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Monday, April 24, 2006

Lincoln on Preventive War

Here's President Lincoln's take on presidential war powers in speaking his opposition to the Mexican War in 1848. It's from a Washington Post article by Arthur Schlesinger.

"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose - and you allow him to make war at pleasure [emphasis added]. . . . If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us'; but he will say to you, 'Be silent; I see it, if you don't.

This is essentially what has happened with Bush and his Iraq War.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Abramoff, DeLay, Blunt: A Living Museum of Corruption

If there ever were a Southwest Missouri Hall of Fame of Political Corruption, someone would be commissioned to prepare a bust of Roy Blunt for the centerpiece - or perhaps a life-size wax figure would be better, symbolizing Blunt's malleability when doing behind-the-scenes work on behalf of crooked lobbyists and big corporate contributors.

I doubt that John Q. would pony up any funds for such a place, but I'd put it right next to the Sports Hall of Fame out there by Highland Springs. It would glow behind a big glittery sign that would light up the entire James River valley below, and the architecture would be resplendent with cheezy casino motif.

Blunt's name cropped up again this week in an excellent Abramoff piece by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone entitled Meet Mr. Republican - Jack Abramoff. Here's a short excerpt that details how Blunt pulled some strings to help his buddy Jack. So discreet, nobody notices. It makes you wonder how many times things like this took place . . .

"Case in point: Abramoff's remarkable success in defeating H.R. 521, a 2001 House bill that would place the Guam Superior Court under the control of a federally controlled Supreme Court. Led by Judge Alberto Lamorena, Guam Superior Court justices hired the lobbyist to defeat the bill, which would have unseated them as the chief judicial authorities of the island. It says something for Abramoff's ability to bring out the worst in people that he managed to get a group of sitting judges to pay him $324,000 in public funds in $9,000 installments so as to avoid detection.

Despite the $324,000 fee, Abramoff could not prevent the House Resources committee from unanimously recommending H.R. 521 for passage. Would the superlobbyist finally fail? No, of course not. Given what we know about Abramoff's tactics, we'd be naive not to conclude that he could lean on DeLay and then-Whip Roy Blunt to stall the bill in the congressional machinery. On May 27th, 2002, just five days after the Resources committee made its recommendation, an Abramoff-linked PAC wrote two checks for $5,000 -- one to Blunt, one to DeLay. H.R. 521 never reached the floor.

The Guam incident certainly shows how easily the whole Congress was controlled by a small gang. The DeLay Republicans, along with Abramoff, were apparently the first to recognize the opportunities for corruption presented by the House leadership's dictatorial control over key committees, in particular the Rules committee. Now, a single call to a lone Tom DeLay could decide the fate of any piece of legislation, pushing it through to a vote or gumming it up in the works as needed. The other 430-odd congressmen were window dressing."

Add this to the list. Of course, local voters will never see this story in the News-Leader. They did finally run a piece on Midge Potts, Blunt's primary opponent, in today's paper. But did you notice it was from an AP wire story out of Kansas City? Dee Wampler was interviewed, but I'll spare you.

By the way, we were less than specific about Midge Potts in an earlier post. We used the word transexual, which I think implies that Potts changed his sex from male to female. The word transgender more accurately describes Potts' sexual status. He has chosen to portray a female identity. The person formerly known as Mitchell Potts, however, is the owner of a penis and is, therefore, a man - at least physically. Glad to clear that up.

Sadly, this will probably be the salient issue southwest Missourians will take away from the upcoming political campaign. I seriously doubt there will be any meaningful public dialogue with Blunt on any issue this election season.

I would still love to hear Blunt answer one pointed question regarding his less-than-ethical conduct in Congress while turning tricks for Jack Abramoff.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Large and Small of It

There is so much to write about, and so little time, but this amazing image of what has been called the "DNA Nebula" stopped me in my tracks. I ran across it in National Geographic News. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope captured this infrared image of a spiraling, intertwining nebula in our own Milky Way galaxy that is some 80 light-years in length and is shaped like a colossal DNA strand.

In my classroom, we sometimes talk about what we term "Big Thoughts" - questions about time, eternity, space, infinity . . . this will make for some interesting discussion tomorrow - after we take the damn MAP test, that is.

"Nobody has ever seen anything like that before in the cosmic realm," said Mark Morris, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of the study (appears in this week's issue of Nature).

"Most nebulae are either spiral galaxies full of stars or formless, amorphous conglomerations of dust and gas, space weather. What we see indicates a high degree of order."

On the same day, I ran across this article about some MIT researchers that are using viruses to create miniscule batteries the size of a grain of rice.

By manipulating a few genes inside these viruses, the team was able to coax the organisms to grow and self-assemble into a functional electronic device. In their research, the MIT team altered the virus's genes so they make protein coats that collect molecules of cobalt oxide, plus gold.

The viruses then align themselves on the polymer surface to form ultrathin wires. Each virus, and thus the wire, is only 6 nanometers (6 billionths of a meter) in diameter, and 880 nanometers in length. The batteries made from these special altered viruses can store two or three times more energy for its size and weight compared to previously used battery electrode materials.

A report on this work is in the April 7 issue of Science.

(Speaking of small things . . . I was going to write about Dick Cheney coming to town, but these item are so much more interesting. I heard part of Cheney's speech on KY3 - he wasn't even reading it very well. Something about defending liberty . . . blah blah blah.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

John Dean on George Bush

I found two interesting quotes from former Nixon White House counsel John Dean. You may recall the image of Dean being sworn in at the Senate Watergate hearings that ended with Nixon's resignation. Nixon had been ordering illegal wiretaps on American citizens in the name of national security, and he faced certain impeachment.

Fast forward thirty-three years and Dean returns to testify on the proposed presidential censure motion introduced by Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin).

He told the senators:

". . . I must add that never before have I felt the slightest reason to fear our government. Nor do I frighten easily. But I do fear the Bush/Cheney government (and the precedents they are creating) because this administration is caught up in the rectitude of its own self- righteousness, and for all practical purposes this presidency has remained largely unchecked by its constitutional coequals."

Dean also published an article called "Bush's Unprecedented Arrogance" in FindLaw.com. Here's an excerpt:

"In the end, this issue is going to be resolved by the 2006 midterm election. If Republicans lose control of either the House or Senate, the investigations of the Bush/Cheney White House will begin. It won't be pretty. It will make dealing with lying about sex look like High School hazing. It will even make Richard Nixon look like a piker when it comes to staying within the law."

Of course, here in the Ozarks, we'll send Roy Blunt back to Congress with the assurance that he'll do whatever he can to obstruct any such investigations. Our man in Washington.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Bond Issue, MAP Mayhem at Springfield R-12

Sunday Thread

The Sunday News-Leader editorial page is awash with education issues today - school board endorsement, bond issue debate and numerous letters to the editor endorsing school board candidates.

Their own editorial had this curious heading:

"Our picks a tool to help in choice". At first, I thought they were describing school board candidates - well, there is Roy Holand - but they were just telling us that we didn't have to vote for their recommendations. Gee, thanks for the heads up.

Holand, the former ultra-conservative state legislator, says all the right things during interviews but strongly supports school vouchers and the further blurring of the line separating church and state. Put this guy on the school board, and we'll very likely be arguing intelligent design this time next year. He didn’t get much attention from the N-L. I guess the fact that Holand has kept these views on the down-low is encouraging - perhaps a recognition that they are not held by the majority, even in Springfield.

The SNEA supports two of the News-Leader’s favorites, Craig Hosmer and Gerry Ellis, but the N-L endorses Callen, while the local teacher group is strongly supporting long-time board member Bruce Renner, the only candidate or board member with classroom teaching experience.

The Pro-Con editorial argument centered around the school bond issue (Proposition B) that R-12 has pushed as "Building a Legacy". That should probably read "Building uh Buildings", particularly in south Springfield, the fastest growing part of the city. Volunteer mom, Lisa Langley, took the "Pro" side and spoke of the over-crowding at south-side schools and the need for updated science labs and air conditioning in the buildings.

"Academically, Springfield teachers and students have proven themselves," Langley said. "The district continues to shine, being recognized as an outstanding district at the state level."

How R-12 has handled money in the past has become an issue with many voters.

Steve Hoots writes in his "Con" Proposition B column, that the school system has not coped well with changing demographics (the system is actually losing student annually) and has misspent millions on over-budget building projects that were poorly planned.

My neighbor, who I suspect is voting against the bond issue, put it this way.

"You get the impression these board members drive around in their Escalades looking at the wonderful new schools in Nixa and Ozark, and they want their schools to look like that, a ‘keep up with the Jones’ kind of thing."

He may have a point there, but I’ll tell you what bugs the hell out of me about this bond issue. A group of teachers asked this question to one of the zone superintendents a few weeks ago . . .

"Given the fact that the school board decided to roll back the recent tax levy - explaining they didn’t actually need it all at this time - on the heels of that, you turn around and ask for a bond increase. Don’t you think this is confusing to the voter?"

The R-12 assistant superintendent politely explained that the tax levy rollback only dealt with things like teacher salaries and classroom materials. The bond issue went toward building and improving facilities. I get it. Teacher salaries and instructional material - we can put those kinds of things on the back burner.

But who is going to occupy these proposed new classrooms? I guess we can expect a roll-out of the roll-back?

Fact: Missouri ranks 45th in teacher salaries, and Springfield teachers are at the low end of the state. That would make Springfield R-12 teachers among the lowest paid teachers in the United States. Ms. Langley is right - Springfield teachers and students are out-performing the support they are given by the state and community.
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MAP Testing Frenzy hits area schools. Some schools are able to put all this MAP hype in the proper perspective, but many schools are fully immersed in all things MAP leading up to the 2-3 week testing period - after school study sessions with candy rewards, complete schedule changes, test administration meetings (how to give a standardized test), warnings of violations and possible inspection by MAP police. It's MAP Mayhem!

A girl in my class said it all made her very nervous. But the most anxious individuals involved in this exercise in standardized accountability are the building principals . . . from whom it trickles down to teachers and students. No principal relishes the opportunity to stand before the school board in order to explain the how's and why's of their school's miserable test scores.

More MAP Mayhem later . . .
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Rountree Quiet

There are all kinds of stories circulating around the alleged Rountree sexual molestation incident. My daughter went to Rountree K-5, and I know there are some very activist parents in that particular district. Rountree district borders the east side of Missouri State University, and probably has a higher percentage of involved parents than many Springfield schools, especially of the inner-city variety. Our own experience was very positive - excellent teachers, a very nice neighborhood school.

I haven't found any reports in the N-L or on local news about the fate of the teacher who was arrested, released and never charged with several counts of 1st degree child molestation. Dee Wampler is representing him, which doesn't bode well. Someone who knows the teacher's family was told that he was totally devastated and on suicide watch. Total hearsay, but sounds reasonable, given the nature of the non-charges.

More unsubstantiated stuff that may emerge . . . the incident at Rountree is being handled with kid gloves because many of the charges and accusations appear to have racial undertones. The teacher in question is white. If this were strictly sexual, the prosecutor and the accused would have been on camera a long time ago - and the local media would have been all over it.

I wouldn't be surprised to find that this alleged molestation incident runs much deeper than accusations about a perv PE teacher. Then again, it may just fade away to nothing . . . like the suspect's teaching career.

Emergencies, Evangelicals & Saluting the Troops

A child was kidnapped in St. Charles, Missouri last week. St. Charles is 200 miles away, but my phone went off like a damn fire alarm. S...