Educational Policy Discussion Without Pedagogical Context?

Paul Manna has aptly named his book, “Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities”– the very title reflects the haphazard propulsion of educational endeavors in the US educational system. He details a number of frustrations with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), including it’s tendency to lower expectations of students, rather than maintain them, or to distort the approaches of teachers, focusing on material and testing, rather than focusing on our long-valued, well rounded liberal arts education, or teaching students as individuals. The only notable lack in his analysis is that there is no explanation of pedagogy to contextualize pedagogical strains created by NCLB. His analysis claims three major positive influences of NCLB including a push for administrators, state officials, and teachers to narrow the achievement gaps between disadvantaged student groups and the rest of the students, the forcing of “educational bureaucracies to improve their technical abilities,” and in places where NCLB was adopted fully, necessary but difficult policy and administrative changes were pushed through because of NCLB’s requirements and Federal backing. His points are very well contextualized, although they may take a careful reading by readers unfamiliar with educational policy and issues in the US. His greatest strength is the balance of sources used to illustrate his points, and show the difficulties of NCLB. He utilizes statistical data, but complements it with simple explanations, and clear anecdotes, providing not only his careful analysis of what is actually going on, but including the public’s reaction to NCLB. While the book could easily be many times larger than it is, it covers the material well, and provides readers with a far better understanding of the complex issues, as well as the benefits and drawbacks, attending the No Child Left Behind Act.

The author takes some time in getting there, but he reconstructs the frustration over the restriction of available time and resources for primary and secondary teachers alike – and he does so with remarkable concision, encompassing the issues and providing analysis based on statistics. However, he does so only after reminding the readers of the various criticisms of the act. He quotes historian David McCollough, who asserts that history as a core subject has fallen by the way side because of the heavy focus on English and math. Others referenced by the auther claim that civic education is also markedly lacking, and even President Obama was quoted, saying that the liberal arts education his generation enjoyed is rapidly becoming non-existent for our youth today.1

These reflect the common statements heard in newspapers, classrooms, and staff room discussions all over the US today, but Manna continues, explaining that these conclusions, although anecdotal, are actually well supported by most of the quantitative data available. Most school districts showed decreases in art classes as well as science and social studies, commonly dropping an entire hour or more per week in those subjects. He also details the exceptions to the general support of that quantitative data. He details the achievements of the Osmond A. Church Elementary and Middle School, showing the reader that it is possible to focus on a new, NCLB driven curriculum that is both geared toward improving English and math skills, while maintaining gains in all areas, and serving a typically disadvantaged student population.

Manna’s observations aside, the ramifications for teachers are enormous – lesson planning by itself was already a difficult task. Pedagogy as a context is never addressed within his work, but such is important to fully grasp the nature of the struggle not only in the bureaucratic circles, but in the classroom. Teachers struggle to include all students, and remember to ‘teach students and not lessons’ is complicated by these new restrictions and pressures. From a pedagogical perspective, one can note that the solution lies in complex approaches to lesson planning and presentation, as well as grading programs and individual attention to students. This raises the bar, not only for students, but for teachers. Teachers who have traditionally had the freedom to design their own lesson plans must be clever to maintain what freedom in that realm they can. If one knows anything about pedagogy at all, it is hard to avoid these conclusions, despite Manna never addressing pedagogy directly.

Manna also points out that despite many conflicts and “tensions” generated by the legislation, NCLB has also driven some positive changes, assisting the reader in understanding complex political and educational interconnections. The positive benefits from NCLB include a focus on what has been called in educational circles ‘the achievement gap’. It has been tackled again and again, but students from lower socioeconomic positions have consistently scored poorly on tests, done poorly in school, and often fail to continue their education after high school. Central to NCLB’s attempt to narrow this gap in performance is the requirement for states to divide their reports on testing results into student categories, including minority groups, students with disability, students from low-income homes, and ESL students.2 This allows various government agencies, as well as local administration and educators, to monitor this achievement gap closely. Various looming consequences for failing to improve all (or the vast majority) of these groups from year to year (the term used here is Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP) ensures quite a focus on the achievement gap, although that focus may or may not be effectively utilized toward improving student performance. His writing indicates that the legislation and the accountability measures in particular are flawed, but that the overall effect is a tension is generated within the educational system that is slowly changing our attitudes about how to go about education, testing, pedagogy, and administration.

Manna explains some of the nature of educational bureaucracies. These state and local administrative components to our educational system are varied across the nation, and examining the impact of NCLB requires that one look at each state individually. The act’s requirement for AYP meant that each state had to have a new accountability system, either in addition to, or as a replacement or adaptation of, their original system. Each state chose their own plan, and most, in seeking a way to measure this progress, actually contracted out that process. This complicated matters, because the testing agencies, while paid to do this, are certainly not perfect, indeed, they may not even be considered experts. This caused many school districts and states concern when inaccuracies in testing materials or grading processes resulted in problems with NCLB, namely inaccurate sanctions or poor ratings. Despite all of this, or rather because of these problems originating within state bureaucracies and their adjuvant contracts, the states have taken closer looks at how they measure performance, and who is doing the measuring. Most states concluded that their own systems were disconnected, disparate pieces, with little effective capacity for “tracking and integrating sometimes even basic information about their students and teachers.” Manna says that 39 states reported better data tracking systems because of NCLB’s influence. Some of these changes came with difficulty, as administrative and policy changes often do. This point, with connections throughout the book, is perhaps the best illustrated point, and the most necessary of discussions, if NCLB is continue in any effective direction.

Policy changes and administrative changes were also goals, for schools whose educational ‘culture’ was ‘broken’. On pages 85 and 86, Manna relates the common ‘restructuring’ moves made by many schools: replacing a principle, and occasionally other administrative staff, along with various teachers and other employees. He notes that the attempts made at restructuring were varied, some schools attempted very little, but others were able to use Federal backing to push through big changes. The explanation follows about a school shutdown and restart in Michigan. Manna draws a heavy contrast between schools’ typical actions (or lack thereof), and what NCLB actually seemed to call for – which few school districts utilized. Bureaucracies and state employees are notoriously difficult to change, or fire, yet NCLB attempts to change that. Manna is effective in explaining how NCLB makes that possible, primarily through the use of these anecdotes.

Smooth transitions and clear connections, here and throughout the work, exemplify Manna’s ability for tying examples and stories to the theoretical framework and interactions at the policy level itself. To create his framework, assumptions about human nature are made, but are never clearly articulated in a broad, philosophical sense; rather, they are exemplified through the various anecdotes utilized. The stories are wide and varied, and range over a variety of human behavior, pointing to a view that says humans are flexible and varied. Such is integral to his analysis, as discussion of human nature never enters the conversation. Instead, his analysis tells us that the way we structure accountability systems, conflict and confrontation, education and the classroom, not to mention testing for proficiency, all can have marked impacts not only on the students in the education system, but on the adults administrating it and teaching within in it.

1 Paul Manna, Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities (Washington D.C.: CQ Press, 2011), 116.

2 Ibid, 23.

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Bicycle: A literal and figurative vehicle for change.

Since April of 2010, I have been riding my bicycle almost everywhere I go. Occasionally I have borrowed the car, or hopped on the bus instead, simply because it was that cold, wet, or snowy, but I have largely been going to school via bicycle, even in the dead of winter.

Part of the decision process was that I wanted my wife to have transportation while I was in school during the day. I began biking to school for summer block last year, in what was usually an 8 or 9-mile round trip. I often wouldn’t come straight home, but instead would visit one of the local bicycle shops, Racer’s Cycle Service. There I met Racer (that’s actually his legal name, as I understand). Racer organized a group ride on Tuesday nights, going up to Squaw Peak Landing, along a road that varies between a 9 and 14% grade. This is very steep, and none of the riders waited for anyone– it was a bit of a race. I was dead last, every time. My poor legs didn’t have the stamina to keep up the sort of monumental effort it took to move upward so quickly (these guys were fast). The trail has an elevation gain of roughly 1600 feet, over about 4.2 miles, not including the ride to the trail, which is a very gradual slope that is almost imperceptible, at least most of the way.

It took me 40 minutes the first time I went up that trail, and it took me 35-36 minutes on my best time– but it was great cross training for the Logan Marathon that I did in the fall. Coming back down that road, we would fly, traveling at speeds I’ve never reached on my bicycle anywhere else– probably close to 50 mph (roughly 80 kph). Racer and the others always beat me by at least 4 minutes. I think that Racer was impressed that I stuck with it– week after week, dead last, with the hill practically wiping me out by the time I got to the top. Here I was riding a commuter/cyclocross/touring bike, while everyone else had some high-end, sleek bike that was at least partially carbon fiber.

Toward the end of Summer, in late July, I was hit by a car. I also had an accident coming down Squaw Peak road. Both of these made me rethink cycling. I decided that despite an auto collision that could have been much worse, and a solo accident that left me with internal bleeding which formed a hard lump in my side that stuck around for about 10 weeks, that I wanted to keep biking. The solo accident that bruised my side really badly was only 6 or 8 weeks before the Logan Marathon, and I wondered if I could keep training. But I was out the next evening, running a fiver with Ben. He thought the bruise was ghastly, but I felt much better after having run– especially the following day.

Later that year, after the evening group rides were over, it got cold, and icy, and snow, and wet. I decided in the fall that I wanted to ride through the winter, and I began looking for ways to prepare my bike for the arduous activity. I needed knobby tires for my commuter– which, although a little unusual, has become far more common with the advent of Cyclocross. Racer actually just gave me an old, halfway worn out tire that he wasn’t going to use, nor likely sell, which I put on the front wheel, for better steering traction. I put my fenders on, and cleaned the bike thoroughly  (I didn’t anticipate being able to clean it until the end of winter– too busy with school/ cold outside). My first ride in the snow was intense; I went 12 miles or so, down to Provo, and back up to Orem– most of the time I had clear roads, or would avoid riding in snow on days that it was really wet.

Riding in the cold was awful. I intend that next winter I have little windshields for my hands– even gloves couldn’t keep the wind chill out. Most of the time, my 180 ear muffs and my leather jacket would do the trick– on the coldest days I had to wear a hoodie under the leather jacket. Let me tell you, leather jackets are the best for keeping out wind chill.

After Christmas break, I was working in the writing lab, and a student came in. His name was Zac, and he was studying blue collar and white collar work, Marxism, and politics in general. We looked over his proposal for a conference paper, and I found myself very interested in his views. I ran into him later in the hall, and started talking to him– I found out that he was way into bicycles and interested in education, too. Education is a big deal to me, and we talked just about anytime I ran into him for a couple of months. We’ve become good buddies at this point, and I’ve joined the Provo Bicycle Committee, which Zac organized for the purpose of promoting tolerance and awareness of cyclists of all-kinds, as well as a love of bike culture. I love the bike committee, and I really like talking to Zac and learning about what’s going on in bicycle circles, both here in Provo, and elsewhere.

Fun times. Let’s talk about the changes that happened

Change 1: Even here in Utah, I went through the winter without using the car much. Between the bus system and my bike, I got everywhere I needed to go. I now believe that year-round cycling is possible in more places than I would have before. I decided that wherever I live, I want to be within 35 minutes of work via bike.

Change 2: I spent more time exercising this winter. I run three times a week, and usually after thanksgiving and before Valentine’s Day, I have a hard time keeping it up– especially because none of my running buddies (I’ve tried running with 4 different people) want to in the winter either– so I’m less motivated. This drop-off makes it harder to get going in the spring. This spring I took even longer to start up again, because I was so busy with school and work, but that’s beside the point.

Change 3: In the winter, it’s dark a lot– I had to get lights for riding at night in Autumn, and riding in the dark with lights is an interesting experience– it makes me think about traffic and cycling in new ways, although I haven’t thought all that through. I did read an article about a guy without lights who was hit and killed in the winter, which made me even more wary.

Change 4: After my auto-collision (low-speed, probably him at 4-6 miles an hour and me at 10 or 12), I decided that it was important that I learn carefully the traffic laws, and figure out how to be safer. I think the accident was a 50/50 fault, and the guy was pretty accommodating (he volunteered to help pay for a new rim, so long as I didn’t sue him– which I really didn’t want to do anyway). I became interested in bike safety and bike culture.

Change 5: I became converted, to a full-time cyclist, after meeting Zac and learning what it was he was doing for the community, as well as what communities in various places do for bicycles and how they benefit from bicycles (Amsterdam, Portland, Boulder Colorado). As Zac says, the bicycle is a literal and figurative vehicle for change– and I’m sure he stole that from someone else, but I now know that it’s true.

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Corporate Control of Downtown

I’m frustrated with NuSkin’s recent purchase of an entire downtown block in Provo. It seems clear that it would be an unreasonable expectation to hope them to develop that area with community interests in mind (Not that they won’t try– and it seems like the plan they have in mind is preferable to what another large business might prefer).

I am not interested in Provo’s downtown area becoming a giant corporate shopping and business center, like Salt Lake’s city center is, and while the construction of the new conference center downtown is something with which I’m far more willing to say ‘wait and see’, Brigham book and copy, Pioneer Book and their new cafe that they just added last year, as well as several other small businesses, will either move, or possibly even disappear.

The simple fact that NuSkin is a corporate entity makes me wary of their involvement, as their building project is something over which the public has no direct say, and little recourse by other means.

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A Treatise on Freedom

In the course of any philosophical discussion the inevitable issue of freedom comes up. This discussion is comprised of a number of elements, including liberty, freedom, and free will. I reject Determinism in any form. Determinism says that we are a product of our environment or our genetics, and that therefore our choices are predetermined. If one wishes to make a difference in the world, one must assume that there are various possible futures, and therefore must reject this philosophy. It is of course undeniable that our environment and our genetics certainly have impacts on our decisions. Ultimately, our choices are not crafted entirely by our own actions, because all choices are shaped and constructed by our environment itself, which of course includes the decisions of others, as well as the historical trends and forces that have shaped the current environment.

Assuming that we are free entities despite these influences on our decisions, there are, as previously established, two elements to freedom. First is liberty. Liberty is the possibility of a decision in an abstract sense. For example, I am at liberty to construct a sandwich. However, if I have not the bread, or jam, or other various condiments that could be placed in a sandwich, then I have not the power to construct said sandwich. It remains beyond my reach. Freedom is a combination then, of possibility, or liberty, and available means, or power. Freedom is dearly prized, but often misunderstood. The famous and the unknown alike have attempted to explain it, as well as methods to achieve it, presumably for as long as man has pondered anything at all. Yet, for so many, it is elusive. From all gamuts of political thought, including Marxism, we find seekers of freedom. With these constructions of liberty, power, and freedom, and observing the nature of man’s decisions as primarily motivated by emotion rather than some abstract sense of rationality, one must conclude that a Marxist state’s centralization of authority will lead to the demise of liberty within said state, and hence, freedom.

Marxist thought has been oft analyzed and subjected to a great deal of scrutiny. Marx’s constructions seem concerned with the nature of man, and his freedom. But in what sense? It often seems unclear. Freedom from oppression is perhaps first and foremost. Marx can easily be said to be seeking an escape for the proletariat from economic oppression– from a system of labor and production by which he is alienated from his work, and hence, from his very self. Thus, Marxism seeks freedom as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Marx could more accurately be said to be seeking power, to attain freedom.

For it seems that it is in creation, in work itself, that man defines himself, and creates his or her very identity. Most artists will affirm that it is their work in which they define themselves. A mother with children to take care of is defined, and finds a large portion of her identity in the work she does for them and with them. A father could be the same, although we might often say that he should be, rather than is such. A career is often quite the defining aspect in one’s life. One might say, I am a reporter, a teacher, an entrepreneur. Yet, the choice to become any of these things is, generally speaking, dependent upon society’s constructions of methods to attain these identities, not to mention the definitions of the identities themselves. Marxist humanism then, is centered around the thought that it is through man’s work that man’s identity is found. Indeed, man’s work is inextricably intertwined with his very being. Marx’s concern for man’s opportunity, or rather, his freedom to be what he wishes to be, is a valid one.

Noting that Marxism seeks freedom as a means to an end, towards the reduction of the alienation of self, rather than freedom as an end in itself, one finds hints at the reason for the rise of the Totalitarian state. This is precisely the reason for which a centralized and socialized State will inevitably relinquish its hope of freedom as a means to the end of alienation, instead resorting to manipulation, control of information and resources, and ultimately, violence, to maintain control of the State. The legitimacy of claims of freedom then become increasingly untenable, as power is centralized and consolidated.

Marx’s approach was to advocate the establishment of a governing force— to throw off the shackles of economic oppression by seizing the means of production— by seizing power. Concentrate economic power in the hands of the State, and in controlling the State, you will control economic conditions and alleviate the oppressive circumstances. While the concentration of power in the hands of the proletariat could certainly alleviate the economic oppression the working class have endured, there are concerns as to how to accomplish this. In response to this apparent vacuum in Marx’s writings, Lenin proposed a process by which the natural leaders of the proletariat form what he called a ‘Vanguard Party’ to safeguard and promote the cause of the proletariat, who is often not trained or capable in the fields of political construction or governmental management.

This is inherently problematic, in that this Vanguard becomes a fairly exclusive club, who in most historical cases, seem to have been more interested with the maintenance of their own power than the very lack of freedom which concerned Marx. The foundational positions of Marxism cannot be propagated and freedom will not continue unless free market forces are suppressed or controlled. However, the establishment of a one-party Socialist state is then prone to the very destruction of the freedoms it seeks to create, through the intentional or unintentional abuse of the centralized power and control of the State. The intentional abuse of power is a familiar and frustrating problem, but there are other conditions under which concentrated power is problematic.

There are reasons, found within human nature and social behaviors, that those in power will attempt to remain in power. Motivations in and of themselves, can be fairly benign, or in the case of more ambitious men, rather malign. Contributing factors to the continued control of societal structures and powers are at their core, elements of human nature. The influence of individuals upon others is ultimately a matter over which institutions and societal structures can have little control.

The influential are not by nature influential only because they have position and wealth. It is because they wield with great grace and force the tools of demagoguery, persuasion, leadership, charisma, and determination. The ambition of the individual, and the liberty of the group to look to them as problem-solvers, leaders, and finally rulers, is an inevitable occurence resulting from the all too common exercise of choice without rationale and without care. Human beings are not rational— at their core, their very motivations to do any and all things are generated by emotions— such are not restrained, nor ruled, by intellect. Intellect is no superior control to emotional states— no, in it’s best form it is a pruner, a shaper. Without acknowledgement of this truth, Marx of necessity, defeats itself— for old class distinctions, once based on political power, and economic power, are now no longer ever opposed to each other. And by the very philosophical position on governmental power which Marx takes, the preservation of individual liberties takes a back seat to communal power.

Therefore, the class of political elites, of elite thinkers, organizers, problem-solvers and leaders, degenerates into a ruling, upper class once again. For these leaders can not be expected to understand and mete and measure the accountability necessary for them to maintain good leadership. Such is beyond the bounds of reasonable human expectation: we cannot expect that one man should know always and consistently what is best for another by reasoning and feelings alone, and leadership’s elevated status makes it ever more difficult for one to perceive the possible wrongs and problems that his decisions create. Leaders are distanced from the consequences of their decisions by the nature of their image in the eyes of their followers, and, through reinforcement of ideals, his image in his own eyes. In addition, the distance from the community that comes with a centralized power structure, and the nature of power over others itself, contributes to the difficulty of governance of any kind.

The nature of the Marxist conception of power and leadership by its very nature assumes a kind of leadership ultimately devoid of adequate respect for liberty, and therefore, for freedom.

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I’m going to brand my blog…

This may be a while in the making. I’m still brainstorming, and I’m trying to figure out exactly how to say what I want in just a word or two. The idea here is that subjectivity is an important element in all judgements,  and especially in testing students. I intend to change the face of American Education, one student, one teacher, one school at a time.
I believe we all need more freedom in deciding how we are to be educated, and we need a larger variety of resources at our fingertips– not in the sense that they are accessible, but in the sense that they are recognized by the community at large as being useful and good. Supporting the system that’s in place will only get us so far– we need to be creating and building our own systems, communities, and legacies– we need to build things so amazingly good, relatively stable, and adaptable–that put the individual at the heart of what we do, without ignoring or trampling on the needs of society as a whole– that these new systems and institutions crowd out the old by being so clearly superior, that the old system crumbles and gives way to the new.
We need more liberty in our schooling options. We need to recognize all schooling as such. In Utah, parents can send their children to high school for some classes, but homeschool them for the rest, effectively mixing and matching however works best for them. Public school needs to be there– not all parents can teach all subjects, but it needs to be more focused on community activity and real education, rather than some sort of socializing program meant to produce graduates in factory fashion. The system needs to be more flexible in many ways, and making homeschool mixable with public school is just one step, there are many more.
Back to testing– true mastery of a subject is shown by two things, in my opinion. The first is if one can clearly and carefully construct a paper about the subject. The second is if one can teach that subject to another. We need mentoring programs in our schools– programs that aren’t weekend getaways, but daily and weekly activities assisting other students in understanding material and concepts. We need our tests to focus more on the construction of questions and clear thought, than the memorizing of names, dates, and other information. These tests need to be subjective. Even in math, the skill of looking at a situation and defining the relationships of various pieces of the problem, and then constructing a formula receives very little attention, while drilling algebraic concepts that many of us go on to never use again is favored above all else. Maybe if we taught why math was important and how it can connect us to our world we’d see more people interested in going into mathematic-related fields, rather than plowing through calculus class so they can go on to become an accountant somewhere crunching numbers all day (nothing against accountants here– but the finance sector is pretty top-heavy here in the US, and it doesn’t actually produce anything– it’s really about providing a set of services– good ones, but perhaps overvalued at the expense of other things).
This has been a bit disorganized, but I hope you get a sense of the driving concepts and ideas here.
Below you will find various ideas for blog branding– feel free to suggest your own.

—————–

Suggestions and ideas include:

The Landlocked Philosopher – Submitted by my Brother -in-law.

The Gamut – Submitted by my Sister-in-law and her husband.

Polytical (amalgamation of Political and Analytical)

Educated Wannabe Cowboy

Beyond Clarity

Subjective Clarity

Tools for Subjective Judgement

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Fighting Police-State tendencies… Utah’s House Bill 59

Recently, Utah State Representative Stephen G. Handy has  proposed a bill to, in his own words: “allow for police officers to perform their duties in pursuing arrests for criminal activity that did not occur in their presence. This may sound alarming . However, there are many instances in which we allow police to pursue arrests in this manner.”

This is misleading. While there may be problematic language with what is currently on the books and what policemen should be able to do, as evidenced by three examples Handy provides, the proposed legislation is dangerous and risky. Currently policemen have authority to arrest someone upon probable cause of a Felony or a Class A Misdemeanor. These seem like relatively reasonable lines to draw, but the bill that has been proposed would change these limits. The first change is from probable cause to reasonable cause or reasonable suspicion, as it is more commonly called. This might bother me, but I’ll hold off judgement on this portion of the bill, because I haven’t studied law, and I’d have to study that and think about it for a bit to decide if that’s a reasonable change.

The other change is what troubles me– and, in the common vernacular: It is not cool. The bill “amends a peace officer’s authority to make an arrest without a warrant upon reasonable cause by providing that this authority includes any misdemeanor, rather than current law which grants the authority to arrest upon reasonable cause to class A misdemeanors and felonies.” Given what Class B and C Misdemeanors include, this makes me very opposed to the bill, because police authority could then be abused far too easily.

In the Deseret News comments section online, one ‘John C.C.’ from Payson says:

Sample Class B misdemeanors: Illegal fireworks, gambling, writing a bad check, possessing a keg of beer, retail theft, possession of marijuana, road racing, failure of public official to disclose conflict of interest, disturb the legislature, do business without a license, damage a government survey marker, damage a road sign, fornication, false fire alarm, minor graffiti, let your kids sluff school, fishing w/o license.

Sample Class C misdemeanor: speed, leave your neighbors gate open, use vulgar language on a bus, misnumber your written checks, lie to avoid jury duty, abandon your campfire and it reignites without hurting, anything, give cigarettes to a minor, public urination, public intoxication.

A website leaning toward the ‘blue’ side discusses the unacceptable risk for abuse of this law here. A friend of mine on Facebook commented on the issue, saying:

It strikes me as a misunderstanding here – Congr. Handy probably doesn’t really understand the difference between arresting someone and charging them with a crime. Nothing would stop a Utah policeman, under existing law, from issuing a citation for these minor, though unwitnessed, misdemeanors – and it’d be up to a judge to decide whether the evidence, if any, deserved further proescution. This has nothing to do with making an arrest. Making an arrest is a matter of keeping public order. There’s no reason to do it otherwise, in the absence of a specific warrant. It’s as if Handy imagines that arrest and conviction are the same thing.

While I certainly don’t expect that officers will immediately begin abusing this authority to some intolerable degree, but I’m certain that the change in law creates a tenor which requires less proof from the state– less burden on them before they can detain, arrest, and interfere with the lives of the average citizen. Where there is less requirement for proof, accountability suffers, and in this case, civil liberties could easily come under assault by individual officers who misinterpret situations, deliberately or not. In short, this bill is a subtle threat to our civil liberties and should be resisted vigorously by the population. We can and should be vocal– email your state representative today. If you live in Utah County, your rep is Patrick Painter. If not, you can find out who your Representative is by searching at www.utah.gov.

Finally, I include a sample letter, written by my friend Kevin:

With the rising cost of incarceration 2008 statistics show at about $30,594 per inmate (http://nicic.gov/features/statestats/?State=UT) and a proposed 7 percent cut in the Utah State Prison that could potentially prematurely release about 850 prison inmates along with the job loss of approximately 175 Corrections staff members (http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home/51145440-76/cuts-proposed-budget-prison.html.csp).

According to the same Salt Lake Tribune article there would be a need to curtail DUI enforcement.  All of this at a time that the Utah Legislator is choosing to submit, HB 59 on Arrest and Requirements with or without Warrants by Stephen G. Handy.  The bill “amends a peace officer’s authority to make an arrest without a warrant upon reasonable cause by providing that this authority includes any misdemeanor. . .”

If during a time of budgetary shrinkage why on earth would we want to allow police officers the ability to arrest people for any “misdemeanor”, i.e.: J-Walking, Spiting in public, vulgar language, etc.  It seems this would require tax payers to pay more dollars for less effective government and create more bureaucracy.

Please help stop the passing of this bill.

Sincerely, ______________

 

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Middle Eastern Politics and the Egyptian Uprising

I try to follow politics in the Middle East to some degree or another.  I think I could do it 24/7 for several years and still not really feel like I know what’s going on over there. However, I support peace in the region, and preferably, some kind of democracy. It has been fascinating to hear what’s been happening in the region lately, especially with the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. I don’t think anyone has a clear idea of what will happen as events continue.

One of the big questions being asked is how a regime change in Egypt will affect Israel. Egypt has been fairly friendly with Israel for awhile now, as far as I understand. In that, Egypt has set the political tone, to some degree, of the entire Middle Eastern Region.With this current instability, it’s possible that Israel could come under heavier assault, and it seems possible that Israel could find an even better ally, especially if democracy comes to Egypt. (Or at least those are the things I’m guessing– again, I’m sure I’m very uninformed, so I could be wrong)

There are concerns over the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence on the current events, and whether they will attempt to seize power. I’m not sure how well-founded these are– maybe it’s a real concern. However, the tone and style of presentation of this idea has been consistently focused on the U.S., rather than the Egyptians’ uprising in and of itself. It seems an incredibly US-centric way of looking at things, and an entirely unfair and biased way of describing them. As I read about the conflict, my brother-in-law posted a thought on Facebook, effectively wondering how these events would affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the rest of the region in general.

After an argument with someone else on Facebook, he finally posted something that I feel has quite a lot of merit. I think we here in the U.S. are usually very ignorant in our views of world politics, and even when we attempt to understand what’s going on out there, we seem to have only a superficial understanding. With that said, here is the quote from his Facebook in response to his friend, and I will leave you to ponder it.

Joe: “…I studied Middle Eastern history and culture for the past four years. I’ve lived there, I have friends there, I’ve seen the conflict firsthand, and for a short time I worked for one of the most influential policy-making organizations for US foreign policy in that region. Your arguments about the Palestinians may not be false–I’m not saying that they are–but the conclusions you subsequently draw about Israel betray a willful onesidedness that is completely and utterly uninteresting to me.

I’m not interested in winning any arguments about the rightness of the Palestinian cause or the wrongness of the Israelis; I just want to have a better understanding of what’s going on. Because even after all of my studies and experiences, I still feel stunningly ignorant about the region. If you don’t, you must be blind.”

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