Mr. Obama Can’t Be Serrious All The Time

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Don’t Ask Obama About Gays in the Military

And the President wont tell you that he lied about them.

Back when many of us were still high off the post election pre inauguration air, then President-elect Obama said he would seek to end the “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”, well Press Sec Gibbs did, but he is the voice of the President. Gibbs made it pretty certain the Clinton era fumble would be repealed.

from FOXNews:

“Thadeus of Lansing, Mich., asks, ‘Is the new administration going to get rid of the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy?'” said Gibbs, looking into the camera. “Thadeus, you don’t hear a politician give a one-word answer much. But it’s, ‘Yes.'”

Well, that’s a pretty definitive answer on the issue. That’s why I’m so disappointed that Gibbs’s reply on DADT was just more politics as usual.

from CNN:

A former Army captain who was dismissed under a federal law dealing with gays and lesbians in the military lost his appeal Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court.

James Pietrangelo and 11 other veterans had sued the government over the “don’t ask/ don’t tell” law passed in 1993.

Pietrangelo was the only one who appealed to the high court, but the justices without comment refused to intervene.

The Obama administration had asked the high court not to take the case, and White House officials had said they would not object to homosexuals being kicked out of the armed services.

I’m not a greenhorn when it comes to politics and politicians. Things are often said during campaigns that wont or can’t be done. Obama’s promise was made after he was elected. There is no way around Gibbs’s answer on DADT either. When you say “yes it will be changed” then do a complete 180 that is nothing but a lie. I would have rather had some sort of non-answer than this.

Way to stand up for change Mr. President. Real proud of ya on this one!

Another Obama Lincoln Connection

Before Barack Obama was even elected comparisons were drawn between Obama and Abraham Lincoln. Both were junior senators from Illinois. Both were seen as uniters. Obama used the Lincoln Bible during his inauguration. Lincoln and Obama are both known as gifted orators. Did you know they both had a penchant for off color jokes?

Mr. Obama’s humor has gotten him into hot water in the past. Shortly after Obama was elected he made a remark on Nancy Reagan’s use of astrology while in the White House. At a Chicago conference Obama mentioned that he had spoken with all the living past presidents. Then Mr. Obama said, “I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any seances.” Not wise Barry.

Then came the Tonight Show fiasco. If we learned anything from W it’s that you can’t speak in public like you do with your sports buddies.

Lincoln however was much worse. While Obama’s humor is for the barroom at best, Lincoln’s is too blue for even the whorehouse. Fred Kaplan, whose excellent book I happen to be reading, documents Lincoln’s locker room talk. Lincoln was known for his profanity and obscenity almost as well as for his eloquence and persuasiveness. Here are a few examples of Lincoln’s dirty mind

from Daily KOS:

Here’s an example of a couple of verses from the poem as recalled by John Romaine:

“Reuben & Charles have married 2 girls / But Billy has married a boy . . . Billy and natty agree very well / Mamma is pleased with the match. / The Egg is laid but won’t hatch.” And Billy, another Grigsby son, is told by the woman who has rejected his marriage proposal, “you Cursed ball head / My Suitor you never Can be / besides your low Croch proclaims you a botch / and that never Can anser for me.”

Henry Whitney recalled how Lincoln once went after a witness who thought himself a great ladies man:

“…[Lincoln said,] ‘there is Busey–he pretends to be a great heart smasher–does wonderful things with the girls–but I’ll venture that he never entered his flesh but once and that is when he fell down & stuck his finger in his–‘; right out in open Court.”

Once a farmer asked Lincoln why he didn’t put his stories in a book. Lincoln replied,

“Such a book would stink like a thousand privies.'” Whitney commented, “I can’t think he gloated over filth however. I think that…he had great ideality and also a view of grossness which displaced the ideality.”

Thankfully for Lincoln, such vulgarities were not completely frowned upon in his time. Politics was downright rude and slanderous. Oh how things have changed! Still, Mr. Obama had better keep his words in check. One slip can alienate a whole voting block. Don’t believe me? I just have one word for you. Hymietown.

Team Duncan – Strategic Planning vs Strategic Thinking

Arne Duncan has been at his post as Education Secretary for several months now. I’ve been following his escapades closely at change.org and my own blog. High off Mr. Obama’s election as President, I was on board Team Duncan when I heard of his appointment. Since then, I’ve taken a different stance. Not quite a 180, but I’ve developed a healthy criticism for Duncan and Obama’s education policies.

Way back in 2007, Robert Evans wrote an article arguing against the strict application of strategic planning for schools. “The Case Against Strategic Planning” was given to me by my father in-law after he attended, of all things, a planning sessions at a local private school. The paper is a great read for anyone involved in education, parents and kids too. I suggest you take some time to read the whole piece.

As I read Evans’s article I began to realize much of what Duncan and Obama have detailed in their “race to the top”, “pillars of reform”, etc. are exactly what should not be happening.

Evans states people often confuse construction of plans with creating an actual strategy. Strategic plans focus on step-by-step problem solving, timetables, measurable results, and fixed outcomes. Plans focus on structure and are not open to flexibility, often avoiding addressing uncertainty and unpredictability.

Just look at Team Duncan’s support for merit pay, longer school days, standardized testing, and charters. Not that I disagree with those things, Duncan and Co. fail to realize all the nuances of each approach and think about how to utilize them best to reach their goals.

Duncan and Obama are ignoring all the flaws of strategic planning. They are basing their policy decisions on predictability, objectivity, and structure.

Predictability:

Every teacher knows that schools are fluid environments, as are the communities they operate in. Political, technological, and social landscapes have changed drastically in even five years. Sometimes in ways we could not have predicted(twitter who knew?). The world will not wait while you debate. A plan cannot become and end in itself. Saying we want to close the bottom 5,000 schools and reopen them in five years might seem like a blueprint to better education, but it cannot be a replacement for addressing the realities facing our schools.

Objectivity:

In crafting a beautiful plan it can be easy to overlook the soft data effecting schools. Hard data is so nice, cut and dry. I love it. Graduation rates, test scores, and the like line everything up so nicely. When we base a merit pay system or funding system like No Child Left Behind, which Duncan and Obama still support, on something like our current testing system important mitigating factors are ignored. Our current testing system does nothing to show a students understanding of the material. Current standardized tests prove nothing except how well a student can memorize and fill in bubbles. True understanding can only be shown from written exams asking for problem solving and analysis. This is something I have argued for time and time again.

I also spoke recently on how one disruptive, which doesn’t necessarily denote misbehaving, student can skew test scores for an entire classroom. Linking merit pay to the current testing system doesn’t take this into account. Nor does it factor in the many other tasks teachers perform such as implementing new technology, mentoring colleagues, or tutoring students for example. Without this soft data one cannot get the complete picture of what a teacher is doing.

Structure:

Schools do not often produce rational outcomes. Anyone with children knows kids are pretty damn irrational at times. I don’t care, toddlers to teenagers just do some stuff that make you slap your forehead. Human judgement can adapt to whatever kids can dish out better than a strict plan. Focusing on the plan as an end all be all puts all the weight on the means totally forgetting the end. Look at the 5,000 schools business again or the D.C. voucher debacle. Duncan is missing the most important questions he should be asking. “Why am I doing this? Is this the best way to pursue my objective?”

I’ve spent all this time criticizing Team Duncan on what they should not be doing, I’m going to switch gears and talk about what they should.

Duncan and Co should employ some strategic thinking. Strategic thinking is in many ways the antithesis of strategic planning. Strategic thinking is flexible, creative, considers hard and soft facts, and collects opinions from teachers and students. An outline, not a blueprint.

Innovations are not something to push out like merit pay, charter schools, or longer schools days. New reforms should be adaptable. We should expect to modify them during implementation, as education is fluid. Static reforms are bound to fail. Like so many things in life, reforms must evolve or be pushed aside.

Simplify plans. Having many standards forces us to spend less time on each one. Testing many standards will bring us down the same road. Leaner standards and adaptable skills allow us to prepare students for anything that is thrown at them.

Strategic thinking leaves room for schools to roll with the punches. Less targets over shorter periods of time keep a school flexible. A school can adapt to new situations, instead of being bound by a five year plan that was out of date in less than five months.

Lastly, strategic thinking takes information from many sources into account. Something as trivial as gossip or hearsay from teachers and students can provide valuable candid insight into what’s happening in the trenches. Students and parents should be surveyed on the status of their school and learning experience. Weak spots can be caught quickly and strengths bolstered. Hey, if parent involvement matters to Obama and Duncan, then it should be encouraged in all forms, especially one as helpful as this.

Flexibility has always been a key to education reform. It is a corner stone of strategic thinking. If we are talking in business terms, as some reformers including myself occasionally do, what business can expect to last long that is not adaptable to change? Remember the key to strategic thinking is in the name. Thinking! We should be thinking, considering, evaluating, reevaluating reforms. Always adapting to changes when applicable. Otherwise we will fall back to more of the same ol strategery.

Obama’s Rebranding of Gitmo Policy

When President Obama announced he would close the detention center at Guantanamo the reactions from liberals and conservatives were exactly what anyone could have expected. The left cheered it as a civil rights win while the right jeered it as a blow to the war on terror. It quickly became evident things would not be so black and white. With Obama announcing a continuation of the Gitmo detention without trial policy, “indefinite detention“, is Mr. President just re-naming Bush’s unpopular policy or is this the beginning of a new direction?

At this point, the terror suspects at Gitmo can’t just be turned loose. We have told the world these people had to be locked up, they are dangerous. If we turned them loose the world who knows these guys have done bad things will think we’re idiots. The terror suspects harbor malicious feelings toward the US. If they didn’t when they entered Gitmo they do now. Releasing these terror suspects after giving them time to fester would put them right back into the terror network to continue horrid acts against America and it’s allies.

Due civil process will just send some of the terror suspects right back out, as many of the cases against them wouldn’t hold up in a normal court of law. Sorry ACLU, philosophically we’d like to give everyone due process. Thanks to Bush, it’s too late for that. We’ve sown the seeds for a terrorist farm at Gitmo.

There is no choice at this point but bring Gitmo detainees to US prisons. The GOP reacted adversely to this, launching an ad campaign stating Gitmo detainees in the US will pretty much result in the complete collapse of life as we know it. Moderate heads don’t buy that hogwash.

from The Moderate Voice:

OK. I’ll take the bait. And while I’m at it, I’ll turn the video’s concluding question — “How does closing Guantanamo Bay make us safer” — back to the GOP and ask: “How does the act of keeping these prisoners at Guantanamo Bay make us safer?”

Other than miles of ocean, what distinguishes the Gitmo facility from military prisons on U.S. soil? Does the GOP believe the U.S. military is not competent enough to keep terrorists locked up in any facility other than Gitmo? Are we such cowards that we must house our enemies anywhere but here?

Seriously: I’m willing to be convinced. But rather than lowest-common-denominator tactics, could we please engage in an intelligent, fact-driven discussion of the merits of Gitmo versus all other facilities under U.S. control?

On top of all the questions raised by that post, there is one big hitch in the GOPs claims. There already are terror suspects in US prisons. According to the Washington Post (nod to Donklephant), there are terror suspects being held in Colorado and Ft. Leavenworth military prison. Though some detainees are from the 9/11 attacks, the terror suspects being held participated in events as far back as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Well these prisons seem to have been able to deal with the terror suspects so far. They are despicable characters, but they aren’t comic book supervillians.

When President Obama announced he would continue a policy of “indefinite detention” the far-left nearly exploded. Some leveled charges of Obama creating an “American gulag“. Others felt this whole lack of due process thing to be a little too Orwelian. Rachel Maddow was a bit PO’d. Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald writes that Obama’s proposal boils down to a few important points.

from Salon

1. “Preventive detention” allows indefinite imprisonment not based on proven crimes or past violations of law, but of those deemed generally “dangerous” by the Government for various reasons (such as, as Obama put it yesterday, they “expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden” or “otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans”). That’s what “preventive” means: imprisoning people because the Government claims they are likely to engage in violent acts in the future because they are alleged to be “combatants.”

3. For those asserting that there are dangerous people who have not yet been given any trial and who Obama can’t possibly release, how do you know they are “dangerous” if they haven’t been tried? Is the Government’s accusation enough for you to assume it’s true?

4. By rather stark and extreme contrast, Obama is seeking preventive detention powers that are indefinite — meaning without any end, potentially permanent. There’s no time limit on the “preventive detention.” Compare that power to the proposal that caused such a political storm in Britain and what these other governments are empowered to do. The suggestion that indefinite preventive detention without charges is some sort of common or traditional scheme is clearly false.

6. Obama is saying the opposite[of due process]: in his scheme, it is the outcome that is constant (everyone ends up imprisoned), while the process varies and is determined by the Government (trials for some; military commissions for others; indefinite detention for the rest). The Government picks and chooses which process you get in order to ensure that it always wins. A more warped “system of justice” is hard to imagine.

Defenders of Obama’s decision claim that the civil rights violations of the Gitmo system bolster the direction the President is taking.

from Wash Post

“I don’t think that those reasons argue for ending the detention rationale; I think they argue for being a hell of a lot more careful with the detention rationale, for making sure that we minimize mistakes, that we don’t have erroneous long-term detentions,” Goldsmith said at a seminar this month with reporters at the Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia.

Obama said any system of detention “must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.” Goldsmith and other scholars have said such oversight could include annual or bi-annual reviews by a national security court in which the government’s burden of proof to extend detention increases over time.

I must admit, this detention system is a bit scary. For a history buff Obama’s proposal, and Gitmo itself, does have shades of the USSR, if the system were to be abused. Will this periodic review be enough to keep abuses to a minimum? Perhaps. Stronger checks should be put in place. That will be the only way to begin the shift away from the notorious Bush era policies.

I must ask this question: is change still going to come?

Obama to Apologize for WWII – Barry Goes to Dresden

Well that’s a gross exaggeration, but read on…

For the anniversary of the Allied landings at Normandy, President Obama will visit Germany this coming June. The White House has announced that while there President Obama will go to Buchenwald and nearby Dresden.

There is quite a contrast between the two locations. Buchenwald was once a cog of the Nazi concentration system. 50,000 internees were estimated to have been slaughtered between it’s opening in 1938 to it’s liberation in 1945. Deaths occurred by execution, medical experimentations, and by literally being worked to death. What the Nazis perpetrated here and other places can be label nothing less than heinous.

The Allies bombed Dresden in February 1945, only twelve weeks before Germany surrendered. Throughout four air raids, Allied bombers dropped nearly 4,000 tons of incendiary explosives on Dresden. The bombs caused a firestorm which swept through the city. Somewhere between 24,000 and 40,000 citizens perished in the flames and 13 square miles where destroyed. Military planners considered Dresden a center for communications, rail, and contained 110 factories.

Will this be another “Bonzo goes to Bitburg“? (Reagan did have a noble motive for going)

The conservative blogosphere has launched attacks of preemptive outrage at Obama’s visit. Some are so angry you would think President Obama had let his dog relieve himself at Omaha Beach. How ’bout some samples?

from American Thinker

No doubt Obama will speak strongly against Nazi terror while in Dresden. But what does it say about our president that he may very well equate what happened to the Jews with what happened to German citizens during the war? Is he capable of recognizing the moral difference? Is he capable of recognizing evil at all?

from Atlas Shrugs (this article is well written and should be read for the history)

The total number of Americans buried at the cemeteries above is 104,366 — a mere fraction of those who died liberating Europe — and yet an American president who confuses arrogance with leadership feels the need to apologize in Europe for the country he obviously holds in contempt.

from Obama Fail

While in Europe for D-Day ceremonies next month, Ofail is planning at stop in Dresden, Germany. Germans have a unique perspective on the city — for them, it is the central icon of the suffering inflicted on Germany during the war. The Allies basically bombed the crap out of Dresden in their bid to rid the world of the evils of the Nazis. Sorry about that, but it had to be done. These things happen during war.

Well, Ofail certainly won’t miss an opportunity to Opologize to the Germans for the “war crimes” committed by the Americans. The official word is that he will “recognize German suffering”, which clearly is liberal codespeak for “bend over backwards showing how terrible America is and how sorry we are for making the world safe”.

Ok what is the genesis of this apology speech? An article in the German paper Deutsche Welle, which the Daily Kos suggests doesn’t exsist

from Daily Kos

The twist is of course that there is no such article, he merely links to the newspapers home page and was actually trying to be satirical. The only way I can know this is that he tagged the article with satire, a fact that the conservative blogosphere seems to have missed.

If, and that’s a big if, Obama should apologize for the Dresden bombing I would be extremely disappointed. There have of course been debates on whether or not the Dresden bombing was necessary. The atomic bombings of Japan have been similarly judged, usually without knowledge of the lives, Japanese and American, that bombing saved. Most of the anti-Ally debates on Dresden, at least those accusing the Allies of war crimes, come from far left intellectuals and far right German groups.

Can Obama go to Dresden and not mention the bombing? That would be an even riskier move than going to Dresden in the first place. Can he say the deaths of the civilians in the firestorm were tragic? Yes, because of course they were. Can he make a link between Dresden and the Holocaust? He sure as Hell shouldn’t. Apologize for America’s role in the bombing? My level of respect for Mr. Obama would plummet if he did. Do I think he will? If he has any sense of a shred of that centrism I hoped he had I doubt it.

In any case, I’m going to keep my moderate wits and ignore the premature hysteria. Let’s all just wait and see.

Can They Think Outside the Box? – More thoughts on merit pay and policy wonks

I posted a few days ago about my evolving thoughts on merit pay. The catalyst for this was a study on class disruption and learning. The comments left pushed my thinking on the subject even further. I’d let to post the discussions here today and get some more thoughts on there on merit pay.

Just to recap, the article I read from Change.org pointed out that even one disruptive student in a classroom can taint the learning experience for the whole class. Commentator d.eris of Poli-Tea Party illustrates the principle with a little anecdote from the Simpsons.

from d.eris

I’m reminded of a Simpsons episode in which Homer and Marge are hauled into the school and are shown a diagram of the grades of students who sit in Bart’s immediate vicinity. In a set of concentric circles, grades go up as distance from the trouble-maker increases.

If someone hasn’t written “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from The Simpsons” they someone damn well should!

It becomes easy to see how one tiny factor can skew assessment scores in any given classroom. Most teachers get their students by pure chance. One teacher could have a classroom full of students ready and willing to learn. Another may have a student with a learning disability or a constant rule breaker.

Chuck of Tongue-In-Cheek weighed in as well. Chuck and I have discussed merit pay before. Chuck applauds me for beginning to see the merit pay light, but also puts my solution for disruptive classrooms in perspective.

from chuckrates

Now you’re starting to see some of what I was trying to tell you about why merit pay is unrealistic. Executing proper discipline/behavior management against the “bad apple” is not always an effective solution. In my 5 years of teaching experience, the “bad apple” is not always breaking the rules. Often, he/she just has a poor attitude, or has special needs that must be accounted for to the detriment of my ability to attend to the other students.

Again, it’s all oversimplification. There might not be one “bad apple” in a certain classroom, but maybe there are three generally good kids who are shy or don’t work well with others. There goes my unit that centered around group projects. Maybe teacher A has a class in which five students miss a week of school because of a band trip, but teacher B has only one such student. Six people in Teacher A’s class (counting the teacher) now have to work significantly harder if they are to keep up with Teacher B’s class, which can pretty much continue as normal.

Just to be clear: I’m not opposed to merit pay. I just consider it unrealistic because there’s no way for it to be fair in the reality we live in. Sort of like Libertarianism — yeah, the world might be a better place in a lot of ways if it looked like Libertarians want it to look, but how in the hell do you get to that point without nuclear holocaust or something?

I’m starting to see the situation is far more complex than can really be solved by one measure. We can’t think that school is a factory line. Info in citizens out. There needs to be some outside the box thinking here.

I’m not convinced Obama, Duncan, etc have it in them to approach the situation in this way. I like you, think there are ways so improve learning, use merit pay, etc. The execution at this point is just all wrong.

It’s like Lee at Gettysburg. Everyone is telling him you know if we just packed up and flanked these guys they will leave their HIGHLY DEFENSIBLE POSITION. Lee just says, “naw let’s just cross miles of open ground and march straight up that darn hill. (I know this is a gross oversimplification of the battle and circumstances surrounding it. Just let it go this once.)

Also I’ve had the Libertarianism argument before. I’ll refer to His Little Majesty James Madison on this one. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Unfortunately a country needs a little more guidance than making sure its citizens don’t kill themselves and countries don’t invade. Libertarianism, and communism for that matter, take a utopian view of humanity I just don’t subscribe to.

There is a point to this. There is really no way to make the pay system for teachers 100% “fair”. There are inequalities inherent in the system that just can’t be avoided. There are circumstances outside of the educator’s hands. People do not carry an equal share of the work. Unless we genetically engineer the perfect teacher there wont be even teaching ability, then what would be the point of paying them anyway.

Can the pay system be made more efficient? Yes. Can the pay system reward teachers for exceptional work? Certainly. Are the current merit pay proposals we’ve seen the solution? No way. Will merit pay raise student achievement? Anyone who thinks any one reform on its own will solve out education woes needs their head checked.

The merit pay proposals we’ve seen attack the problem directly, like a factory. Merit pay crafters seems to have assembly line sickness. If we input this we will get this output. The solution is far from that cut and dry. What we need is outside the box thinking. I’m not convinced merit pay, or at least a better pay system, can’t be achieved. Antiquated linear thinking wont get us anywhere.

Are these policy crafters in need of some lessons in 21st century skills?