Thursday, March 31, 2011

What I Read Today - Thursday March 31, 2011

From: The New York Times

Let There Be Light Bulbs


Of all the controversies now raging in Washington, the one I find most endearing is the fight over federal regulation of light bulb efficiency.

“Instead of a leaner, smarter government, we bought a bureaucracy that now tells us which light bulbs to buy,” complained Representative Michele Bachmann in her Tea Party response to the president’s State of the Union address.

Bachmann has strong opinions on this matter. She is the author of the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, which would repeal a federal requirement that the typical 100-watt bulb become 25 percent more energy efficient by 2012.

Bachmann hateshateshates that sort of thing, as you would expect from a woman whose Earth Day speech in 2009 was an ode to carbon dioxide. (“It’s a part of the regular life cycle of the earth.”)

Hysteria over the government taking away our right to buy inefficient light bulbs has been sweeping through certain segments of the Republican Party. Representative Joe Barton of Texas, sponsor of the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, says we’re about to lose the bulb that “has been turning back the night ever since Thomas Edison ended the era of a world lit only by fire in 1879.” Barton’s vision of the standard 100-watt incandescent is so heroic, you’d think it would be getting its own television series.

“When Congress dictates which light bulbs folks in South Carolina must buy, it’s clear the ‘nanny state’ mentality has gotten out of control in Washington,” said Senator Jim DeMint, one of 27 co-sponsors of a Senate bill calling for repeal of the new efficiency standards.

The great thing about this battle, which has spawned predictions of widespread light-bulb-hoarding, is that it will take your mind off Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and the pending government shut-down. It’s a little like the Donald Trump presidential candidacy, only less irritating.

Opponents of the law claim that the newer, more energy-efficient and cost-saving breeds of bulb give a less pleasing light, although that doesn’t seem to have dissuaded the American consumers from moving away from the incandescents in droves. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association says demand for the allegedly beloved old bulbs has dropped 50 percent over the last five years.

A terribly cynical mind might suspect the whole hubbub was just for political show. Jeff Bingaman, the chairman of the energy committee, said he had not actually been accosted by any of his fellow senators begging him to help get angry light bulb aficionados off their backs.

“I heard the statements at the committee hearing, but nobody’s walking the halls lobbying me about this,” he said.

That was the famous hearing during which Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky began with a rant about light bulbs and wound up complaining that his toilets back home didn’t work. “You busybodies always want to tell us how we can live our lives better,” he said passionately. “I’ve been waiting for 20 years to talk about how bad these toilets are.”

If Paul has been stewing about his bathroom fixtures since 1991, it may go a long way toward explaining his rather gloomy worldview. But the crux of his argument came at a different point, when he demanded to know whether Kathleen Hogan, a Department of Energy official, was “pro-choice.”

“I’m pro-choice on light bulbs,” Hogan said cannily.

Paul, not to be dissuaded, claimed that Obamaites favored “a woman’s right to an abortion, but you don’t favor a woman’s or a man’s right to choose what kind of light bulb.”

The proper comparison here would really be between the energy-efficiency regulations and the government rules that set minimum standards for sanitation and medical care when an abortion is performed. If you were willing to overlook the fact that any attempt whatsoever to equate abortions and light bulbs is completely nuts.

It’s a classic Tea Party herd of straw horses. Paul managed to lump the light bulb regulations with things his supporters hate (abortions/federal government telling me what to do) while ignoring the fact that the rules are much closer to things they like, such as standards that guarantee that if they go to a hospital or clinic, the place will be clean and staffed by qualified personnel.

Although the Rand Paul crowd is blaming the light bulb regulations on Obama, the rules were actually signed into law in 2007 by George W. Bush. And as Roger A. Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, wrote in a Times Op-Ed article recently, Washington has been in the standard-setting business since 1894, “when Congress standardized the meaning of what are today common scientific measures, including the ohm, the volt, the watt and the henry, in line with international metrics.”

You have to wonder if, back in 1894, there was a general outcry against the federal government trying to tell an American citizen how big his ohm should be. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

What I Read Today - Friday March 25, 2011

From: The New York Times

The Ego Advantage


There’s something I’ve always wondered about Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi: How does a guy who seems to be only marginally attached to reality manage to stay in power for 42 years?

He gives rambling incoherent speeches at places like the United Nations. His head is stuffed with oddball conspiracy theories and strange obsessions, like calling for the elimination of Switzerland or blaming the J.F.K. assassination on Israeli intelligence. He shows up in foreign countries in odd dress, with odd make-up and hair-gel preferences, once having pinned a photograph to his chest.

He has an all-female bodyguard contingent. In 2008, he announced that as part of a government shake-up, he was going to abolish all government ministries except Defense, Internal Security and a few others.

These are not the actions of a cold, calculating Machiavellian. Yet Qaddafi can’t just be dismissed as a comic loon. He’s maintained dominance in a ruthless part of the world, and he may outlast the current shambolic attempts to unseat him.

It seems that there is something advantageous in the megalomania that is his defining lifelong trait. He was kicked out of school for trying to organize a student strike. He began plotting a coup to take over the country while in college. He has repeatedly compared himself to Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad. He calls the Green Book, his book of teachings, “the new gospel.”

That book, which Libyans are compelled to read (he canceled student summer vacation at one point and replaced it with indoctrination sessions), is filled with oddball notions and banal assertions. It consists of three parts, “The Solution to Democratic Problems,” “The Solution to Economic Problems” and a section offering solutions to social problems.

Qaddafi apparently wrote the book with the conviction that he had discovered the answers to all human problems, which he calls the Third Universal Theory. In a characteristically absolutist passage, he writes, “True Democracy has but one method and one theory.”

Along the way he offers banal observations as if nobody had ever thought of them before. He reveals that women menstruate and men do not. He unveils doctrines that have nothing to do with how he actually behaves: “Mandatory education is a coercive education that suppresses freedom. To impose specific teaching materials is a dictatorial act.”

He seems to be one of those people who believes he possesses absolute truth, who wants to impose his thoughts on everybody else and exercise total dominance over others like some World Historical superman.

That’s how he has run his country. According to the Freedom of the Press Index, it is the most censored country in the Middle East and North Africa, which is saying something. Experts estimate that as much as 10 percent or 20 percent of the population is made up of state security informants. To eliminate outside influence, Qaddafi at one point removed foreign languages from schools and removed the Latin lettering street signs. Early on, he expelled the Italian community, forcing its members to exhume the bodies of Italians from Libyan graveyards to take home. He broadcast the exhumation live on state TV. Street posters say things like: “Obey Those in Authority.”

Over the decades, he has tried to remake the world in his own grandiose image. He tried to create a larger empire by merging Libya and Sudan. He tried to create a Federation of Arab Republics with Egypt and Syria. He tried to create an Arab Legion. He has named himself King of Kings, Imam of All Muslims and, in 2009, sought to create a United States of Africa. He has created dictatorship academies and has trained some of the world’s most brutal autocrats, and, of course, he has supported terrorist movements in Australia, Ireland, Germany and beyond.

Yet this very megalomania seems to be both the secret to his longevity and to his unhinged nature. The paradoxical fact is that if you want to stay in office as a dictator, it is better to be a narcissistic totalitarian than a run-of-the-mill autocrat. Megalomianiacs like Qaddafi seek to control every neuron in their peoples’ heads and to control every aspect of life. They destroy all outside authority and civil society. They personalize every institution so that things like the army exist to serve their holy selves, rather than the nation at large.

They are untroubled by doubt or concern for the good opinion of others since they already possess absolute truth. They are motivated to fulfill their World Historical Mission and have no interest in retiring peacefully to some villa.

Jeane Kirkpatrick was right years ago to make the distinction between authoritarian dictatorships and totalitarian ones. The totalitarian ones are both sicker and harder to dislodge. Qaddafi’s unhinged narcissistic oddness seems to be the key to his longevity. So remember: If you’re going to be a tyrant, be a wacko. It’s safer.

What I Read Today - Friday March 25, 2011

From: The Wall Street Journal

Who Wins and Who Loses if Bachmann Runs in 2012?


Brian Snyder/Reuters Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a potential Republican candidate for president, holds up a tea bag while speaking in New Hampshire.

8:27 a.m.
Updated Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota seized the media spotlight on Thursday by merely leaking out the possibility that she might — someday, maybe months from now — form an exploratory committee to consider running for president.

The flurry of headlines was a testament to her ability to heighten interest by being dramatic, and even provocative, in her statements. Just a day earlier, for example, she warned against the “black-robed masters” in Iowa. In other words: judges. (The comment came in a speech in which she applauded voters for turning out three members of the Iowa Supreme Court who had voted to legalize gay marriage.)

Ms. Bachmann may yet decide not to run for president this year. But Republican strategists for her potential rivals believe she is serious about mounting a run for the Republican nomination, and they are planning accordingly.

A member of the House of Representatives since 2007, Ms. Bachmann has already built a nationwide network of supporters and donors, largely by championing the conservative causes that have made her popular with the Tea Party movement.

In Iowa, Republicans say she is moving quickly to court state lawmakers and is beginning to assemble the basis of a state operation that might serve to run a primary campaign there. She has met with the chief of the state Republican party as well as with Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican.

In appearances in Iowa this week, Ms. Bachman made no attempt to tamp down the speculation, repeatedly uttering two words: “I’m in!” But in a brief interview, when asked to expound on her remarks, she said: “I’m in to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president. I am in, in terms of 2012, to make sure that we do have a rock-solid conservative.”

“I will be making a decision – one way or another – during summer or before summer,” she told The Times’s Jeff Zeleny, but added that she was intrigued by the Iowa Straw Poll to be held in August, where her influence may first be felt.

So who would benefit from Ms. Bachmann’s candidacy? And who would be hurt by it? Here’s a quick rundown:

Tim Pawlenty: The former governor of Minnesota is banking on a good showing in Iowa (a neighboring state) to help catapult him into serious contention and to convince donors that he’s the good bet to win the White House.

Despite being from the same state, Ms. Bachmann does not share a fund-raising base with Mr. Pawlenty, who will appeal to the more traditional, establishment crowd. But if she ends up as the surprise winner in Iowa, much like Mike Huckabee was in 2008, she could easily upset Mr. Pawlenty’s carefully laid plans.

Sarah Palin: If Ms. Bachmann pulls off a victory in Iowa by tapping into the conservative, Tea Party element in the state, the former Alaska governor might cry out: “Hey! That was my plan!”

The two women appear to share a constituency — and a similar attention-getting approach to politics. For now, Ms. Palin has the worldwide celebrity and would probably raise money at a faster clip if she gets into the race.

But Ms. Bachmann may beat her to it. All indications are that Ms. Palin is content to wait months — perhaps into the fall — before deciding whether to jump into the presidential contest. By then, Ms. Bachmann may well have begun to capitalize on her conservative, outsider, antimainstream-media message.

Mike Huckabee: Like Ms. Bachmann and Ms. Palin, Mr. Huckabee is a favorite of social conservatives. But unlike the two women, he has actually proved himself to be a solid vote-getter in Iowa, winning the caucus there in 2008 with his down-home manner and pro-life credentials. (And the last-minute Christmastime ad that seemed to feature a floating white cross behind him didn’t hurt, either.)

But if Ms. Bachmann gets in the race with Mr. Huckabee, both would almost certainly split up the same pool of voters. That could leave each in a trailing position and open up possibilities for Mr. Pawlenty or Mitt Romney to win a larger chunk of the moderate Republican caucus goers.

The Establishment: It’s no secret that establishment Republicans don’t like Ms. Bachmann very much. They have not given her the committee assignments that she wants. Like the Tea Party candidates who were opposed by Washington Republicans during the 2010 midterm elections, she’s an outsider of sorts. So if she runs — and does well — she could become an even bigger thorn in their sides.

The Tea Party: Lots of Republican candidates offer lip service to the Tea Party. Even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and the definition of the establishment, has nice things to say about them now.

But Ms. Bachmann is a true champion of their cause. If she gets in the race, they will have a voice at debates, during television interviews, and on the stump around the country. She might not win, but Tea Party activists would certainly like to see her try.

Democrats: Plenty of Democrats would like to see Ms. Bachmann run for president, especially the opposition researchers at the Democratic National Committee. They have already cataloged her statements — many of them designed to be outrageous — and are champing at the bit to paint the Republican party in her image.

The Media: It’s no secret that Ms. Bachmann would probably be very good for newspapers, television stations and blogs. Her statements attract viewers, sell papers and generate clicks.

That’s not to say journalists would roll out the red carpet for Ms. Bachmann and give her an easy ride. Her statements and positions, like those of the other candidates, would probably be heavily scrutinized. But there’s no question that her candidacy would spice up what could be an otherwise bland contest.

Michele Bachmann: It’s hard to see how a Bachmann candidacy could hurt Ms. Bachmann. She’s in a safe Republican district (though redistricting could make her area a bit more competitive.) If she runs and loses, she will have made a national name for herself and raised a lot of money.

True, something could happen to embarrass her on the national stage. But Ms. Bachmann appears unconcerned by that risk, and even oblivious at times to the assessments of her critics.

President Obama: Does Ms. Bachmann’s candidacy help Mr. Obama? That probably depends on what happens if she runs. If she were to defy expectations and actually win the nomination, that’s probably good for Mr. Obama since her appeal is largely aimed at the very conservative wing of the Republican party, not at the moderates and independents who usually help a candidate win the election.

On the other hand, Ms. Bachmann has the potential to energize and motivate and keep alive the Tea Party movement. If she serves as a unifying voice for the leaderless group of voters, she could help channel their anger into electoral action — even if it’s not ultimately on her own behalf.

Like Ms. Palin, Ms. Bachmann could eventually become an unelected kingmaker, endorsing one of her rivals and by doing so confer a legitimacy in the eyes of the Tea party. That could end up helping the Republican nominee, and hurting Mr. Obama.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What I Read Today - Wednesday March 23, 2011

From: The New York Times

Tribes With Flags


David Kirkpatrick, the Cairo bureau chief for The Times, wrote an article from Libya on Monday that posed the key question, not only about Libya but about all the new revolutions brewing in the Arab world: “The question has hovered over the Libyan uprising from the moment the first tank commander defected to join his cousins protesting in the streets of Benghazi: Is the battle for Libya the clash of a brutal dictator against a democratic opposition, or is it fundamentally a tribal civil war?”

This is the question because there are two kinds of states in the Middle East: “real countries” with long histories in their territory and strong national identities (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran); and those that might be called “tribes with flags,” or more artificial states with boundaries drawn in sharp straight lines by pens of colonial powers that have trapped inside their borders myriad tribes and sects who not only never volunteered to live together but have never fully melded into a unified family of citizens. They are Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The tribes and sects that make up these more artificial states have long been held together by the iron fist of colonial powers, kings or military dictators. They have no real “citizens” in the modern sense. Democratic rotations in power are impossible because each tribe lives by the motto “rule or die” — either my tribe or sect is in power or we’re dead.

It is no accident that the Mideast democracy rebellions began in three of the real countries — Iran, Egypt and Tunisia — where the populations are modern, with big homogenous majorities that put nation before sect or tribe and have enough mutual trust to come together like a family: “everyone against dad.” But as these revolutions have spread to the more tribal/sectarian societies, it becomes difficult to discern where the quest for democracy stops and the desire that “my tribe take over from your tribe” begins.

In Bahrain, a Sunni minority, 30 percent of the population, rules over a Shiite majority. There are many Bahraini Sunnis and Shiites — so-called sushis, fused by inter-marriage — who carry modern political identities and would accept a true democracy. But there are many other Bahrainis who see life there as a zero-sum sectarian war, including hard-liners in the ruling al-Khalifa family, who have no intention of risking the future of Bahraini Sunnis under majority-Shiite rule. That is why the guns came out there very early. It was rule or die. Iraq teaches what it takes to democratize a big tribalized Arab country once the iron-fisted leader is removed (in that case by us). It takes billions of dollars, 150,000 U.S. soldiers to referee, myriad casualties, a civil war where both sides have to test each other’s power and then a wrenching process, which we midwifed, of Iraqi sects and tribes writing their own constitution defining how to live together without an iron fist.

Enabling Iraqis to write their own social contract is the most important thing America did. It was, in fact, the most important liberal experiment in modern Arab history because it showed that even tribes with flags can, possibly, transition through sectarianism into a modern democracy. But it is still just a hope. Iraqis still have not given us the definitive answer to their key question: Is Iraq the way Iraq is because Saddam was the way Saddam was or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq is the way Iraq is: a tribalized society? All the other Arab states now hosting rebellions — Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and Libya — are Iraq-like civil-wars-in-waiting. Some may get lucky and their army may play the role of the guiding hand to democracy, but don’t bet on it.

In other words, Libya is just the front-end of a series of moral and strategic dilemmas we are going to face as these Arab uprisings proceed through the tribes with flags. I want to cut President Obama some slack. This is complicated, and I respect the president’s desire to prevent a mass killing in Libya.

But we need to be more cautious. What made the Egyptian democracy movement so powerful was that they owned it. The Egyptian youth suffered hundreds of casualties in their fight for freedom. And we should be doubly cautious of intervening in places that could fall apart in our hands, a là Iraq, especially when we do not know, a là Libya, who the opposition groups really are — democracy movements led by tribes or tribes exploiting the language of democracy?

Finally, sadly, we can’t afford it. We have got to get to work on our own country. If the president is ready to take some big, hard, urgent, decisions, shouldn’t they be first about nation-building in America, not in Libya? Shouldn’t he first be forging a real energy policy that weakens all the Qaddafis and a budget policy that secures the American dream for another generation? Once those are in place, I will follow the president “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What I Read Today - Tuesday March 22, 2011

From: The New York Times

The Problem With Partners


These days we are all co-religionists in the church of multilateralism. The Iraq war reminded everybody not to embark on an international effort without a broad coalition.

Yet today, as an impeccably crafted multilateral force intervenes in Libya, certain old feelings are coming back to the surface. These feelings have been buried since the 1990s, when multilateral efforts failed in Kosovo, Rwanda and Iraq. They concern the structural weaknesses that bedevil multilateral efforts. They remind us that unilateralism may be no walk in the park, but multilateralism has its own characteristic problems, which are showing up already in Libya.

First, multilateral efforts are marked by opaque decision-making and strategic vagueness. It is hard to get leaders from different nations with different values to agree on a common course of action. When diplomats do achieve this, it is usually because they have arrived at artful fudges that allow leaders from different countries to read the same words in a U.N. resolution and understand them in different ways. The negotiation process to arrive at these fudges involves a long chain of secret discussions and it necessarily involves eliding issues that might blow everything up.

Sure enough, the decision-making process that led to the Libyan intervention was remarkably opaque. (It is still not clear why the Obama administration flipped from skepticism to resolve.) More important, the nations have not really defined what they hope to achieve.

Is the coalition trying to depose Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi? Are coalition forces trying to halt Qaddafi’s advances or weaken his government? Would the coalition allow Qaddafi to win so long as he didn’t massacre more civilians? Is it trying to create a partitioned Libya? Are we there to help the democratic tide across the region?

The members of the coalition could not agree on answers to any of these questions, so the purpose of the enterprise was left vague.

Second, leaders in multilateral efforts often obsess about the diplomatic process and ignore the realities on the ground. The reports describing how the Libyan intervention came about are filled with palace intrigue. They describe the different factions within the Obama administration, the jostling by France and Britain, the efforts to win over the Arab League. It’s not clear who was thinking about the realities in Libya.

Who are the rebels we are supporting? How weak is the Qaddafi government? How will Libyans react to a Western bombing campaign? Why should we think a no-fly zone will protect civilians when they never have in the past?

In this, as in so many previous multilateral efforts, the process blots out the substance. Diplomats become more interested in serving the global architecture than in engaging the actual facts on the ground.

Third, multilateral efforts are retarded and often immobilized by dispersed authority and a complicated decision-making process. They are slow to get off the ground because they have to get their most reluctant members on board. Once under way, they are slow to adapt to changing circumstances.

Sure enough, the world fiddled for weeks while Qaddafi mounted his successful counterinsurgency campaign. The coalition attacks are only days old, but already fissures are appearing. The Arab League is criticizing the early results. The French are not coordinating well with their allies. NATO leaders are even now embroiled in a debate about the operational command structure.

Fourth, multilateral forces often lose the war of morale and motivation. Most wars are fought by nations — by people aroused not only by common interests but by common passions, moralities and group loyalties. Multilateral campaigns rarely, on the other hand, arouse people. They are organized by elites, and propelled by calculation, not patriotism. No one wants to die for the Arab League, the United Nations or some temporary coalition of the willing.

In the Libyan campaign, Qaddafi’s defenders will be fighting for land, home, God and country. The multinational force will be organized by an acronym and motivated by a calibrated calculus to achieve a humanitarian end.

Finally, multilateral efforts are built around a fiction. The people who organize coalitions pretend that all the parties are sharing the burdens. In reality, only the U.S. can do many of the tasks. If the other nations falter, the U.S. will have to leap in and assume the entire burden. America’s partners go in knowing they do not bear ultimate responsibility for success or failure. Americans do.

All of this is not to say the world should do nothing while Qaddafi unleashes his demonic fury. Nor is this a defense of unilateralism. But we should not pretend we have found a superior way to fight a war. Multilateralism works best as a garment clothing American leadership. Besides, the legitimacy of a war is not established by how it is organized but by what it achieves. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

What I Read Today - Monday March 21, 2011

From David Brooks Blog in the NY Times.   The blog post can be found at:

It was this response from a reader that I liked:

Dear Mr. Brooks,

As a lifelong entrepreneur and jazz pianist my experience has taught me.

The difference between success and failure is the fusion between the innate, quick and creative interpretations of the tune and the business at hand, as mentioned in your column, and the slow, extrinsic ,disciplined of practice. A difficult duet for sure.

However, when both ingredients are sauteed properly the resulting entree is perfection:
Oscar Peterson and Steve Jobs.

Steve Hechtman

What I Read Today - Monday March 21, 2011

From: The Wall Street Journal

Bill Gates Turns Attention Toward Teacher Improvement


Bill Gates shook up the battle against AIDS in Africa by applying results-oriented business metrics to the effort. Now, he is trying to do the same in the tricky world of evaluating and compensating teachers.

The Microsoft Corp. co-founder has moved on from a $2 billion bet on high-school reform—much of it spent on breaking up big, failing high schools to replace them with smaller ones.

Now, he is venturing that improving teacher effectiveness is the key to fixing broken schools. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $290 million to school districts in Memphis, Tenn.; Hillsborough, Fla.; and Pittsburgh, and a charter consortium in California, to build new personnel systems Mr. Gates hopes will be models for the country.

Bill Gates spoke about an education overhaul in Washington in February.

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Gates said the nation spends a "mind blowing" amount of money on education. Still, he said increased taxes and a restructuring of budgets is the only way to substantially improve U.S. graduation rates.

And, in the wake of moves by Republican governors in several states to cut costs and curb collective-bargaining rights for teachers and other state workers, he argued that lasting school improvement requires more-targeted investment and close collaboration with teacher unions, who are painted by many governors as an obstacle.

Mr. Gates has been touring the country recently, urging politicians and educators to eliminate teacher salary increases based on seniority and master's degrees and, instead, reward teachers for boosting student achievement. His interview with The Journal follows.

Q: What do you think the recent statehouse battles over collective bargaining mean for education-reform efforts?

A: I think the whole budget environment we're in is unfortunate because it will both reduce funding for education and distract a lot from improved ways of spending. If you're putting in a new personnel system that rewards great teaching, rewards teachers who help other teachers be better, you're going to need good collaboration between the teachers and the principals, the superintendents, the administrative people.

Q: Some reformers think teachers unions are the obstacle and it's more expedient to work around them.

A: In some of these systems, there's a huge emphasis on the teachers who should be let go, and that's an element of a personnel system. But the bigger impact actually comes in professions where a personnel system helps raise the average up of the people who stay.

Q: Do you think it is possible for school districts to build great teachers?

A: Absolutely. But the amount of research into what great teachers do has been so slow that you can't make huge improvements in the average….Even professions like long-jump or tackling people on a football field or hitting a baseball, the average ability is so much higher today because there's this great feedback system, measurement system.

Q: You've said before that you do not think it is wise to cut K-12 budgets right now.

A: I think that society has to be careful not to shift all of its resources to the elderly versus the young. I get very concerned when people talk about cutting education budgets.

Q: Do we need to increase taxes to spend more on education?

A: The only way to make the overall equation work involves some increased taxation and some cuts in spending in various categories, including the miracle of not having medical costs go up so much faster than GDP [gross-domestic-product] growth. There are a lot of challenges here to make the numbers work.

Q: What is the boldest effort that has come from the $290 million you've awarded to restructure teacher personnel systems?

A: We video a great teacher and then she watches it and comments on her video saying, "that kid's foot is jerking. I'm not making this interesting enough." Just the narrative of a great teacher talking through what she did right, what she could have done better, is so informative.

Q: What will be your measure of whether this project was a success?

A: Ten years from now, if we have a very different personnel system that's encouraging effectiveness and our spending has contributed to that, we'll feel good.

Q: Do you think using student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness is a reliable measure?

A: Test scores aren't perfect, but having a test score for math or reading or other things that we can objectively measure is a meaningful component that makes a lot of sense. Now you put everything onto that one thing, that's not ideal. You want a broader set of measures.

Q: You spent hundreds of millions to create small high schools, including breaking apart scores of large, low-performing schools into smaller campuses. What did you learn from that effort?

A. We had some very good results in a lot of the high schools, and it's a tactic we absolutely believe in. But in terms of our big goal of getting lots and lots of kids to go to college, that effort alone wasn't going to close that gap much at all. If you don't actually deal with this issue of helping teachers be better by helping them make a leap of faith to a real personnel system, you just aren't going to get there.

Q: Are you disappointed schools have been slow to embrace technology in the classrooms?

A: You can't blame them, but oh yeah, I'm disappointed. The dreams of the past—whether it was public TV being rolled into the classroom to teach Spanish, or the film projectors or the videotapes or the computer-aided instruction drill systems—the hopes have been dashed in terms of technology having some big impact. The foundation, I think can play a unique role there. Now, our money is more to the teacher-effectiveness thing, and technology is No. 2, but I'll probably spend more money on the technology things.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What I Read Today - Saturday March 19, 2011

From:  The Tax Policy Center

The GOP Choice: Smaller Government or Lower Deficits

Howard Gleckman
Posted on March 15, 2011, 3:52 pm

“The goal is to reduce the size and scope of government spending, not to focus on the deficit.” Grover Norquist

You’ve got to give Grover credit. Unlike most everyone else in Washington, at least he says what he believes. In a remarkably candid interview with Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, the head of the anti-tax lobby Americans for Tax Reform beautifully described the challenge faced by Republican lawmakers today.

When the GOP was out of power, it could easily paper over a profound internal disagreement: Should Republicans be the party of small government and low taxes, or the party of fiscal prudence? At first glance, these principles sound like the same thing. But they are not. And how a deeply divided GOP chooses between them says everything about the likelihood of both deficit reduction and tax reform any time soon, to say nothing about the party’s political future.

It is much easier for Republicans to take Grover’s route and build a legislative strategy around the goal of small government and low taxes. They can focus on slashing regulation and corporate taxes (for which the business community will continue to show them the love) and on cutting a few high-profile examples of “waste, fraud and abuse” which will win them the support of many in the tea party movement.

Aiming to slash the deficit, by contrast, takes the GOP down a very different road. It carries significant political risk and, thus, requires much more courage. That’s because cutting regulation and waste reduces the deficit by depressingly little, while slashing taxes almost always makes fiscal matters worse.

There is no evidence to support the old supply-side theory that major cuts in federal taxes increase revenues. Similarly, Grover’s claim that government can discourage spending by slashing taxes (aka starve the beast) got a real world test during the presidency of George W. Bush, who cut taxes, but also spent like the proverbial drunken sailor, fathering a huge new Medicare drug benefit and fighting two costly wars. The result: Bush and Congress turned a budget surplus into a $458 billion deficit. It turns out that one doesn’t need to tax and spend when one can more easily borrow and spend.

That leaves only politically unpleasant choices. Politicians who are serious about deficit reduction, rather than modest cuts in the size of government, have no choice but to confront middle-class entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security, and support tax increases within a tax reform bill.

Based on the usually reliable rule that it is always best to judge a politician based upon what he does and not what he says, most Republicans remain squarely in the smaller government and lower taxes camp. Just look at their unanimous support for extending all the Bush-era tax cuts and their current focus on cutting only a narrow slice of domestic spending. Still, a handful of GOP pols (such as Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels) are thinking more broadly. I suspect Republicans will be fighting this internal battle throughout the upcoming presidential primary season. Watch closely to see how it turns out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What I Read Today - Tuesday March 15, 2011

From:  The Wall Street Journal

The Defense Secretary Who Let Bin Laden Get Away

Memoirist Rumsfeld seems to forget why we went to Afghanistan.

I like Donald Rumsfeld. I've always thought he was a hard-working, intelligent man. I respected his life in public service at the highest and most demanding levels. So it was with some surprise that I found myself flinging his book against a wall in hopes I would break its stupid little spine.

"Known and Unknown," his memoir of his tumultuous time in government, is so bad it's news even a month after its debut. It takes a long time to read because there are a lot of words, most of them boring. At first I thought this an unfortunate flaw, but I came to see it as strategy. He's going to overwhelm you with wordage, with dates and supposed data, he's going to bore you into submission, and at the end you're going to throw up your hands and shout, "I know Iraq and Afghanistan were not Don Rumsfeld's fault! I know this because I've now read his memos, which explain at great length why nothing is his fault."

Fault of course isn't the point. You'd expect such a book (all right—you'd hope) to be reflective, to be self-questioning and questioning of others, and to grapple with the ruin of U.S. foreign policy circa 2001-08. He was secretary of defense until 2006, in the innermost councils. He heard all the conversations. He was in on the decisions. You'd expect him to explain the overall, overarching strategic thinking that guided them. Since some of those decisions are in the process of turning out badly, and since he obviously loves his country, you'd expect him to critique and correct certain mindsets and assumptions so that later generations will learn. When he doesn't do this, when he merely asserts, defends and quotes his memos, you feel overwhelmed, again, by the terrible thought that there was no overall, overarching strategic thinking. There were only second-rate minds busily, consequentially at work

Second-rateness marks the book, which is an extended effort at blame deflection. Mr. Rumsfeld didn't ignore the generals, he listened to them too much. Not enough troops in Iraq? That would be Gen. Tommy Franks. Turkey's refusal to allow U.S. troop movements? Secretary of State Colin Powell. America's failure to find weapons of mass destruction? "Obviously the focus on WMD to the exclusion of almost all else was a public relations error." Yes, I'd say so. He warned early on in a memo he quotes that the administration was putting too much emphasis on WMD. But put it in context: "Recent history is abundant with examples of flawed intelligence that have affected key national security decisions and contingency planning."

A word on the use of memos in memoirs. Everyone in government now knows his memos can serve, years later, to illustrate his farsightedness and defend against charges of blindness, indifference, stupidity. So people in government send a lot of memos! "Memo to self: I'm deeply worried about Mideast crisis. Let's solve West Bank problem immediately." "Memo to Steve: I'm concerned about China. I'd like you to make sure it becomes democratic. Please move on this soonest, before lunch if you can." A man in the Bush administration once told me of a guy who used to change the name on memos when they turned out to be smart. He'd make himself the sender so that when future scholars pored over the presidential library, they'd discover what a genius he was.

Most memos prove nothing. It is disturbing that so many Bush-era memoirs rely so heavily on them.

But the terrible thing about the Rumsfeld book, and there is no polite way to say this, is the half-baked nature of the thinking within it. The quality of analysis and understanding of history is so mediocre, so insufficient to the moment.

Which gets me to the point at which I tried to break the book's spine.

If you asked most Americans why we went into Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11, they would answer, with perfect common sense, that it was to get the bad guys—to find or kill Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers, to topple the Taliban government that had given them aid and support, to destroy terrorist networks and operations. New York at the time of the invasion, October 2001, was still, literally, smoking; the whole town still carried the acrid smell of Ground Zero. The scenes of that day were still vivid and sharp. New York still isn't over it and will never be over it, but what happened on 9/11 was fresh, and we wanted who did it to get caught.

America wanted—needed—to see U.S. troops pull Osama out of his cave by his beard and drag him in his urine-soaked robes into an American courtroom. Or, less good but still good, to find him, kill him, put his head in a Tiffany box with a bow, and hand-carry it to the president of the United States.

It wasn't lust for vengeance, it was lust for justice, and for more than justice. Getting Osama would have shown the world what happens when you do a thing like 9/11 to a nation like America. It would have shown al Qaeda and their would-be camp followers what kind of unstoppable ferocity they were up against. It would have reminded the world that we are one great people with one terrible swift sword.

The failure to find bin Laden was a seminal moment in the history of the war in Afghanistan. And it was a catastrophe. From that moment—the moment he escaped his apparent hideout in Tora Bora and went on to make his sneering speeches and send them out to the world—from that moment everything about the Afghanistan war became unclear, unfocused, murky and confused. The administration in Washington, emboldened by what it called its victory over the Taliban, decided to move on Iraq. Its focus shifted, it took its eye off the ball, and Afghanistan is now what it is.

You'd think, nearly a decade after the events of Tora Bora, that Mr. Rumsfeld would understand the extent of the error and the breadth of its implications. He does not. Needless to say, Tora Bora was the fault of someone else—Gen. Franks of course, and CIA Director George Tenet. "Franks had to determine whether attempting to apprehend one man on the run" was "worth the risks." Needless to say "there were numerous operational details." And of course, in a typical Rumsfeldian touch, he says he later learned CIA operatives on the ground had asked for help, but "I never received such a request from either Franks or Tenet and cannot imagine denying it if I had." I can.

Osama bin Laden was not "one man on the run." He is the man who did 9/11. He had just killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, in a field in Pennsylvania. He's the reason people held hands and jumped off the buildings. He's the reason the towers groaned to the ground.

It is the great scandal of the wars of the Bush era that the U.S. government failed to get him and bring him to justice. It is the shame of this book that Don Rumsfeld lacks the brains to see it, or the guts to admit it.

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What I Read Today - Thursday March 10, 2011

From: The Wall Street Journal

Why I'm Fighting in Wisconsin

We can avoid mass teacher layoffs and reward our best performers. But we have to act now. .Article Video

In 2010, Megan Sampson was named an Outstanding First Year Teacher in Wisconsin. A week later, she got a layoff notice from the Milwaukee Public Schools. Why would one of the best new teachers in the state be one of the first let go? Because her collective-bargaining contract requires staffing decisions to be made based on seniority.

Ms. Sampson got a layoff notice because the union leadership would not accept reasonable changes to their contract. Instead, they hid behind a collective-bargaining agreement that costs the taxpayers $101,091 per year for each teacher, protects a 0% contribution for health-insurance premiums, and forces schools to hire and fire based on seniority and union rules.

My state's budget-repair bill, which passed the Assembly on Feb. 25 and awaits a vote in the Senate, reforms this union-controlled hiring and firing process by allowing school districts to assign staff based on merit and performance. That keeps great teachers like Ms. Sampson in the classroom.

Most states in the country are facing a major budget deficit. Many are cutting billions of dollars of aid to schools and local governments. These cuts lead to massive layoffs or increases in property taxes—or both.

In Wisconsin, we have a better approach to tackling our $3.6 billion deficit. We are reforming the way government works, as well as balancing our budget. Our reform plan gives state and local governments the tools to balance the budget through reasonable benefit contributions. In total, our budget-repair bill saves local governments almost $1.5 billion, outweighing the reductions in state aid in our budget.

While it might be a bold political move, the changes are modest. We ask government workers to make a 5.8% contribution to their pensions and a 12.6% contribution to their health-insurance premium, both of which are well below what other workers pay for benefits. Our plan calls for Wisconsin state workers to contribute half of what federal employees pay for their health-insurance premiums. (It's also worth noting that most federal workers don't have collective bargaining for wages and benefits.)

For example, my brother works as a banquet manager at a hotel and occasionally works as a bartender. My sister-in-law works at a department store. They have two beautiful kids. They are a typical middle-class Wisconsin family. At the start of this debate, David reminded me that he pays nearly $800 per month for his family's health-insurance premium and a modest 401(k) contribution. He said most workers in Wisconsin would love a deal like the one we are proposing.

The unions say they are ready to accept concessions, yet their actions speak louder than words. Over the past three weeks, local unions across the state have pursued contracts without new pension or health-insurance contributions. Their rhetoric does not match their record on this issue.

Local governments can't pass budgets on a hope and a prayer. Beyond balancing budgets, our reforms give schools—as well as state and local governments—the tools to reward productive workers and improve their operations. Most crucially, our reforms confront the barriers of collective bargaining that currently block innovation and reform.

When Gov. Mitch Daniels repealed collective bargaining in Indiana six years ago, it helped government become more efficient and responsive. The average pay for Indiana state employees has actually increased, and high-performing employees are rewarded with pay increases or bonuses when they do something exceptional.

Passing our budget-repair bill will help put similar reforms into place in Wisconsin. This will be good for the Badger State's hard-working taxpayers. It will also be good for state and local government employees who overwhelmingly want to do their jobs well.

In Wisconsin, we can avoid the massive teacher layoffs that schools are facing across America. Our budget-repair bill is a commitment to the future so our children won't face even more dire consequences than we face today, and teachers like Ms. Sampson are rewarded—not laid off.

Taking on the status quo is no easy task. Each day, there are protesters in and around our state Capitol. They have every right to be heard. But their voices cannot drown out the voices of the countless taxpayers who want us to balance our budgets and, more importantly, to make government work for each of them.

Mr. Walker, a Republican, is the governor of Wisconsin.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What I Read Today - Wednesday March 9, 2011

Tax Code Reform Gains Traction in Congress

Washington, D.C. (March 7, 2011)

By Ken Rankin

The accounting profession’s drive for a more predictable and user friendly Federal Tax Code seems to be gaining traction with at least one segment of Congress: the freshly-elected corps of Tea Party activists and their conservative allies in the House and Senate.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., for one, appears to be on the same page with the American Institute of CPAs when it comes to reducing taxpayer uncertainty about the tax code.

The den mother of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus and one of Sarah Palin’s political “Mama Grizzlies,” Bachmann is the chief sponsor of the “End Tax Uncertainty Act of 2011”—one of several bills introduced by congressional conservatives to repeal the problematic Alternative Minimum Tax on individual taxpayers.

During the peak of this year’s tax season, AICPA leaders met with congressional tax writers to hammer home the profession’s concerns about Tax Code uncertainty and the AMT in particular.

Testifying before a House Ways and Means subcommittee, AICPA Tax Executive Committee chair Patricia Thompson blamed Congress for creating uncertainty among many small business taxpayers by last-minute tax changes and expiring programs and provisions.

“Small businesses can be overwhelmed by the barrage of late-year tax law changes and do not have the time or ability to evaluate properly the impact of the changes on their businesses,” she told the subcommittee.

“These ever-changing, oft expiring, short-term changes to the tax laws make it increasingly difficult for a small business owner to do any long-term planning…for new business development or hiring,” Thompson said.

Businesses face particular challenges as a result of the AMT, but individual taxpayers may be even more vulnerable because the majority of them have “never heard of the AMT and are unaware that it may apply to them,” she said. “Due to the increasing AMT complexity, the AMT’s impact on unintended taxpayers, and AMT compliance problems, the AICPA supports repealing the individual AMT altogether.”

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., a member of Bachmann’s Tea Party Caucus, would take a step in that direction with provisions in his pending “Tax Relief Certainty Act of 2011” (H.R.696), which would provide “permanent AMT relief” for individual tax payers.

A companion bill advanced by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., would do the same (S. 336), but Bachmann’s legislation would go farther. In addition to abolishing AMT outright, her bill (H.R. 86) would make estate tax repeal and other Bush tax cuts permanent.

Other bills in the Congressional hopper would block legislative efforts to overturn other popular tax breaks and lend a sense of permanency to the Tax Code.

Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., is pushing a bill to preserve the child tax credit (H.R. 508), Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, wants to make marriage penalty relief a permanent fixture in the Tax Code (S.11), and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., is one of several members proposing to make deductions for state and local taxes permanent (H.R. 359).

These measures are mild stuff compared to other pending tax proposals that would take a meat cleaver to the federal tax system and disassemble the Internal Revenue Service.

The House Ways and Means Committee is considering legislation introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to terminate the current Tax Code altogether and require Congress to implement a new tax system by Independence Day 2015 (H.R. 462).

An even more sweeping measure sponsored Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Rep. Bob Woodall, R-Ga., would shut down the IRS altogether, repeal all federal income, employment and estate taxes, and replace the current system with a 23 percent national sales tax in 2013 (S. 13 and H.R. 25).

In comparison, the “Fair and Simple Tax Act” (H.R. 99), introduced by Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., seems almost modest. His plan would streamline the personal income tax structure to three brackets (10 percent, 15 percent, and 30 percent), repeal estate and gift taxes, reduce the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent, and index the AMT exemption for inflation.

Still other tax bills pending in the new Congress would offer significant relief to a variety of groups—including tax accountants.

Maryland Tea Party Republican Roscoe Barlett is pressing for legislation to delay the IRS filing deadline from April 15 to the first Monday in November (H.R. 88)—a change that would provide at least a temporary breather for taxpayers and tax preparers alike. Others who may be in for some tax relief from Congress include:

• Telecommuters, who would become eligible for a tax credit for their “teleworking expenses” under the “Telework Tax Incentive Act” (H.R. 710), introduced by Rep. Robert Whitman’s, R-Va.;

• Homeowners, who would get a five year extension of the real property standard deduction—adjusted for inflation—via H.R. 131 sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.;

• Restaurateurs, who would benefit from a plan by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., to boost the deduction for business meals and entertainment expenses from 50 percent to 75 percent (H.R. 468);

• Globetrotting businessmen, who would be able to take business trips with their wives, girlfriends or “other accompanying individuals” and write off their travel expenses under a separate Berkley bill (H.R. 467);

• Silicon Valley workers and other corporate employees, who would receive tax-free treatment for stock compensation paid by their employers, thanks to H.R. 786 from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.;

• Seniors would have their Social Security income tax liability wiped out under a bill from Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, “The Senior Citizens Tax Elimination Act” (H.R. 150), and would get a one-time $500,000 to $1 million capital gains tax exclusion on the sale of their home courtesy of Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., and his “Fair Tax for Seniors Act” (H.R. 331);

• Truck farmers would pocket a business tax credit of up to $10,000 under Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., and his “Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grower Tax Incentive Act” (H.R. 317).

• Casino operators would be granted a fast-track five-year depreciation schedule for their computer-based slot machines thanks to Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev. (H.R. 427).

No group of taxpayers would receive as many tax breaks under legislation introduced this session as teachers.

Full-time elementary and secondary school teachers of math, science, engineering or technology courses could claim refundable tax credits of $1,000 to $1,500 toward undergraduate tuition costs each year under Rep. Rush Holt’s, D-N.J., “National STEM Education Tax Incentive Act for Teachers” (H.R. 135).

A separate bill (H.R. 161) sponsored by Rep. Heath Schuler, D-N.C., allows Head Start teachers the same above the line deduction for supplies that is currently available to elementary and secondary school teachers.

Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., is pushing a Teacher Tax Reduction Act (H.R. 35)—one of several pending measures that would double the dollar limit on the tax deduction for job expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers to $500 and extend this tax break through 2013.

Even parents who teach their own children at home would qualify for a federal tax break under Sen. David Vitter’s, R-La., “Home School Opportunities Make Education Sound Act” (S. 04). The bill would allow all taxpayers—even those who do not itemize deductions—to write off the cost of home schooling their children.

Democrats Weigh in with Tax Legislation

Not all of the tax legislation in the congressional hopper this year has come from Tea Party members and other conservative Republicans. Democrats have tossed in a few bills that reflect a decidedly more progressive tax agenda.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., has advanced a new “Income Equity Act” (H.R. 382) that prohibits businesses from tax-deducting executive salaries over $500,000 a year, or greater than 25 times the lowest compensation paid to any employee.

In the Senate, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry has introduced legislation to sweeten the Earned Income Tax Credit by raising the income thresholds to allow more individuals to qualify. His bill (S.467) would also boost the penalty on tax return preparers who fail to comply with EITC eligibility “due diligence” requirements, raising the fine per violation from the current $100 to $500.

California Democrat Barbara Boxer is pushing a “Sense of the Senate” resolution (S.RES. 25) calling for provisions in all future tax reform legislation offering incentives for companies that “repatriate foreign earnings” in order to create new jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., advanced his own Sense of the Senate measure (S.7) that calls on Congress to simplify the Tax Code, “get rid of extra tax breaks for millionaires,” “eliminate wasteful tax breaks for special interests,” “remove corporate tax loopholes,” “crack down on cheaters, and close the tax gap.”

Although there has been precious little bipartisanship reflected in the tax bills that have surfaced so far this year, there has been at least a speck of legislative Glasnost in the Senate. Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and Florida Democrat Bill Nelson joined forces to co-sponsor S. 437—a bill requiring the IRS to provide every U.S. taxpayer with a receipt for their income tax payment, including an itemized breakdown of how that payment would be allocated to various government spending programs.

—Ken Rankin

Monday, March 7, 2011

What I Read Today - Monday March 7, 2011

From:  The New York Times

The Fading Power of Beck’s Alarms


Almost every time I flipped on television last week, there was a deeply angry guy on a running tirade about the conspiracies afoot, the enemies around all corners, and how he alone seemed to understand what was under way.

While it’s true that Charlie Sheen sucked up a lot of airtime last week, I’d been watching Glenn Beck, the Fox News host who invoked Hezbollah, socialists, the price of gas, Shariah law, George Soros, Planned Parenthood, and, yes, Charlie Sheen, as he predicted a coming apocalypse.

Mr. Beck, a conservative Jeremiah and talk-radio phenomenon, burst into television prominence in 2009 by taking the forsaken 5 p.m. slot on Fox News and turning it into a juggernaut. A conjurer of conspiracies who spotted sedition everywhere he looked, Mr. Beck struck a big chord and ended up on the cover of Time magazine and The New York Times Magazine, and held rallies all over the country that were mobbed with acolytes. He achieved unheard-of ratings, swamped the competition and at times seemed to threaten the dominion of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity at Fox.

But a funny thing happened on the way from the revolution. Since last August, when he summoned more than 100,000 followers to the Washington mall for the “Restoring Honor” rally, Mr. Beck has lost over a third of his audience on Fox — a greater percentage drop than other hosts at Fox. True, he fell from the great heights of the health care debate in January 2010, but there has been worrisome erosion — more than one million viewers — especially in the younger demographic.

He still has numbers that just about any cable news host would envy and, with about two million viewers a night, outdraws all his competition combined. But the erosion is significant enough that Fox News officials are willing to say — anonymously, of course; they don’t want to be identified as criticizing the talent — that they are looking at the end of his contract in December and contemplating life without Mr. Beck.

On the other side, people who work for Mr. Beck point out that he could live without Fox News. Unlike some other cable hosts, Mr. Beck has a huge multiplatform presence: he has sold around four million books, is near the top of talk-radio ratings, has a growing Web site called The Blaze, along with a stage performance that still packs houses. Forbes estimated that his company, Mercury Radio Arts, had more than $30 million in revenue.

How could a breakup between Mr. Beck and Fox News — a bond that seemed made in pre-Apocalyptic heaven — come to pass? They were never great friends to start with: Mr. Beck came to Fox with a huge radio show and had been on CNN Headline News, so he did not owe his entire career to Fox and frequently went off-message. The sniping between Fox News executives and Mr. Beck’s team began soon after he went on the air in 2009.

Many on the news side of Fox have wondered whether his chronic outrageousness — he suggested that the president has “a deep-seated hatred for white people” — have made it difficult for Fox to hang onto its credibility as a news network. Some 300 advertisers fled the show, leaving sponsorship to a slew of gold bullion marketers whose message dovetails nicely with Mr. Beck’s end-of-times gospel. Both parties go to some lengths to point out that that the discussion has nothing to do with persistent criticism from the left.

But the partnership, which has been good for both parties, may yet be repaired. On Wednesday’s show, Mr. Beck went to some lengths to demonstrate gratitude and fealty to Fox News.

“Two years ago, I was on a cable channel that no one was watching at the time, doing a show that no one was watching, and I was about to leave television. And then I had the opportunity to come and work here,” he said. “If you’re going to do news or commentary, the only place, I think in the world, the only place that really makes an impact is Fox.”

William Kristol of The Weekly Standard suggested that Mr. Beck is “marginalizing himself” by arguing that socialists and leftists were working with Islamic radicals to sow worldwide chaos. But Mr. Beck has always marched to his own idiosyncratic music, and his ratings actually began dropping long before Egypt rose up against its leader.

The problem with “Glenn Beck” is that it has turned into a serial doomsday machine that’s a bummer to watch.

Mr. Beck, a more gifted entertainer than most cable hosts, can still bring it, lighting up with characters and voices. But much of the time, there is sense that the fatigue from always being on alert, tilting forward in the saddle against the next menace, is starting to wear him down.

What had been a fast and loose assault on all things liberal has grown darker and less entertaining, especially with the growing revolution in the Middle East, a phenomenon Mr. Beck sees as something of a beginning to some kind of end. He’s often alone in the studio with his chalkboards and obscure factoids, a setting that reminds me of an undergrad seminar on macroeconomics with an around-the-bend professor I didn’t particularly enjoy.

Last Wednesday, as he grabbed all the disparate strands from around the globe and tied them into a great, grand bow of doom, he ambled alone between various blackboards, each jammed with portentous bullet points. He often looked away from the camera into a middle distance as he spoke of a calamity that only he can see.

“He used to be a lot funnier,” said David Von Drehle, who wrote the article in Time magazine. “He was the befuddled everyman and something entirely new, but the longer people have listened to his ranting and raving, the wearier they become. Now you are just getting down to diehards. I mean, how many people were in the Waco compound at the end? A couple of hundred?”

Joel Cheatwood, a senior vice president of development for Fox News and the executive in charge of the show, thinks it’s silly to suggest that the American viewing public’s romance with Mr. Beck is on the wane — he’s trouncing his competition — but says that keeping the show upbeat is something he discusses with Mr. Beck.

“We have talked about that, at his instigation,” Mr. Cheatwood said. “It is really important that no matter how dire he thinks things are or what horrible direction things may be going from his perspective that the show maintains a sense of hope.”

“What you see on television with Glenn is the real guy,” he added, “and that is a double-edged sword. If he is upset about something, you see it.”

Part of Mr. Beck’s appeal is that he seems as if he is about to lose his marbles. But recently, he acts like he’s a little tired of the game. He can still draw a huge crowd, but he looks lonely in that studio all by himself.

“When I first came here,” he told his audience on Wednesday, “I had this pie-in-the-sky belief that if I told you the truth, if I verified all of my facts and double-checked, and we could make that compelling case with facts to back it up, the journalists in other places would get curious and they’d use their resources and they’d investigate and they’d prove it right and they’d show it too.” Then he shook his head and laughed bitterly.

Mr. Beck remains firm in his belief that something is going terribly wrong and it may be time to stock up on canned goods and head to the basement. The problem with predicting doomsday is that if you’re wrong, you have to figure out what to say the next day. And if you’re right ... well, the ratings will be terrific, for what that’s worth.


Friday, March 4, 2011

What I Read Today - Friday March 4, 2011

From: The Wall Street Journal

Public Unions Get Too 'Friendly'

They resemble 'On the Waterfront' more than 'Norma Rae.'


When you step back and try to get a sense of the larger picture in the battle between the states and their public employee unions, two elements emerge. One seems small but could prove decisive, and the other is big and, if I'm seeing it right, carries significant implications.

The seemingly small thing is that the battles in the states, while summoning emotions from all sides, are not at their heart emotional. Yes, a lot of people are waving placards, but it's also true that suddenly everyone's talking about numbers; the numbers are being reported in the press and dissected on talk radio. This state has a $5 billion deficit; that state has projected deficits in the tens of millions. One estimate of New Jersey's bill for health and pension benefits for state workers over the next 30 years is an astounding $100 billion—money the state literally does not have and cannot get. The very force of the math has the heartening effect of squeezing ideology right out of the story. It doesn't matter if you're a liberal or a conservative, it's all about the numbers, and numbers are sobering things.

The rise of arithmetic as a player in the drama is politically promising because when people argue over data and hard facts, and not over ideological loyalties and impulses, progress is more possible. Governors can take their stand, their opponents can take theirs, and if they happen to argue the budget problem doesn't really exist, they'll have to prove it. With numbers.

The big thing that is new has to do with the atmospherics of the drama.

Let's look for a second at one of the most famous battles, in New Jersey. A year ago Chris Christie was sworn in as the new governor. He immediately faced a $10.7 billion deficit and catastrophic debt projections. State and local taxes were already high, so that if he raised them he'd send people racing out of the state. So Mr. Christie came up with a plan. He asked the state's powerful teachers union for two things: a one-year pay freeze—not a cut—and a modest 1.5% contribution to their benefit packages.

The teachers union went to war. They said, "Christie is trying to kill the unions," so they tried to kill him politically. They spent millions on ads trying to take him down.

And it backfired. They didn't kill him, they made him. Chris Christie is a national figure now because the teachers union decided, in an epic political drama in which arithmetic is the predominant fact, to ignore the math. They also decided to play the wrong role in the drama. They decided to play the role of Johnny Friendly, on whom more in a moment.

If the union leaders had been smart—if they'd had a heart!—they would have held a private meeting and said, "Look, the party's over. We've done great the past 20 years, but now taxpayers are starting to resent us, and they have reason. They're losing their benefits and footing the bill for our gold-plated plans, they don't have job security and we do, taxes are high. We have to back off."

They didn't do this. It was a big mistake. And the teachers union made it just as two terrible but unrelated things were happening to their reputation. In what might be called an expression of the new spirit of transparency that is sweeping the globe, two documentaries came out in 2010, "The Lottery" and "Waiting for Superman." Both were made by and featured people who are largely liberal in their sympathies, and both said the same brave thing: The single biggest impediment to better schools in our country is the teachers unions, which look to their own interests and not those of the kids.

In both films, as in real life, the problem is the unions themselves, not individual teachers. They present teachers who are heroic, who are creative and idealistic. But they too, in the films, are victims of union rules.

That's the unions' problem in terms of atmospherics. They are starting to destroy their own reputation. They are robbing themselves of their mystique. They still exist, and they're big and rich—a force—but they are abandoning the very positive place they've held in the American imagination. Polls are all over the place on union support, but I'm speaking of the kind of thing that is hard to quantify and that has to do with words like "luster" and "tradition."

Unions have been respected in America forever, and public employee unions have reaped that respect. There are two great reasons for this. One is that unions always stood for the little guy. The other is that Americans like balance. We have management over here and the union over here, they'll talk and find balance, it'll turn out fine.

But with the public employee unions, the balance has been off for decades. And when they lost their balance they fell off their pedestal.

When union leaders negotiate with a politician, they're negotiating with someone they can hire and fire. Public unions have numbers and money, and politicians need both. And politicians fear strikes because the public hates them. When governors negotiate with unions, it's not collective bargaining, it's more like collusion. Someone said last week the taxpayers aren't at the table. The taxpayers aren't even in the room.

As for unions looking out for the little guy, that's not how it's looking right now. Right now the little guy is the public school pupil whose daily rounds take him from a neglectful family to an indifferent teacher who can't be removed. The little guy is the beleaguered administrator whose attempts at improvement are thwarted by unions. The little guy is the private-sector worker who doesn't have a good health-care plan, who barely has a pension, who lacks job security, and who is paying everyone else's bills.

This is a major perceptual change. In my lifetime, people have felt so supportive of unions. That great scene in the 1979 film "Norma Rae," in which the North Carolina cotton mill worker played by Sally Field holds up the sign that says UNION—people were moved by that scene because they believed in its underlying justice. When I was a child, kids bragged if their father had a union job because it meant he was part of something, someone was looking out for him, he was a citizen.

There were hiccups—the labor racketeering scandals of the 1950s, Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters. But they served as a corrective to romanticism. Men in groups will be men in groups, whether they run a government or a union. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan captured this in their 1954 masterpiece, "On the Waterfront," in which Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando, stands up to the selfish, bullying union chief Johnny Friendly. Brando's character testifies to the Waterfront Commission and then defiantly stands down Johnny and his goons. "I'm glad what I done today. . . . You hear me? Glad what I done."

We're at quite a moment when public employee unions remind you of Johnny Friendly. They're so powerful, such a base of the Democratic Party, and they must think nothing can hurt them. But they can hurt themselves. And they are. Are they noticing?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What I Read Today - Wednesday March 3, 2011

From: The New York Times

Girls and Boys Together


In honor of Women’s History Month, President Obama ordered up the first report on the status of American women since the one Eleanor Roosevelt prepared for John F. Kennedy. It’s chock full of interesting bits of information.

For instance, did you know that the median marriage age for college-educated women is 30? I should have figured that out because I can barely think of a single college-educated woman under the age of 30 who is married. But somehow it still came as a surprise. I got married when I was 25, and I felt as if that was extremely late in the game. Of course, that was in the Mesozoic era, and we had no end of trouble keeping the stegosaurus away from the wedding cake.

Additional reports from “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being” include information on everything from volunteering (women do more) to housework (go ahead and guess). It has some findings I don’t quite know what to do with, like: “While male students are more likely to be victimized with weapons, female students are more likely to experience electronic bullying.” Electronic bullying is definitely a bad thing, but I can’t help feeling as though we’re getting the better end of that deal.

We’re a long way from the Eleanor Roosevelt Commission on the Status of Women, which was formed when there were no women on the White House staff doing anything more impressive than typing or cake decoration. “Men have to be reminded that women exist,” Mrs. Roosevelt tartly told reporters when the all-male list of top Kennedy administration appointees was released.

At the time, there were 454 federal civil service job categories for college graduates, and more than 200 were restricted to male applicants. It was perfectly legal to refuse to hire a woman for a job because of her failure to be a man, or to refuse her credit unless she had a husband to co-sign her loan. The median age for marriage for a woman was 20, and the only job open to most women that involved a chance to travel was flight attendant.

We’re in a different world, but this latest report highlights the one glaring gap: working women still make, on average, much less than men. Among people who work full time, women make an average 80 cents for every $1 that men take home.

There has always been a big difference: in 1979, women made only 62 percent of what men did. And the report suggests that part of the problem is because of the fact that women tend to pursue the lowest-paying professional careers, notably teaching. Perhaps part of the answer is just to increase compensation for people who devote their careers to education. Perhaps the governors could take that up next time they get together to discuss public employee unions.

I’ve always believed the other big factor is the strain of balancing work and family. Women do better in school — now all the way to graduate school where they get the majority of doctoral degrees. And young single women tend to make higher wages than young single men. The change comes at the point when many women have to consider their children. Perhaps the House of Representatives could take that up next time they get together to discuss whether they really want to eliminate federally financed child care programs.

“The thing that we’re hoping men will focus on: This is not a woman’s issue; it’s a family issue,” said Valerie Jarrett, who leads the White House Council on Women and Girls.

That’s really the big story for today. Americans are so used to the fact that women are capable of doing anything that we hardly ever discuss it. It’s been a long time since the leader of NASA said “talk of an American spacewoman makes me sick to my stomach.”

A change that happened later, and the one that’s going to be driving the future, is that women’s ability to succeed in their work life is now a matter of concern for both sexes. The turning point for American women really came on the unknown day when the average American couple started planning their futures with the presumption that there would be two paychecks. In a country where no one has real power without a serious economic role, we entered a time when, whether we liked it or not, all hands were needed to keep the economic ship afloat. Even women who get the opportunity to stay home when their children are young have to be ready to jump back into the work force if their partner is suddenly laid off.

A while back, I was visiting a college in Connecticut where most of the students were the first in their families ever to go beyond high school. I was talking with a group of young men and women, and I asked the men how many of them felt it was very important that their future wife be a good earner.

All of them raised their hands.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What I Read Today - Wednesday March 2, 1011

From:  The New York Times

This Is Just the Start


Future historians will long puzzle over how the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, in protest over the confiscation of his fruit stand, managed to trigger popular uprisings across the Arab/Muslim world. We know the big causes — tyranny, rising food prices, youth unemployment and social media. But since being in Egypt, I’ve been putting together my own back-of-the-envelope guess list of what I’d call the “not-so-obvious forces” that fed this mass revolt. Here it is:

Americans have never fully appreciated what a radical thing we did — in the eyes of the rest of the world — in electing an African-American with the middle name Hussein as president. I’m convinced that listening to Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech — not the words, but the man — were more than a few young Arabs who were saying to themselves: “Hmmm, let’s see. He’s young. I’m young. He’s dark-skinned. I’m dark-skinned. His middle name is Hussein. My name is Hussein. His grandfather is a Muslim. My grandfather is a Muslim. He is president of the United States. And I’m an unemployed young Arab with no vote and no voice in my future.” I’d put that in my mix of forces fueling these revolts.

While Facebook has gotten all the face time in Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain, don’t forget Google Earth, which began roiling Bahraini politics in 2006. A big issue in Bahrain, particularly among Shiite men who want to get married and build homes, is the unequal distribution of land. On Nov. 27, 2006, on the eve of parliamentary elections in Bahrain, The Washington Post ran this report from there: “Mahmood, who lives in a house with his parents, four siblings and their children, said he became even more frustrated when he looked up Bahrain on Google Earth and saw vast tracts of empty land, while tens of thousands of mainly poor Shiites were squashed together in small, dense areas. ‘We are 17 people crowded in one small house, like many people in the southern district,’ he said. ‘And you see on Google how many palaces there are and how the al-Khalifas [the Sunni ruling family] have the rest of the country to themselves.’ Bahraini activists have encouraged people to take a look at the country on Google Earth, and they have set up a special user group whose members have access to more than 40 images of royal palaces.”

The Arab TV network Al Jazeera has a big team covering Israel today. Here are some of the stories they have been beaming into the Arab world: Israel’s previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had to resign because he was accused of illicitly taking envelopes stuffed with money from a Jewish-American backer. An Israeli court recently convicted Israel’s former president Moshe Katsav on two counts of rape, based on accusations by former employees. And just a few weeks ago, Israel, at the last second, rescinded the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as the army’s new chief of staff after Israeli environmentalists spurred a government investigation that concluded General Galant had seized public land near his home. (You can see his house on Google Maps!) This surely got a few laughs in Egypt where land sales to fat cats and cronies of the regime that have resulted in huge overnight profits have been the talk of Cairo this past year. When you live right next to a country that is bringing to justice its top leaders for corruption and you live in a country where many of the top leaders are corrupt, well, you notice.

China and Egypt were both great civilizations subjected to imperialism and were both dirt poor back in the 1950s, with China even poorer than Egypt, Edward Goldberg, who teaches business strategy, wrote in The Globalist. But, today, China has built the world’s second-largest economy, and Egypt is still living on foreign aid. What do you think young Egyptians thought when they watched the dazzling opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics? China’s Olympics were another wake-up call — “in a way that America or the West could never be” — telling young Egyptians that something was very wrong with their country, argued Goldberg.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad introduced a new form of government in the Arab world in the last three years, something I’ve dubbed “Fayyadism.” It said: judge me on my performance, on how I deliver government services and collect the garbage and create jobs — not simply on how I “resist” the West or Israel. Every Arab could relate to this. Chinese had to give up freedom but got economic growth and decent government in return. Arabs had to give up freedom and got the Arab-Israeli conflict and unemployment in return.

Add it all up and what does it say? It says you have a very powerful convergence of forces driving a broad movement for change. It says we’re just at the start of something huge. And it says that if we don’t have a more serious energy policy, the difference between a good day and bad day for America from here on will hinge on how the 86-year-old king of Saudi Arabia manages all this change.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What I Read Today - Tuesday March 1, 2011

From:  Grist

by Bill McKibben.

Say this for Glenn Beck: He works fast. Less than 48 hours after we at launched our campaign to let businesses say that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t represent them, Beck hit back. A true friend of Chamber (here’s a picture of him broadcasting from the group’s roof—certainly worth the $10,000 he donated from his $32 million annual earnings), he put little old up on his notorious board Friday night next to a hammer and sickle. We were part of a communistic conspiracy that also included the Apollo Alliance and the Service Employees International Union.

In some sense, I guess, this pleased us. Right back to J. Edgar Hoover and his attacks on Martin Luther King, “communist” has always been the epithet of choice for any organizers who’ve shown signs of being effective. (Tea Partiers are obviously chagrined that actual working people in Wisconsin are upstaging them.) In another sense, it’s just sad: Confronted with the hard choices posed by physics and chemistry, Beck (like too many others) tries to find some specter to blame.

But it’s not worth getting mad about. Better to point out that there’s something ... funny about Beck.

Hence this little essay I wrote for The Washington Post:
My life as a communist actually began without me knowing it, on Friday evening, when Glenn Beck spent his program explaining about a “communistic” conspiracy that included 10 groups in America. One was, a global campaign to fight climate change that I helped found three years ago. He even put our logo up on his whiteboard—and next to it a hammer and sickle.

Since I don’t actually watch Mr. Beck, I didn’t know about it until e-mails began to arrive, informing me that indeed I was a communist. My first reaction was: I’m not a communist. I’m a Methodist.

But then I reconsidered. What exactly was I doing when those e-mails arrived? I was downloading an iPad app, At Bat 11, which lets me (for only $14.99) hear the broadcast of any baseball game anywhere in the country. Since I live in New England, I use it to track our beloved Boston squad, whose moniker I had never before deeply contemplated. Now—well, enough said.

And the next morning, on my first full day as a communist? I spent most of it outdoors, at the annual New England festival for young cross-country ski racers. More than 500 kids from across the region were competing, and I was standing on the toughest hill cheering. And here’s the thing—at least with the first- and second-graders, I was cheering for everyone equally. Not only that, but did you know where this particular type of skiing was invented? Norway.

Some people laugh at Mr. Beck—earlier in the same week, for instance, he’d ventured the opinion that “Reformed Judaism” was pretty much the same as Islamic extremism. Not 100 percent correct, but the next day he apologized, and explained the research technique that had led to the slight miss: “I had, was having a conversation with a few friends the night before—one of them, I trust on things like this, and I’m not even sure if I misunderstood him, or misheard him, or what.” In my case, though, the evidence seemed fairly damning.

Especially because, earlier in the week, I’d written a widely circulated essay that attacked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which on its own website says that as “the voice of business, the Chamber’s core purpose is to fight for free enterprise.” And yet I scourged the group—because it’s spent the past few years opposing any action on climate change. Indeed, it submitted a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency arguing that the agency should avoid regulating carbon emissions because, in the event of global warming, “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.”

To me that sounds absurd. Instead of the 16 companies that provided more than half the chamber’s budget adapting their business models to a world of safe renewable energy, they wished all people everywhere and forever to change their physiologies. But now I see that my protests can be read as a gesture of support for human solidarity, with all that implies.

I should have known better than to go after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. After all, Mr. Beck just last year held a telethon on its behalf, encouraging listeners to send the chamber checks, and ponying up $10,000 of his own $32 million in earnings. “They are us,” he’d explained—and indeed, an executive of the chamber called in to thank him.

The Chamber of Commerce spends more money than anyone else lobbying Congress. It dropped hundreds of thousands on the last state elections in Wisconsin, all of it for the side now standing up for union-busting, I mean human freedom. Opposing it—well, clearly I’m hammer-and-sickle all the way.

I turned 50 last fall—that’s half a century not understanding who I really was. There’s something liberating about finding out. After all, it was Marx who said that above 350 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we can’t have a planet “similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.” No, wait, those were NASA scientists. The same people who faked the moon landing. This is a complicated world; I’m going back to the baseball game.

What I Read Today - Tuesday March 1, 2011

From:  Our Daily Brea

Win Or Lose

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. —2 Timothy 4:7

During the 2009 college football season, University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy began every post-game interview by thanking God for the opportunity to play. When he was injured early in the national championship game, he was forced to watch from the sidelines as his team lost.

The apostle Paul experienced God’s deliverance many times, but he didn’t insist on things going his way. From prison in Rome he wrote to Timothy: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tim. 4:6). Some might say that Paul had failed to accomplish his goals and that his life was ending in defeat. But he saw it differently: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (v.7). He looked forward to an eternal crown (v.8).

As we walk with God, we can praise Him for His faithfulness—win or lose.

I can always count on God, my heavenly Father,
For He changes not; He always is the same.
Yesterday, today, forever, He is faithful,
And I know He loves me, praise His holy name! —Felten

In every change He faithful will remain. —Katharina von Schlegel

What I Read Today - Tuesday March 1, 2011

From:  The New York Times

The New Normal


We’re going to be doing a lot of deficit cutting over the next several years. The country’s future greatness will be shaped by whether we cut wisely or stupidly. So we should probably come up with a few sensible principles to guide us as we cut.

The first one, as I tried to argue last week, is: Make Everybody Hurt. The sacrifice should be spread widely and fairly. A second austerity principle is this: Trim from the old to invest in the young. We should adjust pension promises and reduce the amount of money spent on health care during the last months of life so we can preserve programs for those who are growing and learning the most.

So far, this principle is being trampled. Seniors vote. Taxpayers revolt. Public employees occupy capitol buildings to protect their bargaining power for future benefits negotiations. As a result, seniors are being protected while children are getting pummeled. If you look across the country, you see education financing getting sliced — often in the most thoughtless and destructive ways. The future has no union.

In Washington, the Republicans who designed the cuts for this fiscal year seemed to have done no serious policy evaluation. They excused the elderly and directed cuts at anything else they could easily reach. Under their budget, financing for early-childhood programs would fall off a cliff. Tens of thousands of kids, maybe hundreds of thousands, would have their slots eliminated midyear.

Out in the states, the situation is scarcely better. Many governors of both parties are diverting money from schools in thoughtless and self-destructive ways. Hawaii decided to cut the number of days in the school year. Of all the ways to cut education, why on earth would you reduce student time in the classroom?

Texas is taking the meat cleaver approach. School financing will be cut by at least 13.5 percent, around $3.5 billion. About 85,000 new students arrive in Texas every year. There will be no additional resources to accommodate them.

Which leads to the third austerity principle: Never cut without an evaluation process. Before legislators and governors chop a section of the budget, they should make a list of all the relevant programs. They should grade each option and then start paying for them from the top down.

It seems simple, but that is not what is happening. Instead, legislators and administrators are simply cutting on the basis of what’s politically easy and what vaguely seems expendable. In education, many administrators are quick to cut athletics, band, cheerleading, art and music because they have the vague impression that those are luxuries. In fact, they are exactly the programs that keep kids in school and build character.

I have a lot of problems with President Obama’s tepid budget. But it does an excellent job of linking funds to outcomes, especially in education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a superb speech in November called the New Normal. He observed that this era of austerity should be an occasion to increase productivity and cut the things that are ineffective. Duncan is a fountain of ideas to make more with less.

For example, he says, if we have to increase class sizes, we should put more kids in with the best teachers and then we should pay those teachers more to compensate for the extra load. Most of us parents would rather see our kids in a class of 30 with a great teacher than a class of 25 with an average one.

The president’s budget increases spending on things like early education, and it is also stuffed with mechanisms to make programs perform better. When I spoke with the mavens that put the budget together, I found that they had a clear and skeptical view of whether many of these programs work. They perfectly described the studies measuring the strengths and weaknesses of each program.

They know that Head Start, for example, is a hodgepodge. Some facilities are great. Many are terrible. The administration would evaluate each program. The bottom 25 percent would have to compete to keep their financing. Those that didn’t improve would get replaced.

Similarly, Pell grant levels have surged in recent decades, but college completion rates have been flat. The administration would reform the Pell grant program, eliminating parts that don’t work. More important, it would establish stronger incentives so colleges have an interest in getting kids to graduate, not simply attend.

During the fat years, nobody bothered to link pay to performance. Government workers and government programs got funding increases no matter how they did. This model is anathema to most Americans, especially those under 40.

This period of austerity will be a blessing if it spurs an effectiveness revolution. It will be a disaster if the cutting is done politically or mindlessly. Unfortunately, that’s often how it is being done now.