Don’t loose yourself over a cause.

Hey folks, if you’ve been on Facebook in the past 36 hours, you might start to think that we are in the time of the Stepford wives. It seems as if everyone is looking the same, at least according to their profile pictures.

Maybe I’m insensitive, but I don’t get it. What does a red badge with a pink equal sign as my profile picture really say about me? Does it make me a member of a cause, or just another sheep in the herd? Why suppress who you are to show support for something? I’d rather support it than show some support like action revolving around changing my identity on Facebook for a while.

I get that if you’re a part of something you find very important, you should show your support. I doubt you’ll find a bigger gay marriage supporter and advocate than the great writer Del Shores. And he didn’t replace his photo with the gay marriage badge… He placed it as an overlay on his own picture. Because who he is is as important as what he believes and supports.

It’s like those awful memes that pop up, and people repost over and over again. If you don’t repost this, you hate “something.” That’s just emotional blackmail and intellectually dishonest.

If you support a cause, support it. Don’t succumb who you are over to it. Post links, articles, write your own opinions. That’s just being part of the herd instead being your person. Plus, it makes Facebook exceptionally boring.

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Why I don’t care about gay marriage

Today the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments over Proposition 8, a California proposition that outlawed gay marriage. Gay rights advocates are hoping the court will find the prop unconstitutional, and depending on how they do it, ending the gay marriage debate in the courts.

I couldn’t care less.

Don’t get me wrong. I hope the court finds the entire concept unconstitutional and opens the door for federal and state recognition for gay marriage and the rights associated with that civil union. I couldn’t care less because its one of the most inane and stupid arguments I’ve ever heard.

Of course gay people should be allowed to marry. The idea that they can’t is so alien to my way of thinking I find it beneath contempt to assume they can’t. It’s just such a simple concept, I can’t honestly believe in 2013 we still have lawmakers and other leaders that are fighting it.

But the reality is, we do. And that’s just bullshit.

I believed in a time that was just around the corner 13 years ago, when we’d come out of the dark ages and into a period of enlightenment and understanding. I was geeky enough to believe the open access of the internet would end war, hate and violence. That clearly hasn’t happened, and in many cases the internet has increased all of these.

I’m sorely disappointed in the 21st century so far. Oh I love my iPhone and my iPad and my high speed internet. But we’ve had troops deployed in combat since 2001, my kids have never seen a time of peace, we still deny basic human rights in our own country, we’ve become enamored with technology to the point of forgetting the humanity.

So when I say I don’t care about gay marriage, it isn’t because I am apathetic or disagreeable with the notion. It’s because my faith in humanity is at such an all time low I don’t have the energy or focus to be bothered with it. It’s a throw away notion, of course they should have the right. The fact that it isn’t a throw away notion is the bigger problem. And that’s not a gay/straight issue. That’s a human issue.

Humanity needs a reboot. Can we get Christopher Nolen on that?

Oh, and one more thing while I’m being so disagreeable about the current state of human affairs… where is my flying car?

Arguments around the Alabama Flex Bill

Alabama’s legislature recently passed, in ways that are questionable enough for a judge to issue an injunction against the signing of it into law, a bill that would allow parents to get a tax credit if they moved their child from a failing school to a school that is not failing, either public or private. As is typical, arguments for and against the bill have fallen into typical camps, either pro change or pro teacher. I’m going to let the cat out of the bag and say I’m opposed to the bill and hope the injunction stands, but I think my reasons for this stance straddles both camps. I am going to attempt to look at the various arguments for and against the bill and explain why I take the position I do. I’ll also explain my exceedingly unpopular suggestions for fixing the failing school syndrome.

From what I’ve heard or read, there are a few set arguments for and against the bill. These are the ones I’ve read about, heard on local talk radio, or heard among parents. Please feel free to comment if you think I’ve missed an important one. I am choosing to completely skip over the questionable method by which the bill was passed and the equally questionable method by which it has been stopped.

First, the list of pro-bill arguments:

  • The status quo is broken, we need change
  • Parents should have a choice in schooling their children
  • Keeping students in failing schools is bad
  • Schools should be run like industry, failing schools should be closed
  • Teachers should be held accountable for failing schools
  • Competition breeds improvement

And the list of anti-bill arguments:

  • Unfairly punishes schools in the most need of help
  • It is an attack on already overworked teachers
  • Arbitrary definition of failing school
  • It opens the door for charter schools
  • It unfairly targets disabled students
  • This bill does nothing to help failing schools

And finally, I’ll offer various solutions to the syndrome of failing schools in Huntsville, the only system I can speak on. I suspect, however, my solutions have a broader application.

So lets jump in with both feet, and start dealing with these arguments one by one.

The status quo is broken, we need change!

Is the status quo broken? I think it is only fair to assume that it is. In Huntsville we for all intent and purpose have two school systems, North and South. Southern schools are doing well, Northern schools are struggling or failing. As such, we must accept that the status quo must change. So on this argue net, at least on first glance, I find myself on the pro-bill side.

In fact, pro-bill supporters are quick to point out that the status quo is broken and if you oppose this bill you are in favor of keeping kids in failing schools. This is absurd. Being willing to admit that the status quo is broken is not the same as being willing to admit that this bill fixes the status quo.

It is the short sighted nature of modern politics that causes this argument to fall apart. In this thinking, the status quo is broken, change the status quo; while no thought has gone into why we arrived at the status quo we are in. Without looking at how the status quo was arrived at, you can’t possibly know what this bill will do to effect the status quo.

The truth is, we arrived at the current status quo by 50+ years of social and legislative agendas to move kids from schools seen at below adequate into schools seen as superior. The resulting exodus has gone in rushed phases over the years, the first rush and the first massive influx of modern private schools in the state which is commonly called “White Flight” and ending with the newly coined “Black Flight” of the 1990s has led us to our current situation with a all but separate North and South school district.  This bill does nothing to change that “status quo,” instead execrating the decay already in progress.  So instead of offering change, the champions of changing the status quo are actually champions of accelerating the decline of failing schools.

Parents should have a choice in schooling

The idea that parents don’t have choices in schooling their children is a champion cause for anyone that wants to ignore the reality of failing schools.  They believe by offering this tax credit parents will move kids out of a failing school to… what?  Private school?  It won’t cover a full year’s tuition.  Another school in the district, assuming there is room. Just what choice is this adding?

And do Parents even need a choice?  In the early 1990s, charter schools were introduced in Chicago. The University of Chicago Economics department saw a chance to do a little deep statistical research, and what they found is interesting. They tracked every child who stayed in Chicago Public Schools who also applied for a new charter school.  Because the demand for the charter was so high, students were awarded a slot at the school based on a lottery system.

Now this study didn’t just follow the students who got into the charter school, it followed those students who applied and didn’t get in.  It probably won’t surprise you to learn that children of parents who applied for the charter school and got into the new school had great test scores and a high college admissions.  What  may surprise you is that the kids who didn’t get in had almost no statistical difference in testing or college admission, even though many of them stayed behind at a “failing” school. At least as far as their academic career went, the change from a “failing” school to a “charter” school had no bearing on students testing or college admission.

Parents do have lots of choices about how their child is educated, but they can only exercise those choices if they are involved with their child’s school life.  Parents who divorce themselves from the schooling of their children don’t have many choices.

Keeping Children In Failing Schools is Bad

Sure it is.  No one wants to be part of something that is failing, nor should they.  But what, exactly, is a failing school and who gets to decide? Let’s take two random schools in Huntsville (neither of which is random because I have information sources at both, so I know a bit more than most), Morris Elementary and Weatherly Elementary.  Morris is a North school, Weatherly is a Southie.  Morris is currently a failing school, Weatherly is an exceptional school.

A kindergarten teacher at both school tests her children early in the year to get a starting baseline of what her children know. They are (currently) tested again and again throughout the year, ending up with a final test that determines what they “know” after the first year of school. There is a state determined “baseline” that is the minimum knowledge that a child must know after leaving Kindergarten. An important skill learned in Kindergarten is reading, and that is one of the significant baselines of that grade level.

Children entering kindergarten at Weatherly have, over the last several years, had an average baseline in reading that was within a point or two of what the baseline is for the end of the year. In many individual cases, the children already exceeded the end of the year baseline.  Exceptional indeed.

Children at Morris are not so lucky. They entered with an average that was significantly below the baseline for the end of the year, and actually well below the baseline that is expected of a Kindergartener at the beginning of the year.

Is it any surprise the a greater percentage of children reach or surpass baseline at Weatherly than at Morris?  Yet, Morris manages to take 95+% of new kindergarteners and move them to or beyond baseline.  95+%.  That’s a significant achievement, considering how far behind those children were at the beginning of the year. In one year, Weatherly had 95% of its students at or near end of the year baseline on day one of school.

Now Morris is arguably a failing school.  But if you had a kindergartener who, for whatever reason, was well behind the curve at the start of the year, I’d argue that the teachers at Morris are doing more with less, have more experience with catching children up, and are doing the absolute best they can with what they are given.  I’m not sure a below average student in kindergarten is better served by being moved to Weatherly, where the child would be significantly behind the other students.

On the other hand, an above average child at Morris would probably be better served at Weatherly, where his peers are more advanced and prepared for learning.

So is leaving a child at a school that is determined to be failing a bad thing?  I’d have to say, it completely depends on the circumstances of the school and the child.

Schools should be run like industry, Failing schools should be closed.

This is the current mantra of the pro-bill side.  If only schools would accept best industry practice, you’d see massive improvements in education all the way across the spectrum. If only school were held accountable to the stakeholders in the same manner as industry, schools would be forced to improve, or be closed.  Why can’t schools run more like a business, they ask, and smirk at smile while the other side says “School isn’t a business.”

Sorry anti-bill people, school is exactly like a business. School do have to answer to stakeholders and have to preform or they should be closed.

Now while my anti-bill minded friends are picking up their jaws from the floor, let me to go on.

The problem is, schools are not a business like “Apple, Inc.” They aren’t even a business like your local stop and shop.  Schools are a business and like every business there are rules and regulations on how those businesses must operate. Those regulations come in the form of a century or more of litigation and legislation, and schools today must meet or exceed those regulations to operate.

But the pro-bill side doesn’t want to look at those regulations when it comes to operating a school.  Huntsville City Schools is using a process called LEAN to streamline and improve non-scholastic business practices. I actually approve of this, although I don’t approve of their method of hiring a consultant to perform the analysis.  The problem is business seems to want schools to use LEAN on the way students are taught.

One of the primary regulatory requirements of schools in America is that every child between the ages of 6 and 18 is entitled to a free, public education. Every child.  And that you can not discriminate against a child based on their ability to learn, ability to perform or ability to participate. That makes schools unlike every other business in America.

Under this “school should be like industry” attitude, schools pull in a raw material – children.  They produced a finished product – high school graduates ready for college. They are paid, through taxes, for the effort. The problem with this model is that schools have absolutely no control over the sources of their raw material.

Worse, the raw material, as it is processed, is not under strictly controlled environments. Apple needs silver of a specific quality and grade to make the circuits that become the products they sell.  Apple would never allow that silver that didn’t meet their strict requirements come into their supply line, and if sub-adequate silver was delivered, it would be rejected.  Schools can’t reject any raw material delivered to them.  Once the raw material enters Apple’s supply chain, Apple protects it from outside environmental concerns and maintains it’s purity throughout the manufacturing process.  Schools return their raw materials to the “supplier” each day with no guarantee that the “purity” will be the same the following day, much less over the 12-13 years the school has to produce the finished product.

So comparing schools to industry fails flat.  But is there a business model that more closely matches that of what a school has to produce?  You bet.  Dentists.

Dentists are given a raw material, dirty teeth.  They then, for a fee, give back clean teeth. But in between visits to the dentist, they have no control over the teeth.  So they give the patient guidance, instruction and often tools used to maintain the teeth.  When the dentist sees the teeth again, he repeats the process.  Sometimes it works, and the teeth are cleaned quickly and efficiently.  Sometimes the teeth are not maintained and the process takes longer, may involve multiple trips to the dentist to finish, and costs the patient more.  And to start with, the genetic or previous maintenance of the teeth is inconsistent, and not the same from patient to patient.

Schools are much more like this.  Schools have to take everyone that comes to them, at least a dentist can decide a case is outside his ability or expertise.  Schools give the students and parents guidance, instruction and tools to continue toward the ultimate goal of graduation and college. But here is where the analogy falls apart.  Schools are expected to make each student progress and perform at the exact same level, regardless of what happens to the raw material outside of the classroom.

So yes, I say we should treat schools more like business.  Treat them like dentists, and stop holding them responsible for what happens outside of the classroom.

Teachers should be held accountable for failing schools.

Couldn’t agree more.  But again, there is a caveat.

Teachers should be held accountable for failing schools, but let’s go back to the previous Weatherly/Morris example.  Weatherly and Morris were not given the same set of students to work with.  The student body at the two schools have drastically different abilities and home life. Holding teachers at Morris to the exact same performance standards as the teachers at Weatherly isn’t fair.

Moreover, looking at the raw data year to year, it wouldn’t be fair to hold Weatherly to the same standards as Morris.  A typical Morris Kindergarten classroom sees a 500-1500% increase in baseline scores in reading.  A typical Weatherly kindergarten looks at a 50-75% increase in baseline scores.  Using that single criterion, which school is failing?  Under current guidelines, it is Morris, because even though Morris dramatically increased the baseline scores of the students, not enough passed the minimum baseline at the end of the year. A school is considered “failing” based on a very narrow definition of criteria to the exclusion of all the rest.  So despite the fact that Morris’s teachers are exceptional at pulling up students baseline scores, they are failing.

I’m sorry, but that simply isn’t right. We should hold teachers and schools accountable for failing, but we shouldn’t define failing as a one dimensional criterion at the end of year.  The entire year should be considered into calling a school failing. Starting points should be considered as well as ending points.

So absolutely, if we come up with a more realistic definition of a failing school, then I’m all for holding teachers accountable. But under the current definition of what makes a school fail, then such a concept is meaningless.

That’s not to say a teacher shouldn’t be held accountable. If a teacher constantly fails to match her teammates performance year after year, then that teacher should be held accountable and be removed. But holding good, honest, hardworking and effective teachers accountable to a single criteria that is an unfair representation of the job they are performing is ridiculous.

Competition Breeds Improvement

I can think of no truer statement.  Competition absolutely breeds improvement. But it doesn’t breed improvement for everyone.  Some people are left by the wayside in the quest for improvement. So competition doesn’t breed universal improvement.

Let’s take a look at the SEC.  Specifically SEC football.  Highly competitive.  And if the last 7 years of National Championships are any indication, the SEC is the single most competitive and improved conference in college football. The number of NFL drafts supports this claim.

But that level of competition did not improve every single football player wanting to play in the conference.  In fact, the vast majority of those who want to play in the conference aren’t allowed to.  They never even get the chance because the expected improvement of those players is so far below the level of play necessary.

Schools, once again, don’t have that luxury.  Public schools don’t get to recruit or pick the best of the best when it comes to students.  Competition weeds out the weak and celebrates the strong, however weak and strong are defined inside the competition. Schools don’t get that chance.

So competition doesn’t work in public schools the same way it does in other fields.  Instead, it weakens some schools to the point of being impossible to function while strengthening other schools to the point of superior performance.  Never mind that the competition was inserted artificially, or that the playing field was never level to begin with.   It would be like expecting a high school football team to play against the University of Alabama.

So that’s a look at the Pro-Bill side.  Let’s look at the Anti-Bill side:

Unfairly punishes schools in the most need of help

I seriously don’t like this argument, perhaps because it is most true.  But the reason it unfairly punishes the schools in the most need of help doesn’t have anything to do with the bill itself.

Schools in most need of help, by and large with a few exceptions, aren’t in need of help because of money, teachers or anything the government provides to them.  We’ve come to a point in American Education History where we have taken the success or failure of a student to graduate and be college ready squarely on the shoulder of the teacher.  Wait, that’s not true.  We’ve put the failure of a student to graduate and be college ready on the teacher.  Success is the result of something or someone else, at least in Huntsville.  But that’s an entirely different blog.

The fact remains that teachers are a part… a significant part… of the success or failure of a student.  But not the only, or even the majority.  Home life, study habits, parental involvement and a host of other things determine the likelihood of success. In many of today’s failing schools society as stripped the school of students who are likely to succeed, moving them on to other schools. We’ve left these schools and their teachers with those least likely to succeed and then blame them when they don’t, and this is a shame. This bill just pushes us further down the road to singling out those least likely to succeed and allowing them to fail.

It is an attack on already overworked teachers.

I don’t buy into this one little bit.  The attack on teachers is already there. Teachers are being punished under the current system for not having control over things they’ve never had, and never will have, under their control. This bill changes nothing about that, and only goes to further the inevitable failure of the entire system.

Arbitrary Definition of Failing

It isn’t arbitrary at all.  It is goal oriented, unfair and misguided, but it isn’t arbitrary.  Focus on the problems with the definition, not on silly side notes.

It opens the door for Charter Schools

Yes it does.  And that’s a good thing, if your goal is to close failing schools. It’s a bad thing only if you want to keep the status quo.  Of course, as I pointed out, the new status quo is just going to be another step down the line of the current status quo, so it really doesn’t matter.  Bring on the charter schools, which will excel at their job because they don’t play by the same rulebook as every other school and can pick and choose who gets in and who gets out.  And then, at some point in the future, schools that aren’t failing today will be failing when all the likely to succeed students are removed from the system, and suddenly charter schools have to play by the rules of the schools they shut down, and they start failing too.

It unfairly targets disabled students

I’m not sure if this one is true or not, and will bow to the opinion of those more versed in the needs of these students. I wouldn’t know if it helps or hurts students with special needs.  At a glance, since it doesn’t help students less likely to succeed, I don’t see how it can help disabled students, but I’m not sure it hurts them.

It does nothing to help failing schools

Absolutley true.  But for this to have any meaning, you have to assume that this bill is designed to help a school at all.  It is designed to move money away from failing schools and move more likely to be successful students away from failing schools.  This bill is absolutely intended to hurt a failing school.  No question about it.

Solutions

I do have some alternative solutions I’d like to propose.  None of them will be popular.

Means Testing

I’d like this bill much more if it had a sort of means testing included for the tax credit. Only I don’t mean economically, I mean some sort of system that tests how involved a student AND THE STUDENT’S FAMILY is involved in the success of the school. Are the parents members of the PTA? Do they volunteer at the school?  Have they participated in some way of improving the failing school.  If they have, and they are ready to transfer their child, then let them get the credit.  If they haven’t, then they are ineligible for the credit, but can transfer.

Why Sen. Rand Paul’s Filibuster Is Important and How CNN Dropped The Ball

This week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul filibustered the congressional approval of a new CIA director that he has every intention of approving. Does that make sense?

It should.

Paul was filibustering the approval to shed light on an important issue that should have everyone who appreciates living in a land governed by laws and not the whim of a man should be concerned about.

Back in 2011, New Mexico born Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone attack in Yemen. This caused some concern among libertarian thinking people since al-Awlaki got no due process before the United States government deprived him of his life. Historically and legally this is an interesting area. al-Awlaki was not in the USA when he was killed, but that alone doesn’t give up his rights under the constitution. The administration argues that he was actively engaged in warlike actions against our troops. It is, at best, a legal grey area.

It isn’t like the American government hasn’t actively killed American’s before, with regard for due process. Police do it regularly, and we don’t usually fault them for it. When a bad guy pulls a gun on an officer in blue, we don’t expect the officer to run to a judge and get a warrant before shooting back. We do, however, expect a thorough review of the incident to make sure the use of lethal force is justified.

Since finding out about al-Awlaki death, several senators and other politicians have been attempting to review the rational and justification for targeting an American Citizen from a drone. Let me be clear, the American al-Awlaki was not collateral damage in the drone attack. He was the target.

We now know he was with four others, all traveling in a SUV. They had stopped for breakfast, when one spotted the incoming predator drone and they fled. An Army Hellfire Missile was fired into the SUV, killing all of them. al-Awlaki was not on a battlefield and he was not actively threatening any citizen of any country. And that is why this is under review.

The administration has not used drones solely overseas. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has purchased several Predator drones very similar to the one used to kill al-Awlaki. These drones are currently not armed with missiles, but instead an array of electronic equipment that makes domestic spying quite impressive. And at least some of these drones have been used to spy on Americans here at home.

So the concern has become, if it is legal for the Administration to use a drone to kill an American born terrorist overseas, how long until they use a drone to kill an American here at home?

Senator Paul asked this of the appointed new Director of the CIA in a letter. The chief law enforcement officer in the country, Department of Justice Attorney General Eric Holder responded via a letter. His response was less than satisfactory.

The question you pose is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine extraordinary circumstance which it would be necessary appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President authorize military to use lethal force in the territory of the United States.

Holder goes on to develop instances where he thought the drones may be used, like Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

This is disturbing on several levels. In both, foreign nationals attacked our country’s sovereign soil. These were not the actions of Americans, but the actions of angry aliens. As such, neither matched what the Senator asked. Would drones ever be used on Americans in America.

On another level, Holder specifically says “military to use lethal force.” Unless the hypothetical situation is nuclear in nature, such an action would be illegal under the Possie Comitatus Act. Additionally, the current Administration has not been forthcoming with the legal prior to this past Monday with the legal rational for using drones against American’s overseas, and has not stated whether or not the rational applies domestically.

On Monday, Holder released documents concerning the legal rational for overseas drone use against American’s. In a hearing on Wednesday, Holder was questioned about the domestic use of drones. Again, his answer was less than satisfying. In this case, it was Judiciary Committee member Texas Senator Paul Cruz who asked if using a drone in a very specific matter would be constitutional.

The situation was simple. Would the Administration believe it is constitutional to use a drone against a domestic terrorist sitting in a cafe. Again, Holder’s response was unsatisfactory. The answer to that question is “No.” But Holder had to dither, and avoid the constitutional aspect of the question. He was intterupted and asked again. Again he dithered. He finally answered “I thought I was saying no.”

You can watch the whole exchange here:

So I think Senator Rand Paul was more than justified in his Filibuster. It is time that the Administration is clear on its position of the legal use of lethal force on American soil.

Today, the filibuster over, the Senate did confirm John Brennan as the newest Director of the CIA. Just prior to the vote, which Paul did not vote in the affirmative, Paul received a letter from Holder clarifying the Administration’s position on drone strikes in the United States. In the brief letter Holder said that the President did not have the authority to kill an American who was not “engaged in combat.”

About time.

Now how CNN dropped the ball. In their report of Holder’s appearance before the Judicial Committee they failed completely to report on the verbal summersaults between Holder and Cruz. In their report, they reported that Holder said “no.” Shame on you, CNN.

The Sky Is Falling, or why is Homeland Security Buying TANKS!

So why is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) buying 2700 light armor tanks?  That would be an excellent question… if it were true.  But despite the orgasmic expositions on talk radio and the vomitous speculations on blogs, DHS isn’t.  The vehicles in question aren’t tanks and they aren’t for DHS.

Specifically, the 2700 vehicles that the Administration is purchasing are Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicles, or MRAPs.  An MRAP is not a tank. It’s a light Armored Personal Carrier or APC.  This is what a MRAP looks like:

MRAP

MRAP

Take a good look at what you see in this picture.  Notice the rather large tires, the lack of a main weapon system, the vaguely SUV shape and the simple windows.  This is not a tank, it doesn’t look like a tank, it looks far more like a big truck.

Now look like at a tank, the main battle tank of the US Army.

800px-DF-SC-82-07237This is a tank, arguably the most advanced tank on the planet, is a true weapon.  It has tracks, not wheels, so it can go almost anywhere.  It has reactive armor, unlike the MRAP which has plate steel and ceramics.  And who could miss the main weapon system, a 105mm rifled barrel cannon.  (The tank here is a 1979 XM1.  Modern M1A1’s and later have an even bigger gun, a 120mm Smoothbore cannon that is even more accurate, flexible and deadly.)

I think it’s clear from these pictures that these two vehicles serve vastly different purposes.  While a small arms gun could be mounted on the roof of an MRAP, it’s hardly a tank.  It is designed to take soldiers into and through dangerous areas as safely as possible.  It is not designed to kill people, although it can be deadly.  Mounting a .50 caliber machine gun on the roof or even a coaxial 7.62 would make an MRAP a dangerous platform to attempt to ambush.

The DHS does own several of the MRAP’s as well as several other police departments around the nation.  They are modified from what you see in the picture and are most commonly used by SWAT teams.  It allows a team to get very close to a bad guy with a lot of metal and ceramic between them.  Typically, they aren’t armored, but I’m not going to say there aren’t some out there with a gun system mounted on it.  Frankly, it would seem a waste of both ammunition and equipment, since that isn’t the purpose of police or DHS people having these vehicles, and wouldn’t be very useful to them.

But all that said, why are certain talk show hosts and bloggers going out of there way to call them tanks?  Because it’s scarier.  It doesn’t sound scary to say that DHS is buying what are really supped up armored cars.  When they say “tank” it immediately brings to mind the big gun so plainly visible on the M1A1.  Tanks are designed to kill people, APC’s are designed to keep people from getting killed.  It’s basic fear mongering.

So where did this come from?  This rumor of DHS buying 2700 tanks?  I’m not sure.  It seems to have started on the Modern Survival Blog, a right leaning political blog.  He has identified the MRAP as being the Navistar model, and I believe he is correct.  He also has pictures of DHS versions as well as police versions that may have been acquired through DHS.  This is not new.  Right here in North Alabama, several departments have APC’s.

What he fails to do is put the connection betwenn the 2700 MRAP’s being refit at West Point, Mississippi with DHS.  Strangely enough, there is a federal procurement contract for 2717 MRAP refits between Navistar and the US Government, with the refits being done at the West Point facility.  But it isn’t DHS that’s buying them.  It’s the US Navy buying them for the US Marines.  You can even view the contract summary here, but I’ll post the summary for you.

 Navistar Defense, L.L.C., Warrenville, Ill., is being awarded an $879,923,195 firm-fixed-priced delivery order 0023 under previously awarded contract (M67854-07-D-5032) for the procurement of 2,717 units of rolling chassis; 10 engineering change proposals; and 25 contract data requirements lists, for MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.  Work will be performed in West Point, Miss., and is expected to be completed by the end of October 2013.  Procurement funds in the amount of $879,923,195 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  The original contract was competitively procured.  The Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Va., is the contracting activity.

So the Marines are buying 2717 MRAP’s, not the DHS.  Some small portion of these MRAP’s may end up being given to the DHS, assuming the Marines have enough “extra” that they are going to get rid of a few.  (Marines rarely do this.  They are the land fighting arm of a procurement system that does naval fighting, so when they get something they tend to keep it a while.)

By the way, the Tank story broke on Monday.  The contract was awarded…  in January.  Of 2012.

So if you hear some blogger, talk show host, or friend tell you about the DHS buying 2700 tanks… ask them for the procurement number.  I’ve given it to you… it’s contract M67854-07-D-5032 delivery order 0023.  It’s for 2717 MaxxPro MRAPs.  And it’s for the Marines.  And until someone shows me a procurement order for DHS, I don’t buy it.  And I suspect, neither did DHS.

Now if you want to get freaked out about something that the DHS is doing, read this article from CNET about their drones.  That’s scary.