Quotulatiousness

June 19, 2017

The Articles of Confederation – IV: Constitutional Convention – Extra History

Filed under: Government, History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on May 27, 2017

What if we kept the Articles of Confederation? The Alternate History Hub explores: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1NTboCDbtk

The war finally ended and the United States secured their independence from Great Britain, but immediately their Confederation seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison teamed up to organize a new convention where all the states would not just reform the Articles of Confederation, but replace them entirely.

November 23, 2016

When is an American Indian artist not American Indian?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Answer: when federal bureaucratic rules interact unhappily with state-level bureaucratic rules. Eric Boehm explains why an artist is not legally allowed to market her beadwork as “American Indian-made”:

Peggy Fontenot is an American Indian artist, of that there can be no doubt.

She’s a member of the Patawomeck tribe. She’s taught traditional American Indian beading classes in Native American schools and cultural centers in several states. Her work has been featured in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the Native American.

In Oklahoma, though, she’s forbidden from calling her art what it plainly is: American Indian-made.

A state law, passed earlier this year, forbids artists from marketing their products in Oklahoma as being “American Indian-made” unless the artist is a member of a tribe recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Patawomeck tribe is recognized by the state of Virginia, but not by the federal government. Fontenot says she can trace her Native American heritage back to the 16th Century, when the tribe was one of the first to welcome settlers from Europe who landed on the east coast of Virginia. She’s been working as an artist since 1983, doing photography, beading, and making jewelry.

[…]

According to PLF [Pacific Legal Foundation], Oklahoma’s law could affect as many as two-thirds of all artists who are defined American Indians under federal law. The state law also violates the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause by restricting the interstate American Indian art market, the lawsuit contends.

November 7, 2016

Rolling Stone and the Nicole Eramo lawsuit

Filed under: Law, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The jury decided that Rolling Stone magazine and the writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely did defame University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo. Tim Newman comments on the (to him, satisfying) outcome of the case:

As soon as that story was published it got torn apart on the internet. Crucially, those tearing it apart were not just the red pill/manosphere/PUA sites either. Plenty of moderate, mainstream sites cast serious doubts on the story and I read a few of them.

Common sense would have told you there was something seriously amiss. From memory, “Jackie” recounts being thrown onto a glass-topped coffee table so hard that it shattered beneath her and then raped where she lay. You don’t need to be a practicing rapist to know that any guy who did that would be risking serious injury to himself: there are arguments over the involuntary circumcision of males, but I don’t think they cover rapists going about their business in lakes of shattered glass. She would also have sustained major damage had she been subject to those levels of violence: lacerations, fractures, bruising which she could have shown to the police and would have needed hospital treatment.

It was bullshit, but that wasn’t what made people angry. Lots of stories in the media are bullshit and nobody cares. So what made this one different? It was because those who supposedly supported “Jackie’s” version of events and abused those who questioned it wanted it to be true. For them, it was a better outcome that she had really been raped than for the story to have been fabricated.

[…]

So have they learned their lesson? It would appear not:

    In a statement, the magazine added: “It is our deep hope that our failings do not deflect from the pervasive issues discussed in the piece, and that reporting on sexual assault cases ultimately results in campus policies that better protect our students.”

Those “pervasive issues” being complete fabrications which exist only in the minds of a handful of mentally disturbed students who were cynically exploited by some of the worst people ever to infest academia and journalism anywhere.

I hope the lawsuits keep coming and they are sued out of existence.

H/T to Jeff Scarbrough for the link.

May 5, 2016

QotD: The Cavaliers

Filed under: Britain, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Virginia had been kind of a wreck ever since most of the original Jamestown settlers had mostly died of disease. Governor William Berkeley, a noble himself, decided the colony could reinvent itself as a destination for refugee nobles, and told them it would do everything possible to help them maintain the position of oppressive supremacy to which they were accustomed. The British nobility was sold. The Cavaliers – the nobles who had fought and lost the English Civil War – fled to Virginia. Historians who cross-checking Virginian immigrant lists against English records find that of Virginians whose opinions on the War were known, 98% were royalists. They were overwhelming Anglican, mostly from agrarian southern England, and all related to each other in the incestuous way of nobility everywhere: “it is difficult to think of any ruling elite that has been more closely interrelated since the Ptolemies”. There were twelve members of Virginia’s royal council; in 1724 “all without exception were related to one another by blood or marriage…as late as 1775, every member of that august body was descended from a councilor who had served in 1660”.

These aristocrats didn’t want to do their own work, so they brought with them tens of thousands of indentured servants; more than 75% of all Virginian immigrants arrived in this position. Some of these people came willingly on a system where their master paid their passage over and they would be free after a certain number of years; others were sent by the courts as punishments; still others were just plain kidnapped. The gender ratio was 4:1 in favor of men, and there were entire English gangs dedicated to kidnapping women and sending them to Virginia, where they fetched a high price. Needless to say, these people came from a very different stratum than their masters or the Puritans.

People who came to Virginia mostly died. They died of malaria, typhoid fever, amoebiasis, and dysentery. Unlike in New England, where Europeans were better adapted to the cold climate than Africans, in Virginia it was Europeans who had the higher disease-related mortality rate. The whites who survived tended to become “sluggish and indolent”, according to the universal report of travellers and chroniclers, although I might be sluggish and indolent too if I had been kidnapped to go work on some rich person’s farm and sluggishness/indolence was an option.

The Virginians tried their best to oppress white people. Really, they did. The depths to which they sank in trying to oppress white people almost boggle the imagination. There was a rule that if a female indentured servant became pregnant, a few extra years were added on to their indenture, supposedly because they would be working less hard during their pregnancy and child-rearing so it wasn’t fair to the master. Virginian aristocrats would rape their own female servants, then add a penalty term on to their indenture for becoming pregnant. That is an impressive level of chutzpah. But despite these efforts, eventually all the white people either died, or became too sluggish to be useful, or worst of all just finished up their indentures and became legally free. The aristocrats started importing black slaves as per the model that had sprung up in the Caribbean, and so the stage was set for the antebellum South we read about in history classes.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Albion’s Seed“, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-27.

April 11, 2015

Robert E. Lee

Filed under: Books, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In City Journal, Ryan L. Cole reviews a recent book on one of America’s most famous generals:

America’s Civil War presents a set of forever ponderable “what ifs.” What if a Union soldier hadn’t discovered plans for the Confederate invasion of Maryland in 1862? What if Stonewall Jackson hadn’t been hit by friendly fire after the Battle of Chancellorsville? What if George Meade had pursued the wounded Army of Northern Virginia in the wake of Gettysburg? The list goes on.

But perhaps the most vexing hypothetical has always been: What if Robert E. Lee had accepted Abraham Lincoln’s offer to command Union forces at the outset of the conflict? This would have likely robbed the Confederacy of its greatest military mind. It may have also robbed the South of its fleeting glories, dramatically shortened the war, and made Lee — not Ulysses S. Grant or even Abraham Lincoln — the savior of the Union. It could even have made Lee a second George Washington.

This decision and its ramifications are the basis of The Man Who Would Not Be Washington, Jonathan Horn’s thoughtful new life of the Confederate general. It would be wrong to call this a biography. Though Horn, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, assays Lee’s life from birth to death, the book is built around the premise that Lee was practically destined to become the second coming of Washington. Yet he declined, and the consequences of his refusal altered the course of the nation.

Lee had familial and professional connections to Washington. His father, Henry Lee III, better known as “Light-Horse” Harry Lee, was a dashing cavalry officer in the Continental Army. General Washington was impressed by Lee’s bravery and invited the young Virginian to join his personal staff. When Lee begged off, Washington asked Congress to give him an independent command. Like some other young officers, Lee found a mentor in Washington, who had no biological children of his own. He did, however, adopt and raise Martha Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, as his own son. Custis’s daughter, Mary, wed Robert E. Lee. Their children, by birth and marriage, were direct descendants of America’s original first lady.

The Lees lived in Arlington House, a Potomac mansion overlooking Washington, built by Custis as a shrine to his adoptive father and a repository for his relics. Through marriage, Lee was heir to the tactile remains of Washington’s legacy; even the slaves he inherited from his father-in-law were descendants of those who had toiled at Mount Vernon. In his opening chapters, Horn carefully draws the connections between the two titular subjects and plots Lee’s rise to military distinction in the years leading up to the Civil War. The history is simply fascinating. Horn is a graceful writer, and when the occasion warrants, has a suitable flair for the dramatic. The pages blaze by.

February 27, 2015

Virginia’s asset forfeiture rules about to change for the better

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Techdirt‘s Tim Cushing reports on a hopeful sign from Virginia:

The Institute for Justice’s 2010 report “Policing for Profit” [PDF] listed Virginia as one of the worst five states in the nation in terms of forfeiture abuse. Pushing the state towards its Bottom Five finish was this perverted incentive: 100% of the proceeds from civil asset forfeiture were retained by the law enforcement agency performing the seizure. And, like a majority of states, Virginia also perverted the justice system, deeming the property “guilty” and transferring the burden of proof to those whose assets were seized.

Now that civil asset forfeiture has gone mainstream, receiving coverage from major press outlets, legislators are having a harder time ignoring opponents of these “legalized theft” programs. In response, Virginia’s lawmakers are trying to drag the state out of its forfeiture morass.

    Last week the Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a bill that would effectively raise the burden of proof for civil forfeitures by forcing the government to return seized property unless it can obtain a criminal conviction. The bill, introduced by Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania) and Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon), passed by a vote of 92 to 6 and is now being considered by the state Senate.

This fixes one major issue with many civil asset forfeiture programs. Virginia’s laws only demanded a “preponderance of the evidence,” something that sounds like a lot but in reality is far lower than establishing guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If the latter edges towards a theoretical 75% assurance of guilt, the percentage for asset forfeiture approaches a coin flip: 51%. Now, there needs to be a conviction before the agency can keep the seized property.

January 27, 2015

How to think like a government bureaucrat

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Robert Tracinski on the essential core of a control freak’s very being:

Here’s one of my favorite stories about how the mind of a government official works.

A few years ago, I was in a grocery store in Charlottesville when I overheard a conversation between two shoppers, one of whom was clearly in some position of authority (the City Council, I believe). This was right after the financial crisis. The real estate market had just collapsed, a whole bunch of local development project had just been canceled, and my wife was telling me about all the guys she knew in construction who were desperate for work. Yet here was this lady arguing for why the local government should not approve any new commercial building permits. The danger, she explained, was the prospect of “economic ghost towns,” retail areas where several shops had closed, hurting business for the others. Until these “economic ghost towns” were filled back up — whether anybody wanted them or not — there was no good reason to approve permits for new commercial construction.

I just couldn’t keep quiet and had to interrupt: Only in Charlottesville — a left-leaning university town — could an economic downturn be used as a reason to block new economic activity.

But you have to understand the outlook of those whose faith is the creed of government. Everything is proof of the need for more government power and control. The local economy is booming? Let’s hold back on building permits because we don’t want to grow “too fast.” The local economy is tanking? Let’s hold back on building permits because we don’t want “economic ghost towns,” or whatever. On the national level, in an economic collapse the government needs more money for “stimulus.” But if the economy is booming, that means we can afford higher taxes, right?

June 20, 2014

QotD: Whiskey and bourbon

Filed under: Business, History, Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Whiskey in the USA has a long, colourful history. (Note that it is indeed spelt with an “e”, along with Irish whiskey — the Scotch and Canadian varieties are both plain whisky.)

One of the most illustrious early American distillers was George Washington, who manufactured the stuff commercially at his place near Mount Vernon in Virginia, and was very proud of the high reputation of his merchandise. I’m sure it was great for its time, but then and for long afterwards the general run of whiskey must have been pretty rough. I’ve often thought that the really amazing achievement of the Western hero wasn’t his ability to shoot a pip out of a playing card at fifty paces, nor even his knack of dropping crotch first into his saddle from an upstairs window, but the way he could stride into the saloon, call for whiskey, knock it back neat and warm in one and not so much as blink, let alone burst into paroxysms of uncontrollable coughing.

All that, of course, is changed now. American whiskeys are second to none in smoothness, blandness, everything that goes to make a fine spirit. Some of them, like Washington’s product and many since, are based on rye, but nearly all the brands we see in the UK belong in the bourbon category. Bourbon (rhymes with turban) gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where the first stills of this type were set up, though it’s long been regularly made in several other states besides. Federal law requires bourbon whiskey to be derived from a cereal mash of at least 51 per cent corn, which is to say Indian corn, often called maize over here, though it’s the identical vegetable that makes you, or me, so tremendously fat eaten off the cob.

The manufacturing process is carried out by means of large stills that operate on exactly the same principle as the patent or Coffey stills used in the production of grain whisky in Scotland. The young spirit is then drawn off to mature in specially charred oak barrels. Until recently, these were required to be new, but it seems that nowadays used casks are permitted. This is bad news for some distillers in Scotland, who formerly imported the secondhand casks to age their own whisky in.

Prominent brands of bourbon available in the UK include Jim Beam, Old Grandad, Wild Turkey, and Jack Daniel’s. Wild Turkey is a newcomer, to this country at any rate, and increasingly tipped as the best. Jack Daniel’s is the established quality leader. Strictly it isn’t a bourbon at all, but a Tennessee whiskey made at Lynchburg in Moore County, no less.

Don’t go there, as I once did. Moore County turned out to be dry and all I got to drink all day was a glass of cold tea at Madame Bobo’s Boarding House. I doubt if things have changed much.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

April 11, 2014

Virginia bans campus “free speech zones”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:51

The way the fight for free speech has been going, you might be forgiven for reading that headline as “Virginia bans free speech”, but fortunately it’s actually a significant improvement in the right of university students to speak freely:

On Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill into law effectively designating outdoor areas on the Commonwealth’s public college campuses as public forums, where student speech is subject only to reasonable, content- and viewpoint-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions. Under this new law, college students at Virginia’s public universities will not be limited to expressing themselves in tiny “free speech zones” or subject to unreasonable registration requirements.

HB 258, championed by its lead patron Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, passed both houses of the Virginia General Assembly unanimously. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) urged the passage of the bill and testified on behalf of the legislation in hearings in both legislative houses.

“FIRE thanks Governor McAuliffe, Delegate Lingamfelter, and all of Virginia’s delegates and senators for coming together and supporting this legislation,” said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “One in six public colleges in the United States unjustly restricts student speech with free speech zones. Thanks to this new law, public institutions in Virginia will no longer be among them.”

Restricting student speech to tiny “free speech zones” diminishes the quality of debate and discussion on campus by preventing expression from reaching its target audience. Often, institutions that maintain these restrictive policies also employ burdensome permitting schemes that require students to obtain administrative permission days or even weeks before being allowed to speak their minds. Even worse, many of these policies grant campus administrators unfettered discretion to deny applications based on the viewpoint or content of the speakers’ intended message.

February 18, 2014

Historical hooch – George Washington’s own White Lightning

Filed under: History, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:53

Uploaded on 16 Feb 2011

Many know George Washington as a general and statesman, but few think of America’s first president as a preeminent entrepreneur, operating the most successful whiskey distillery in the late 18th century. At its height, Washington’s distillery produced over 11,000 gallons of liquor a year, supplying the surrounding area and becoming one of his most lucrative business ventures.

At Washington’s former plantation, Mount Vernon, a group of historic interpreters are looking to bring this story to a wider audience. Thanks to a fully functioning replica of Washington’s distillery (and special dispensation from the Virginia General Assembly), George Washington’s rye whiskey is once again being made and sold to the public.

In November, Reason.tv followed the entire process as Dave Pickerell, Master Distiller and former Vice President of Operations for Maker’s Mark, and Steve Bashore, Mount Vernon Distillery Manager, oversaw a two week production run while adhering as strictly as possible to 18th century means and methods. The result is an 80-proof reminder of the nation’s first president and the entrepreneurial ideals of colonial America.

Shot, edited and produced by Meredith Bragg. Music by www.audionautix.com. Approx. 6 minutes.

H/T to Jon, my former virtual landlord, for the link.

September 26, 2013

Crony Capitalism and prison privatization

I’m generally in favour of moving economic activities out of the government sphere and into the competitive marketplace, but the privatization of prisons is a great example not of free enterprise but of crony capitalism run amok:

Private prisons are antithetical to a free people. Of all the functions a civilized society should relegate to the public sector, it’s abundantly clear incarceration should be at the very top of the list. Jailing individuals is a public cost that a society takes on in order to ensure there are consequences to breaking certain rules that have been deemed dangerous to the happiness and quality of life within a given population. However, the end goal of any civilized culture must be to try to keep these cost as low possible. This should be achieved by having as few people as possible incarcerated, which is most optimally achieved by reducing incidents of criminality within the population. Given incarceration is an undesirable (albeit necessary) part of any society, the idea is certainly not to incentivize increased incarceration by making it extremely profitable. This is a perverse incentive, and one that is strongly encouraged by the private prison industry to the detriment of society.

[…]

In the Public Interest describes itself as:

    A comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting. It is committed to equipping citizens, public officials, advocacy groups, and researchers with the information, ideas, and other resources they need to ensure that public contracts with private entities are transparent, fair, well-managed, and effectively monitored, and that those contracts meet the long-term needs of communities.

Their report explains how private prison companies insist that states embed “occupancy guarantees” into their contracts with the public sector. They estimate that at least 65% of all private prison contracts have such guarantees, and in some states, like Arizona, the guarantee is a shockingly high 100%. This leads to overcrowding in many instances, and sometimes violent offenders are placed in prisons set up for nonviolent offenses just to fill the quotas. In the event that the beds can’t be filled, the taxpayer makes up the difference to the private prison company. They win no matter what. It’s just more crony capitalism. Below are some highlights from this excellent report.

Major Findings

  • 65 percent of the private prison contracts ITPI received and analyzed included occupancy guarantees in the form of quotas or required payments for empty prison cells (a “low-crime tax”). These quotas and low-crime taxes put taxpayers on the hook for guaranteeing profits for private prison corporations.
  • Occupancy guarantee clauses in private prison contracts range between 80% and 100%, with 90% as the most frequent occupancy guarantee requirement.
  • Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia are locked in contracts with the highest occupancy guarantee requirements, with all quotas requiring between 95% and 100% occupancy.

Update: On the topic of prison abuse, there’s an interesting post at Reason talking about the hidden-yet-pervasive practice of locking up children in solitary confinement “for their own protection”:

Solitary confinement was once a punishment reserved for the most-hardened, incorrigible criminals. Today, it is standard practice for tens of thousands of juveniles in prisons and jails across America. Far from being limited to the most violent offenders, solitary confinement is now used against perpetrators of minor crimes and children who are forced to await their trials in total isolation. Often, these stays are prolonged, lasting months or even years at a time.

Widely condemned as cruel and unusual punishment, long-term isolation for juveniles continues because it’s effectively hidden from the public. Research efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition have struggled to uncover even the most basic facts about how the United States punishes its most vulnerable inmates.

How can a practice be both widespread and hidden? State and federal governments have two effective ways to prevent the public from knowing how deep the problem goes.

The first has to do with the way prisons operate. Sealed off from most public scrutiny, and steeped in an insular culture of unaccountability, prisons are, by their very nature, excellent places to keep secrets. Even more concealed are the solitary-confinement cells, described by inmates as “prisons within prisons.” With loose record-keeping and different standards used by different states, it’s almost impossible to gather reliable nation-wide statistics.

The second method is to give the old, horrific punishment a new, unobjectionable name. Make the torture sound friendly, with fewer syllables and pleasant language. This way, even when abuse is discovered, it appears well-intentioned and humane.

So American prisons rarely punish children with prolonged solitary confinement. Instead, they administer seclusion and protective custody. Prison authorities don’t have to admit that “administrative segregation” is used to discipline children. Just the opposite, actually. It’s all being done “for their own protection.”

March 6, 2013

New initiative to encourage scientists to show their work (not just the mediagenic results)

Filed under: Books, Media, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:26

Ed Yong on the opening of a new lab in Virginia:

The field of psychology is going through a period of introspective turmoil. One the one hand, it has never been more popular. Its results lead to attention-grabbing headlines, and fill books that sit happily on bestseller lists. Conversely, some of its own practitioners are starting to ask themselves a difficult question: What proportion of the field’s findings are genuine and reliable insights into the human mind, and what proportion are red herrings produced by questionable research practices and, in rare cases, outright fraud?

This line of questioning comes from: cases of classic results that cannot be easily reproduced; studies that have documented widespread dodgy practices that lead to false results; the publication of papers that claim the impossible, like evidence for precognition; and the outing of several fraudulent scientists (with a new case emerging literally as I write this paragraph). To some, these signs augur a looming crisis of confidence for psychology. To others, these problems are unrepresentative, and being used to damn a field that generally produces solid, reliable results.

The debates can get quite energetic, but one of the more calm-headed voices in them is Brian Nosek’s. A psychologist from the University of Virginia, Nosek has been quietly trying to turn the problems into solutions. “There hasn’t been anything new in all this recent hubbub,” he says. “We’ve been talking about these problems since the 60s, but where it stopped was people complaining. There have been a lot of people who have been frustrated at how science is operating but had no outlet for making it better.”

Nosek’s solution launches today — the Center for Open Science, a new laboratory at Charlottesville, Virginia. Unlike many new research centres, this one is less about doing great science than about making science greater. It will try to foster a new approach to research that will produce more reliable results.

Show your working

The Center’s values are epitomised in its signature project — the Open Science Framework. It’s a website that lets scientists store and share every aspect of their work, including facets that are often hidden from each other, let alone from the public. Failed experiments, the minutiae of methods, the genesis of ideas… these are often omitted from published papers or left to languish in personal file drawers. That creates strong biases in the literature, and makes it harder for people to check and reproduce each other’s work.

H/T to Tim Harford for the link.

April 15, 2012

Virginia county considering creating first virtual public high school

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:50

In many ways, it’s a tribute to the resilience and determination of the educational establishment that it’s taken this long for a school district to even consider offering completely online classes:

Fairfax County schools could become the first in the Washington region to create a virtual public high school that would allow students to take all their classes from a computer at home.

No sports teams. No pep rallies. No lockers, no hall passes. Instead, assignments delivered on-screen and after-school clubs that meet online.

It’s a reimagination of the American high school experience. And it’s a nod to the power of the school choice movement, which has given rise to the widespread expectation that parents should have a menu of options to customize their children’s education.

Of course, it might not just be simple willingness to allow more choice on the part of the school district … there might be other pressures being applied:

Dozens of younger students have left Fairfax schools for the public Virginia Virtual Academy, the first statewide full-time virtual program. Open to any Virginia student in kindergarten through eighth grade, it is run by a Herndon firm — K12 Inc., the nation’s largest operator of public virtual schools — and enrolls nearly 500 students.

April 9, 2012

“Teacher tenure is one of those ideas” [that] “do real damage to the public education system”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:58

If I told you that an article in support of ending tenure for public school teachers appeared in The New Republic, would you believe it? I wouldn’t have done, until today:

Like the abortion measures, this bill was also pushed by Republicans — but here’s the strange part: It was actually a halfway decent idea. The subject of the bill was an important one: tenure for public school teachers. And, while the proposal wasn’t perfect, it was at least an attempt to rectify what is perhaps the least sane element of our country’s approach to education.

The vast majority of states have long granted public school teachers tenure. The way it works is simple: After a certain number of years, teachers qualify — “virtually automatically” in most states, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality — for a form of job protection that makes it extremely difficult to fire them for the rest of their careers.

[. . .]

So what is the case for K–12 teacher tenure? The truth is, there isn’t a good one. One argument typically offered by tenure defenders is that teaching is a notoriously difficult profession in which to measure success. But this is true for lots of jobs — yet, in all other professions, efforts are still made, however imperfect, to evaluate whether an employee is succeeding and to remove those who are not. Why should teaching be different? In fact, given that teaching is arguably the most important job in our society, it would be difficult to name a profession, save maybe the military, for which these sorts of heightened job protections would be less logical. If a job is truly important to the nation’s future, then you want to make sure that the most able, talented people are doing it — and doing their best work at all times.

That goal is simply incompatible with tenure. Indeed, tenure is so illogical that it’s impossible to see why it shouldn’t be abolished. And that is exactly what the Virginia bill sought to do. Predictably, however, Democrats — who remain far too beholden to teachers’ unions — scuttled the measure. As a result, tenure lives on in Virginia for now.

July 23, 2011

Virginia’s state surplus less than meets the eye

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:02

Doug Mataconis takes a jaundiced eye to the Virginia “surplus”:

So, in other words, what we’ve got here are accounting gimmicks. In one case, the State legally permitted itself to defer a contribution to public pensions that were twice as big as the reported budget surplus. In the other, they legally permitted themselves to collect thirteen months of sales taxes for a twelve month fiscal year. The impact of both of these should be rather obvious. Reduce obligations while you are increasing revenues and, wow what do you know, we’ve got a surplus.

This isn’t at all new. As Virginia political bloggers Norm Leahy and Adam Bitley noted last August, the legislature used virtually the same accounting tricks to create the $220 million surplus that was reported last year.

It’s also not unique to Virginia. The same techniques are used in states across the country, and in the Federal Budget. Call it “off book budgeting.” Call it “creative accounting.” Call it whatever you like really, but it’s a pretty stark demonstration of the just how hard it really is to believe any government when they say their budget is balanced. More likely than not, they’ve used one or more of these gimmicks, plus a few others, to defer budget items and artificially increase revenue to make it appear that the budget is in balance when it really isn’t.

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