Monday, November 05, 2007

Utah Voucher Referendum Pre-Mortem

1) Utah Voucher Referendum Pre-Mortem. If Referendum 1 is defeated tomorrow, it will be a very long time before Utah parents will be able to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools. And if Referendum 1 defies the pollsters and wins tomorrow… it will be a very long time before Utah parents will be able to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools.

An unexpected loss would only mean a change of venue from the ballot box to the courtroom for the teachers' unions. Litigation could tie up the program for years. But I'm pretty sure that if voucher supporters lose, they are not going to announce on Wednesday that they are opening a chain of charter schools, or campaigning for performance pay, or demanding an end to seniority.

Utahns are learning what Californians, Michiganders, and Coloradans learned before them. A school voucher ballot initiative is an existential battle for the teachers' unions. You can't match their firepower, and asymmetric tactics are overwhelmed. (Someone once wrote, "There is nothing quite as asymmetric as a tank driving over an infantryman.")

Therein lies the answer to why voucher initiatives fail, and fail badly. Voucher supporters are devoted and committed, but their union opponents are all that plus desperate. Patrick Byrne, the CEO of who is largely funding Referendum 1, will not lose customers if it fails. But the Utah Education Association, as it currently exists, will gradually lose power, influence and members under a statewide voucher system.

And it's not just the voucher campaign that fails to match the unions' intensity. For the most part, the average Utah voter doesn't seem to understand how his state became a Manichaean battleground for school choice. The disconnect is apparent from the polls. After months of unprecedented spending in the millions by both sides, the numbers haven't even inched in either direction. It reminds me of California's Proposition 5 in 1998, which was a $100+ million ballot initiative battle between the state's Indian tribes and Nevada gaming interests over casino gambling. I think. Because although we were inundated with campaign ads, not too many Californians had any idea what it was all about.

The disconnect is also apparent from the campaign funding. The yes side received almost all of its money from Byrne, his family, and organizations with which he is connected in some way. The no side received almost all of its money from NEA, its affiliates, and organizations and individuals directly connected with them.

It's pretty simple. Most voters don't have kids in school. The voucher program directly benefits parents with kids in school. You have to make a pretty compelling case to even get the attention of the majority of voters. Then you have to persuade them that the current situation is bad enough to require an out for parents of school-age kids. This is a tough argument to make statewide in Utah.

The unions, with the benefit of being on the "no" side, are in the same position as defense attorneys. They don't have to prove anything, just raise reasonable doubt. It works against unions when they are on the "yes" side.

I'm no campaign consultant, but it's obvious to me that persuading voters to support your position is a separate undertaking from effectively standing up to union opposition. One does not necessarily assure the other. To win, you have to do both.

2) Latest Union Campaign Contribution Numbers in Utah. I know you are all prepared for the shocking truth that, just as EIA reported exclusively on August 20, NEA did in fact contribute $3 million to the Utah Education Association's anti-voucher campaign, despite months of avoiding the question. Still, the latest figures from the Utah lieutenant governor's office still need further analysis since, as difficult as it may be to believe, many Utah media outlets are unaware that all these organizations are satellites of NEA.

Here are the numbers, in size order:

* As of October 30, NEA dropped $3,149,404.28 on the anti-voucher effort, consisting of the aforementioned $3 million grant from the union's national ballot initiative fund, and most of the rest as payments to NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin and his law firm of Bredhoff & Kaiser.

* Next came $336,012.50 from Communities for Quality Education which, despite my best efforts since its formation in 2004 (originally named America Learns), continues to operate with impunity without reporters any the wiser of its being NEA-owned and operated.

* The numbers are a little unclear because of the pass-throughs from NEA, but it appears the Utah Education Association spent $239,901.95 of its own funds on the campaign. I don't know if this includes money from the state union's regional UniServs or not.

* Next is NEA state affiliate money - $50,000 from the California Teacher Association, $25,000 from MEA-MFT in Montana, $7,500 from the Washington Education Association, $5,000 each from the Colorado Education Association, Illinois Education Association, Kentucky Education Association, New Jersey Education Association, Pennsylvania State Education Association, and Ohio Education Association, $2,000 from the Connecticut Education Association, $1,000 each from the Maine Education Association, Maryland State Teachers Association, NEA Alaska, Oregon Education Association, and South Dakota Education Association. The Wyoming Education Association added $1,003.50.

* An additional $1,260 came from the NEA Member Benefits Corporation, and $16,228.40 from the Utah School Employees Association, which is affiliated with NEA, but not UEA. AFT Utah contributed $10,302.73.

* Many individual donors are recognizable as union officers, including $1,000 each from NEA Government Relations Director Diane Shust and UEA Executive Director Susan Kuziak, and $500 from NEA Secretary-Treasurer Lily Eskelsen.

2008 Already Settled? Not by a Long Shot

Published: November 5, 2007

ALLISON, Iowa — With a year to go until Election Day, the Democratic Party is understandably bubbling with optimism, its spirits raised with almost every new poll, fund-raising report or overflow crowd at a rally for Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards.

But does this necessarily mean the script for the 2008 campaign is set, with a happy ending already written for the Democrats?

Not necessarily.

Take this in the “just-something-to-think-about” spirit, since it would be foolish to predict anything in an election like this. But for all the indisputable Democratic advantages, strategists in both parties say it is too early to hand the White House keys over to the Democratic Party.

Reason No. 1 was on display in Philadelphia last Tuesday, where Mrs. Clinton, the New York senator who had been steadily building advantages over her rivals for the nomination, endured nearly two hours of attacks by her opponents, setting off one of the roughest weeks of her campaign.

That is not likely to end any time soon. The criticism will surely be pressed by Mrs. Clinton’s newly emboldened opponents as well as by journalists, who have seized on a a new campaign story-line. “She is an habitual evader,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser for to Mr. Obama, the Illinois Democrat. “It’s become a recurrent theme for her now. And I would suspect you guys are now going to be looking for it.”

The challenge for any candidate in Mrs. Clinton’s position — the perceived front-runner and thus the biggest target for attack — is to escape the primaries with as few scars as possible. But this emerging dynamic in the Democratic primaries could prove particularly problematic for Mrs. Clinton, should she win the nomination: the questions Democrats are posing about her are the same as the ones already being raised by Republicans. If Mrs. Clinton wins the nomination and loses the White House to a Republican who challenges her candor, she might look back at these months as the time her fellow-Democrats softened her up for the Republican kill.

But is there any reason to think that Mr. Obama or Mr. Edwards would be stronger in a general election? Mr. Obama’s advisers acknowledge there remains strong unease even among Democrats about whether, as a first-term senator, he has the experience to be president. The fact that two Republicans, Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York and Senator John S. McCain of Arizona, have already raised that question about Mr. Obama suggests the potency the Republicans see in this argument.

One of the central questions of this election — whether the American public is prepared to elect an African-American as president — is not going to be answered by his winning the nomination of the Democratic Party, given that Democratic primary voters are not representative of all voters in the general election. And his lack of experience as a campaigner, which has caused Mr. Obama repeated problems this year, could be a handicap going against a Republican candidate with the skills displayed by Mr. Giuliani and Mr. McCain.

Mr. Edwards, as he campaigned across Iowa this weekend, repeatedly presented himself as the most electable Democrat, the kind of appeal that has historically proved potent in this state. But he continually trails in national polls: A Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Monday found Mr. Edwards in third place among Democratic voters, with 12 percent. That is notable because Mr. Edwards by now is fairly well known to much of America; this is his second time running for president, and he was his party’s vice presidential nominee in 2004.

Mr. Edwards has taken to alluding at campaign stops to the fact that his wife, Elizabeth, has incurable cancer; a question that Democrats in rival campaigns raise, with respect but concern, is what happens if Mrs. Edwards’ health takes a turn for the worse over the coming year?

Most polls suggest that the nation sees the Iraq war as a mistake, and that voters will be looking for a president who will end it; the Democratic presidential field is united in saying it would do so. But the downturn in violence in Iraq over the past month — taking the war off the front pages, and leading Mr. McCain to argue that the so-called surge may be working — is a reminder of one of the great unknowns of this election: What will the state of the war be 10 months from now?

Not that Republicans have any reason to celebrate. The Republican disadvantages start with an unpopular president and an unpopular war. But other problems the party faces are going to become clearer as the general election unfolds. Three of the party’s top strategists under Mr. Bush — Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman and Matthew Dowd — have moved on. The Republican National Committee is in the doldrums; its chairman, Mel Martinez, stepped down last month.

Some of the positions taken by the Republican candidates have stirred further concern among Republican leaders who are thinking about a general election match-up. For example, Mr. Mehlman has warned Republican leaders, party officials said, that the tough talk against illegal immigration from some of the candidates is a serious mistake that could cost them Hispanic voters in November; his warnings have not been heeded by, in particular, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

So it is that even Republicans say the exuberance Democrats are exhibiting today is hardly irrational. Whatever problems the Democrats might face in the year ahead, it is hard to find a Republican these days who would not trade places with them in a minute.

Per-Pupil Spending > $10,000

Since Nobody Really Reads Jesse's Blog Anyway

I thought I would help him out. And by the way Jesse, my Internet Service Provider is Comcast.

In the wake of Comcast's throttling, er, "delaying" of BitTorrent connections, it seems like all hell has broken loose for the mammoth cable operator. Not only are they facing lawsuits, consumer complaints to the FCC and some seriously peeved members of Congress, but they'll also have to contend with a re-energized network neutrality debate.

Throughout the whole process, Comcast has made itself look worse and worse. First they denied. Then when the AP caught them, they tried to spin it and claim that they were "delaying" instead of outright blocking. Then when an internal memo got leaked detailing their official policy, they started on a witch-hunt to find and terminate the responsible employee. So to recap, Comcast thinks that good PR consists of deny, spin, fire whomever talked. It's a Reality Distortion Field™ that would make Steve Jobs proud.

Since the story broke, Wall Street has been pounding the company, sending their stock price to a 52-week low. Even prior to their dismal earnings report on the 25th, the stock had already dropped about 25% from it's 52-week high. What's to blame? Probably their poor customer service driving customers away to services like Verizon's FIOS and a lack of dial-up customers to continue their growth. Industry observers have said it's time for them to start dropping prices, but that doesn't jive with their plans to jack up television rates even higher.

Do you hear that, Comcast? That is the sound of inevitability. That is the sound of your irrelevance.

FBI Thinks China Is Greatest Threat

The Federal Bureau of Investigation believes that China poses the greatest threat to the U.S. in terms of espionage — and that thousands of “front companies” in America have been set up to aid Chinese spying, according to the Maldon Institute.

A new report from the respected think tank, titled “The Chinese Secret Intelligence Service,” warns, “China’s intelligence services today consist of a vast shadowy organization that employs approximately 2 million full- or part-time agents.

“Federal officials in the United States, in numerous interviews during the past year, say and have said that there are more foreign spies operating in the United States than during the Cold War . . .

“In size and numbers, no country now can equal the numbers of Chinese spies in our country.”

The report quotes David Szady, FBI assistant director for counterintelligence, who said in a recent interview that the Chinese spymasters “figured out that what they want is throughout the United States, not just embassies, not just consulates. It’s a major effort.”

The Maldon Institute report states: “The FBI believes that for the next 10 to 15 years, China is the greatest threat to the United States.

“The Bureau believes that today there are more than 3,000 ‘front’ companies in America whose real job is to direct espionage efforts. Then there are thousands of Chinese visitors, students and business people: how many of them have tasks to perform for Beijing’s Ministry of State Security?”

A great deal of the FBI’s information comes from the highest-ranking Chinese defector to arrive in Washington: Xu Junping, director of Strategy in Beijing’s Defense Ministry.

He claims that for five years he oversaw all operations against the U.S. and set up the business plans for the more than 3,000 Chinese companies launched to operate across the United States, according to the report.

The report also intimates the success of the Chinese espionage: “An analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency informed a colleague that during the past three years, the Chinese have stolen $24 billion worth of secrets, and that many of these items enabled Beijing to accelerate its space program . . .

“The FBI also is following up on a number of investigative leads, such as who is funding individual Chinese students and which students, after graduation with a computer or other science degree, seek employment with a high-tech company.”

Editor's Note: