from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

education policy for Democratic congressional candidates 

cross posted in diaries at dailykos and on front page at myleftwing
As a result of stopping by the event in DC earlier this month for the Fighting Dems, I have been involved in a process of offering assistance on educational policy for a variety of Democratic candidates for government, not all of whom are among the Band of Brothers / Sisters.   This is an ongoing process, and I am happy to look at any specific proposal to point out questions that might be raised, or counter arguments to which one might have to respond, as well as point at information that might be supportive.

My role in this is not to dictate policy, but to assist on an issue that quite frankly Democrats should own.   I will continue to respond to individual requests as they arise.

What I offer below is a general - and admittedly disorganized and rambling - document that covers a number of points about which I believe candidates should think.  I offer it for general perusal, and to provoke additional thinking on how to address educational policy.   Do with it what you will.
Some general thoughts on education, about which Democratic candidates for Congress should think. These are offered to provoke thought and discussion. How these, or any other, educational issues should be approached will vary by Congressional district, and by the need of the candidate to have some consistency among her/his policy proposals. These thoughts are neither comprehensive, exhaustive, nor even necessarily consistent.

I am happy to work with anyone who would like further input from me.

NCLB is due for reauthorization. What will be your position on it? Among the concerns expressed by many is that the target of 100% proficient by 2014, and also the idea of Annual Yearly Progress for each disaggregated group for each grade towards those targets is unreachable, except for very schools, most of which are characterized by high Socio-Economic Status and families in which (almost) all parents have a bachelor’s degree or better.

The requirement of disaggregating scores provides meaningful information only if ALL states set groups at the same size, both within state and for cross-state comparison purposes. If not, we get a classic apples versus oranges comparison, and states are able to hide problem areas.

The comparisons required on NCLB do not, however, provide meaningful information, because they do not involve tracking the same group of students on a longitudinal basis. Rather, it is a comparison of cohorts which might be very dissimilar, both as to demographic characteristics and prior knowledge: this year’s 4th graders and last year might be quite dissimilar, so that comparing 4th grade scores across years is fraught with peril.

No Child Left Behind is NOT an unfunded mandate, and attacking it on that basis is incorrect. The testing and other (teacher proficiency, for example) requirements are conditions of aid. If you want the funds the Federal government offers (largely Title I), then you must accept all the conditions of the receipt of that aid, even if those conditions cost you several times the amount of federal funds received of funds from other (state, local) sources. It is my belief that Ted Kennedy and George Miller accepted the proposal because they thought they could get more federal funds for things like inner city schools, and Miller in particular had a real concern that students in those schools were not being well served. The two were able to get the voucher provision out of the original proposal, but depending on how you count, the cost of the increased testing is more than the additional aid. The Education Department will argue that such a situation need not occur if one does not create customized tests but will use off the shelf tests instead, which should cause one to note that the testing companies have been among the biggest supporters of the testing provisions of NCLB .
QUANTITY / QUALITY OF TEACHERS -- both of these are real issues. In some fields there is an ongoing shortage of even minimally qualified teachers -- special ed, foreign languages, math, science. These problems get exacerbated by requirements to decrease class sizes, although that should not be used as an excuse to avoid addressing class size issues. Similarly, issues of teacher compensation will also intersect with this topic and with class sizes. Candidates do not necessarily have to have a comprehensive approach that addresses all of these issues, since education is primarily NOT a federal response, but their positions and statements should recognize that addressing part of this relationship from a Federal perspective will invariably impact other areas even if there is no specific federal program. Thus the requirement in NCLB for all students to be taught by “highly qualified teachers” (even though the definition of that term is left up to individual states) potentially can lead to a shortage of people to man classrooms. One can legitimately question if replacing a certified but not “highly qualified” teacher with a substitute who in many states is not even required to have a bachelor’s degree represents an improvement in the teaching quality given the students.

There is a way to increase the pool of teachers for areas of shortage. That could be done by a program which would forgive all/part of federally funded loans for college to those students in areas of shortage willing to teach for a fixed period of time (probably at least 3 years) in a school in something like a rural area, an inner-city, an Indian Reservation. Another way to supply teachers in general for such areas, which often are unable to pay competitive salaries, is for the federal government to designate part of its aid as a supplement to highly qualified teachers willing to relocate to such schools for a period of time, the additional pay as a stipend for improving the instruction of others in those schools. One can argue that supplements being paid for Nationally Board certified teachers by states and localities could also be similarly shaped -- here I note that I am now able to receive supplements from both the state and my district, and yet I am not required to relocate from my already high-performing school as a condition of receiving that aid.

SCHOOL FACILITIES -- many of our school buildings are either old, obsolete, decrepit and/or some combination of the above. In some jurisdictions, there is an insufficient tax base to be able to fund the bonds necessary to address this problem. It is a bit unrealistic to expect children to take learning seriously in buildings that are falling apart, which have few or no working toilets. It is exceedingly difficult to learn in a classroom which is stifling, with no air circulation and a temperature in excess of 90 degrees, or n which despite 35-40 children crammed into a space designed for 25-30, the temperature stays well below 50 degrees. While it is probably unrealistic to expect the federal government to fully pay for addressing this problem, there are a number of possible approaches that might make sense. This could be done separately or possibly in cooperation.

- have the federal government provide a pool of loan money, to be matched in part or in whole by other funding resources.

- have the federal government guarantee bond funding that meets certain fiscal requirements. This could keep the interest rate significantly lower., as it has for things like VA mortgage loans.

- have the federal government pay part / all of the interest on bonds for this purpose in high impact areas

CLASS SIZE / SCHOOL SIZE / TEACHER LOADS - these are related issues, but not the same. Yet there is a need to understand the relationship among them.

CLASS SIZE is the number of students in an individual classroom. There is some research that shows reducing class size below a certain level (18) for elementary school students makes a real difference in performance on standardized scores (and unfortunately, far too often this is the only measure used, which is fraught with all kinds of difficulty, but I do not wish to address that right now). At the elementary level, the class size is equal to the teacher load except for specialty (art, phys ed, music, etc.) teachers. At the secondary level the real concern may not necessarily be the number of students in each class, but the total number taught. Thus I teach 6 periods. If I have an average of 25 students per class, that would be 150 students for whom I am responsible. If I give an assignment that requires me 1 minute to read and one more to mark up, offer suggestions, make corrections, etc., that is a total of 300 minutes, or 6 hours to correct ONE assignment. In any course in which writing is an important skill, students will develop only by doing more writing. Thus each of my classes could be manageable but the total load might be unreasonable. It is also important to note that class size demands can vary by content and by the skill of the students. I can run an AP class among seniors successfully with 30 students, although that is likely to limit the ability of individual students to participate seminar style. The counter argument to this is that many college courses are large lectures, with hundreds of students. That may true, but the number of people who can successfully lecture is no where near the number who attempt to teach by that method.

Also remember -- teacher/student ratio is not usually an accurate reflection of class size. You may have teacher slots which do not represent people in the classroom. Special Ed teachers often co-teach with subject matter teachers. One needs to look at average class size at each level: E, MS/JrHi/HS

SCHOOL SIZE has also become a hot issue, especially with funding for small school initiatives provided by the Gates Foundation. Some argue for schools now larger than 500-800. While that might well make sense in an elementary school, it presents some problems for high schools -- will there be a critical enough mass to offer the breadth of courses that meets the needs and interests of all students? One might find a rare individual who, say, can teach Government, Comparative Religion, coach soccer, and do musical theater, but how do you replace that one individual if he leaves? BTW, I just used a real world example, myself . I have also done American History, World History, Reading, English, Study Skills, and outside of school SAT prep. To insist a minimum or a maximum size can be counterproductive. In the case of the minimum, it can mean loss of schools in smaller communities and extended travel time via bus to reach a larger school. In the case of larger schools, it can mean a sense of anomie for many students, that no adult truly knows her. One solution to larger schools is to have schools or programs within schools to which students belong so that they have a sense of being known, and so that there can be adults who do truly know and and can follow them.

IDEA -- this is the federal requirement on special ed. The initials stand for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (although the most recent version is Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act). In its original incarnation the Congress was going to fund 40% of the costs incurred by the mandates. Federal funding has never reached even half of that level. The biggest single boost to public education possible would be to meet that commitment. Failure to do so requires states and localities to shift funds away from general education, or from non-educational purposes, and often winds up pitting parents of special ed students rightly concerned about their children with parents of others who believe their own children are being shortchanged.

Were the federal government to fully fund its share, on the understanding that this would represent additional funds and not replacement funds, most school systems could address many of the needs they must now ignore, as well as many desirable programs. Candidates should contact local school systems to find out the impact of such additional aid. This could be a potent topic.

I fully realize that the immediate question would be how such additional funding could be provided. Methinks a candidate could come up with a powerful comparison using the money for tax breaks for millionaires or energy companies versus the needs of individual children.

VOUCHERS - no level of Federal voucher has ever been proposed that would (a) fully pay for most private schools (b) require any nonpublic school to take a student bearing a voucher (c) require the school receiving the voucher student to be subject to the same strictures (such as standardized tests). In some voucher proposals at the state or local level, students who have already left the public schools have been eligible to receive them.

For some vouchers are a philosophical issue, flowing from the work of Milton and Rose Friedman, and are advocated by people who do not want to see public schools at all. For others it is a political issue -- this is a way to gain support from Catholics, since at many Catholic schools the influx of students with vouchers could mean the difference between surviving and not surviving. For others, they want to have their children out of public schools so that they cannot be required to learn about evolution or other things to which they object, and they resent having to pay taxes for a function from which they do not DIRECTLY draw benefit is they do not have children in public schools, or from which they would like to withdraw, but cannot afford to do so. Each of these represents a separate issue.

Let me go through a couple of things.
- vouchers are not like the GI Bill, where in fact the individual could go to a religious college. The GI Bill represents a form of deferred compensation - I complete college at Haverford College as a result of my service in the USMC. The current Montgomery GI Bill makes this connection with service explicit. I would also note that there were far greater restrictions as to where the GI Bill payment could be made (which was directly to the educational system) than there are in most voucher proposals (where often the voucher is given directly to the family, similarly to the food stamp or WIC programs).

- one argument for vouchers is to allow parents to remove children from “failing” schools. But if the student receiving the voucher haas herself achieved a passing score on the tests used to determine the school is failing, one could argue that the child in question is NOT being failed by that school. This is an argument on which one needs to exercise great care. - one does not want to get caught in the frame of ‘failing schools”

The cost of education remember again that education is NOT primarily a federal responsibility, but there are points worth connecting with at a state-wide level, and there are relevant federal interventions

K-12 --- found out how much each school district in your CD spends per student. Then find out how much it costs to incarcerate each person in the state penitentiary. You are likely to find the latter is several times the multiple of the former, even higher for those incarcerated in maximum security facilities. You may then want to explore dropout rates in the schools and literacy rates of newly admitted prisoners. Those who cannot succeed in school often have little choice but turning to crime. It makes far more sense to intervene when children are young.

This is not merely a question of teaching. We have a subsidized (through agriculture department) school lunch program because we recognize that a hungry child is not likely to learn. In far too many cases school lunch may be the only opportunity a child has to get a nutritious meal. Many come to school without having eaten breakfast. And then under the pressure of raising money we have soda and junk food machines in our schools. We cut phys ed in order to test more -- and we are heading towards serious health problems for our young people. How can we use the leverage of the Federal government to address some of these issues? What about related issues of health, of safe places to go?

Crime is very expensive. Much crime is committed by adolescent and young adult males in the hours between the end of school and midnight. What if the Federal government pioneered programs to use school facilities more efficiently, having libraries and study centers open, use gyms for rec centers? What if the federal government were willing to fund studies of the impact of such programs on (a) juvenile crime (b) dropout rates -- etc.

Post-Secondary --- why not explore more combining of secondary and post-secondary institutions? Why not locate community college and apprenticeship facilities along with high schools. This would enable ways of enriching secondary education for those ready for some college level work, providing access to resources and facilities and teachers for those needing remedial work, and allow those heading towards trade careers(which should be respected) the ability to simultaneously work on their basic academic skills and those skills they will need to be productive members of our economy and society?

FUNDING FOR POST-SECONDARY LEARNING - besides possible forgiveness of loans for those who go into teaching in critical subjects and locales, reexamine federal funding of loans and grants to allow for subsidized apprenticeships, possibly combined with some course work delivered through community college systems. Far too much of what federal aid is available is limited to those pursuing more academic courses of study. Not only do we need more skilled craftspeople, there is also a fairness issue.

Explore more certificate rather than degree based completion programs at a post-secondary level. This ties in with what is just above.

RECRUITMENT / TRAINING / RETENTION of TEACHERS - this has in part already been addressed, with the idea of forgiveness of loans. And this is largely NOT a federal issue. But the Federal carrot -stick approach could be used. Perhaps offer a bonus to districts or states able to retain highly qualified teachers willing to work in high impact schools. While the idea of teacher qualifications is currently set on a state basis, why not set up a national registry of possible teacher candidates who meet some set of necessary qualifications, who if hired as teacher interns (that is , people willing to work under supervision of experienced mentor teachers) would have part of the costs of the first year paid by Federal funds. Use federal funds to do intensive training of people transitioning -- ex military might be possible, so might people who have lost other jobs. Perhaps provide some benefits to people willing to relocate to where they are needed.

If you have read this far, I commend you. I recognize this is not presented in a coherent fashion. it is intended to provoke, to get you thinking about why education is important, and how the federal government can play a POSITIVE (rather than punitive) role.

For any policy you propose or support, you need to carefully see what the impact will be on schools and others within your CD. Ask local school officials (administrators and school boards, teachers and parent activists) what concerns they have. Talk with local elected officials and state legislators.

Potentially education is a key to persuading people who might not otherwise support you to listen to what you have to say.

NOTE CAREFULLY -- you will always have to connect any proposal on education with other ideas. Education properly done is NOT CHEAP. As an investment it returns far more to our society and our economy than do things like further tax cuts for millionaires, tax and other breaks for energy companies, or whatever else you choose to use as an illustration.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Anna Quindlen on testing - worth the read 

I don’t have much time to blog, but Anna Quindlen’s piece in the latest Newsweek is worth the price of the issue. I did not find it on their website, so you may have to read it in hard copy. It is entitled “None of the Above.” None.” and was inspired by the recent presidential commission that was recommending the possibility of using standardized tests in college to gauge the level of learning.

I will, without further comment, offer a few snippets. Bear with me, as I must
(a) type them out
(b) abide by fair use
(c) not violate copyright
(d) give you enough to whet your appetite
(e) all of the above

Thinking about her own children, now in college she notes
For what seemed like the first time since they turned 4, they were ale to forget about filling in those little bubbles and swap their No. 2 pencils for paintbrushes, props, ancient prose and modern experimental poetry. And Parties. Well, never mind that part.

Then I realized I was thinking small, and so were the feds. Through their No Child Left Untested initiative, they’d managed to metastasize school testing so that it was everywhere, from the early grades through high school Why stop there? Why stop at all?

You there, with the plumber’s van! Which of the wrenches pictured here is really best for removing this piece of pipe? Wait, not the one that would do a pretty decent job if you held it the right way! The very best one as determined by a government panel of plumbing experts. And don’t peek over the shoulder of that guy next to you. He’s doing the heating-an-cooling achievement test. That’s an entirely different thing.

That one extended snip should give you a sense.

Here’s another:
And don’t think you babies are off the the hook. For years you’ve gotten away with nothing more taxing than that Apgar test at birth, which measures stuff like muscle tone and respiration. Anyone can breathe! Keep an eye on that mobile over the crib. Track it .. track it ... yes! It looks as if there may be an excellent preschool in your future if you can pass the AP potty test by the time you’re 3.

A shorter part of a snip:
The presidential commission is allegedly concerned about analytical skills, although one of its members runs a big test-prep company, which my analytical skills tell me means he has a vested interest in more testing.

She applies the standards of standardized testing to both the Congress and the president. Here’s the former:
A few ground rules for standardized testing for member of the House and Senate” test-prep fees cannot be paid by lobbyists. No one can accompany the legislator into the testing room -- no press secretaries, no aides, no special assistants in charge of health-care policy. Health-care policy won’t be on the test anyhow because there are no clear answer to any question. There will, however, be a math portion for those legislators who think you can increase spending, cut taxes and yet still bring down the deficit. They’ll be able to use their calculators. Their magic calculators.

The passage on the presidency revolves around the famous quote by Franklin about giving up a little liberty to get safety deserving neither and asking the president to discuss in terms of his own policies, foreign or domestic.

I will end with the entire final paragraph. Trust me, I have stayed (barely) within fair use, and I do urge you to read the entire piece.
Thinks of all the job creation going on here: test writers, test monitors, test graders. And what about the underlying lesson being learned, that it doesn’t matter if you really resonate to knowledge, only if you can manage to spit it back over the course of a single, long, tedious session? That should be useful in much of the work world. Naturally, the commission must be tested as well, perhaps with this short essay question: “In recent years learning is said to be plummeting while at the same time the use of standardized testing is sky-rocketing. What’s the point? Discuss.”

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Friday, February 10, 2006

John McCain - a question of Temperament 

crossposted at dailykos, teacherken, and myleftwing

The recent contretemps between John McCain and Barack Obama has led to a number of people questioning the temperament of the Senior Senator from Arizona. Among these is Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, who is a well-known blogger, previously at Markarkleiman.com and now at http://www.samefacts.com. On February 7th he wrote a brief piece in which he said
Note to reporters: better put a "hold" on the McCain canonization until he finishes with his anger-management classes.

Since I have known Mark for more than 3 decades (we overlapped at Haverford College) I sent an email which has led to my involvement in this story. I will, below the fold, explain why I became involved, and what I have uncovered, as well as what else Mark has found. I will attempt to be fair to Sen. McCain, but I think there is enough of a picture emerging to demonstrate that his actions with respect to Sen. Obama are part of a larger pattern that raise at least to me a question about his temperament.

I had memories of Sen. McCain during the nomination of John Tower to be SecDef going to the floor of the Senate and reading into the record something about the psychiatric background of a former military man who had made an accusation of seeing Tower drunk on an airbase.  I sent Mark an email, which became incorporated into another post,which you can read in Mark's February 8th post McCain's History of Slime & Defend, which has been updated several times since.  I am the "reader" whom he quotes.   Because he was asking for further verification and links on the story (which he did obtain from others), I decided to do some digging.

The problem was, when I went to search the Congressional Record online, I could not find anything.  So I decided to post a request to the Library of Congress through their "ask a librarian" capability, and today I got this response:

We were able to locate Sen. John McCain's remarks in the Congressional Record concerning the medical records of retired Air Force sergeant Bob Johnson. McCain made the remarks on March 2, 1989, which we were able to find in the bound, print edition of the Congressional Record, Volume 135, Part 3, page 3279.

However, we were unable to locate this information in the online version of the Congressional Record on the THOMAS Web site http://thomas.loc.gov/. It appears that the March 2, 1989, edition of the Congressional Record on THOMAS is missing over 100 pages of text, including the page in which McCain discusses Jackson's medical records. We have submitted an error report to the technical staff responsible for maintaining the THOMAS site. Hopefully this omission will be corrected in the near future.

By the way, this message is slightly inaccurate, as the name of the sergeant was actually Jackson.  The information is available in the printed version of the Congressional Record, but there is apparently no explanation for the gap in the online version.  That gap is of course why I could not find the information by searching electronically.

I now have a copy of the page in question, as well as several contemporaneous news articles, from the NY Times and the Washington Post.  The incident begins with front page stories in both papers on March 2nd in which Jackson's allegations about two visits to Bergstrom  Air Force Base in the period 1976 through 1978 included reports of drunkenness and other inappropriate behavior. The Sergeant had made these charges in a letter to Sen. Sam Nunn, then chair of Armed Services, with oversight over the nomination. Jackson repeated the charges in interviews with the FBI.  The Post story was written by Bob Woodward while the Times story had no byline.

Apparently McCain contacted the Air Force for rebuttal information, then went to the floor of the Senate to make the following remarks, which I will attempt to completely reproduce.  Please note the following:  "Berkstrom" is how it appears in the Record, as is the apparent typo "psychiatric".

    Mr. President, I have some information I think would be very interesting to the Members of this body and others concerning the allegation that was printed on the front page of the Washington Post this morning concerning an allegation made by a retired Technical Sergeant Jackson concerning some alleged behavior on the part of Senator John Tower during some period between 1976 and 1978.

     I remind my colleagues it was on the front page of the Washington Post.  We have now received information that this individual's last duty was when he reported to Berkstrom Air Force Base on February 21, 1976.  His last duty day was March 16, 1977.  He was referred to the Wilford Hall Medical Centern for Psychological Evaluation and was later retired for psychiatric disability, and the details of that can be made available.  He was permanently retired on April 19, 1978 for a psychiartic condition.

     I also point out that the 12th Air Force Commander from June 1975 through June 1978 recalls John Tower to be in Berkstrom only once during the period, the first Saturday in August 1975 for an air show.  That memory has been confirmed by the wing commander and vice wing commander and master chief of the Air Force.

     Mr. President, the reason I am bringing this very important information to the attention of this body is that this allegation was obviously given great credibility by the media by being printed on the front page of the Washington Post. I think it clearly indicates there is no validity to that and very little we can do to repair the damage that is done by the allegation and I understand was going to be carried on national media tonight.

     I hope it clears up the situation, and we will be glad to provide further details on this information we received.

There were followup stories in both the Post and the NY Times the following day.   The Post story was on A-1, and was written by Dan Balz and Bob Woodward.  It is important to note that these events are occurring after the Arfemd Services Committee had voted to reject the nomination, but before the entire Senate acted on march 9 in a similar fashion (I believe the final vote as 47-53).    The Post story quotes Sens. Cohen and Nunn as saying that they had paid little attention to Jackson's charges, with the paragraph on Nunn reading

Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said last night" "This [Jackson's account] was merely one item was cumulative ofother information about Sen. Tower's excessive drinking in the 1970s, which both the White House and the nominee have now acknowledged,  Therefore, this item was not a significant fact in my own thoughts or, I believe, in the committee's deliberations."

It is worth noting that McCain was a member of the committee.  He had released a letter dated on March 2nd from the Air Force general counsel Anne N. Foreman sent to the minority (Republican) counsel of the committee.  Let me continue with the Post story

    Foreman's letter said military records show that Jackson was assigned to Bergstrom from February 21, 1976, until April 19, 1978.  :On 21 March 1977 Sergeant Jackson was referred to Wilfred Hall Medical center for medical supervision and was subsequently placed on the Temporary Disability Retired List following medical and psychological evaluation," Foreman said.

     The Physical Evaluation Board that evaluated Jackson concluded that he "exhibited symptoms of a mixed personality disorder with anti-social themes and hysterical features."

    Foreman said that after March 21, 1977, Jackson was "unable to perform his duties" and was retired in April 1978.

This was the material with which McCain was dealing.   Unfortunately it was not a complete and accurate portrayal, something made clear in the NY Times story of March 4 by David Rosenbaum entitled "Tower Accuser was Attacked by Omissions" and subtitled "Airman's Records Don't' Stress Mental Problem."  This story appeared on page 8.  It was based on a more complete set of the Sergeant's records obtained and released by Sam Nunn and John Warner (who was the ranking Republican on the Committee).  While that record does reference a personality trait disorder,  and I reproduce the  operable paragraphs of the story that immediately followed:

    But it concluded:  "A review of available medical records fails to substantiate the presence of any neurosis or psychosis.  There is evidence of a personality disorder marked by uncooperative behavior.  Reliability may be a problem. My review of the member's personnel records reflects an average NCO who was generally well thought of, but who also had a tendency to be a little too aggressive and somewhat overly idealistic.  He also seems to have consistently fallen short in the area of bearing and behavior, in the judgment of his superiors."

     It was signed by Colonel Kenneth G. B. Joyce of the judge advocate's staff.

                "Lesser of Two Evils

     The evalution indicated that the sergeant was retired from the Air Force not for psychological reasons, as was suggested by the letter made public Thursday, but largely because of a bad knee and other physical problems.

   Senator McCain, an Arizona Republican and a retired Navy captain, said in an interviewed  today: "I'm sorry I had to do it, but weighed in the balance of assassination of a man's character, it was the lesser of two evils."  He said he was still comfortable with what he hd done after seeing the full evaluation.  

Thus McCain still thought his actions were justified.  Let's examine this a bit further.  If he wanted to discredit the Sergeant's report, would not the statement by the ranking officers about the only visit Tower made have been sufficient? Did not in fact McCain know that the committee had given little specific weight to this report, but also had ample evidence - acknowledged by both the White House and Tower himself - of serious drinking problems contemporaneous with this supposed incident? And in that case, how did even the false report of Sgt. Jackson represent an assassination of Tower's character? And where is McCain's retraction of the charge that Jackson was retired for psychological reasons? Granted, he was using incomplete information provided by the Air Force which implied (but apparently did not directly state) that the discharge was for such reasons. Once he learned that part of his statement was incorrect, why did he not withdraw or correct it?

The Times article quotes a lawyer named Ronald Plesser who helped write the 1974 Privacy Act and later served as general counsel of the Privacy Protection Study Commission.  The story says that he described the release of the medical records as  

"a clear violation of the spirit of the Privacy Act."

     Only under extraordinary circumstances, said Mr. Plesser and other experts, can medical records be made public without the consent of the serviceman involved.

But in my first email to Mark Kleiman, I was unaware of the following, also from the same article:

Mr. McCain was not legally liable because the Privacy Act does not apply to members of Congress.  Mr. Plesser said Pentagon officials probably also could not successfully be sued because they were responding to a request from Congress.

I know that Mark is pursuing at least one other incident demonstrating this pattern of behavior by McCain.  From my standpoint, there was no justification for reading the medical information into the record, even had the statement been accurate and complete, which it was not. One wonders if the form of the request for information, which would have been made officially by minority counsel for the committee at McCain's behest, was so phrased that it engendered a document that could be interpreted the way McCain chose to characterize the information provided.  Regardless, if his point was to discredit the allegation, one would think it was sufficient to offer the credible counter testimony by ranking officers about the impossibility of the allegation.  That McCain chose to go further, and has never apologized for what he did, has always bothered me.  I see it as a question of temperament, one again clearly displayed in how he reacted to Barack Obama this week.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

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