When You Endorse A Convicted Crook

It’s hard to imagine that one of the two major political parties in America would endorse a corrupt, convicted felon in a race for a congressional seat but, unbelievably, that’s exactly what has happened in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Democratic Central Committee has endorsed former Governor Edwin Edwards in the state’s sixth congressional district.  Edwards was convicted of various federal crimes, including racketeering, extortion, conspiracy, and fraud, and served time in the federal pen — 8 years, to be exact.  In fact, because of his recent federal conviction, he’s disqualified from running for statewide office in Louisiana, yet the state’s Democratic Central Committee nevertheless sees fit to endorse him for a federal office.

The Central Committee apparently voted “overwhelmingly” to endorse Edwards, and the Louisiana Democratic Party Vice Chairman said that while the congressional race is “challenging terrain” for Democrats, “I am impressed with the team and the energy coming from Team Edwards — and I have often been told to never count out Edwin Edwards.”

What better evidence of the fact that political parties put party affiliation above the good of the state and country?  No rational person could possibly contend that putting somebody like Edwards in Congress is a good idea — regardless of whether his “team” has “energy.”  If the Louisiana Democratic Party had any self-respect, it would shun Edwards.  That the party has done the opposite is an embarrassment — and also shows all of us that political party endorsements shouldn’t be given much credit by voters.  If a major political party can endorse a crook like Edwards, can a yellow dog be far behind?

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Should We Show The Door To Common Core?

These days you hear a lot about “Common Core” — a set of national math and reading standards that have been adopted in more than 40 states and are supported by the Obama Administration.  One recent article described a “populist uprising” against the standards.  In Louisiana, the state board of education and Governor Bobby Jindal are suing each other about whether that state can nullify its agreement to participate in Common Core.  This week, in Ohio, House Republicans have introduced a bill to replace Common Core standards, which could set up a clash with Governor John Kasich, who has supported the Common Core initiative.

The stated goal of Common Core is to develop critical thinking and better ready students for college and careers and — as its name indicates — establish a common set of standards between states.  Supporters say the Common Core approach to learning about math and reading are better, and in any event it would be foolish to retreat from the standards after the participating states have spent years developing and implementing them.  Common Core opponents object to “federalization” of education and raise questions about costs.

Richard and Russell are long past learning math and reading, so I don’t have a dog in this fight.  I’m not automatically opposed to trying new approaches or promoting standards that ensure that kids learn the basics; I remember taking “The Iowa Test of Basic Skills” when I was in grade school in the ’60s.  At the same time, I’m often skeptical at claims that new approaches are better, particularly when it comes to subjects that have been taught for centuries.

With respect to Common Core, I’m more interested in the human element in these changes — which, I think, often get overlooked when huge national forces and politics enter the process.  I became aware of that human element when I had lunch several weeks ago with two colleagues who have youngsters in grade school.  Neither is a Republican or a reflexive opponent of “federalizing” standards, but both had serious concerns about Common Core.  One related a story in which she sat down with her daughter to look at her math homework, which involved addition and subtraction problems.  When the mother started to use the familiar right to left process, “carrying” numbers from column to column, the daughter said:  “Mom, we don’t do it that way!”  The Mom was embarrassed, and wondered why we are making this kind of change.  NPR recently carried a report that raised that same issue of disconnect between parents and their kids that Common Core presents.

I think parental involvement helps to encourage kids to work hard in school, and homework assistance can also be one way of strengthening the parent-child bond.  Those of us who learned the “carry” method have somehow managed to balance checkbooks, perform the basic math skills needed to function in modern society, and contribute to the economy.  Why change the basic approach to addition and subtraction in a way that shuts parents out of the homework process even in the very early grades, and suggests to young children that their parents are old-fashioned and out of it?  Isn’t it at least possible that there is an ultimate social cost in such a change that outweighs whatever incremental learning benefit the new approach is supposed to realize?

Building A Solid Majority Can Be Done

You may not have heard about it, but last Saturday there was a significant election result.  In Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, was reelected with a huge majority.

Louisiana has an unusual system.  There is an open primary, and if no candidate gets a majority of the votes, a run-off election is held.  Jindal was one of ten contestants, and he won 66 percent of the vote — with his closest competitor garnering 18 percent of the vote.  Jindal, who is only 40, has been consistently popular since he was first elected, and as the article linked above notes, no well-funded Democrat wanted to challenge him.  Those election results are even more impressive when you consider that Louisiana has historically been a Democratic stronghold.

What has Jindal done that has made him so popular?  It looks like he has just kept his promises and worked hard at his job.  He has cut spending, cut taxes, and secured enactment of targeted tax credits in high-growth industries.  He fought for the state when the Gulf oil spill occurred, and he is credited with helping to turn around New Orleans schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  His tenure has seen an influx of people into Louisiana and a recognition that the state is a good place to do business.

It all seems so simple.

Katrina’s Five-Year Anniversary

It’s the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  The media usually cannot resist anniversaries, particularly when there is powerful film footage to show, and this one is no exception.  This CNN story on the anniversary is typical — a rehash of what happened, some hand-wringing about it, and plenty of retrospective blame being put on President Bush and the federal government, but curiously not much blame being apportioned to the State of Louisiana or the City of New Orleans itself.

I’m not sure what to make of such stories.  With Katrina, the federal government did not cover itself with glory in dealing with an enormous catastrophe, and neither did the state or city government.  People were marooned on the roofs of their homes, were not readily supplied with food and water, and could not be evacuated quickly from the hellish environs of the Superdome.  We learned that the federal government is a ponderous entity that does not move with lightning speed.  Was that unique to the Bush Administration?  Apparently not, because we recently saw a plodding, uncoordinated federal government make a similarly muddled response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.   Katrina also taught us that the Louisiana state government and the New Orleans city governments were corrupt, inept and seemingly hamstrung by politics.  Has anything changed in that regard?

If I had my way, every retrospective story on a disaster like Hurricane Katrina would focus not on what happened — we can safely leave that to historians — but on how things have changed to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.  No blame-shifting politicians or social scientists could be quoted.  Instead, facts would be the focus.  Have the levees been sufficiently strengthened?  Have cumbersome federal bureaucracies been streamlined to better deal with disasters?  Are evacuation plans reasonable and capable of being implemented?  If Katrina were to happen again today, would the results be any different?  If so, why?  Those are the tough questions that “retrospective” stories tend to leave unanswered.