Friday, August 27, 2010

How To Write A Rough Draft

I've written lots in my life.  Between majoring in English and going to law school and being a lawyer and inexplicably keeping up this blog, I've written thousands of documents in my life.  So I've developed a few strategies I find useful to help the process along.  One of these strategies is the Rough Draft.  In the Rough Draft I'll outline an argument, throw in a few sentences that hit on major ideas I need to flesh out, and generally set the course for what I want to say.  From there I will polish and shine.  But a good Rough Draft is indispensable.

Which bring us, of course, to the Daily Herald, which believes so fully in this writing strategy that they use it exclusively in their publishing activities.  The Rough Draft, in their capable hands, becomes the Final Draft.  Case in point, this little gem called Utah ponders fed handout (lack of capitalization in the title after first word: theirs).

I often make unsupported claims in a Rough Draft with little notes to myself to verify this or find examples or add citation.  This way I can plot out the argument I want to make up front but fill in the detail after some more research and thought.  If I find my unsupported claim remains unsupported after research, I drop it and work around it.  But when the Rough Draft is your Final Draft, as in this "article," no such follow up work is required, which is convenient.  I've recreated this article in proper Rough Draft form:

Utah's governor and legislators are struggling over whether to accept a "gift" of money from Uncle Sam.

They should stop thinking and just take it. It's our money in the first place, and there's nothing wrong with getting it back. 

Flesh out argument for how federal taxes collected legally under Constitution belong to state treasury in the first place.

Of course, the machinations surrounding this business are reprehensible. The Democrat Congress and President Obama recently passed a $26 billion "emergency" spending bill that critics call a payoff to the teachers unions. Out of that, $101 million has been offered to Utah to pay teachers. 

Make sure to change to "Democratic," which is an adjective, instead of "Democrat," which is a noun.  Also, find critics who think this is a payoff to teachers unions so it doesn't seem like I'm just raising issues out of thin air on my own.  Finally, look how good it is, and how easy it is, to put words in quotations marks to cast doubt on them without putting any effort in to back it up.  Remember to do this more.

Some lawmakers are furious that the federal government seems to be trying to usurp the state's role. 

Suss out what I mean by usurping the state's role because right now this refers to nothing and makes no sense.  What role am I even talking about?  Not sure.  Also, the phrase "seems to be trying" is so vague and vapid that it will likely undercut my entire point here, when I figure it out.

"What the federal government is pushing on us is wrong," Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, has said. "I don't know why we're not looking for ways to fight back. I don't know why we're not looking for ways to sue the federal government to stop the federal hamstringing of the states." 

Quote, good.  Concrete.  It might be worth getting a quote from someone with a different perspective, though.  Uh, nah.

There's not much choice, however. If the state were to refuse the money, the U.S. Department of Education could do an end-run and give it to school districts directly. Such financial shenanigans are deplorable; the reasoning lamentable. 

Find example, preferably real but make one up if necessary, of the DOE ever doing something like this.  I might have just made that possibility up.  Remember to explain why the reasoning is lamentable because conclusory statements like that without any support are weak and lazy.

Gov. Gary Herbert defends the handout by saying that the money isn't new deficit spending, but simply a shift of resources. It's sad to see that Utah's chief executive is buying that deceptive Washington line. Supposedly Congress found offsetting spending cuts that made the handout possible. Uh-huh.

More skeptical observers doubt the cuts will ever really happen. As House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, said of the congressional legislation, "This bill is just loaded with what I would call voodoo accounting," 

Delve into this issue in the future, find out what the offsets are and if they are something that have been used as smoke and mirrors in the past, or if they are legitimate.  Don't just raise the possibility of deceptiveness without backing it up with actual facts of some sort.

It's an apt description. The U.S. is borrowing 41 cents for every dollar it spends these days. That means that if the feds are giving Utah $100 million, about $41 million of that will be debt. On the other hand, it also means that $60 million was Utah's in the first place. 

Not sure what I mean by that last line or how I came up with that number, look into it.  Also, try to figure out what this paragraph has to do with anything at all because it is really out of place now.  A snappy segue might do the trick.  Add segue later.

So we can take the money without guilt. And rest assured that the feds will just throw it at some other state if Utah were to turn it down.

Let's just hope that an infusion of cash doesn't take the steam out of efforts to streamline Utah's educational system. It can and ought to be done. State government has set an example by cutting more than 2,000 employees in the last year and a half, shrinking its work force 6.8 percent. 

Don't forget to add some meat to the argument that the fact that the state is running out of money to educate our children and is cutting teachers and increasing class sizes is simply "streamlining" and ought to be done more, because right now it just sounds crass, short-sighted, and mean-spirited for no reason whatsoever.

Nobody should get complacent about this additional funding. It will be good to get some money back, but only if it doesn't come with strings that cost a lot in the future.

What could I possibly be implying about getting complacent?  Not sure yet but it sounds like the kernel of something profound so leave in for now.  Also, you can't just say "strings" because that doesn't actually make sense.  "Strings attached" does because that is a well-known (read: cliche) phrase, but strings by themselves in this context is just bizarre.  Change wording before turning in.

In this case, Washington hasn't yet revealed the fine print. Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said that lawmakers don't know how many conditions will be put on the spending. "We won't get that information unless we put in the application," Waddoups said.

That's in the new congressional style of "we have to pass this bill to find out what's in it." But here's a safe bet: The Capitol Gang will attach strings and lots of them.

There's that strings again, I can work out that kink later.  Now, as for the actual potential restrictions or conditions attached to the money, work out some sort of argument that says that even though this is purely federal money given freely to the states the federal government has no right to add conditions or restrictions.  I don't want to sound ungrateful, after all, because money for education is super important for America's and Utah's future.

All in all, it's disagreeable to watch Washington spend irresponsibly. But look at it this way: When you fill out your tax return, you may be incensed at what the government does with your hard-earned money. But if you get a refund check, you'll cash it. It's your money.

Utah should request its refund check right away.

Remember to circle around and come up with some sort of argument, anything really, that spending on education is irresponsible.  Because otherwise this entire article is just a waste of time and might appear to some crazy left-wingers to be simply an opportunity to whine about the federal government instead of a thoughtful discussion of federal education spending in the wake of huge financial shortfalls for the states in this, the worst economic environment in 80 or so years.

Next draft due in 24 hours.

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