Friday, July 29, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Impertinent Observations (Debt Ceiling Edition)

The current jockeying by either side of the aisle up in DC over this debt ceiling business seems to bear out the old saying that politics is the art of the possible – and to a certain extent, therein lies the problem.

Rather than go down any number of potential rabbit holes – the arbitrary date set for raising the debt ceiling (just the latest of many such arbitrary deadlines), the fact that not raising the debt ceiling is not the same thing as default on the debt, the fact that even if the debt ceiling is not raised the feds would have plenty of income to meet their debt service obligations (paying off bonds and interest as they come due), the fact that the federal government has avoided the hard choices that would be imposed by a budget (by operating without one for years now), and the fact that all of the new spending approved over the last couple of years (Obamacare, unspent stimulus money, etc) is off of the table – I want to comment on the bigger picture.

I feel quite strongly that one’s policies and votes need to be grounded in a defensible political philosophy.  That is why I went to such great lengths to articulate my political philosophy when I ran for the District 1 seat on the Athens-Clarke County Commission in both 2002 and 2006.

On the other hand, political philosophy does not properly operate as an abstraction only; one of the reasons I hold Raymond Aron in such high regard, though his was much to the left of my own thinking, is his recognition that while political theory is all well and good, politics must be brought down to a concrete level if anything is to be accomplished.  That is the reason that I abandoned the Libertarian Party back in the late 1990s; far too many in the LP regarded compromise as a sell-out of principles, irrespective of the fact that success in politics is predicated on the give-and-take of competing interests.  And now I fear that conservative in the GOP, with whom I agree, may make the same mistake.

I fully believe that not raising the debt ceiling would, in the long run after much political wailing and gnashing of teeth, be a net plus for the country in that it should force the powers that be to rethink their spending policies.  Unfortunately, though, that is not going to happen.  The debt ceiling is going to be raised - the only real questions concern the particulars.

That is where compromise comes in.  While I fully agree with the philosophical position that raising the debt ceiling is not the best course of action to take, the political realities are that it is going to be raised.  Republicans on the Hill may be excused for crafting the best practical policy out of it that they can.

Thus, we are left to consider the Boehner plan.  Those on the Right may have to hold their collective nose in order to vote for it - an amalgam of $1 trillion in new debt, $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over the coming decade (I know, I know), and a promise of $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction later this year - but it is a damned site better than Harry Reid’s Senate alternative or anything likely to come out of the Obama White House.   As this WSJ editorial explains (much better than could I), the ball is in the GOP’s court; I pray that they don’t blow it and get blamed for whatever may follow as they surely would, irrespective of where the fault really lay.

Another aspect of this debt ceiling business is the absurdity associated with the credit rating assigned to US Treasury bonds.  As a measure of how government involvement creates perverse incentives, we are presented with the prospect that the credit rating of the United States government may get downgraded . . . if it refuses to incur even more debt that it cannot hope to pay off?  That, of course, is precisely the opposite of what should be happening.

Besides, as Holman Jenkins points out in this WSJ column, any downgrade of the bonds is an essentially pointless exercise.  Unlike many claims on the US Treasury (discretionary spending, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, etc.), the feds are legally obligated to pay off the bonds – so those are the last things to go to the chopping block.  Even that does not matter, though, because the Treasury can (and will) pay off the bonds using dollars that have been devalued by inflation.  From a certain and limited perspective, the government cannot lose (though the rest of us will not be so lucky).

To borrow a line from Glenn Beck, it makes your head feel like it is going to explode.

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SCHS Pigskin Preview

After a mightily disappointing 2009 season, my alma mater Indians returned to their usual winning ways in 2010, going 8-3 overall, 4-1 in conference play, 3-1 at home, 4-1 on the road, and 1-1 on neutral fields.  SCHS finished the season by losing in first round of state playoffs to eventual AAA runner-up Carrollton.

Here is the warpath for this season:

12 August - Habersham Central (8AAAA) at The Reservation for a “Battle of Currahee Mountain” scrimmage

26 August - Elbert County (8AA South) at Elberton

02 September - Hart County (8AA South) at The Reservation

09 September - Oconee County (8AAA Division B) at The Reservation

16 September - West Hall (8AAA Division B) at Oakwood

23 September - Open

30 September - Franklin County (8AAA Division A) at The Reservation

07 October - Chestatee (8AAA Division A) at Gainesville

14 October - White County (8AAA Division A) at The Reservation

21 October - Lumpkin County (8AAA Division A) at The Reservation

28 October - North Hall (8AAA Division A) at Gainesville

04 November - Play in game

See information on the 2011 Indians at the SCHS football web site, MaxPreps, and Home Teams Online.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Athens-Clarke County Redistricting

Blake’s story from yesterday about local redistricting certainly proved timely, as I was just putting the finishing touches on my next column about state and local redistricting (scheduled to run on 24 July).

To recap the local doings, the redistricting committee named by Mayor Denson is in the process of drawing new maps for the Athens-Clarke County Commission and the Clarke County Board of Education. Public hearings will be held on those maps in August.  They will go to the Commission in September and be voted on in October.  They will be forwarded to the Clarke County’s legislative delegation in the General Assembly in November, with passage by the full legislature to follow during the 2012 session.  Then, it is on to the Department of Justice for sign-off pursuant to the Voting Rights Act.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

APS - Making A Difference, Indeed

Atlanta Public Schools, the system with the third highest per pupil expenditure in the state, has been found to be guilty of “widespread cheating” with regard to 2009 CRCT scoring.  Also, the report noted that “a culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation existed in APS, which created a conspiracy of silence and deniability with respect to standardized test misconduct.”

Some specifics of note:

  • Cheating was found in 44 of the 56 schools examined
  • 38 of 56 principals were found to be either responsible for or directly involved in cheating
  • 178 teachers and principals cheated, of whom 82 confessed
  • 6 principals cited the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering any questions
  • Cheating occurred as early as 2001
  • “Significant and clear” warnings of cheating were sounded as early as 2005 but were ignored
  • APS was guilty of “a major failure of leadership . . . with regard to the ethical administration of the 2009 CRCT”
  • Other improper conduct included several open records act violations, instance of false statements, and instances of document destruction
These findings will be turned over to local district attorneys for possible criminal prosecution.

No, this is not an indictment of all public education - but it sure as hell illustrates the potential for administrative misconduct on the part of those entrusted with our children's educations and our tax dollars.

As an aside, the two school systems that had higher per pupil expenditures for FY 2010 were Baker County (357 students) and Clay County (294 students).  Naturally, school systems of such a miniscule size have little opportunities to employ economies of scale insofar as fixed administrative and capital costs are concerned, thereby driving their per pupil expenditures up.  By contrast, Atlanta Public Schools (47,947 students) has approximately 74 times as many students as Baker and Clay Counties combined.

Addendum – Read the full report here:

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District 113 Update

The race for Georgia House District 113 has shaken our pretty much as anticipated.  The three Republican candidates split 73.3% of the vote, with Chuck Williams polling 38.8%, Sarah Bell polling 18.3%, and Alan Alexander polling 16.1%.  Dan Matthews, the lone democrat in the contest, garnered the totality of the blue vote by polling 26.7%.

In Oconee County, which forms the bulk of the district, Williams’ racked up 1271 votes to Matthews tally of 505 votes , Bell’s 504 votes and Alexander’s 421 votes.

As expected, Matthews’ strength lay in Clarke County, where he lead with 442 votes to Williams’ 128 votes, Alexander’s 119 votes and Bell’s 117 votes.

In Oglethorpe County, Alexander lead with 75 votes to Matthews’ 66 votes, Williams’ 61 votes, and Bell’s 51 votes.

Finally, Williams place first in Morgan County with 62 votes to Bell’s 41 votes, Matthews’ 36 votes and Alexander’s 18 votes.

The overall turnout was an appallingly low 11%; the turnout for the run-off will probably be even less.  Be that as it may, now that the contest is down to one Republican to one Democrat, the advantage obviously belongs to Williams.  The only way he can lose is if his supporters, along with those who voted for Bell and Alexander stay home – which, of course, is entirely possible.

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