Archive for September 9th, 2008|Daily archive page

Obama on education

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has made news by coming out in support of Charter Schools, for which he would double federal funding to $400 million; he points out that many in his party oppose charter schools due to the influence from teachers unions.   Obama also said that, while he is skeptical of school vouchers, “he wouldn’t allow his skepticism to stand in the way of doing something to help them. … You do what works for the kids.”

While teachers unions do much good for both teachers and students, they often oppose experimentation, reform, or any changes to existing education institutions–and they strongly oppse merit-based pay and the removal of underperforming educators, two other ideas that the Illinois Senator has indicated he supports.  Barack Obama has demonstrated courage by openly disagreeing with an influential constituent of the Democratic Party’s base that often acts like the only “reform” they’ll consider is more money.

I think Obama would be more likely to get these sorts of education reforms through, since Republicans will likely (grudgingly) support him and he could drag enough Democrats along to pass reform measures.   I support efforts to see how well charter schools, school vouchers, and market forces can work in improving education, whether public or private.   Obama is correct in his non-dogmatic willingness to try new things until we find out what works.  FDR would be proud.

Advertisements

Miscellany

Here are a number of quick new items that I have found interesting; hopefully readers will think likewise about at least some of the following.

Time‘s Michael Kinsley has a good article on “Sarah Palin’s Alaskanomics” that challenges how much experience she has with fiscal conservatism, even besides her early support for the “bridge to nowhere.”  The economy of the state has more to do with Alaska’s natural resources than with Governor Palin, but the details are nonetheless interesting. 

Of the 50 states, Alaska ranks No. 1 in taxes per resident and No. 1 in spending per resident. Its tax burden per resident is 2.5 times the national average; its spending, more than double. The trick is that Alaska‘s government spends money on its own citizens and taxes the rest of us to pay for it. Although Palin, like McCain, talks about liberating ourselves from dependence on foreign oil, there is no evidence that being dependent on Alaskan oil would be any more pleasant to the pocketbook.

Alaska is, in essence, an adjunct member of OPEC. It has four different taxes on oil, which produce more than 89% of the state’s unrestricted revenue.

Former New York City mayor Ed Koch predicts that the “Election Will Hinge on Abortion Issue.”  He says that “the outcome of the presidential election will depend not on the economy, not on the Iraq war, not on the price of gasoline or the issue of national health insurance, but on the issue of the right to abortion.”  He credits McCain’s selection of Palin for making the abortion issue prominent in the race and says she’ll drive evangelicals to the polls just as Obama will drive more minorities, possibly leading to a high turnout election.  Koch will announce his presidential endorsement next week.

To our north, Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has dissolved his country’s Parliament.  To those not familiar with the terminology of parliamentary government, this simply means that he has called for new elections, which will be held October 14th.  Harper’s Conservative party has 127 seats, a plurality, in the House of Commons.  He hopes to gain an outright majority to form a more stable government without having to rely on any opposition parties to pass legislation. Some recent polls say Conservatives may win as many as 168 seats in the 308-member House of Commons, but Harper been downplaying the chances of this, publicly predicting another plurality government.

In other prime ministerial news, Japan’s PM, Yasuo Fukuda, has resigned.  This article has some interesting observations on how two decades of mostly weak and ineffective Prime Ministers have affected Japan’s position and relationship and role with their region and with the United States.  Not really touched on in the article is Japan’s need for some fundamental and painful economic reforms, which probably won’t happen without an executive with some clout. The upcoming leadership election likely won’t produce such an executive.

One of my favorite columnists, Gregg Easterbrook,  has a lengthy item (1356 words) on vehicle fuel efficiency and horsepower in the latest entryto his only partly football-related column, Tuesday Morning Quarterback.  Easterbrook writes that “Less horsepower would mean better fuel efficiency, diminished petroleum imports and lower carbon emissions … [and] would reduce highway deaths” by diminishing speeding and road rage.  He argues for government regulation, writing that:

Courts consistently rule that vehicles using public roads may be regulated for public purposes, such as safety and energy efficiency. NASCAR races occur on private property — there, horsepower is nobody’s business. On public roads, horsepower is very much everybody’s business. You’d be laughed at if you asserted a “right” to drive a locomotive down the freeway. Where is it written we have the “right” to operate an overpowered car that wastes oil and pollutes the sky?

In less important news, KFC is moving Colonel Sanders’s secret recipe.  Apparently, KFC literally has a piece of yellow notebook paper on which Sanders himself hand wrote the secret recipe; the paper is kept in a vault and will be moved while it’s security arrangements are enhanced.  Only two company executives have access to the whole recipe at any one time; people in their supply chain have access only to a small portion thereof.

In other fast food news, 54-year old Dan Gorske has eaten 23,000 Big Macs since 1972.  That works out to about 640 Big Macs per year, or about 1.75 Big Macs per day.  That can’t be good for you.  Gorske credits this feat to his obsessive-compulsive disorder, which also leads him to save every McDonald’s receipt.  The only day he hasn’t eaten a Big Mac was the day his mother died and he says that eating a Big Mac is the highlight of his day. No word on whether he’s considered the possibility that he likes Big Macs perhaps a bit too much.

In slightly more important news, Physicist Stephen Hawking predicts that the Large Hadron Collider, which will come online Wednesday, will not destroy the world.  He puts the chance of it creating microscopic black holes (which would not be dangerous) at less than 1%, but says “I don’t think there is any doubt I would get a Nobel Prize, if they showed the properties I predict.”  Hawking’s main prediction is that microscopic black holes would quickly “evaporate” due to so-called Hawking Radiation produced by quantum effects.  The physicist also doubts that the LHC will produce evidence of the Higgs bosun, which he doubts exists; he has put his money where his voice synthesizer is by making one of his well-known bets: he’ll lose $100 to Michigan University’s Gordy Kane if the Higgs exists.