Seahawks looked really good yesterday during their game with Saints. Could this be the year for them? I really hope so.As I write this post on January 22, I still can't believe that for the first time since I came to the US I will be rooting FOR somebody. Yes, that's right. The team I've been rooting for since I learned how football is played is going to the super bowl. I moved to Washington State in 1989 and lived in Seattle for 3 years until 1995. This is when I started watching football and learning the rules of the game. Naturally, Seahawks was my team. And even when I moved to Wisconsin and Packers won the super bowl in 1996, I stayed with the Seahawks.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to the success of Reaganomics is that, over the course of the past 276 months, the U.S. economy has been in recession for only 15. That is to say, 94% of the time the U.S. economy has been creating jobs (43 million in all) and wealth ($30 trillion). More wealth has been created in the U.S. in the last quarter-century than in the previous 200 years. The policy lessons of this supply-side prosperity need to be constantly relearned, lest we return to the errors that produced the 1970s.
OLYMPIA — A handful of state legislators have received two new confidential reports revealing which companies have the highest numbers of employees on state-funded health-care programs.
The state is refusing to release the reports to the public or to the companies named in them, and has warned lawmakers that they could face stiff penalties if they disclose the findings.
Democratic lawmakers had hoped to use the new reports to help win public support for their plan to crack down on companies that have numerous employees on Medicaid and the Basic Health Plan (BHP), a state-subsidized health-insurance program for the working poor.
A similar report produced three years ago, which the state says was mistakenly released to the public, found that numerous companies had employees on the two programs. Wal-Mart had the most, with 341 employees on the BHP alone.
"I think it's important that people, as taxpayers, know the businesses that are being responsible and the businesses that aren't," said Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, one of the lawmakers who has received the reports.
Cody and more than 30 other Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing legislation that would require companies with 5,000 or more employees to put at least 9 percent of their total payroll costs toward health-care benefits. Companies that don't put that amount toward health care would be required to pay the difference to the state.
It's unclear how many Washington companies don't meet the 9 percent threshold.
The bills — House Bill 2517 and Senate Bill 2356 — are scheduled to come up for hearings Thursday in both chambers.
Similar legislation was approved last week in Maryland and is expected to come up in numerous other states this spring. The measures are part of a nationwide campaign by labor unions and liberal activists to force big companies, such as Wal-Mart, to offer better health-care benefits.
Lawmakers also see the legislation as a way to ease the state's health-care burden. Health-care costs are expected to account for nearly 30 percent of all state spending this year.
The biggest share goes for Medicaid, a state-federal program that provides health coverage for children in families with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level — about $37,000 for a family of four.
The Basic Health Plan, funded entirely by the state, covers low-income adults. Enrollment is capped at 100,000.
In 2003, lawmakers got a glimpse at which companies have the most employees on these programs in a report compiled by legislative staff members. Aside from Wal-Mart, other companies with more than 200 employees on either Medicaid or the BHP included Safeway, McDonald's, Jack In The Box, Del Monte and Snokist.
More than 15 other states have compiled lists showing which employers have the most workers receiving Medicaid or other government-funded health-care benefits, according to an advocacy group called Good Jobs First. In most places, Wal-Mart was at the top of the list.
Last fall, the company acknowledged in an internal memo that, nationally, nearly half of its employees' children either were on Medicaid or were uninsured.
"Right to know"
David West, executive director of the Seattle-based Center for a Changing Workforce, a nonprofit research group, has been leading the push to get Washington state to gather data showing which companies have the most employees on the BHP and Medicaid.
"We think it's a fundamental question of taxpayers' right to know," said West, an outspoken Wal-Mart critic. "The state doesn't call it this, but what this in effect is is a taxpayer subsidy of employers."
The Legislature last year passed a bill ordering the state to prepare a public report showing where all of the state's Medicaid and BHP recipients work. But Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire vetoed the measure, citing "significant privacy and public-disclosure concerns."
To produce the report, the state would need to use records from the Employment Security Department, which manages the state's unemployment-insurance program.
Trouble is, state and federal law bars the department from publicly disclosing any data on specific employers, according to state attorneys.
Despite those restrictions and her own veto, Gregoire last year instructed the agency to produce the secret report for lawmakers.
Last month, the Employment Security Department sent two documents to key lawmakers — one showing the top 20 employers of people on the Basic Health Plan and another showing the "employment status" of the state's Medicaid clients.
But the department also warned the legislators in a cover letter that the reports are confidential and that they could face up to $5,000 in fines if they disclose the data.
Sheryl Hutchison, spokeswoman for Employment Security, said last week that federal law explicitly bars the agency from disclosing data or records naming specific employers.
Even Wal-Mart can't get its hands on the reports.
"It's very hard for us to comment on it if they're not going to share it with us," said Amy Hill, a regional spokeswoman for Wal-Mart.
But Hill pointed out that the company supported last year's bill calling for the report. She said the company believes it would show that while Wal-Mart may have the most employees on state-funded health care, other firms have a higher percentage of their employees enrolled in those programs.
Several lawmakers recently contacted Gregoire's office to raise concerns about the confidentiality restrictions.
In a response letter last week, Gregoire said she asked her agencies to produce the secret reports for lawmakers "because, short of being able to release it to the public, I felt it important that our policy makers in the Legislature have the information they need to make informed decisions on behalf of the public."
But Gregoire said she has asked the state Health Care Authority, which oversees the BHP, and the state's Medicaid agency to look for ways to produce the same reports without using confidential data from Employment Security.
That could prove costly since neither of the health-care agencies has employer data readily available in its computer system.
The Maryland Senate on Thursday overrode Gov. Robert Ehrlich's veto and approved a bill that would force Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to spend more on employee health care in the state.I'm pretty sure this will not end in Maryland. Knowing how crazy liberals in Oregon are, our state could be next. I just wish Wal*Mart would do what it did in Canada last year when one store tried to unionize. The store was closed.
The state Senate voted 30-17 in favor of the bill, surpassing the margin needed to override the veto by one vote.
The override sets the stage for a vote in the Maryland House of Delegates, which was expected to take up the bill at about 5 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT).
According to one Republican delegate opposed to the bill, who requested anonymity, the bill's supporters in the House have secured 88 votes there, three more than the number required to override a veto.
The measure would require companies with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits, or pay the balance into a state low-income health insurance fund.
The state Senate vote came after about 90 minutes of debate and came down largely along party lines, with three Democrats crossing over to vote against the bill.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark said in a statement after the vote that lawmakers had "placed the special interests of Washington, D.C. union leaders ahead of the well-being of the people they serve."
But those supporting the measure in the Senate argued that they were being forced to act because Wal-Mart was forcing the state to subsidize its employees' health care.
"I hope personally all 49 (other) states will do this. The states are backed up to the wall on this one," said the sponsor of the bill, Democratic Sen. Gloria Lawlah.
Opponents countered that the bill would be bad for business.
"This isn't the perfect storm. It's the Bermuda Triangle. Jobs go in, but they don't come out," said Republican Sen. EJ Pipkin.
Some opponents of the bill said it could even cause Wal-Mart to drop plans to build a large distribution center on Maryland's Eastern Shore, which would bring an additional 800 to 1,000 jobs to the state.
Wal-Mart's Clark said in her statement that the bill would do nothing to make affordable health insurance available to more Marylanders. She said the vote was about "partisan politics" rather than health care.
Clark said more than three-fourths of its 1.3 million U.S. employees had health insurance coverage, either through the company, a spouse or a government program.
U.S. labor groups are promoting the Maryland bill and it is being viewed as a model for similar laws other state legislatures are considering.
Nationwide, labor leaders said, more than a quarter of workers in large companies do not get employer-based health insurance coverage. They say a growing number of uninsured workers have been forced to turn to government programs such as Medicaid for coverage.
For "Stupid in America," a special report ABC will air Friday, we gave identical tests to high school students in New Jersey and in Belgium. The Belgian kids cleaned the American kids' clocks. The Belgian kids called the American students "stupid."
We didn't pick smart kids to test in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey's kids have test scores that are above average for America.
The American boy who got the highest score told me: "I'm shocked, 'cause it just shows how advanced they are compared to us."
The Belgians did better because their schools are better. At age ten, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age fifteen, when students from forty countries are tested, the Americans place twenty-fifth. The longer kids stay in American schools, the worse they do in international competition. They do worse than kids from countries that spend much less money on education.
This should come as no surprise once you remember that public education in the USA is a government monopoly. Don't like your public school? Tough. The school is terrible? Tough. Your taxes fund that school regardless of whether it's good or bad. That's why government monopolies routinely fail their customers. Union-dominated monopolies are even worse.
In New York City, it's "just about impossible" to fire a bad teacher, says schools chancellor Joel Klein. The new union contract offers slight relief, but it's still about 200 pages of bureaucracy. "We tolerate mediocrity," said Klein, because "people get paid the same, whether they're outstanding, average, or way below average." One teacher sent sexually oriented emails to "Cutie 101," his sixteen year old student. Klein couldn't fire him for years, "He hasn't taught, but we have had to pay him, because that's what's required under the contract."
They've paid him more than $300,000, and only after 6 years of litigation were they able to fire him. Klein employs dozens of teachers who he's afraid to let near the kids, so he has them sit in what they call "rubber rooms." This year he will spend twenty million dollars to warehouse teachers in five rubber rooms. It's an alternative to firing them. In the last four years, only two teachers out of 80,000 were fired for incompetence.
When I confronted Union president Randi Weingarten about that, she said, "they [the NYC school board] just don't want to do the work that's entailed." But the "work that's entailed" is so onerous that most principals just give up, or get bad teachers to transfer to another school. They even have a name for it: "the dance of the lemons."
The inability to fire the bad and reward the good is the biggest reason schools fail the kids. Lack of money is often cited the reason schools fail, but America doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years. Test scores and graduation rates stayed flat. New York City now spends an extraordinary $11,000 per student. That's $220,000 for a classroom of twenty kids. Couldn't you hire two or three excellent teachers and do a better job with $220,000?
Only a monopoly can spend that much money and still fail the kids.
The U.S. Postal Service couldn't get it there overnight. But once others were allowed to compete, Federal Express, United Parcel, and others suddenly could get it there overnight. Now even the post office does it (sometimes). Competition inspires people to do what we didn't think we could do.
If people got to choose their kids' school, education options would be endless. There could soon be technology schools, cheap Wal-Mart-like schools, virtual schools where you learn at home on your computer, sports schools, music schools, schools that go all year, schools with uniforms, schools that open early and keep kids later, and, who knows? If there were competition, all kinds of new ideas would bloom.
This already happens overseas. In Belgium, for example, the government funds educationÂat any schoolÂbut if the school can't attract students, it goes out of business. Belgian school principal Kaat Vandensavel told us she works hard to impress parents. "If we don't offer them what they want for their child, they won't come to our school." She constantly improves the teaching, "You can't afford ten teachers out of 160 that don't do their work, because the clients will know, and won't come to you again."
"That's normal in Western Europe," Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby told me. "If schools don't perform well, a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S."
Last week, Florida's Supreme Court shut down "opportunity scholarships," Florida's small attempt at competition. Public money can't be spent on private schools, said the court, because the state constitution commands the funding only of "uniform, . . . high-quality" schools. But government schools are neither uniform nor high-quality, and without competition, no new teaching plan or No Child Left Behind law will get the monopoly to serve its customers well.
A Gallup Poll survey shows 76 percent of Americans are either completely or somewhat satisfied with their kids' public school, but that's only because they don't know what their kids are missing. Without competition, unlike Belgian parents, they don't know what their kids might have had.
Christian school suing UC over college credits By Martin Kasindorf, USA TODAY
Fri Jan 13, 6:50 AM ET
A Christian high school's lawsuit against the University of California is escalating the culture war over the role of religion in public education.
The Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta, Calif., with 1,300 students, is suing UC for not giving credits for some courses with a "Christian viewpoint" when students apply for university admission. The lawsuit is about theological content in "every major area in high school except for mathematics," says Wendell Bird, a lawyer for Calvary Chapel.
Courses in dispute include history, English, social studies and science. In federal court here, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero could rule soon on the university system's motion to dismiss the high school's claims that its First Amendment rights to free speech and religion were infringed.
The school has also sued on other grounds, such as that UC has unconstitutionally treated Calvary students unequally compared to other students.
This clash over separation of church and state comes amid recent battles on whether religion can be incorporated into teaching evolution and science. Last year, the Kansas Board of Education rewrote science standards to cast doubt on the theory of evolution.
Last month, a federal judge ruled that the Dover, Pa., school board acted unconstitutionally in requiring science students to learn the "intelligent design" theory of life's origins along with evolution. Intelligent design is the idea that some forms of life are so complex that they must have been shaped by a designer who is left unspecified.
And this week, a group of parents in Lebec, Calif., sued to stop the high school from teaching intelligent design as a philosophy course.
Textbooks from Christian publishers
The civil rights lawsuit filed by Calvary Chapel alleges that the 10-campus University of California is trampling the freedom of "a religious school to be religious." UC rejected the content of courses such as "Christianity's Influence in American History" and "Christianity and Morality in American Literature."
In court documents, UC says the free-speech clause of the First Amendment gives it the right to set admission standards. "What we're looking for is this: Is the course academic in nature, or is it there to promote a specific religious lifestyle?" UC spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina says.
The university rejected some class credits because Calvary Chapel relies on textbooks from leading Christian publishers, Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book. A biology book from Bob Jones University presents creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution. The introduction says, "The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second."
UC says such books would be acceptable as supplementary reading but not as the main textbook.
Bird, Calvary Chapel's lawyer, says this is the first case of its kind because California is the only state that rejects giving credit for high school courses and textbooks on the grounds that they put religion over academics. Any decision in the case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bird says.
Religious educators and public universities nationwide have stakes in the outcome, says Charles Haynes, senior scholar on religious liberty issues at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.
The case "could have serious implications for religious schools all across the country if the university wins," Haynes says.
UC's policies are "likely to have a chilling effect on Christian schools," he says. "And what about Muslim schools? Are they next? They teach within a Koranic framework. That doesn't mean those kids aren't well-educated."
Parents who home school their children also should be watching the case, says John Green, senior fellow in religion and politics at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C. "Home schoolers, including people on the left, do it because they feel that their values are not being taught."
Ken Smitherman, president of the 5,400-member Association of Christian Schools International, contends that the Constitution bars a state university from denying applicants credit for courses that cover "standard material" but add a religious viewpoint.
"We're not teaching that water boils at a different temperature, or that the periodic table of elements doesn't have some of (the elements)," he says.
The lawsuit against UC alleges that the university accepts courses from other schools taught from a particular viewpoint, such as feminist, African-American or countercultural, so the school can't discriminate against "a viewpoint of religious faith."
Six students also plaintiffs
Smitherman's group, based in Colorado Springs, has joined the lawsuit. Six Calvary Chapel students who say they want to attend UC, including the football team's quarterback, also are plaintiffs.
Smitherman says enrollment in Christian schools could suffer if parents believe it disqualifies their kids from attending UC, which has 208,000 students. The separate California State University system, with 405,000 students on 23 campuses, adopts UC's admission standards.
Robert Tyler, a lawyer for Calvary Chapel, says parents send children to private schools because "they want their kids to be taught from a particular perspective, and the United States Constitution specifically protects that right."
Christopher Patti, a lawyer for the university, says UC isn't stopping Calvary Chapel or its students "from teaching or studying anything." He says students are free to take courses uncertified by UC, and there are alternative paths to admission - including taking extra SAT tests in specific subjects.
UC has certified 43 Calvary Chapel courses and has admitted 24 of the 32 applicants from the high school in the past four years, Patti says.
Poland's New Gov't Recalls 10 AmbassadorsIs this a sign of something worse to come? Is this another McCarthyism? I really hope so. McCarthy was more right than he was wrong. After 16 years since communism was officially abolished, Poland is about 15 years behind schedule reforming its economy because ex-Communists clinged to power until they were finally separated from it last fall. Their corrupt policies contributed to the highest unemployment in Europe, which currently stands at 17.6%
By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA
Associated Press Writer
January 4, 2006, 8:38 AM EST
WARSAW, Poland -- Poland's new conservative government will recall 10 ambassadors with links to communist-era authorities, the first such sweeping move in 16 years of democracy, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Stefan Meller decided to cut short the ambassadors' missions amid a broader attempt by the new government to purge state offices of ex-communists, ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski told The Associated Press.
Dobrowolski refused to identify the ambassadors being recalled, but Polish media identified them as the ambassadors to Algeria, Argentina, Britain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Israel, Lithuania and Slovenia.
The ambassador to Germany, Andrzej Byrt, has said publicly that he was informed his term was ending.
The ambassadors were "linked to communist-era special services or to the communist party" before communism's fall in 1989, Dobrowolski said.
"This means that to the current state authorities in charge of foreign policy, they have lost credibility as representatives of Poland," he said, adding that it was the first large-scale diplomatic recall for such political reasons since Poland's transition to democracy.
Marek Siwiec, adviser to the previous, ex-communist president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, described the decision as "disturbing, unprecedented" and "personal revenge."
New President Lech Kaczynski, a former anti-communist activist, was expected to approve the decision, which will take effect later this year.
The new government of Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz took office on a program that includes purging ex-communists from positions of influence.
Kaczynski, a co-founder of Marcinkiewicz's Law and Justice party, won the presidency on the same promises.
Unemployment rises in DecemberSo I really hope this move will be followed by a thorough cleanup. Something similar to debaathification that has been taking place in Iraq.
Warsaw, Poland January 6, 2006
Poland's unemployment rate measured 17.6% in December 2005, up from 17.3% in November, the Labour Ministry informed, citing preliminary data.
The number of unemployed stood at 2,774,462 persons and was 51,639 persons higher than in November.
The number of employed measured 12,973 mln persons.
Yesterday, the Ministry estimated the December unemployment rate at 17.4%-17.5%.
If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.A perfect start of what I hope will be a perfect year for this great country.
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