Saturday, January 19, 2008

McCain Wins South Carolina (And Conservatives Still Don't Have a Candidate)

The voters in today's GOP Primary in South Carolina could be divided up into four many demographic groups: there were Moderates, there were Conservatives, there were Evangelical Christians, and there were Retirees. About a quarter of the voters were moderates, according to exit poll data, and John McCain garnered two-thirds of their votes.

That means that of the 33% of primary voters who went for McCain, about half called themselves moderates. Older voters, according to the Associated Press, also tended to cast their ballots for McCain.

But the majority of South Carolina's GOP voters described themselves today as either Conservatives or Evangelical Christians (most of whom qualify as Conservatives, as well).

So why did the most moderate of the GOP's candidates win South Carolina? Simple: Conservatives still don't have a favorite son. They split their vote four (or maybe five) ways and diluted their power as a voting block.

You might say that Conservatives are more concerned today about their differences these days than about their similarities. Evangelical Christians are looking for a candidate with a faith based message and they think they've found on in Mike Huckabee. He carried the Evangelical vote for the most part. But the Fiscal Conservatives who are more concerned with financial policy than religion don't much like Huckabee because they question his record on taxation and spending during his tenure as governor of Arkansas. Those voters split their ballots between Romney and Thompson. And while Evangelical voters might be willing to accept Thompson as a candidate, they have a problem with Romney's Mormon religion. Romney has failed in his bid to attract the support of Evangelical voters.

Perhaps the most important factor in the South Carolina GOP Primary was McCain's ability to draw some voters from every camp. He gained a degree of acceptance among both Evangelicals and Fiscal Conservatives.

It is worth noting that Mike Huckabee is the darling of the misnamed "Fair Tax" crowd at the moment. The only other candidate that supports that proposal in Ron Paul. And if Ron Paul's people had voted for Huckabee, their four percent of the vote would have made Huckabee the winner. That's assuming a lot, I know. If bullfrogs had wings...

Ron Paul finished fifth in the race. And Giuliani came in a distant seventh.

After South Carolina: Fred Thompson Stays In

Fred Thompson said he needed to finish at least second in today's South Carolina GOP Primary to say viable. He finished third, with only about half the votes of second place Mike Huckabee. In the Nevada Caucus today Thompson finished fifth, about 100 votes behind Huckabee.

Just the same, Thompson say, well gosh, he reckons he'll say around a while longer... The question is, why? And how long will that while be?

Thompson entered the race late with high expectations that he would be met by adoring crowds who would sweep him to victory. The crowds never showed up, proving that politics is at least as much about work as it is about personality. He lags nationally behind Romney, McCain, Huckabee, and Giuliani - all of whom were out shaking hands and asking for votes long before Thompson tossed his hat into the ring.

In South Carolina Thompson was something of a spoiler, dividing Conservatives and Evangelical Christians today who might otherwise have mostly voted for Huckabee or Romney. John McCain, who won in South Carolina, would be glad to see Thompson keep doing that at least through the February 5th Super Tuesday ballots.

If Thompson hopes to eventually play the role of either spoiler or kingmaker, it is unclear who would get his support at the Republican National Convention. A tone of bitterness is developing between the Thompson and Huckabee camps as the two groups compete for the title of "Most Strongly Against Abortion." And Thompson disagrees with McCain on important issues like immigration.

For now he's making speeches that could be taken to mean he's staying in, or that he's putting his house in order before he drops out.

Perhaps Thompson would make Romney a good vice presidential candidate to increase the Boston Mormon's appeal in the south during the general election. But there are a lot of delegates left to county before it comes to that.

In the mean time, Thompson is beginning to smell like a Thanksgiving turkey that's been left in the oven too long...

After Nevada: Duncan Hunter Drops Out

California Congressman Duncan Hunter was counting on doing well in the West. Today he finished seventh in Nevada, and the congressman has decided that Rudy Giuliani is going to have to find someone else to keep the NYC Mayor and former GOP frontrunner from being last in state primaries and caucus events.

Hunter's message voters during the campaign has been straitforward, but almost monotone. He harped on the immigration issue at the expense of most other issues. He also tried to appeal to military voters; Hunter is a Vietnam era veteran.

Hunter's campaign spokesperson blamed the media for Hunter's withdrawal from the race, comparing media coverage to the hit TV show "Survivor" and saying that Hunter had been voted off the island...

He plans to return to Congress and work on immigration policy, he said.

The Issues: Taxation

It occurred to me recently to try and articulate what I think the major issues are in the current Presidential election., Over the next few weeks I hope to write short pieces on what the issues are (for me) and how I feel about those issues. At the moment I can think of four. They are (in no particular order): taxation, the war, education, and health care.

American stand, I think, at a crossroads in terms of the nature and philosophy of taxation. It's not a very sexy issue. It is an issue primarily because a group on the far right of the political spectrum wants to do away with income tax and replace it with a "fair tax" that would charge everyone a flat rate in the form of a sales tax at the cash register.

The "Fair Tax." Genius. That's a better name than No Child Left Behind. Someplace along the way, Conservatives have learned that if you give an idea a really good name you're more likely to be able to make it a law. But I digress...

There are a bunch of things wrong with the "fair tax," as I see it. The most important is that it is a ploy, a disguised effort to control government spending by reducing revenue. I say that because the analysts that I've looked at all seem to agree that the proposal in Congress now would drastically reduce federal revenue. The result of that would be either a) a world in which Congress cut existing programs willy-nilly because it simply could no longer pay for them or b) the Reagan deficit, multiplied several fold. I would bet on "b," but neither is a pretty choice.

I'm not going to dignify this proposal by calling it a "fair tax" again; for several reasons, it's not fair. So we'll refer to it from here on as the sales tax proposal.

The reason the sales tax people have gotten as much traction as they have is simple: the tax system in America is complicated, convoluted, and seems to facilitate tax avoidance for the rich. Ron Paul is in favor of this proposal; Ron Paul is a fruitcake from outer space. But Mike Huckabee is also in favor of it; he uses it ironically to promote his image as a populist.

I found this definition of populism at "A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite." Call it part of being an enigma for candidate Huckabee: a Baptist preacher in a rock & roll band, the Republican populist...

meThe sales tax proposal is a bad idea because it makes taxation voluntary to the extent and degree that you can live on less than you make. Those in then upper class who make obscene amounts of money and squirrel much of it away for a rainy day (or a trip to the Italian Riviera) don't pay taxes on much of it - they get away with not paying their fair share. It also means that middle class Americans who live beyond their means by making purchase on credit cards can conceivably make pay more than their fair share in a give year; if they make $70,000 and spend $85,000 they pay taxes on the $85,000 they spent.

In addition to reducing the flow of revenue into the federal government (the real agenda for the sales tax, in my view), the result of the above situation will be that the burden for paying for government will be shift more onto the middle class. That makes the use of this tax to promote an image of populism truly ironic.

Of course, rejecting the sales tax proposal doesn't solve the problem. The truth is that taxation in America is broken and does need to be fixed. And spending in America really is a problem. The question is one of who can come up with proposals to fix the current system. John Edwards (a populist and a Democrat) and a few others have suggested closing loopholes and addressing some specific aspects of the tax code. Why should someone who makes their money in the stock market pay a lower rate in capital gains tax on their 1040 than a teacher, nurse or secretary pays on their salary? Why should the average Joe pay the payroll tax on almost every penny he makes while the CEO of some company pays it only on the first $62,700 and is off the hook for the rest of his $400,000 annual salary?

Fix the loopholes and the system produces more revenue and seems more fair. If the system produced more revenue, the actual rates might could be reasonably reduced.

The purpose for taxation and the manner in which Americans are taxed - these are among the most important issues on the table this election. And I don't think most Americans realize that...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Rise of the Superdelegate

Tim Kaine is a superdelegate. So are Jim Doyle and Janet Napolitano. When the Democratic National Conventions starts on August 25, 2008 in Denver, the three of them will get to vote for who the party's nominee for President should be. But it won't be because of the results of a primary of caucus in their state.

These three (and many others) get to serve as superdelegates at the contention because of some elected office or party post they hold. In their cases, they are superdelegates because they are state governors and Democrats. Kaine is the governor of Virginia, Doyle is the governor of Wisconsin, and Napolitano is the governor Arizona. All three have endorsed Barach Obama to be the party's nominee, but they are technically under no obligation to vote for him...

There will be 792 superdelegates at the convention in Denver. The convention will have a total of 4,040 delegates (including the superdelegates). Primaries and caucuses will send 3,248 delegates to the convention. That's a little more than 80%. To win the nomination a candidate must get 2,025 delegates. So in theory, a candidate could win the nomination with only 38% of the elected delegates from primaries and caucuses if they managed to get all the superdelegates to vote for them.

The status of delegates from Michigan and Florida is currently in doubt. Without including superdelegates from those states, Hillary has 158 superdelegates who have voiced an interest in voting for her. Obama has 71, Edwards 27, and 514 superdelegates have not yet said who they might vote for at the convention in August.

You can find a list of the superdelegates here...

Lunch This Week...

This week's lunches...

Monday - Salad. Baby spinach, romaine lettuce, cheddar cheese, cucs, olives, ham, broc, raspberry walnut vinaigrette

Tuesday - Penne pasta with leg of lamb (cubed and fried), covered with an alfredo sauce, with diced green and red bell peppers

Wednesday - Corned beef and basmati rice. After eating the corned beef I put some Sri Racha HOT Chili Sauce on the rice...

Thursday (Today) - Snow day! I slept until about 10am (if you don't count getting up at 6:30 to call five other people and let the dog out for a few minutes). I had breakfast at about lunch time: a biscuit with butter, cheesy grits with butter, two eggs (scrambled, in butter), and three strips of bacon. Most of the above was covered liberally in coarse ground black pepper.

Tomorrow (Friday) - Green lentil soup with brown rice and boiled ham (if we have school).

That's the week...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Languages: Indonesian

I've studied Indonesia. But it was a long time ago. and there's not much use for it here in Central Appalachia.

Recently, I decided I'd like to refresh my ability to at least read the language again and practice that more often. I've found a couple of good websites for the purpose...

  • English-Indonesian Vocabulary Quizzes is a nice site that has online tests available for vocabulary. The tests are multiple choice. You can match Indonesia words to English choices (Does putih mean red, blue, green, black or purple?) or you can match English words to Indonesian choices (Does "red" mean merah, putih, biru, jingga, orcokelat?) You can test on about a dozen conceptual classes of 20 to 30 words - numbers, common adjectives, colors, wild animals, domestic animals, job-related words, etc. There's also three different collections of basic vocabulary (about 800 words) and a test on the 4,637 words that are less than 20 letters long in Hantarto Widjaja's Dictionary.

  • KAMUS-online a (not entirely free) dictionary.

  • Bahasa Indonesia Dictionary - free.

  • Tempo - an Indonesian magazine available online.

  • Indonesian in Seven Days - includes sound files with pronunciations of Indonesian words.

    Kelas Bahasa - "Language Class," a blog that seems inactive but has lots of good stuff in the archives.

Indonesian (which differs very little from the Malay language) is spoken as a first or second language by about 200 million people. It has the advantage of having almost a perfect letter to sound relationship in writing; almost every letter has one (and only one) sound. So if you can read it, you're well on your way to speaking it...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Giant Sucking Sound Heard Across Midwest as Romney Campaign Is Resuscitated

Residents of surrounding states heard a loud sucking sound at a little after 8pm local time tonight coming out of Michigan. That was about the time that major news sources predicted the winners in the Michigan Presidential Primaries - and the sound was Mitt Romney's campaign breathing life back into its almost dead body. The sound was actually heard (faintly) as far away as South Carolina and even created gentle breezes in places like California and Florida.

Okay, I'm being a tad sarcastic I suppose. But Michigan was a "must win" for Romney. And his win does little more than further muddy the question of just who the GOP frontrunner is. For the next 24 hours, I guess the frontrunner is Mitt Romney. But the question on everyone's lips since the race started seems to be, Where'd the "mo" go?

Momentum, the big MO, seems to disappear quickly in this GOP race. Mike Huckabee seems to have more of it than any other candidate. He went from "Mike who?" at Thanksgiving to the Iowa Caucus winner in January. The momentum of that win has placed him a respectable third in New Hampshire and now Michigan - states he wasn't expected to do well in. Next up is South Carolina, a state where Huckabee and Romney will compete for the Conservative Christian vote the way they did in Iowa. When we woke up this morning, Rasmussen Reports had McCain leading in South Carolina; that lead was built in part on momentum from the New Hampshire win and McCain's numbers will now go down. Huckabee, Romney, and Fred Thompson were all competing for second spot - separated by 3 percentage points in the survey. If Fred Thompson pulls out a win (or even a second place), the GOP race will go from a three man to a four man field of frontrunners - five if you count Giuliani, which I don't at the moment...

Me - time to make another pot...So let's talk about Giuliani. But what's to say? He finished sixth in Iowa and Michigan, fourth in Wyoming and New Hampshire. A poll yesterday said that McCain was leading in Florida (they like old people there), but that statistically it was a four way tie between McCain, Giuliani, Romney, and Huckabee. If Thompson were to win South Carolina, Florida would become a five way tie...

NPR had a cute story about a sand sculpture in Myrtle Beach, SC. Six GOP candidates were sculpted in beach sand there. Duncan hunter must be irritated that his face was not included. With 83% of the Michigan vote counted, hunter got less than one percent of the vote in the GOP Primary there...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Trip to Work

In the past I've seen a variety of animals on my trip through the bottoms and hollows around here as I travel from my house to work. I've seen possums and raccoons, dogs and cats, deer and turkeys, kingfishers and hawks, squirrels and chipmunks, buzzards and crows, the occasional coyote or fox, even bobcats.

Today was a new one. I saw my first bear today. Not the first one I've ever seen, but the first one I've seen roaming wild in this general vicinity.

Ms. Nunley says she saw two small ones on the same road. She travels that road a few minutes before me most mornings. I took the one I saw to be fully grown, so I guess it was the mother...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Response to Intervention: the Pros

If your child's IQ is between 76 and 90 (that's between 15% and 20% of all kids) the Response to Intervention model probably brings them help they weren't getting before...

It's called the "dull-average" range - not a very colorful or flattering description. One author calls it the "special education no man's land." If a child's IQ is about 70 or below, they can get help from the special education people at a school by being identified as mentally impaired (though there are a few factors other than IQ that enter in to the decision). If their IQ is about 85 or above and they're not doing well in class, they can possibly get help from the special education people at a school by being identified as having a learning disability.

"About" gets defined a little differently from state to state, but basically it means that educators acknowledge that the tests we use to measure IQ aren't perfect. So "about" equals a five point margin for error.

Strangely, when evaluating a child we suspect of being mentally impaired, "about" means a five point margin of error in favor of identifying the child; we'll agree that a child with an IQ as high as 75 can be considered mentally impaired (the cut off for the mentally impaired placement category was 70) if the other factors are in place. But when we suspect a child of having a learning disability the knife cuts the other way. Evaluators often won't agree than a child with an IQ score of 85 has an IQ of at least 85; the child has to score a 90 on the test before the psychologist will nod their head and agree that the child has an IQ of at least 85 (the cut off for the learning disability placement category). When evaluating a child we suspect of having a learning disability, "about" means a five point margin of error against identifying the child.

No one would ever put it this way to a parent (I hope), but under the discrepancy model that's been in use for the last 25 years or so, if Johnny's IQ is between 76 and 90 he's too bright to be mentally impaired and too "dull" to have a learning disability. Johnny's problem in class (the policy's idea, not mine), is that he's just living up to his potential...

Response to Intervention (RtI) takes a different approach. IQ ceases to be the issue in identifying learning disabilities. And the emphasis on identifying learning disabilities is replaced with a focus on preventing them. RtI is partly a reflection of a greater commitment to the philosophical ideal that all children can learn. When children aren't learning, we intervene to help them. And we assume that the problem is the teaching, not the child, until we can prove otherwise.

"Dull average" Johnny gets help that wasn't available to him before; he gets it in the Tier II level of his school's intervention model. Maybe he gets a lot of help - in short spurts throughout the year. And maybe he even gets identified as having a learning disability, though he wouldn't have before under the discrepancy model (and there is still some confusion over that possibility).

meThe focus on prevention and intervention instead of on identifying disabilities is a positive change (provided identification isn't ignored or avoided as a possibility). And the fact that children will get help based on educational need instead of disability category or socio-economic status alone is an improvement.

There is another potential benefit to the RtI model: cooperation. There has been a divide, a chasm at times, between reading specialists and special education personnel in a school. Each have different mandates and are funded (at least partly) by separate federal programs. Often the reading specialists simply doesn't work with children that have been placed in special education and the special education personnel at a school only take responsibility for a child's education after the child has been determined to be eligible for IDEA services.

RtI creates a school environment where a special education teacher can sit down with a child that hasn't been "placed" yet and provide instruction as part of a Tier II (or Tier III) intervention; as much as 15% of a school's special education funding can be spent in this intervention setting, working with kids that haven't yet been identified for special education services. And the Title I reading specialist can sit right there with the special education teacher and work with the same kid (regardless of socio-economic status) in the intervention framework.

The synergy that could result from cooperation between those two programs could be a strong positive force in a school. And the possibility exists that learning disabilities people and reading people will work together to successfully address the single most common specific learning disability in the schools today: dyslexia.

Grilled Cheese...

Maybe my favorite recipe, or set of recipes: the grilled cheese sandwich, with flair. It's quick and easy, but it can be dressed up nicely to be almost gourmet.

I guess it elps to like cheese. And the real point, I suppose, if that you can write about even the simplest stuff on the internet...