Sunday, May 6, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond

Image Courtesy of

A step toward sanity in France: While not pretending to understand the intricacies of French politics, and while it has no direct impact on Montana, it is hard to imagine that a defeat for socialists won't do some sort of cosmic good.

Billings Gazette goes over-easy in its "thumbs-down" on Vogel-gate: ...and scrambles things up. While not to be found on-line for some reason, the Billings Gazette does give a thumbs down the Democratic Party's recent press release about Rep. Denny Rehberg's office.

But then it goes on to muddy the waters by saying that both parties "sought to make political gains over this nonstory," talking about the GOP's response. Well, yes -- but the Gazette's language implies some sort of moral equivalence in this episode.

Slandering Rehberg's aide in an over-the-top press release wouldn't have been a nonstory had the misleading accusations successfully hit the papers on the date in question, as Democrats wanted it to. It is a reasonable opinion to hold that Republicans over-reacted in calling for the resignation of the Democratic Party chairman in Montana -- a minor criticism.

It is not a particularly reasonable assessment of the episode to hold that the Democratic Party chairman just made an honest mistake, or to imply that in this particular matter, both parties are somehow equally culpable.

The Gazette had no problem making it clear in a recent major editorial that while they mouthed the "there's blame on both sides" line in the late legislative morass, they held the Republican party leadership guilty of the crime.

Why the editors couldn't, in a single low-profile paragraph, bring themselves to state clearly that the Democratic Party was wrong and the Republican party innocent on this matter is beyond understanding. It must just be too painful for someone.

SD2 mill levy may actually pass: School funding has to be a subject that is more confusing in Montana than almost any other area of government spending -- or at least Montana Headlines confesses an ignorance of the arcane art of understanding the formula by which we pay for education.

The state pays 80% of the cost of running public schools, and local communities have to come up with 20% (or not -- it's up to them.) This is a real anomaly in the region, with most states having local communities and states dividing the costs closer to 50/50.

Montana Headlines certainly believes that there is a lot of waste in how schools spend money, and our views on education in general are positively paleolithic, believing that the job of any school -- public, private, or home -- is to end up graduating students who are fully literate in the English language, who can do adequate math, and who know enough about our country's history, culture, and government to be non-dangerous voters. Anything else is a "nice to have" that should come only after it is proven that a school is accomplishing the above.

We see a district top-heavy with administrators, teachers forced to teach at the lowest common denominator, students sometimes being ill-served when they are passed for "social reasons," and we see meaningless busy-work projects being assigned to students who desperately need to be taught how to read with comprehension, spell properly, and write coherently before they graduate -- and the clock is ticking.

We see with crystal clarity the fact that it is the education establishment's desire to foist full-day kindergarten on the district that is driving in large part the need to re-open Beartooth Elementary in the Heights and that full-day kindergarten is going to exacerbate our crowding issues.

We still are of the conviction that school districts would be better off spending that money raising the pay of teachers we already have or expanding space needed for students that we already have, and we are of the conviction that if full-day kindergarten funding is appropriated, districts should just be given the money no matter what, deciding for themselves if full-day kindergarten is what they most need to spend that money on.

We see an outdated salary matrix that is excessively weighted against new teachers (making new hires difficult) and that falsely assumes that an extra degree means better teaching quality. And yes, it is hard to "Vote Yes for Kids," knowing that more money alone isn't going to change any of those fundamental problems.

But for crying out loud, one doesn't have to embrace the totality of modern educational philosophy to understand that we have to have enough classroom space in Billings to hold our students -- that our high schools are overcrowded, that eventually more elementary and middle schools will be needed, and that population growth is only going to make these problems worse.

And to top it all off, we conservatives are supposed to believe in local control -- and local responsibility comes from local funding. One would think that Republicans in this state would be voting for every local school funding increase that comes along, and fighting for a combination of lower state income taxes and a lower proportion of school funding coming from the state. There does have to be equalizing money to help smaller, rural, and poorer districts, but by and large, we should want our schools to be paid for by our own local tax dollars.

For all of the negativity that comes out above, we also are acutely aware of the fact that Montana's students are high performers nationally. Our schools are managing to do a better job than most states in terms of what they are accomplishing. We remain concerned, however, that Montana's educational establishment wants us to emulate states that spend far more to accomplish far less -- as though the number of dollars spent per student actually measured something meaningful.

With that said, Montana Headlines will be voting "Yes for Kids."

City Lights: Kemmick was on a roll today with one of his rollicking satires -- and then he slipped up and started giving a hard-news description of a real-life mega-church. But to his credit, he got up, dusted himself off, and ended with a unbeatable flourish.


Ed Kemmick said...

I have to comment on the Gazette's take on the Vogel flap. I agree that the Democrats were culpable in this instance, but this case only made the news because the Republicans squawked so loudly.

I don't know if you were lucky enough to be on the mailing list when Chuck Denowh (sp?) was writing the daily GOP e-brief, but he indulged in nasty attacks that were identical in spirit, if not in wording, to what the Democrats recently put out.

That doesn't excuse the Democrats, far from it. I used to shake my head when Chuck's vile e-briefs dropped into the hopper, and I'd think, "Well, whatever else the Democrats are guilty of, they don't sink this low."

Now they have. It would be nice if the directors of both parties grew up.

Montana Headlines said...

Ed, as you know, I have commented before on how much I have disliked the shrill tone of so many of the GOP e-briefs over the years -- although I can't say I paid attention to who was writing which ones. So we are in agreement there.

Unless Vogel has a reputation for slandering top level Democrats, what other Republicans may have done in the past isn't really relevant to this episode, even though it does put the response of the editors more into perspective.

Having never been on the receiving end of a press release strongly (and falsely) implying that I am being investigated for criminal activity, I won't judge whether Rehberg's office squawked too loudly or not.

And perhaps I'm too much of a political neophyte -- maybe this kind of slanderous thing gets put out in party press releases all of the time, and is just ignored by both the press and the accused, without us ever hearing about it.

It would indeed be nice if both sides behaved more professionally. But what did the Gazette editorial do to improve that?

The effect of their comments was to give the impression that it is just as bad to get mad about being falsely accused as it is to put out a press release falsely accusing someone of criminal wrongdoing. I disagree.

Montana Headlines said...

P.S. Check out, by comparison, the Great Falls Tribune editorial, which called the situation "umambiguous," stating that at the very least McDonald should publicly apologize.