Thank you for indulging me in a moment of satire. For more serious fare, you can read my review of the 2012 movie Lincoln, a brief reflection on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, and my recommended list of essential Lincoln books.
News reports indicated that President Obama had opted to steer clear of the festivities surrounding the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address. But at the last moment, searching desperately for some positive publicity to stimulate his flagging poll numbers, the Commander-in-Chief changed his mind.
Quietly trying to stay out of the limelight, and pull off a public relations surprise, Obama and his contingent of senior staff and security boarded the high-speed train from the nation’s capital to the rolling farm country of southern Pennsylvania. In a moment of solitude he reviewed the address his speechwriters had drafted for him mere hours ago.
But something about the speech – full of boilerplate historical accounts of a conflict most American students don’t even learn about anymore – didn’t resonate. “I need to come up with something that brings people back to a happier time, not this boring tripe,” he thought. So in the silence of a midnight train ride to Gettysburg, he took out some scrap pieces of paper, his ball point pen, and started from scratch: Read the rest of this entry »
Imagine sitting down to write a term paper or thesis, then releasing the first draft of the paper not only to your professor but to a worldwide audience. Now imagine your paper contains instructions for allocating billions of tax dollars to a bunch of different groups. You can start to understand what Colorado state senator Michael Johnston (D-Denver) feels like after releasing a draft of legislation to rewrite the state’s 19-year-old School Finance Act.
In the funny game of democratic politics, is it better to make a bold push in one direction, or to try to bring diverse interests together around a “Grand Bargain”? When it comes to Johnston’s monumental effort, the question is being played out before our eyes. The idea is to tie “bold” school finance reform to a “bold” $1 billion tax increase proposal on November’s ballot.
Ed News Colorado reported on last Thursday’s feedback session Johnston’s office sponsored, where he heard lots of questions and lots of concerns. Former State Board of Education member Randy DeHoff stressed a reasonable point that the overall effort really isn’t so bold on reform. He described it fairly as “a lot more money going into a 19th century system.”
At the same time, some supporters of “revenue enhancements” or “increased investments” to K-12 education expressed doubts, insisting that the $1 billion target wasn’t high enough. Johnston talked about internal poll results that showed asking for more money would be fatal to the whole proposition. He framed 2013′s “Grand Bargain” as the vanguard of a longer-term effort.
“What I want to do is make that initial investment and then get a chance for us to track our results and see how we’ve done, and then help us inform the next investment,” the senator assured the crowd of 150 or more. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week the U.S. Department of Labor released new numbers showing that nationally union membership is on the decline. And not only in the private sector, which has been on a decades-long downward trajectory. Three years ago the nation crossed a historic threshold, as union members in private industry were outnumbered by their public sector counterparts for the first time ever.
The 2012 decline also hit government, where budgetary and labor reforms in places like Wisconsin and Tennessee have taken hold. The inimitable Mike Antonucci, writing at the Education Intelligence Agency, picked apart the numbers to unravel 10 interesting observations, including this pair of gems:
9) If the trends recorded since 2000 continue, by 2051 there will be 8 million union members in the United States – 6.6% of the total workforce – and they will all work for the government.
10) Five million of them will be teachers.
Read the rest of this entry »
Three of the five Board seats for Colorado’s largest school district are up for grabs in 2013. One of them is just inviting a challenge. Jeffco school board director Paula Noonan made local headlines for displaying a serious bout of bad judgment:
Jeffco school board member Paula Noonan was arrested during a traffic stop Jan. 8 when Denver police officers became aware of an outstanding warrant from a 2011 traffic ticket.
Noonan’s arrest was not the first occasion during the term of the school board’s First Vice President in which she has drawn media scrutiny for irresponsible behavior. Local TV news covered her controversial 2010 Dakota Ridge High School commencement speech, with one parent describing it as “a rambling, self-absorbed discourse that confused and embarrassed graduates and their families.” Read the rest of this entry »
Conservatives have plenty of reason to mope in the fiscal gloom these days, maybe even enough to indulge in a bit of dark humor. That brings us to the Colorado political junkie joke of the week, the first of 2013: “How bad was the fiscal cliff deal Congress approved?”
“I don’t know. How bad was it?”
“The fiscal cliff deal was so bad that Michael Bennet couldn’t even vote for it.”
The serious question, though, that follows Congress’ pathetic kicking-the-can-down-the-road exercise — which strangely divided Colorado’s Democratic tag-team duo in the U.S. Senate — is whether Colorado Senator Michael Bennet‘s dissent may have set the stage for Republicans to start taking a necessary hard line on the next tough issue around the bend. And to win back some respect from freedom fighters on the Right. Read the rest of this entry »
On Facebook for the past several days, I’ve been counting down my 50 favorite Christmas songs. Coming up with the top 50 songs wasn’t terribly difficult. I’ve identified roughly 375 different contenders, though I’m only familiar with a little more than 200 of them. A good number of the Christmas songs I know were easily disqualified because of the unpleasant visceral reaction they cause.
Ranking the top 50 on the other hand — beyond a few that consistently rise to the top — was a difficult task. Still, there’s a kind of double-edged fun to assembling a list like this one: 1) Comparing and debating the rankings with friends; and 2) The fluid nature of the list, in part because of new songs discovered that upset the balance. If I do this again, the 2013 edition might look somewhat different.
Some of the songs you see below contain video links, either because the song may be less familiar or because it’s a rendition I particularly like. So without further ado, here in descending order is the current list of my 50 favorite Christmas songs: Read the rest of this entry »
The 19th century American individualist Ralph Waldo Emerson once famously declared, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” This coming legislative session might just give teachers union leaders a chance to confront their own hobgoblin — choosing whether to embrace it or banish it far away.
Rumors persist that the American Federation of Teachers wants to inflict legislative revenge on the bold Douglas County school board. In exchange for having their monopoly bargaining status and political dues collection revoked, they apparently are tempted to advance a bill that would impose some sort of bargaining requirement on local school boards. To succumb to the temptation would place their Colorado Education Association (CEA) union counterparts in a bind: How would they look having so stridently defended the principle of local control in the recent past?
The frequent and widespread invocation of “local control” under the Golden Dome has grown into a running gag among education lobbyists and committees. Article IX, Section 15 of the Colorado Constitution grants local school boards “control of instruction of the public schools of their respective districts.” But the clause often grows larger than life, with advocates either clinging to or resisting the argument based on the bill before them. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, as the honored recipient of the 2012 Kemp Leadership Award, Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio laid out a vision for parent-empowered education reform. On one point especially, Coloradans should take heed.
When a Republican politician speaks competently, compassionately and courageously about real education reform, my ears perk up. When that politician happens to be hailed as one of the GOP’s top contenders for the national ticket in 2016, I also smile optimistically.
Rubio framed the education message in his D.C. award acceptance speech around the goal of opening wide the doors to America’s middle class. A linchpin is his bold proposal to expand educational choice at the federal level in a way that has not really been pursued before: Read the rest of this entry »
Earlier this week I told you that it looked like Right-to-Work legislation was coming to the Big Labor stronghold of Michigan. And has it ever come quickly!
Some of Wisconsin’s early 2011 scenes played out yesterday at the State Capitol, as protestors thronged and chanted favorites like, “A people united will never be defeated!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Right-to-Work has got to go!”
News outlets report that Michigan State Police arrested eight people trying to break into legislative chambers as the state senate gave preliminary approval to send the workplace freedom measure on to supportive Governor Rick Snyder. (When similar legislation is introduced here in Colorado in 2013, the reaction almost certainly will be much more quiet… and lethal.)
As the legislative process unfolds in Lansing at a rapid pace, Left-leaning media organs like Think Progress repeat one of Big Labor’s favorite anti-Right-to-Work talking points, descriptively suggesting the measure “effectively undermines union activities by allowing non-union workers to free-ride on union-negotiated contracts.” Read the rest of this entry »
When it comes to freedom of association, Colorado workers soon may have good reason to envy their Michigan counterparts. The Washington Times recently reported some developing momentum for a Right-to-Work law in the Great Lakes State:
The possible push in the state Legislature’s lame-duck session has already sparked a battle, as a coalition of about 300 AFL-CIO members as well as a contingent from the state police descended on the Statehouse in Lansing on Thursday to lobby lawmakers against a measure they fear could dramatically limit their influence.
Big Labor is trying to nip the effort to empower non-union workers in the bud, organizing vocal pressure before a bill even has been introduced. Before the recent elections, there was no imminent sign of workplace freedom moving forward.
As the Detroit Free Press notes, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder “has repeatedly said right-to-work is not on his agenda.” But union-backed Proposition 2, a failed statewide initiative that sought to enshrine collective bargaining guarantees in the state constitution, clearly antagonized a reluctant Snyder. Read the rest of this entry »
For the past couple years, Wisconsin has been the locus of the political battle to weaken public-sector union power. After Gov. Scott Walker not only survived but thrived amid a failed recall election, conservatives breathed a sigh of relief. Most prominently, the costly but decisive victory revived hopes that fiscal sanity and a sense of fairness could be restored.
Modest cuts to lavish benefits for government employees, along with some of the accompanying tools approved in Walker’s controversial Budget Repair Bill, put the Badger State back on a healthy fiscal setting and brought compensation more back in line with private sector workers.
But a new video from the Association of American Educators reminds us that the Wisconsin reforms also promoted professionalism and individual empowerment for teachers. Walker’s state left the ranks of those where union monopoly power feeds off teacher tribute payments. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s funny how so many of those Colorado teachers union deadlines fall at inconvenient times. Want to sign up for one of the Colorado education Association’s local affiliates? You can do it any time. Want to opt out of union membership, perhaps to choose a different membership option? Well, finding the exact dates you can opt out depends on which school district you work in.
For so many, though, it comes at the beginning of the school year as classrooms are being decorated, lesson plans developed, routines established, and so much more. But September 15 passes before you can get down to the local union office — say, in Jeffco, Commerce City, Englewood, Longmont, or Canon City — and you have to wait another 350 days to stop the automatic union dues deduction. That’s about what happened to Denver Public Schools teacher Ronda Reinhardt, who finally was able to take advantage of the two-week November opt-out window after waiting nearly a full year.
But what about the teacher who wants to stick with the $750 or more in NEA/CEA dues per year but maybe doesn’t like the union’s sometimes unseemly political spending habits? Getting the $39, or even $63 (in some locations), back from the Every Member Option means submitting the request just before the
Christmas er, winter break at the December 15 deadline. Read the rest of this entry »
Finding enjoyable movie fare for American history geeks typically presents a challenge. The nature of the genre leaves diehard purists perpetually frustrated. Yet even those of us willing to allow some minor transgressions of fact or character to pass too often are disappointed by the shallow Hollywood luster that insults its audience and kicks a compelling true story to the curb. Now and again, though, one can leave the theater with a contented smile.
On Friday evening my wife and I took in Lincoln at the local multiplex. The usher at Arvada’s Olde Town Stadium Theatre entered the nearly packed auditorium and gave some introductory remarks about the movie’s production and casting. The movie, already a long time in director Steven Spielberg‘s conception, delayed an extra year to give lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis time to research and immerse himself in authentic historic character.
To great effect, the director patiently agreed. Day-Lewis’ performance as the 16th President is not only masterful, but Oscar-worthy. Taking the marble off the man, he eschewed the Hollywood shortcuts for a historically accurate voice (more shrill and tinny than booming and baritone). Lincoln emanates through the screen. Lincoln the father struggles to be attentive, often including his young Tad in important meetings. Lincoln the lawyer (“a sturdy profession”) recollects stories that drive home important principles and strategies, or breaks up the tension with one especially memorable account. Read the rest of this entry »
We’ve all seen how the waning days of the 2012 national campaign have fixed President Obama and the Democrats on the alliterative petty themes of Big Bird, Bayonets and Binders. It didn’t take long after the first debate for the incumbent’s campaign to pile on the Republican challenger’s mention of the large, lovable Sesame Street character. Team Obama unleashed a laughable commercial and a “four-Pinocchio” fundraising appeal.
Say what you will, but at least the Obama team didn’t tell America that Big Bird was, say, green. For that they might have had to hire the staff of Colorado junior U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. This morning Bennet’s office sent out a fundraising appeal for Congressional candidate Sal Pace. The email message (with the subject line “Grover”) began, well, like this: Read the rest of this entry »
It’s election time. So why write multiple blog posts, when I can condense my state and local endorsements, recommendations, analyses and predictions into one? Exactly.
Let’s start with the obvious. For those who haven’t had the opportunity to drive by our Arvada yard full of signs, here are most of the candidates we’re supporting in 2012:
For those who have questions about state and local ballot issues, as well as nonpartisan candidates and offices, check out my guide to the Colorado ballot 2012.
I’ll tackle predictions of the Presidential and Congressional races later on. For now I will offer up my humble prognostications for the Colorado state house and state senate. I have had neither the time nor the inclination to create the in-depth legislative election analysis that I put forward in 2010.
But I have done some footwork this time around. Good sources cited include takes on 2012′s top races to watch from both the Colorado Statesman and Ed News Colorado. Also helpful are data on the new legislative districts after reapportionment and candidate campaign finance reports.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts: Read the rest of this entry »