholars in this field, Nadine Strossen and Patrick Buchanan. Strossen and Buchanan will square off in a debate on Tuesday, Nov. 18th at 7:00 PM in Boe Memorial Chapel at St Olaf College. (click here: for a campus map) Entrance is free to all St Olaf students, faculty, and staff, with a St. Olaf I.D. Others may purchase tickets for $5 by calling Janine at 507.646.3045. (Maximum 10 tickets per order.) Space is limited, so call today!

Nadine Strossen is a Professor of Law at NYU Law School. She has served as the first woman President of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) since 1991. (Check out an interview with Strossen) In addition to heading the nation's oldest civil liberties organization, she travels the world making hundreds of public presentations http://archive.aclu.org/congress/lg061197a.html on topics related to legal issues. She has been named twice to the National Law Journal's "100 Most Influential Lawyers in America." She graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College and then served as editor of the Harvard Law Review at Harvard Law School. As a writer, commentator, professor, and lawyer, Strossen has made an unmistakable mark in the legal field.

Patrick Buchanan has been an active politician and commentator for decades. He served as Director of Communications for the Reagan White House. He became Special Assistant to the President in 1969, writing speeches for both the President and Vice President; his role as Special Assistant continued through the Nixon Administration. Buchanan was a Republican presidential candidate in 1992 and 1996, winning the New Hampshire primary against Senator Dole in 1996. In 2000 he left the party for other pursuits. He has also been a very active member of the media, co-hosting radio/television shows and having received the 1977 Morality in Media Award. Buchanan has long been a strong voice in politics, media, and literature.


 



Wednesday, November 05, 2003

NORTHFIELD POLICE CHIEF TALKS ABOUT VIOLENCE PREVENTION
 
Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith gave a presentation to UCC church members Sunday morning before church as part of a series on preventing violence. He spoke from a perspective that was both practical and visionary. His belief is that because his 23 member police force can not be everywhere to stop crime, he needs to persuade citizens to want to obey the law. He said he expects he can accomplish this by helping everyone see that they have a stake in the community and begin to take responsibility for seeing that things turn out well. In addition, he expressed concern that taxpayers know that he believes resources must be used efficiently, but also that police provide services that taxpayer has already paid for. That is that the tax payers should not feel they cannot call on the police for service because of cost, because their taxes go to establish the services the police provide.

Smith cautioned that they are limits to what a police officer can do. As an example, he told of one citizen who asked him to kick another citizen out of town, to which he replied, "What makes you think that even if I wanted to do such a thing, that I would have the power to do so, when he has done nothing wrong?

He told us about a time early in his career as a policeman when he had witnessed justice handed down on an Indian reservation in Nebraska. In the story, one tribal member had caused the death of another, and rather than send him to jail, the tribal council sentenced him to take care of and provide for the family of the deceased man. In so doing, they were making it possible not only for the victims to receive some security in life, but for the man in some fashion to be restored in the eyes of the community.

He said this was a good lesson for him to experience because it shifted him away from the usual punishment mode of thinking. It also has caused him to look, even now in his current position, for community solutions to problems. In fact, he said that what some would see as police problems that only the police can solve, he preferred to look at some of his department's challenges as community problems that the police can play a role in solving.

His approah reminded me of an article I had read recently about progressive politics saying that such principles could be described as "The Nurturant Parent Family." The author, George Lakoff, described it this way:

It is assumed that the world should be a nurturant place. The job of parents is to nurture their children and raise their children to be nurturers. To be a nurturer you have to be empathic and responsible.

Empathy and responsibility have many implications: Responsibility implies protection, competence, education, hard work and social connectedness; empathy requires freedom, fairness and honesty, two-way communication, a fulfilled life (unhappy, unfulfilled people are less likely to want others to be happy) and restitution rather than retribution to balance the moral books. Social responsibility requires cooperation and community building over competition. In the place of specific strict rules, there is a general "ethics of care" that says, "Help, don't harm." To be of good character is to be empathic and responsible, in all of the above ways. Empathy and responsibility are the central values, implying other values: freedom, protection, fairness, cooperation, open communication, competence, happiness, mutual respect and restitution as opposed to retribution.

In this view, the job of government is to care for, serve and protect the population , to guarantee democracy, to promote the well-being of all and to ensure fairness for all. The economy should be a means to these moral ends. There should be openness in government. Nature is seen as a source of nurture to be respected and preserved. Empathy and responsibility are to be promoted in every area of life, public and private. Art and education are parts of self-fulfillment and therefore moral necessities.

Progressive policies grow from progressive morality. Unfortunately, much of Democratic policy making has been issue by issue and program oriented, and thus doesn't show an overall picture with a moral vision. But, intuitively, progressive policy making is organized into five implicit categories that define both a progressive culture and a progressive form of government, and encompass all progressive policies.


I very much appreciated Smith's point of view and the work he is doing in the community to promote empathy and responsibility. Northfield is fortunate to have someone with his insights in this position. I also learned something else about chief Smith and that is he has for years sponsored Explorer troops, and does so here in Northfield.

 



Sunday, November 02, 2003

Lights Out #9 - Where are we going and how will we get there?
 
MAPP addresses MISO's Market Initiative

Tuesday, October 21, the Mid-Continent Area Power Pool (MAPP) held its Regional Conference at Bandana Square - held there because there were too many people to fit into the MAPP headquarters just down Energy Park Drive. It was standing room only wall to wall energy wonks, ranging from electrical engineers, regulatory attorneys, utility management from across the region, our favorite legislative analyst, and our state Reliability Administrator Ken Wolf, and they weren't all there just for the superb free lunch!

The purpose of the conference, according to MAPP, was two-fold:

To educate members and stakeholders about the regional impacts of MISO's Midwest Market Initiative; and

To address concerns, alternatives and next steps for the MAPP region.

Why do we care? Because the Midwest Market Initiative is a giant leap towards de facto deregulation - is that something we want? The good news is that for those of us who do not think transfer to a market model is workable, much less good, for essential services, is that the utilities are so divided that it's about to split MISO, with many utilities throwing in with PJM, on the east coast, and others under the umbrella of TRANSLink or MAPP. The conference wound up with TRANSLink CEO Audrey Ziebelman delivering the "Conclusion and Next Steps for the Region."

NSP, prior to becoming Xcel, was bent on creating an "independent, investor-owned company that would own and/or lease transmission assets and operate the system over a broad geographic area."

The mark, he said, was a simple model - spin the transmission assets to shareholders, get a board of directors, elect officers and start a new business. The merger announcement pulled NSP's ITC from the grasp of Schuster's team, but he predicted that when the transmission industry evolves to its end game, "I guarantee that you will see our fingerprints all over it."

The Energy to Make Things Better, NSP: An Illustrated History of Northern States Power Company (1999), p. 387-388.

How will transmission be controlled, owned and operated under the new FERC rules? Are these private companies such as TRANSLink and ATC a contravention of FERC intent because they preserve the transmission owners apportioned interest? Who is protecting the public interest in this change? Stay tuned as the transmission industry tries to find and agree on a model that works - so far it's a combination of pro wrestling and cat herding.

Andrew Lucero, of Minnesota Power, put it well. He reported that it was as he was changing a poopy diaper the morning of the conference that, in a sudden eyeopening moment, he understood just why it was that he was qualified to speak about the state of transmission today. Everyone in the room from every perspective couldn't help but agree!

While we're thinking of transmission and how good regulation helps good business enterprises prosper, perhaps we'd best remember where we've come from and why! GREAT ARTICLE! from the Tom Paine website:

Lynn Hargis, former general counsel for electric rates for FERC writes:
I was telling my work colleagues that I'd played Monopoly with my daughter this weekend, when one of them showed me up on my purported expertise regarding the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA), about to be repealed by Congress: "The game couldn't have included PUHCA," he said, "because in Monopoly you can own the utilities and the railroads and the properties and hotels."

Sure enough, PUHCA prohibits non-utility companies from owning utilities and vice versa, because of the massive abuses by holding companies that caused 53 utility-holding companies to go bankrupt between 1929 and 1936. The law limits parent companies to owning a single, integrated utility system. This limits the size and geographic spread of utilities, which promotes state regulation and local management and control--and protects consumers from price gouging and unreliable service.

Then why is Congress about to repeal PUHCA? According to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman who forwarded a report to Congress on PUHCA in 1995 recommending its conditional repeal: "[T]he conduct that gave rise to the Act has all but disappeared."

What was this conduct? Abuses and obfuscation of utility accounting methods, affiliate abuses, abuses
of electricity and natural gas co-ownership, manipulation to raise electricity and natural gas prices, investment of utility revenues in risky business ventures (including foreign utilities) that failed and raised the cost of utility capital (and therefore of utility rates), abuses by investment bankers who sat on utility boards to their own advantage, and on and on.

If these sound familiar, that's because we read about them daily in the business pages in articles about
Enron, Mirant, NRG and Xcel, NorthWestern and Montana Power, PG&E and NEG, investment banks, telecom businesses, and so forth. We could ask Arthur Andersen about accounting abuses, except that they went bankrupt. And today's investment bankers are busy answering a lot of questions themselves, and settling a lot of cases with the SEC. Numerous utilities involved in the California deregulation debacle are settling with others.

The SEC Chairman in 1995 must have been either naive or living in a kinder and gentler pre-Enron-exposure era. (In 1994, Enron got a "no action letter" from the SEC staff allowing it to act as a "power marketer" without coming under PUHCA for such activities. This blasted a huge hole in PUHCA protection of investors and consumers that remains today.) That same 1995 SEC report also stated at the end that: "America today is blessed with a strong and vibrant utility industry," giving PUHCA much of the credit. Unfortunately, because of several partial PUHCA repeals by Congress and the SEC, America's utility industry in 2003 is more often described as "distressed" or "in chaos."

The credit ratings agencies have been continually downgrading utilities because of their "non-utility" activities, including investments in telecoms, power marketers, exempt wholesale generators, and foreign utility companies--all permitted or deregulated by partial repeals of PUHCA since 1992. Reports last week stated that utilities had lost an astonishing $25 billion in these businesses. Duke Power alone just released the news that its non-regulated "merchant fleet" has lost 80 percent of its value!

Although some ratings agencies have tried to blame the disastrous results only on bad management strategy, Xcel Energy has seen its four PUHCA-regulated utilities prosper, while its non-PUHCA-regulated NRG went bankrupt, despite the same ultimate management of both. PUHCA protects investors and consumers from bad management strategy, as well as from other abuses.

To read the rest of the article click here