Thursday, October 30, 2014

YUGOS AND LADAS










I’ve seen lots of charts and graphs over the past few weeks. Every one of them tends to re-enforce the education position of the “favored” candidate. This makes it very difficult to separate the chaff from the wheat.

One of the things that’s become very clear to me about education here in Kansas is that the education debate has little to do with education. It’s all about money…lots of money!

Now, there’s no doubt about it. Educating our children is critically important. We all want our children to get the very best education in the world. That’s not unreasonable, nor is it unreasonable to understand that there are costs associated with that desire. If, for example, I’m considering the purchase of an automobile, I need to decide what I would like and then find out what it will cost. I may want a B.M.W., but budget constraints might mean I’ll have to settle for a KIA Soul instead. It’s not that the KIA is a bad automobile (Nancy and I drove one to California and back. It’s a nice car), but it’s not a B.M.W.

When it comes to education funding, I think the same principle applies. It’s all a matter of inputs and expected outputs. If I put of lot of money into education, I think it’s fair for me to expect a lot at the output at the end of the equation. And, that’s where this Conservative has a problem. I’m not getting what I’m paying for. I’m throwing a lot of money at education and so are a lot of other Kansans, but, I’m not getting a reasonable return on investment. In test after test these days, when American students are compared with their international counterparts, our kids are slipping in the rankings. All too often, we’re finding ourselves in the lower tier.

The sad truth about education in America is that we’re paying for a B.M.W., but we’re getting a Yugo or one of those old Soviet era Ladas instead.

That’s not a healthy situation! The tragic old adage is being played out right before our eyes – “Johnny can’t read, Johnny can’t write, Johnny thinks the American Revolution started when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.”

Nancy and I have hosted international students for almost as long as we’ve lived here. One of them, Corina Nour, came to us from the Republic of Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. When it came to funding for her high school education, the poverty of Moldova meant they could only spend pennies on education compared to our dollars. Yet, Corina excelled from the moment she got here. Her grasp of English was better than the average American student, as was her grasp of science, mathematics, or American history. We’ve had friends tell us she was the exception. We’ve never believed that, nor has Corina. Part of the equation of her success was certainly her, but another part of the equation was the quality of education that she got in Moldova. And, it had very little to do with huge sums of money.

A few years ago I started getting anonymous letters from people within the belly of the beast. They usually read something like, “Phil, you really need to look at what’s going on in state education.” I didn’t want to get involved. But, the anonymous e-mails kept on coming. Then, someone left a large packet at my door with a note attached. “Please, Phil, look at this and speak out.”

I decided to open the packet, which turned out to be a study done on every school district in Kansas. A group of blue ribbon citizens had been commissioned by the education bureaucracy to look at each district and determine what budget cuts needed to be made. I went over the report with a fine-tooth comb. It took me a full week to give it due diligence. When all was said and done, it was clear that the recommendations didn’t have our kids in mind. The recommendations hit classrooms like a ton of bricks. Administration? Staff? Analysts? They were barely touched.

It made me wonder. Was the blue ribbon panel suffering from an anti-classroom fetish? Or, had someone convinced them ahead of time to produce the “desired” results?

According to the Kansas Department of Education, student enrollment has increased by 6% between 1993 and 2013. Over that same period of time, administration and other staff have grown by 40%.

Our education bureaucracy has become a lumbering giant, due in large part to the onerous reporting requirements being dumped on it by elements of an even more massive bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.

And, the candidates who are clamoring for more money to throw at the problem have the gall to tell us it’s all for the kids.

I’ll close with this. Before you pull that lever on November 4th, you need to ask a question. Are you tired of paying for B.M.W’s and getting Yugos and Ladas instead? If you are, you’ll know which way to vote.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

THE GRAND MYTHS






Every election cycle has its grand myths. Here in Kansas there's the myth of voter suppression. Along with that, there's also the Democratic party myth about non-existent voter fraud.

Kansas does, indeed, have a voter ID law on the books, but it has nothing to do with voter suppression. According to the non-partisan group rockthevote.com, “A voter who is unable or refuses to provide current and valid identification at the polling place, or if the name and address do not match the voter's name and address on the registration book or poll book, may vote a provisional ballot.”

It’s as simple as that. If the information provided is true and accurate, the canvassers will count that provisional ballot.

Are Kansans being deliberately disenfranchised? In a recent op-ed, columnist Rich Lowry pointed out that, “In Kansas in 2012, 1,115,281 ballots were cast. There were 38,865 provisional ballots, and of these, 838 were cast for voter-ID reasons.” After the canvassers completed their work, four one hundredths of one percent of the total votes cast were ultimately rejected for legitimate reasons.

Democrats are claiming there really isn’t a voter fraud problem in this country. The truth is, we’ve had voter fraud problems for a long time. Lyndon Johnson, for example, was a skilled practitioner of a creative form of retail politics. During the early 1930’s, Johnson would set up shop in the Plaza Hotel in San Antonio. In “Means of Ascent,” author Robert Caro described it this way – “He sat behind a table covered with five dollar bills, peeling them off and handing them to men at a rate of five dollars per vote.” He graduated to what Caro then described as “purchasing them (votes) wholesale instead of retail.” It didn’t stop there. Johnson became quite adept at “persuading opposition poll watchers and election judges.” “The price ranged from “ten or twenty dollars for a clerk to as high as fifty dollars for a judge.” Johnson and the Democrats had an incredible amount of purchasing power. According to Caro, “There were more than 10,000 votes available on the West Side that were, in effect, for sale.”

There was voter fraud when I was growing up. My mother never became a U.S. citizen. She was always faithful to the Democratic Party and would trudge around the government housing project where we lived to get out the vote. Then, on Election Day, one of Tip O’Neill’s precinct captains would whisk her away to do Tip “a little favor.” There was never any hard proof, of course, but I wasn’t na├»ve enough to think Tip and his team hadn’t found a way for her to vote. I asked her about the dishonesty of what she was doing more than once. Her answer was always the same. “They’re crooks, but they’re our crooks…and, besides, keeping the Democrats in office keeps the welfare checks coming.”

In 1960, Chicago mayor Richard Daley found enough dead voters to put John Kennedy over the top in Illinois.

But, that was then. There’s no voter fraud problem now. Right?

Colorado has a mail in ballot this year. Investigative journalist James O’Keefe recently asked young Democratic operatives there about whether using a neighbor’s discarded ballot would be alright. The response was interesting – “That’s not even like lying or stealing.”

Jim Moynihan is a Republican candidate for state representative in Illinois. When he went to cast his vote early in Schaumburg, he noticed something odd when he reviewed his ballot. He’d voted for himself, but the voting machine cast the vote for his Democratic rival. Officials called it a “calibration error.”

In this morning’s Washington Post, Jesse Richman and David Earnest, professors of Political Science and International Studies at Old Dominion University, asked, “Could control of the Senate in 2014 be decided by illegal votes cast by non-citizens?” They reviewed a  large sampling of data provided the Cooperative Congressional Election Study and it revealed that as many as 6.4% of non-U.S. citizens voted in the 2008 national election. Non-citizen votes may have meant victory for Al Franken in Minnesota and Barack Obama in North Carolina in 2008. Some of the other findings were every bit as interesting. (1) Non-citizens favor Democratic candidates over Republicans (2) Some non-citizens vote despite legal bans (3) Non-citizen voting likely changed 2008 outcomes including Electoral College votes and the composition of Congress. (4) Voter photo-identification rules have limited effect on non-citizen participation (5) 14% of non-U.S. citizens were registered to vote in 2008 and 2010. 

I can see why the Democrats want non-citizens voting. 

The Democrats claim they’re interested in protecting the poor and minorities and that Republicans are trying to disenfranchise them. The truth is, the Democrats are buying power. The medium of exchange is abuse of the ballot box. The product being peddled is permanent serfdom for those who fall prey to the scheme.
We’ll be voting in a few days. For some of you it might mean a choice between honesty and permanent serfdom. Therefore, when the time comes to “pull the lever,” keep what I’ve written in mind.

Monday, October 27, 2014

EDUCATING OUR CHILDREN





If you were expecting a slice and dice piece about the state education budget or education policy you’ll have to wait for the next essay. I’m going to write about education today, alright, but it’s going to be about the education we’re giving our children and grand-children about the art of politics.

Unfortunately, the Kansas gubernatorial campaign has really gotten far too nasty for my tastes. It’s so bad that I fear that we’re giving our children and grandchildren the worst kind of education possible.

Last night, Nancy and I spoke with a couple of folks we know and admire. One thing led to another until the subject of the conversation became the gubernatorial campaign and the ugly ad about Davis that’s been produced by the Republican Governors Association. Our friends mentioned that all we really needed to know was that the Fraternal Order of Police had endorsed Paul Davis. I understood their point, but reminded them that as far as I was concerned, the police have a bit of a credibility problem these days. They’re shooting far too many of us and I don’t like that. And, besides, their endorsement, the endorsement of a union, or any other advocacy group means nothing to me. I’ll make up my own mind about who to vote for without their help.

I take their larger point. The ad is ugly. If it really is about fitness for political office, none of us is safe. We’ve all got skeletons in our closets. I’ve got a few myself, which I suspect the Democrats would try to dig up if I were running for office against their candidate.

But, I don’t want Paul Davis supporters to think they’ve taken the high ground, because they haven’t. Some of what they’ve had to say about Sam Brownback is as ugly and mean-spirited as it can get. Knowing that Brownback claims to be a devout follower of Jesus and also knowing that many Brownback supporters share his faith, they’ve cleverly implied that he thinks as highly of “Hitler, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Mao, and even the Mafia” as he does of Jesus.

The intent was clear – to cast doubt in Brownback’s Christian supporters’ minds about whether he is really a Christian. The bogus “claims” and the intent were scurrilous. Draping them in polite language didn’t make them any less scurrilous.

Do they really believe they’re heaven’s gatekeepers? Are they so sinless that they can cast the first stones?

I’m going to make this plain. Sam Brownback’s religion has nothing to do with this political campaign.

But, beyond the deceptive language and the ugly ads, there’s something even worse. You can barely get the words Brownback, Davis, Orman, Heulskamp, or Mast out of your mouth these days without seeing the veins in peoples’ necks bulging or their temples throbbing. They’re the telltale signs that there’s more than politics at play. There’s hate!

We need to wake up. Politics ain’t beanbag, but it ain’t all-our war either.

We’re really giving our children and grandchildren an education. We’re teaching them to hate those who political opinions differ from ours. We ought to be ashamed!

But, there’s a way out.

Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were political rivals. Tip was the Speaker of the House when Reagan was President. They fought many a political battle. They fought hard. In a 2012 New York Times op-ed, O’Neill’s son said his father had once described Reagan as “Herbert Hoover with a smile.” He also said Reagan once claimed that his father looked a lot like the main character in the Pac-Man game (“a round thing that gobbles up money”). Their political differences were profound, which O’Neill’s son described this way: “They were two men from humble Irish-American backgrounds who did not back down from a fight, and their worldviews were poles apart. As someone who watched the back-and-forth from a front-row seat, I know they each believed deeply in what they fought for — and that each had deep concern about where the other’s political views could take this country.”

In spite of the differences, they understood that their respective jobs were to “keep the country moving.”

They didn’t always like one another, but they still shared deep mutual bonds of Christian charity.

When Reagan was wounded in an assassination empty early in his Presidency, O’Neill visited him in the hospital. The “Gipper” was weak; he’d lost over half his blood. O’Neill whispered a few words at his bedside, and then knelt down. He gently grasped Regan’s hands and prayed the twenty-third Psalm.  When he was finished praying, he leaned over and kissed the President’s forehead, then left the room.

They were to fight many battles in the years after the President’s recovery. There were “wins” and “losses” on both sides. There were compromises.  But, whatever the outcomes¸ they both believed in putting the country first.

 That’s what our children and grandchildren should be learning.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

PRINCIPLES FIRST



My political philosophy is an eclectic mix of traditional conservatism (in the mold of Edmund Burke), neo-conservatism (like Irving Kristol, I was once a “liberal mugged by reality”), and the libertarian instincts of James Madison or Adam Smith.

My odyssey in life began in a political galaxy “far, far away” from conservatism. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, where conservatives are a rare breed.  It’s taken me years to get to where I am now. The journey has been very rewarding. I’m a conservative and I’m proud to say that I am.

The election is just a few weeks ago and I’m in the throes of deciding how to cast my ballot. I used the term “how to cast” rather than “who to vote for.” While I realize the ballot will have names fixed on it, I’ll be voting for conservative principles and deciding which candidates best embody those principles.

The first issue of importance to me in this election concerns the size, scope, and competence of government. Conservatives have always held that limited government is the best government. When government grows beyond its necessary limits, it becomes a bloated, bureaucratic giant. Then, the bigger it gets the more incompetent and inefficient it becomes. Worst of all, it becomes autocratic, corrupt, and despotic.

What does this mean for the average American or the average Kansan?

Almost everyone in this country has heard about the scourge of Ebola. About three weeks ago we all heard the assurances from government bureaucrats that it was almost impossible, given our systems and agencies, for Ebola to come to our shores. Then, when the cases did appear, the Centers for Disease Control assured us that “protocols” were in place to protect us. We now know that was a lie. We’re being told that more money would have solved the problem. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health recently complained, “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

How can this be? The truth is, it can’t. If there’s enough money in the coffers to pay for studies on why chimpanzees throw things, the impact of cocaine on the sex drive of Japanese quail, or the impact of televisions and gas generators on small Vietnamese villages, surely there’s enough money to develop vaccines and protocols in the fight against Ebola. We even have an “Ebola Czar.” Her name is Nicole Lurie. Her profile describes her as having “responsibility for getting the nation prepared for public health emergencies.”  She’s been almost invisible, but she’s been busy enough in the back rooms to shepherd a $443 million no-bid contract for an unnecessary smallpox drug to Siga, a company whose “controlling shareholder” was Ron Perelman, a major Democratic Party donor. While the wheeling and dealing was going on, Chimerix, a competing drug company, was left holding the bag by N.I.H. What made it all so tragic was that Chimerix was actually working on anti-viral treatments for Ebola.

That’s what almost always happens when government gets too big.


What does this have to do with Kansas? I’ve been looking at the size of Kansas government for years. It’s really bloated. The best way to gauge how bad it’s been is comparing the number of public sector employees per capita in Kansas with the rest of the states. Based on a 2012 census of the states taken by Governing Magazine, Kansas has the eighth highest number of public sector employees per 10,000 of population (273) in the non-education segment. When elementary, secondary, and higher education employees are added to the mix, Kansas has the dubious distinction of have the second highest per 10,000 (667). If it weren’t for Wyoming, we’d be wearing the brass ring.

Sam Brownback has been accused of doing everything under the sun to destroy jobs in Kansas. It’s a clever, deceptive half-truth. Private sector employment is on the rise. It’s government jobs that are being cut. And, they should be. This problem has festered far too long. In a 2011 interview with Watchdog.org, Malcom Harris a professor of finance at Friends University in Wichita was asked about our public sector employment problem. His response was quite telling: “It’s an indicator of a bigger problem. It tells me we’ve got a lot of resources going into government.” When asked why that was important, he replied, “Government spending squeezes resources that might be available for increasing productivity. It makes us less competitive.”

Like William Tecumseh Sherman marching through Georgia, Sam Brownback has the bureaucrats howling. It’s about time. The pendulum in Kansas is finally swinging in the right direction and we need to keep it swinging that way.

I could go on about the size and scope of government, but other issues beckon. Education is next. I can see the smoke rising from my laptop already.