Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Teen Athletes & Drinking

According to Mike Littwin of the Denver Post, high school athletic programs have "passed for too long" on the issue of teen drinking, and teen athletes who violate the law and their school rules and their team contracts by drinking "need to be broomed. History. See ya. End of story."

Littwin's comments in his Sunday column followed the news that number one-ranked 4A football team Valor Christian beat number three-ranked Pomona by an embarrassing score of 38-0. The caveat of this news came with the revelation that Pomona had suspended twelve of its starters for a game after they were caught drinking the previous weekend.

Littwin believes high schools - especially their athletic programs - have been completely lax for far too long, and it's reached a point where they practically condone the illegal behavior because the athletes have little fear of losing anything significant if they are caught. The students literally "don't care. They have no fear. Embarrassment? What's that? Honor? Yeah, right.

Sadly, "too many adults can't handle their own drinking," much less be bothered to worry about the actions of teens. Some even consider it a right of passage, a right of youth. And high schools who require contracts with their students for activities are undermining their authority by having policies with no teeth. Some even allow students to serve suspensions after the season is over. That is outrageous - but I hear about it all the time.

If the coaches and schools had any integrity, the policy would matter. Set the bar high. If a student is caught drinking or doing drugs in season he is out for the remainder of the season. Immediately. Period.

Is that too harsh? Littwin doesn't think so. Neither do I.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Unimpressive GOP Candidates

A recent discussion with a die-hard Republican about the current presidential candidates revealed a lot about the Grand Old Party ... and none of it seems good.

"The nominee has not yet appeared, you mark my words."

Really? Not yet. Seven candidates on the stage, two well-known prominent front-runners, and several candidates who aren't even invited for lack of support ... and you're telling me you've got nothing. That you're still waiting. That any day now, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is going to ride into town in his white hat and save the day and the party. Wasn't Rick Perry supposed to do that? To be that guy?

What the heck is wrong with that party if, amidst all those candidates, and all that hoopla, that even the die-hards are disappointed or unmoved and waiting for someone else.

Not good, GOP. Not at all.

I mean I'd like to rally around Romney or Huntsman. But you're making it really hard. And what kind of future does that propose?

Parenting by Distraction

At my daughter's ballet class, I sat in the lobby while several other parents talked ... and effectively ignored the younger siblings they had brought along to wait while older sister danced. Several of the kids were busy on mom's cell phone, and one parent even complained that a lack of wi-fi or 4G meant there was less the kids could do to pass the time. And then this question from one mom whose child had yet to look up from the iPhone:

"Oh, cell phones. What did we do before then?"

Well, I don't know. I assume we parented. You know, engaged with our children, talked to them, spent time with them. Perhaps we took them for a little walk, or we actually played a game with them. It seems so sad - the people who have little interest in preparing a little to engage their children in a little activity. The same goes every time a car zips past me with a DVD playing for the kids in the back seat. As if the twenty-minute car ride to school or practice or anywhere is terminal if the kid doesn't have SpongeBob to act like a freaking moron in front of him.

Either accept the role of parent seriously ... or make the decision to be self-absorbed in the first place and not burden society with more zoned-out or attention-starved children.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NCLB and Student Accountability

State test scores are out, and education reformers and critics need to take a good look at discrepancies in the state testing model. Basically, these tests are completely unreliable, and it comes down to one simple fact that no one is willing to talk about.

Students don't try on these tests. Period.

Like many schools, I know, state test scores for my high school are less than impressive. These disappointing results conflict the reality that my school is one of the highest performing schools in the country. The Washington Post and others regularly rank it in the top 2% in the country. Some researchers have concluded it is one of the top 30 schools in the nation for preparing students for college. My school regularly has between 25 and 35 National Merit scholars. It's schoolwide pass rate for AP exams is above 90%. Students rack up more than $20 million in scholarship money to some of the top schools in the country. Our ACT scores - especially in English - are through the stratosphere.

Yet, on state tests 40% of students are below proficient in writing. That reading numbers are almost that abysmal.

Students simply don't put much effort into these tests. Some skip the tests - or ironically go on college visits - resulting in zeroes on the tests. The students know these score don't matter - and the scores are worst for sophomores. That's a year before they absolutely rock the ACT, SAT, and AP scores. That's two years before 95+% graduate and go on to top schools and universities. The top students actually showed that smallest gains, and had actually dropped the most from past years. And, yet, state rankings are now counting these scores for as much as 25% of the overall ranking. And, these scores are to be used - according to new laws - as 50% of a teachers evaluation.

This discrepancy is absolutely outrageous. And, while I am not a union member, this lack of student accountability could be the one thing that could put me on the front lines of labor negotiations ... with a bull horn.

Students are no longer putting adequate effort into state tests that have no accountability for them. This situation must be the primary focus of school reform.

American Hiker Freed by Iran

No, I don't believe they were spies.

But, were they incredibly naive, foolish, and reckless. Oh, yeah.

I'd hope our spies are smarter than that.

Glad they're home - hope it's a lesson for other brash young Americans.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Elizabeth Warren for Senate

Though I am a proponent of lower tax rates because it makes sense, I still have a hard time with the platitudes and bromides and diatribes and snake oil that the GOP is selling. For me, it's about common sense. And Elizabeth Warren who is running against Scott Brown for Teddy Kennedy's seat tells it like it is:

Warren's simple truths are opposed by only the most rigidly ideological. However, I have to say, I am not happy about Warren running against Scott Brown - because I actually find him to be a rational Republican. And we need all those we can get.

But given the choice between Warren being in Congress or not ... I have to say bye-bye Senator Brown

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cowboy Ethics and Character Education

Character education occasionally pops up as a buzzword in the move for school reform. The basic idea is society wondering what the heck is going on with these kids - especially when it's clear that not much parenting is going on in many families. Some teachers, however, are accomplishing incredible things with kids in terms of character and identity - especially with the kids that society is either ignoring ... or has simply given up on.

A couple years ago, a teacher at my high school developed a unit based on the book Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West by James Owen. The unit had two goals: one was developing the literacy of kids who had struggled in that area, and two was developing the self-esteem and identity of those same kids.

The unit was a fabulous success - and it received some nice press about its impact. Currently, I am working as a mentor in my school, and we are integrating the concept of "cowboy ethics" into the classroom. For many kids, having a code to live by is the last thing on their minds ... and that might be part of the problem. Cowboy ethics is based on the following principles:

Live each day with courage
Take pride in your work
Always finish what you start
Do what has to be done
Be tough, but fair
When you make a promise, keep it
Ride the brand
Talk less, say more
Remember that some things aren't for sale
Know where to draw the line.

These ideas are simple and honest - and quite effective as a code not only for cowboys or Wall Street bankers but also a group of teenagers struggling for identity ... and really for all of us. The book is fabulous and worth checking out especially these days. And the idea of using it in schools is absolutely something special. Check out the following video about a group of students and their journey back to the old West on a journey of self discovery.

Schools and kids need more of this.

Govt Excess - or Private Sector Corruption

Here's an interesting thought, though:

I've been listening to people harp about the Dept of Justice wasting taxpayers money for paying $16 per muffin and $8 per cup of coffee. Certainly, a foolish oversight.

But where is the press criticism and coverage of the private contractors who charged this? What about the military contractors who literally cheated the taxpayers out of $400 for an ashtray?

Certainly, a failure of govt oversight. But why is no one calling out the corrupt companies who are literally the ones screwing the taxpayers?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

REM - Thank You and Good Night

My adolescence was defined by three bands - U2, The Police, and REM. They all took the music of the 1980s in a fascinating new direction that changed the future and defined Rock-n-Roll for me. U2 continues to innovate, the Police have long since disbanded, and REM, until today continued to define post-punk music that inspired me. Alas, the band from Athens, Georgia has gone the route of the Police and formally ended their career together. They were one of my first concerts, and I was mesmerized from that moment on for the next twenty-five years.


What Are the Independents to Do?

Two interesting points of view today regarding the future of the Obama Administration and the question of whether what the GOP is selling is preferable. Certainly, there is much to criticize about the current state of the nation, and change must come. Yet, when Obama puts out jobs plan that most Americans don't think will work, and statistics reveal that most secretaries don't, in fact, pay more in taxes than Warren Buffet, and David Walker, the respected former comptroller of the United States blasts Obama's deficit plan for not using CBO numbers, there is reason for independents to look for in new directions for answers.

The GOP offers cuts in spending and no new taxes on the "job creators."

Thomas Friedman and Dana Milbank take those two limited positions to task. Friedman offers a convincing argument about what true conservatives would do to address the financial stagnation and job slowdown - and it ain't just cutting. While clearly the tax code is in desperate need of review and reform, there is a need for the code to actually still generate revenue. Additionally, as Friedman notes, Countries that don’t invest in the future tend to not do well there. Real conservatives know that.

On the tax front, Dana Milbank identifies himself as a "job creator" who will never create jobs no matter how much the GOP cuts his taxes and offers him incentives. Milbank's analysis reveals the secrets of the 27 million small business owners in this country. Most of them are single employee businesses that are not designed to expand. Thus, more evidence arises about the "snake oil" argument that GOP leaders are continuing to peddle. They have no more ability to spur hiring than Obama does.

So, keep looking, Independents. Keep looking. Obama's basically got nothing ... but the GOP appears to have even less.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's About Housing and Lending - Not Taxes

Jose Nocera of the New York Times is making the same argument about the economy that I just did. It's about a lack of cash in people's pockets which resulted in the housing meltdown. Having screwed up their job of lending money, banks have shut down and are not lending money. Without it, no new business, no new houses or buildings or highways or products. It's not about taxes, people, because businesses and individuals don't expand business or build new houses with their own money. It's always borrowed. Thus, cutting taxes will certainly gut the government and explode the debt and deficit. But it ain't gonna grow new jobs because it was never about that.

It's the lack of funds on the demand side - and that comes from the housing and banking crash.

False Answers to Recovery

The following post is a rehash of comments from the past - because it is relevant and timely. Concerning the argument over what will lead to economic recovery and growth and the return of job creation. The dispute is about taxes - though it's complicated by concerns over the debt and deficit and the need for more or less regulation. As I've noted before there is a correlation - and even a degree of causation - between lower taxes creating better conditions for growth. That is why in the early 1980s dropping marginal rates from 70% (or originally 89%) to low thirties or high twenties was significant. But fiddling around between 28 and 38 has no discernible impact - See Mankiw and Feldstein for clarification.

Additionally, naive Republicans like Palin and Bachmann like to call upon the Reagan growth as only about taxes - and they neglect the importance of Volcker breaking inflation and then dramatically dropping interest rates. That alone freed up tons of cash for economic growth. And with the expansion of credit card lending, the money infusion in the economy came on the demand - NOT supply side. Add to that the dramatic drop in oil prices following discoveries in the North Sea and Central America - which broke OPEC's hold - and lower gas prices also freed up tons of money on the DEMAND side. The economy is far more complex than simple tax rates - though lower is certainly better. And there is no reason not to broaden the base, flatten the rates, lower the corporate rate, and close the deductions - especially at the top level. Then, by means testing Social Security and Medicare and lifting the cap to at least $250K, the government and the economy will move toward solvency and fluidity.

Finally, you must keep in mind that the 2008 Crash and subsequent economic drag was not caused by tax issues. It simply wasn't. It was not caused by regulation. The current slump is not continuing because of a drag on tax issues - because there have been no changes - other than the cut taxes more. So, it's not about taxes - and anyone who thinks it is has been asleep for about the last decade - or perhaps a Hannity-induced coma. This economic problem is about cash on the demand side. Period. It was about lost wealth from a housing crash that imploded the lending industry. And that came from deregulation. This is not about taxes - it's about no cash. It's about loss of spending power from lost housing money and decreasing wages impacted by rising insurance rates.

Additionally, companies aren't hiring for one simple reason now - because they don't have to. Demand is not going up. They don't need workers - except for the skilled labor ones for which there are tens of thousands of vacancies. They are making money and increasing dividends and it's that simple. It didn't start with taxes (at lowest rates in 60 years) and it won't be solved by tax cuts - because they aren't the problem.

An overall review and reform of taxation is a great idea - and necessary. But blaming the current problems on taxes is simply foolish.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Obama's Recovery

David Brooks offers a pretty clear and critical analysis of the "recovery" that is being defended by Obama and criticized by the Republicans. Ultimately, the return of job growth after a recession always lags by years - and government policies rarely have the immediate impact of generating growth and returning economies to sound footing. Clearly, not all agree, as evidenced by Investore.Com in this analysis. As an independent voter, I'm not happy with Obama's leadership - especially on the economy as well as basic "politics."

However, this recession seems different. Obama didn't have an inflation problem that the Fed could just break, and there wasn't an oil shock that could be relieved. Downsizing of companies and increased productivity haven't existed like this before either, and Obama simply couldn't count on a tech boom or a housing bubble to grow the way out. That sums up the post-recession growth for the past several decades. So, I'll cut him some slack there.

Additionally, I'm of the mind that there's not a lot Presidents and DC can actually do to create jobs - other than infrastructure, public service, cash rebates, and tax credits for actual hires. That's why I won't give Perry too much credit for jobs in Texas, nor will I knock Romney for stagnant growth in Massachusetts. Thus, Obama has been pretty weak in terms of national leadership - that is no doubt. But Perry and Boehner are full of it on cutting taxes for "job creators" as a guarantee of creating jobs and generating economic growth.

So, we'll see. I think Brooks pretty much nailed it. And he may be the only one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Be Very Afraid of Dr. Watson

Here's food for (disturbing) thought:

WellPoint Insurance plans to use the IBM super-computer "Watson" to assist doctors in diagnosing illnesses. Watson, of course, is the computer known for beating the top Jeopardy! champions at the game of trivia. Now, a major insurance company is counting on the computer's vast resources and lightening speed to provide guidance to doctors as they seek diagnosis and treatment options.

The company spokesperson was quick to assure consumers that patients need not fear that WellPoint will deny care if in making a diagnosis of choosing a treatment option a doctor chooses to ignore the advice of the computer. In those cases, the insurer "will have a clinician review the case." A "clinician"? What the heck does that mean?

Is this an example of "trivializing" health care? Or is that just redundant at this point?

Be afraid people. Be very, very afraid.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Douthat on Obama's Do-Over

Ross Douthat offers one of the most clear and insightful breakdowns of the hopes and shortcomings of the Obama administration in his piece The President's Do-Over in the New York Times today. By focusing on a targeted stimulus without guaranteeing recovery, working on the deficit sooner rather than later by reforming entitlements, and focusing on the Recovery Act rather than attacking the health care issue by both horns, the President could have been that moderate voice of steady guidance in the storm of the 2008 recession's wake.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Disney's Prom a Pleasant Surprise

It's not often that I have kind words for the company of Disney, but with the release of this summer's teen film Prom, the company that generally rubs me the wrong way has put out a surprisingly enjoyable and sweet teen film about the most mythical night of high school - Prom.

Prom, a Disney original from a screenplay by Katie Wech, examines the final big night of high school in all its promise of drama and magic. Nova (interesting name) the senior class president of Brookside High has planned the perfect prom to finish off the perfect senior year. All is going well with the decorations and the theme, and the night will be perfect if only fellow student and committee member Brandon asks her to the dance they've been planning.

The movie is fleshed out in standard ensemble cast with various couples and their prom story lines filling out the opening scenes of the movie. A clever play - with music - of the tradition of asking a person to prom sets up the first act with all going according to plan. Standard stock characters like the perfect king/queen couple, the couple who've been "together forever," the lovable loser without a date, the underclassmen desperate to be a part of the magic, and, of course, the teen rebel with an air of mystery who is too cool for prom fill out the cast.

Certainly, the perfectly planned night will be anything but, and it only makes sense that the heroine Nova will be inadvertently thrown together with the anti-prom loner. Many obstacles will challenge Nova to carry out her mission of providing the perfect night for her classmates, even as she tries to ignore the personal conflict she has over who she's going to spend the evening with. Director Joe Nussbaum cleverly strings his scenes together building the drama over prom night in an engaging way. Additionally, there are enough nods to 1980s teen cinema that it's clear Nussbaum was paying homage to the Golden Age of teen film.

I was particularly pleased by how pleasant - and not over the top - this teen film was. It was engaging and funny and insightful, and also really sweet. Wech and Nussbaum manage to capture all the significant drama of the genre and the night without resorting to anything sordid or gratuitous. In fact, it was refreshing to be engaged in a teen film for 90 minutes with no scenes of teen drinking and literally no mention of teen sex. The drama was real and honest - but it very effectively focused on the simple emotions of adolescence, rather than the standard mediums of sex and alcohol. This film simply didn't need to go there.

Overall, Prom is an enjoyable film, and definitely worth the rental if you enjoy the genre. It's certainly not the best teen film in recent years - that honor goes to Easy A. However, it's a nice take on a traditional genre, and it gives me a little hope for the ability of Disney to provide quality and wholesome entertainment.

The Sandwich King Has Moved?

Looking for information on the Food Network's Jeff Mauro and his show The Sandwich King? Check out my first entry after he won the Next Food Network Star.

Disappointed by the Food Network, or maybe myself, this morning.

Having enjoyed The Sandwich King Jeff Mauro's first two shows, I sat down at 10:30 Mountain time to check out Jeff's third show. It was probably a great one - Cod Sliders with fennel slaw and sweet potato fries - and I will certainly check for the recipes. Alas, I tuned in to a repeat episode of Chopped because Jeff's time slot was apparently 9:30 Mountain, not 10:30. While I am certainly OK with the time, as I am more likely to be home, I am disappointed to have missed the show. So, for sandwich afficianodos - and fans of the Sandwich King - Jeff's show is now on Sunday mornings at 11:30 Eastern, 10:30 Central, and 9:30 Mountain.

Check it out for more great ideas on how to "turn any meal into a sandwich and make any sandwich a great meal."

UPDATE: At this point, it appears Jeff's show has gone into a bit of a hiatus. Not much news on the website. So, we'll have to assume he is simply on a break and not cancelled.

Friday, September 2, 2011

GOP Offers Nothing After Jobs Report

Taxes did not cause the 2008 Crash and recession.

The Affordable Care Act did not cause the 2008 Crash and recession.

Regulations on business permits did not cause the 2008 Crash and recession.

Regulations on the finance industry did not cause the 2008 Crash and recession.

Regulations on the energy industry did not cause the 2008 Crash and recession.

None of these caused the economic downturn, none these is preventing companies from hiring people, none of these is the key to dismal jobs report in August, none of these is the answer to the struggles of the economy.

So, why are these the only ideas the GOP offers?