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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

July 23, 2004
Issues and Education

I think that by now most of us have figured out that protecting the environment isn't big on the Bush Administration's agenda. That makes it all the sweeter to read stories about individual states stepping up to the plate on the issue.

Is the situation in Taiwan heating up? It could be a spot to watch.

94 cases of confirmed prisoner abuse in Iraq and 39 deaths. It's still painful to read those headlines.

Army Calls Abuses of Detainees 'Aberrations'.

The study cites 94 cases of mistreatment, but incidents at Abu Ghraib are considered a single offense. Some senators doubt its thoroughness.

An Army investigation disclosed Thursday that it had reviewed nearly 100 cases involving prisoners in U.S. hands who were abused or died in custody in Iraq and elsewhere, but described the misconduct as "aberrations" committed by a few soldiers — not a systemic failure.

The report on the five-month investigation, the first of 11 inquiries sparked by sexual abuse and humiliation of war detainees in Iraq, was greeted with skepticism by Democrats and some Republicans in Congress who had expected a more critical look at the military prison system.

Some lawmakers privately questioned the timing of the report, which was released on the day the findings of the Sept. 11 commission dominated the news.

Although the investigation by Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, the Army's inspector general, made 52 recommendations for preventing abuses in the future, it blamed the abuses on "unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals, coupled with the failure of a few leaders to provide adequate monitoring, supervision, and leadership over those soldiers."

The whole thing has the stink of something being swept under the rug. The soldiers involved, the ones who were directed to behave in this way by their officers, deserve better. The tens of thousands of other enlisted people in our armed forces deserve a lot better.

However, the total number of abused prisoners is likely to be considerably higher. The report, for example, counts multiple incidents of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad as a single case.

It's difficult to be certain, but I think this is saying that, outside of what we heard about at Abu Ghraib, there were 93 other documented reports of prisoner abuse. I wonder where the other 93 happened?

But it does clarify that we're not talking about 94 total people abused...we're not being told how many individuals are involved. There were just 94 "incidents." If any other "incidents" were on the scale of Abu Ghraib (and even if they weren't), the fact that there were 94 incidents speaks to a helluva lot more than "a few soldiers" committing "isolated acts" of torture.

While regressive forces in the USofA fight to institutionalize discrimination against gays, in Germany, Out is OK. Even for politicians.

"Progressive Patriotism" is a nice start, but like most discussions of "who we oughta be" it merely (in my eyes) lays out the obvious without addressing any real mechanism for change. On the other hand, the article is enough to tempt me to buy the book.

Cliopatria's Jonathan Dresner entertains and educates. What's not to like?

And I disapprove of the Bush Administration's "No Child Learns Nothing" or whatever that mess of a piece of legislation was called.

I disapprove of privatization, I disapprove of 'standardized' testing (as though children are assembly line products), and I disapprove of vouchers.

The bottom line is, the problem with our educational system has been with us for decades and it's not going to get fixed until individual people vote "yes" when confronted with ballot initiatives to support school spending, until states put in decent systems of monitoring and funding schools, and until the Federal government cares about education all the time, not just when it's an election year.

The Bush Administration just got $417.5 billion dollars to use for killing people.* Imagine what just a few of those billions would have done for education in this country.

(* Okay, I know that's unfair. The military does more than kill people. Sometimes it works hard not to kill people. But they wouldn't miss a billion dollars, not out of a $417.5 billion dollar budget. Just think what could be done in some inner cities with that kind of money.)

I want to live in the kind of country when a school having to sell advertising space to Coke and Sony so it can afford to buy textbooks is just unthinkable. And entirely unnecessary.

And, speaking of money for the military and Iraq and all of that stuff, I meant to discuss this before. Billions for bullets, but why is the money we allocated for aid and, you know, reconstruction in Iraq not being spent?

Is it now that Congress has limited the Bush Administration's ability to shuffle money among military accounts to a measly $2 billion, and demanding accountability for any other shuffling, they're hoping we'll forget about the remaining $18 billion in unspent "aid" money, so they can play games with it? Admittedly that's a paranoid, cynical perspective, but of all the money we spent in Iraq, that $18.4 billion for aid and reconstruction was the only money I really approved of. I'm bitter and angry and it's not being used the way it was intended.

Ahem. That's enough for now.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:53 AM


Comments

Is it now that Congress has limited the Bush Administration's ability to shuffle money among military accounts to a measly $2 billion, and demanding accountability for any other shuffling, they're hoping we'll forget about the remaining $18 billion in unspent "aid" money, so they can play games with it? Admittedly that's a paranoid, cynical perspective, but of all the money we spent in Iraq, that $18.4 billion for aid and reconstruction was the only money I really approved of. I'm bitter and angry and it's not being used the way it was intended.

Anne - you're confusing appropriated, obligated, and spent and I don't think you have an appreciation for the cumbersome bureaucractic that serve a purpose but also insert inefficiencies into the system.

Appropriated = congress has funded and usually for a specific purpose in a specific program line (meaning you can't spend it on something else, even if better or more appropriate, w/o Congressional approval)

Obligated = awarded a contract, but have not spent the money

I'll spare you the spent part. The point is the like most organizations with periodic budgets, subelements try to "obligate" all the appropriated money by the end of the budget year so it's not taken away to give to another part of the organization (and the government has no incentive to "save" money). But they don't spend it until they actually have to pay the service provider (and then the check may be wrong, etc.)

If you look at testimony in June, DoD and State Dept officials stated about 5B was obligated and I think that is up to around 8B now that the CPA is gone and we have someone in place who has more experience in these matters.

So, what's the delay? Well, Congress earmarked the money for over 2,000 projects. If the people on the ground discover project X really isn't useful or doesn't need all the money, they have to go back and ask congress for permission to move the money (and it's not like Congress is always in session or the individual committees are meeting).

Now, add to this that we still have to follow the Federal Contracting rules which anyone familiar with government contracting at any level know are designed to ensure fair and open competition (and if there are protests from the folks who don't get the contract, there is also a long appeals process). The system tends to produce a "S" curve effect which means an initial lag in awarding contracts (especially the higher $ ones) and then as then a big surge followed by the last minute rush to obligate any $ before the end of the fiscal year. Oh, and throw in all the paperwork and processing time as well.

Of course, we could expedite the process with no-bid contracts but then you get the "Haliburton" effect which one side greatly overexaggerates for political purposes while the other side tends to deny that some mistakes and possible corrupt practices have occurred.

It's an interesting case study in checks and balances. I had some friends in the 4th ID who got some of the "found" money. They consistently made the point that if we for whatever reason damaged Iraqi infrastructure, the most effective manner to "win the hearts and minds" was to show up the next day with the cash and the local leadership (akin to the "union" folks) in order to negotiate on the spot a "contract" to fix it. End of story - people happy, people employed.

But imagine if they show up and go, well, we have to put this out for bid (10 days), and then review it (more time), and then...well, by that time, I suspect those folks aren't going to be as sympathetic to us.

My friends were scared though of being prosecuted and put in jail for doing arguably the right thing. They kept all kinds of records, but still took a lot of flak from the CPA folks.

I find it amazing that the folks on the ground understand the money is more important than ammunition in stability/humanitarian operations (as long as it can be 'fired' just as responsively as ammo) but Congress still funds money like it's peacetime and the Pentagon still budgets money using the system McNamara gave us over 40 years ago.

So, speaking of the 417B - you're right - it's a lot - but remember it's Congress (and the Senate vote was 96 to 0) that doles it out - even more than the President originally requested (the budget submission from GWB was for 401B in Jan) - So, where to find a Billion or two?

The Conference Report fully funds the Department’s Environmental Restoration programs at $1.3 billion, and includes $50 million above the budget request for cleanup at Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS).

We should keep that - don't want to be accused of not caring about the environment.

This amount includes $150 million for breast cancer research, $85 million for prostate cancer research, and $10 million for ovarian cancer research.

There's 245M that's probably not "defense" spending.

I think there's about 75M for humanitarian aid for Africa..

Ok Anne - I hope you realize I'm being satirical here - but the point is we could easily find a few billion - I'd start by waiting a few days and then reading all the press releases from the Senators extolling the pet projects they got money for in the budget.

If Congress was truly concerned with reducing defense spending, they could do a few things:

1. go to 2 year budgets - this alone prevents the "spend it all by 30 Sep" incentive were the military buys stuff it doesn't need (relative to other things) because heaven forbid you fail to spend 100% of your budget and actually give money back..

2. reduce the number of program elements that money is put against - the Army tried to put its capstone 18B modernization project as a single program - in that way, if one part was shaping up to be a dud, they could stop spending money on it and/or move money to the areas with more promise - but then Senator X of the state where the "dud" item was made would get all bent out of shape so he/she forces the Army to specifically develop a line for this pet project to ensure all the money is spent on it even if the Army says we think it's not a good idea..

3. Get the military out of doing non-military stuff..the military gets some of the money because over time, it has the largest group of trained and experience people to do things..so it gets saddled with doing things (and the money) even if another agency/department should have the lead

4. Consider adopting a concept like we do for farmers by paying folks NOT to produce..here's the issue..the industrial base cannot surge production short of WWII type funding and effort..ideally, we would like to buy things more as we need them (surge) as opposed to a regular stream for some items we don't - but in some instances, there is only one or two producers of a key subcomponent and if they don't get regular work, they fold up shop..So, we buy things just to keep a steady flow (and some would argue consistent revenues for publically traded defense companies) - but it would be cheaper to pay them to maintain the capability but without actually producing the item..I tried this argument on some congressional staffers who laughed at me until I asked them why then do we pay farmers not to grow certain crops..

Ok - mixing your posts, but from the previous entry:

And a ten billion dollar "military construction" bill which, whatever else it covers, apparently won't be covering expanded housing for military families

Umm..did you actually look at the appropriations bill when you made that comment?

Increase above President’s Request: $450 million (darn Congress again - but hey, Sen Murray already has a release on the 165M she got for Wash - must be up for reelection)

FAMILY HOUSING: $4.2 billion (42% of total bill), including:

$1.62 billion to fully fund family housing construction and construction improvements, supporting 18 privatization projects and eliminating over 34,500 inadequate housing units.

$2.5 billion for operation and maintenance of existing units.

Also,

$1.02 billion for barracks construction

$321 million in environmental cleanup

But if your point is why is the government in the business of building homes which costs the government about 2-3 times as much as if they merely went out into the private sector and bought similar homes, I agree -

The government runs the 4th largest grocery chain in the US - why is that??

Ok - I could agree with you on the private contractors, but at least Congress is doing a little oversight (wonder where that concept was for those folks who were on the intelligence committees)

The Conference Report directs the Secretary of Defense to provide a report to the congressional defense committees regarding military structure, training, and job specialties for handling prisoners and managing prisons, and related matters.

o The Conference Report directs classified and unclassified reviews regarding U.S. financial assistance to the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and alleged intelligence compromises involving the INC.

Thanks for suffering through my rants for those (if any!) who've made it this far, but indulge me one last rant.

Anne - Have you actually been to the School of the Americas (actually now called WHINSEC)? Or read the course of instruction manuals? Or talk with any of the instructors? Or read any of the dozens of oversight organizations' reports on the institutue?


I hope you at least checked out their web page as well as the historical files on the SOA before blindly accepting a poorly researched and extremely biased article.

http://www-benning.army.mil/whinsec/about.asp?id=37


You can actually sign up to visit WHINSEC you know.


From the old SOA historical records:

(and not to SHOUT, but my points in CAPs to distinguish because I just can't figure out that text box technology)

The School has been in existence for over 50 years and has graduated over 60,000 students. Less than one percent of those students have ever been linked to human rights violations. Fewer still have had allegations substantiated against them.

WONDER IF ALL SEMINARIES CAN MAKE THAT CLAIM?

IF THIS WAS A TORTURE SCHOOL, WE SHOULD SHUT IT DOWN FOR A LOUSY RECORD.

Graduates who have committed human rights abuses are individually responsible for their actions--there has never been a link established between training received at the School and subsequent human rights abuses by graduates.

WOW - A NOVEL POINT - ADULTS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS

What about the "torture" manuals--don't they prove that the School taught students to abuse human rights?

An analysis of the manuals concluded there were no indications, or even suggestions, that "torture" was acceptable. When "torture" is mentioned, it is to warn the reader not to use it under any circumstances. The manual titled "Interrogation" has an entire chapter devoted to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The Department of Defense (DoD) has acknowledged that approximately two dozen short passages (out of over 1100 pages of text) contained material that was either inconsistent, or could be interpreted to be inconsistent, with U.S. policy. Two investigations were conducted specifically to discover how this material surfaced within the School. The first was conducted by the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Intelligence Oversight) as soon as the Army discovered the manuals in 1991. Completed in March 1992, it concluded that there had been no concerted effort by the DoD or the U.S. Army (to include the U.S. Army School of the Americas) to violate U.S. and DoD policies, and no individual liability was assessed. The results of the investigation were reported to both the appropriate Congressional Oversight Committees and to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board. In 1996, the Secretary of Defense directed the DoD Inspector General (IG) to conduct further investigations into the manuals and the material contained therein. The DoD IG report concurred with the previous report and its conclusions.

Sorry, it was Congress and President Clinton who authorized the name change - want to charge them with being part of a 'smoke screen?'

Goodness, maybe we should go back and hold Harvard accountable for the UNABOMBER...

Posted by: Col Steve at July 24, 2004 01:12 AM

Col. Steve,

Have you considered opening a blog of your own?

Anne: Thanks for the link. I'll have a longer piece on grade inflation and testing coming out on HNN in the near future, by the way, which I think you'll enjoy.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at July 24, 2004 08:57 PM

this quote from Barbara Miner in the article is striking:

The only area where Democrats have differentiated themselves from Republicans is their opposition to vouchers, a significant difference that is the educational equivalent of support for abortion rights when discussing women’s issues.

Umm..so in deciding on the fate of her body, a woman must have choice..it's a good thing..we don't want the state limiting her choices....but in deciding the fate of her children's education, choice is not a good thing..we just have to throw more money at the one option the state gives her..

The point is choice, isn't it? Vouchers are not a universal solution, but why limit the options one brings to solving these problems?

Here's part of the abstract from John Witte who was one of the official evaluators of Milwaukee's voucher program (interesting the writer of the article you linked is from Milwaukee too)..

Milwaukee, one of the nation's most segregated metropolitan areas, implemented in 1990 a school choice program aimed at improving the education of inner-city children by enabling them to attend a selection of private schools. The results of this experiment, however, have been overshadowed by the explosion of emotional debate it provoked nationwide. In this book, John Witte provides a broad yet detailed framework for understanding the Milwaukee experiment and its implications for the market approach to American education. In a society supposedly devoted to equality of opportunity, the concept of school choice or voucher programs raises deep issues about liberty versus equality, government versus market, and about our commitment to free and universal education. Witte brings a balanced perspective to the picture by demonstrating why it is wrongheaded to be pro- or anti-school choice in the abstract. He explains why the voucher program seems to be working in the specific case of Milwaukee, but warns that such programs would not necessarily promote equal education--and most likely harm the poor--if applied universally, across the socioeconomic spectrum.

The book begins with a theoretical discussion of the provision of education in America. It goes on to situate the issue of school choice historically and politically, to describe the program and private schools in Milwaukee, and to provide statistical analyses of the outcomes for children and their parents in the experiment. Witte concludes with some persuasive arguments about the importance of specifying the structural details of any choice program and with a call supporting vouchers for poor inner-city children, but not a universal program for all private schools.


Similar with standardized testing..look at the work done by Prof Hanushek from Stanford..

"The current policy debate about accountability of schools for student outcomes has led to a variety of research “findings,” but some of the findings have no scientific basis. A prime example is the recent report by Audrey Amrein and David Berliner that purports to demonstrate that high stakes testing may actually harm rather than help students. The work underscores the necessity of insisting on rigorous scientific research as the basis of important policy decisions.

· Careful analysis shows that students in states with high-stakes and even low-stakes accountability systems for schools performed significantly better in mathematics achievement on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests than those in states without stakes.

· Just correctly applying Amrein and Berliner’s underlying approach to all of the data on NAEP achievement reverses their conclusions.

· The actual analysis of Amrein and Berliner is fraught with serious measurement and reporting errors, resulting in successful states being labeled incorrectly as failures.

· Amrein and Berliner’s misleading reporting practices took on new importance when the media dutifully broadcast the results as they were written. "

"Analysis of state achievement growth as measured by the National Assessment of Educational progress shows that accountability systems introduced during the 1990s had a clear positive impact on student achievement. This single policy instrument did not, however, also lead to any narrowing in the black-white achievement gap (though it did narrow the Hispanic-white achievement gap). Moreover, the black-white gap appears to have been harmed over the decade by increasing minority concentrations in the schools."

It's a tool, not the sole policy solution..both sides get trapped into a single solution centric mentality instead of looking at a combination of policies that fit in different ways depending on the unique characteristics of the locality.

I'm not a believer in the federal government trying to simply throw more money at the problem with vague accountability standards. But in looking at Miner's recommendations, some questions come to mind:

What is adequate? How do you know when a school is teaching adequately? If you don't like standardized test, what performance measures do you use?

What is equitable? Some states like Vermont went to a state-wide per student $ amount - but the school districts that were spending more found themselves in a dilemma - cut programs like art and music or raise more money locally - but then the State taxed them on local money - so the effect is to drag down higher spending schools to a lowest common denominator - not quite the intended effect..

Jonathan - I'll have to get over to your blog on grade inflation - it was/is a topic of interest to me seeing it appear in different forms both at graduate school and then teaching at both a military academy and then a local community college..

I may try my own blog if DR let's up a little or when I retire..but you all keep me busy enough in addition to two little ones..

Posted by: Col Steve at July 24, 2004 11:43 PM

"Imagine what just a few of those billions would have done for education in this country."

Can you provide a link to what you consider the best, most intelligent article that argues for Federal control of American education? This is one of those issues where I'm out of step with my fellow progressives and I wish I could better understand where they are coming from. What are the persuasive reasons for running America's schools from Washington? Why not leave education to the state and local authorities?

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 25, 2004 01:16 PM

I hope no one replies to my last comment with "Congress should provide education funds to the States but leave actual control of the schoosl to State and local authorities." We all know that once Congress starts to fund something, then slowly, over time, it increasingly asserts control over that thing.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 25, 2004 01:36 PM

There's a lot of stuff here I'm going to think about before I answer it, but this, from Col Steve, seemed to need immediate attention.

Have you actually been to the School of the Americas (actually now called WHINSEC)? Or read the course of instruction manuals? Or talk with any of the instructors? Or read any of the dozens of oversight organizations' reports on the institutue?

No, of course not. As I've made it clear to Jonathan before :) my primary learning strategy at the moment is to post something without really thinking about it, and then sit back and let the erudite and well-informed readership of this blog educate me.

Okay, maybe that's not exactly true, but in truth it's hard for me to identify my own pre-established prejudices or unspoken assumptions. I normally identify them when someone calls me on posting something that conforms to my "beliefs" but which is not, in fact, "true".

There are only 24 hours in a day, and I have to spend far too many of those hours either working or sleeping. I don't have time to become an expert on every subject that interests me (I wasted 4 hours this weekend on a book review I eventually realized I wasn't going to use), so I pick other people's brains.

Therefore, since I "know" that the School of the Americas is a training ground for mercenaries and assassins, I didn't feel the need to research it before posting about it. Everyone "knows" that. Everyone has "known" it for decades. I've been reading casual references to it for years, myself, even though I didn't normally read on USofA policy or politics at that time. (Pre-blog, the USofA wasn't one of my "areas of interest.")

That the School of the Americas was a heinous and near-criminal organization organized by the CIA to train people in dirty tricks and revolution was "common knowledge" which didn't seem to me to need any investigation.

Your own defence is persuasive but I'll have to read the material in the links and do some research, which makes "WHINSEC" #7 on the list of "projects" vying for my time.

I'm just saying, okay? I'm not being willfully misleading or evil. I'm just under-informed.

Posted by: Anne at July 26, 2004 09:24 AM

Also, Col Steve, you can use whatever method you want to identify quoted text, but if you're interested, the "text boxes" are created using:

blockquote (to begin)
/blockquote (to end)

with each word surrounded by the sideways carets usual to html coding.

(Can't show you them, the comments function thinks I'm trying to write an html command, but they're the ones over the comma (to open) and the period (to close), of course.)

Posted by: Anne at July 26, 2004 09:28 AM

I tend to put quotes in italics, which requires a few less keystrokes:

<i> This text is italic </i>

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 26, 2004 02:05 PM

Anne was suggesting you do this:

<blockquote>


This text appears in an indented box

</blockquote>

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 26, 2004 02:08 PM

Thanks, Lawrence. I didn't know how to make it show the code!

Posted by: Anne at July 26, 2004 04:23 PM

Anne/Lawrence:

Thanks for showing an old (almost 40) dog new tricks

We'll see after I hit post whether I qualify for federal funds by the no poster left behind standard

Posted by: Col Steve at July 26, 2004 10:28 PM
Hope this isn't on a standardized test
Posted by: Col Steve at July 26, 2004 10:32 PM

If it shows up on a test, you're ready for it. :)

Posted by: Anne at July 27, 2004 08:16 AM

" Thanks for showing an old (almost 40) dog new tricks"

I'm 37, so if this old, I guess it's one old dog to another.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 27, 2004 10:23 AM

Lawrence said:

Can you provide a link to what you consider the best, most intelligent article that argues for Federal control of American education? This is one of those issues where I'm out of step with my fellow progressives and I wish I could better understand where they are coming from. What are the persuasive reasons for running America's schools from Washington? Why not leave education to the state and local authorities?

Nope. :)

I'd have to do research to find a source on-line. My opinion was formed ten years or more ago and embarassingly enough I no longer remember what I was researching. I just remember it was a "side-line" investigation at the time.

Briefly, though, it's tied up to a large extent with my belief in federal power. I think things are best left to the federal government when, if handled by the state governments, they would result in massive and systematic inequalities between states.

As I think I've mentioned on this blog before, one of the best reasons for federal "equalizing" is to keep the country united. If people in a wealthy state give their children great education that helps them succeed while people in poor states can barely teach writing, then you only exacerbate "class" divisions in the country.

What I'd prefer, of course, is that everyone be educated up to the maximum the country can afford but in spite of insisting in polls that "education" is a primary concern, voters consistently vote down education-destined money in local ballot initiatives. So the federal government should step in and make sure the money is there.

I don't trust Tennessee or Utah (or Kansas, with all of this "teach 'creationism' dammit!" nonsense) but the balance of pressures from the different states with differing interest can be used to make sure that the general quality of education mandated by the federal government all across the country is good.

It isn't working out that way, but the basic premise is, I still believe, correct.

It's implementation where we've fallen down and I insist (without in any way meaning to downplay the importance of defence) that we need to care as much about schools as we do about bombs.

Our future is in our schools and we're not headed in the right direction.

Posted by: Anne at July 27, 2004 07:13 PM