A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, July 29, 2011

Killing Pell Grants to Save Them?

Basketball Buddy and Education Secretary Arne Duncan went before the Senate Appropriations Committee this week to talk about the increased funding that the Department of Education has requested in next year's budget. You can read all about it here.

One part of the discussion with Alabama Senator Richard Shelby caught my eye. No, it wasn't the criticism of Race to the Top,which certainly is a flawed program. It was the discussion of Pell Grants, which are grants of federal money to help economically disadvantaged students afford college and break out of the cycle of poverty.
Pell Grants, at risk in the ongoing debt-ceiling negotiations, figured prominently in the conversation. Duncan and Harkin said that cuts to the program have already been made, but expanding its funding its necessary. Increasing poverty and the recession have created greater demand for Pell Grants, making them key to eliminating college entrance barriers among underprivileged students.

"If we scale back on Pell access, we'll simply have a lot less people going to college," Duncan said.

The proposed spending plan calls for a $5.6 billion discretionary spending increase in Pell Grants.

Shelby had harsh words for Pell Grants' increasing cost to government, which he said has doubled since 2008.

"We are on the brink of breaking our commitment to students who wish to attend college because the Pell Grant program is on a fiscally unsustainable path," Shelby said. He said that new laws that expanded eligibility coupled with the recession made the program more costly. "We cannot continue to throw money at this problem," he said.

When Harkin repeated his maxim that cutting Pell funding would be "like turning a chainsaw on yourself," Shelby responded that no policymakers "want to chainsaw any program that's going to sustain our education system."

But, he argued, the reality of the country's financial situation means "we're all taking a chainsaw to our budgets right now."

I don't know, Senator Shelby, I think the last thing to do to demonstrate our commitment to students who wish to attend college is to gut or kill a program designed to make that possible.

Although I grew up in a working class home, I did not qualify for Pell Grants by basically "thismuch" but I was able to cobble together a great education through scholarships, loans and work-study funds. But Pell Grants serve a growing population-- from 1999 to 2008, the number of high poverty public schools increased from 12 to 17 percent of all US public schools, and the number of poor students increased. Since that time the real effects of the current recession has really kicked in, so I am afraid that those numbers are probably higher by now. Students who graduate from these schools will need a substantial amount of financial support in order to be able to afford college, especially given that state funding cuts to post-secondary schools has merely accelerated the already dizzying yearly increases that colleges have made since the 1980s.That is a reality that Senator Shelby apparently does not want to face as to why the funding for the program has been-- and should continue to-- increase.

College graduates earn more on average than high school graduates. Our society receives a return on its investment hundreds of times over when it invests in a better educated work force-- and helps create a more stable democracy and just society, as well. Funding for college education especially is an investment in our future.

Cutting funding to Pell Grants is crazy.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

I like this blog title.

Jesus Needs New PR. And the pictures this guy finds are fascinating/weird/thought-provoking/disturbing. Like this one:

Apparently some church actually used this in an advertisement. I'm not too sure about the message being sent here, especially as people who see it might just crash into the building trying to figure out what the heck it means.

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When corporations are rotten citizens

Corporations often like to promote PR about being great citizens. But hidden in this news item is an example of bad corporate citizenship, as well as stupidity:
Strong second-quarter earnings from McDonald's, General Electric and Caterpillar on Friday are just the latest proof that booming profits have allowed Corporate America to leave the Great Recession far behind.

But millions of ordinary Americans are stranded in a labor market that looks like it's still in recession. Unemployment is stuck at 9.2 percent, two years into what economists call a recovery. Job growth has been slow and wages stagnant.

"I've never seen labor markets this weak in 35 years of research," says Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

Wages and salaries accounted for just 1 percent of economic growth in the first 18 months after economists declared that the recession had ended in June 2009, according to Sum and other Northeastern researchers.

In the same period after the 2001 recession, wages and salaries accounted for 15 percent. They were 50 percent after the 1991-92 recession and 25 percent after the 1981-82 recession.

Corporate profits, by contrast, accounted for an unprecedented 88 percent of economic growth during those first 18 months. That's compared with 53 percent after the 2001 recession, nothing after the 1991-92 recession and 28 percent after the 1981-82 recession.

What's behind the disconnect between strong corporate profits and a weak labor market? Several factors:

• U.S. corporations are expanding overseas, not so much at home. McDonald's and Caterpillar said overseas sales growth outperformed the U.S. in the April-June quarter. U.S.-based multinational companies have been focused overseas for years: In the 2000s, they added 2.4 million jobs in foreign countries and cut 2.9 million jobs in the United States, according to the Commerce Department.

• Back in the U.S., companies are squeezing more productivity out of staffs thinned out by layoffs during Great Recession. They don't need to hire. And they don't need to be generous with pay raises; they know their employees have nowhere else to go.

• Companies remain reluctant to spend the $1.9 trillion in cash they've accumulated, especially in the United States. They're unconvinced that consumers are ready to spend again with the vigor they showed before the recession, and they are worried about uncertainty in U.S. government policies.

"Lack of clarity on a U.S. deficit-reduction plan, trade policy, regulation, much needed tax reform and the absence of a long-term plan to improve the country's deteriorating infrastructure do not create an environment that provides our customers with the confidence to invest," Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said.

Caterpillar said second-quarter earnings shot up 44 percent to $1.02 billion — though that still disappointed Wall Street. General Electric's second-quarter earnings were up 21 percent to $3.76 billion. And McDonald's quarterly earnings increased 15 percent to $1.4 billion.

Still, the U.S. economy is missing the engines that usually drive it out of a recession.

Carl Van Horn, director of the Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, says the housing market would normally revive in the early stages of an economic recovery, driving demand for building materials, construction workers and appliances. But that isn't happening this time.

And policymakers in Washington, D.C., have chosen to focus on cutting federal spending to reduce huge federal deficits instead of spending money on programs to create jobs: "If we want the recovery to strengthen, we can't be doing that," says Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

For now, corporations aren't eager to hire or hand out decent raises until they see consumers spending again. And consumers, still paying down the debts they ran up before the recession, can't spend freely until they're comfortable with their paychecks and secure in their jobs.

Said Van Horn: "I don't think there's an easy way out."

Even as flawed a human being and businessman as Henry Ford understood one fact that these corporations as a group have forgotten about our consumer society: workers are also consumers. Ford paid his workers an unheard of $5 a day starting in 1914 with the understanding that it would help retain his skilled workers and that it would also enable them to buy his own products, which at that time were beyond the reach of many working people.

Corporations say they are reluctant to hire while the Consumer Confidence indices show that Americans are still fearful about their economic security, and a large part of that has to do with the weakness in the job market and lack of any sort of trust between worker and management that jobs and work conditions will be secure.

Corporations are sitting on nearly 2 TRILLION dollars in cash and yet still claim that they can't afford to hire here in the US. If consumers aren't buying, how are corporations getting that cash? Through speculation in stock prices and through firing workers. This will lead to short-term profits.

But since the economy is based on consumption, and corporations have forgotten that workers are also consumers, eventually all the cost-cutting measures in the world won't make up for a lack of sales. It will be up to the corporations to break this cycle and commit to hiring American workers in order to improve their bottom line for the long term, and they've got 2 trillion dollars worth of cushion to allow them to find the testicular fortitude to do it.

Corporations got by with this counterproductive kind of personnel policy in the past due to the overuse of credit in place of wages in Americans' relentless pursuit of consumption. But credit also dried up in the Great Recession That Hasn't Ended In Any Way That is Meaningful. Real estate is still moribund due to the reset of credit policy, and some of that was long overdue. But those foreign workers corporate America is hiring in place of Americans aren't at the point in their standard of living where they can consume anywhere as prolifically as Americans can.

Now unemployed people don't pay income tax. Meanwhile, corporations who fire people get rewarded for their economic and political misbehavior. And yet many of our politicians insist on handing out tax cuts and rebates and incentives to these same corporations.

For forty years many Americans have been persuaded that taxes are legalized theft against them personally, and some sort of oath was taken by conservative pols to never say the word "taxes" unless the pejorative adjective "job-killing" was appended beforehand. The implication, then and now, according to Speaker Boehner, is that decreased taxes therefore must CREATE jobs, right?

Well, where are they? I could wait while you go turn over some rocks looking for them, but we've already discussed the reality in the article quoted at the start of this post. Cutting taxes, a lodestar of modern Republican economic policy, has not provided security for American workers nor created new jobs to support a robust middle class. All it has done is allow corporations and corporate executives to sit on obscene amounts of wealth, and income disparity, which also robs our society of stability as well as justice, has become worse now than it has been at any time since the 1920s. I hope we all remember what happened after the 1920s.

We could wait for corporations to wake up to the box into which they have painted themselves. But we could also give corporations a nudge by not allowing them to legally move profits to their overseas components, and we should raise taxes on corporations that cut jobs. Taxes, besides paying for civilization and roads and schools and other great goods, have also been used historically to encourage good behavior and penalize bad behavior as a secondary purpose.

Retaining the status quo is not an option, especially as we face the reality of our impending budgetary crisis. For too long we have encouraged corporations to be bad citizens as we have showered them with the benefits and privilege of operating within our great country. It is time to understand that they will not be good nor do good on their own, since they operate from a competitive paradigm that necessitates that far more people LOSE economically than win.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

You can't always get what you want, especially if you don't even know what you need

An anonymous poster (Hmmmm, really?) made the following points on my previous comment about the disenchantment of many, including myself, in the progressive camp with the administration of President Obama:
I never expected to like everything Obama did, even though I worked hard for him.
Ad [sic] I can't imagine either voting Republican or voting for a 3rd party candidate (same as voting Republican). Keep in mind, people, that only 15% of the country identifies themselvs [sic] as liberal, while close to 50% calls themselves conservative. And many of the rest lean conservative. We can't have an all-progressive President until we do a better job of educating and enlisting our fellow voters.

I am a big girl-- as I said, I certainly never expected President Obama to be able to do everything, and I don't think anyone else who is disappointed did either, if they are rational, adult people. I was hoping for some compromise and bipartisanship from our elected leaders, especially since we certainly didn't get that from the last administration, and I hoped that President Obama would use his surge of support to pressure out congresspersons to cooperate in this. I was massively disappointed by the failure to seize this golden opportunity, and now we as a country are in even more dire straits due to that failure. Our country can never win by having only one political side capitulate. Do we really want to live in a country that designs its government and economy so that there are more losers than there are "winners," even though we are all Americans?

I also agree that there is a need to better explain what progressives and liberals believe, and why those beliefs are in the best interests of this country. And who better to help educate our fellow-citizens than our president, as I pointed out in my previous post?

But something else "anonymous" said concerns me, and helps support my point. It's this part: "I can't imagine voting Republican...." It is this kind of thinking that marginalizes a voter and sustains and exacerbates our current political and economic situation.

I certainly can imagine voting for a Republican. Of course I can! I've imagined it a LOT-- I've just never been able to do it very often. But I've always been willing to consider it, as I view each election on a case-by-case basis. As much as I joke about being a "yellow-dog Democrat" (pronounced "yel-la dawg" in my youth), I have voted for Republicans during my political life. They make great dog catchers. No, no, I'm kidding. Besides, "Republican" does not necessarily mean "conservative" as it is currently used, just as "Democrat" does not necessarily mean "liberal." Can't be repeated enough.

Seriously, I believe it is the duty of a voter to be conversant with the particular positions of each candidate regardless of party, and then vote for the person who is the most rational, most reasonable, and the most likely to represent that voter's priorities. I did not vote for Senator McCain for president because he failed all three of those tests in his current political incarnation. His choice of a running mate who eschews any thought larger than a sound bite or a snippet of Scripture merely punctuated this for me. When he stopped being a principled politician who sought to reform corrupt politics and end government-sponsored torture merely for political expediency, he lost me-- after I had admired many of his positions for years.

Our allegiance as voters must be to results, not rhetoric or labels. It is precisely the kind of thinking that refuses to consider any alternative outside one's alleged political party that has put us in the current mess in which we find ourselves. Democrats, through their failure to stick together over any issue-- ANY one! Pick ONE!-- have allowed the Republicans to peel off former Democratic supporters through scare tactics and sham social issues. Republicans have used populist rhetoric and rigid party discipline to stifle debate even within their own party, much to their detriment as well as that of our country in general, as they are now discovering. But further, as I tried to point out in my previous post: when President Obama and his advisors believe that they can count on the blind and unreasoning support of core constituencies to whom they are openly unfaithful and even contemptuous, those constituencies will be ignored. Republicans do the same thing through cynical class warfare, but no one seems to expose this.

Now to the point about the alleged loyalties of the American electorate. It certainly takes an act of political bravery to openly proclaim oneself a "liberal" in this day and age, even though I would argue that loyalty to an identity or label is completely counterproductive. Progressives need to attack the idea that being liberal is being "unAmerican" or "elitist" and that what is passed off as "conservatism" is normative. I would argue that this paradigm is a kerfuffle merely designed to forestall examination of where one's best interests truly lie.

Historically, conservatism (as an international political idea, not merely as an American phenomenon) has been, by definition, in favor of preserving the status quo. Its roots are in feudalism and preservation of the aristocracy. Modern American conservatives have at least outwardly turned this on its head, and for the last fifty or so years have told the electorate that the American government is unjust, that the American government is a form of oppression, that American government is corrupt. This is truly mind-boggling, since that is the exact same claim made by the extreme Left during the 1960s-- I mean, it's like the Yippies suddenly shaved and bathed and put themselves in suits with red power ties and declared common cause with their complete political opposites, if you think about it. But even more shockingly, these same people who hate the federal government have then been in charge of that same government for the past forty years! At this point, I think it behooves us to ask how these two facts can exist simultaneously.

I think many people who are voting and self-identifying as "conservative" are actually strongly in favor of reform, and I think the Democratic party needs to capitalize on this, as well as on certain disconnects that would help awaken these voters from their knee-jerk allegiance to a label rather than their own rational self-interests.

Let's just talk about economic well-being as a case in point. There are millions of people who have genuinely suffered during this current recession and indeed since the late 1960s, as the average standard of living for middle class people has actually slightly degraded in real terms.

I would hope that we can all agree that the middle class is the largest cohort of citizens in this country, which means that they should be able to wield a numerically significant proportion of political power. And yet, no one would argue that those in the middle class have been able to hang together and exert their influence to any real extent. There is a basic disconnect between corporate policies and their impact on the middle class, and the support of the middle class for politicians who advocate these policies. This reminds me of a Rolling Stones lyric: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need." In terms of the voting patterns of the middle class, one could rephrase our conundrum as, "You can't always get what you want, especially if you do not know what you really need." I will amplify this point at a later date.

Nonetheless, as long as voters evince the kind of blind loyalty to party, as well as by that huge mass who claims to be conservative while being phenomenally ill-served by that philosophy, it does accomplish one conservative objective. This kind of division and illogical thinking certainly will maintain the status quo. And, really, with so much dissatisfaction being voiced in public forums from polls to mass media to town hall meetings, certainly we can agree that change is demanded if this country is to become strong again.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cheating the students

So of course the Atlanta cheating scandal keeps unfolding. So far four employees in Atlanta have lost their jobs. Bunches more have been told to quit or be fired, as 178 received letters to this effect from the current superintendent. Eighty-two teachers and principals have admitted that they erased answers and altered answer sheets.

Look, the superintendent was seen as a miracle worker and won National Superintendent of the Year. The gains that Atlanta reported during the TEN YEARS it is presumed that cheating has gone on (basically since the start of No Child Left Behind) were astounding, and yet no one really dug into it until now? Please.

What really disgusts me is that you know that cheating has gone on in other places but so far, I have only heard about Chicago, Atlanta, and DC. And I love that Arne Duncan is shocked! SHOCKED! by the whole idea that high-stakes testing will lead to cheating.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

This just in: Memphis schools may be shut down

The city of Memphis owes the schools district millions of dollars. So the board decided to shut down the schools' August 8 starting date:
Classes for Memphis City Schools will not start this fall until the City Council deposits $55 million -- the amount the city has budgeted for schools from tax revenue -- in the district's account, school board members decided Tuesday night.

The board voted 8-1 to delay the start of the school year indefinitely, putting the system in the limelight as the district attempts to force city leaders to make good on funding promises.

"We've been patient; we've cut 1,500 jobs," said board member Tomeka Hart. "We're not going for everything. We're not saying give us everything you owe. We are just saying we have to have the money in the bank from our city so we can pay our bills.

"It's a difficult situation they are in but we can't continue to sacrifice our difficult situation to help them out of theirs. We did not create this situation, and we are a governing body as well."

City Council president Myron Lowery said several of the funding issues are tied up in court and therefore not negotiable right now.

"The council supplies less than 10 percent of almost a billion-dollar school budget," Lowery said. "They have voted to delay for having less than 10 percent in hand. That is ridiculous."

He blames the problem on poor communication between Supt. Kriner Cash and Mayor AC Wharton.

School employees will not be paid until school starts, throwing thousands of Memphians into a quandary, including Sarah Harper, who said, "as much as I would like to get paid, as much I need to get paid, let's not muddy the water about what the real issue is. Our children are being made the pawns. The city of Memphis needs to fund Memphis City Schools and fund them now. Demand they make this right.

"We've got to have the money. If we don't have it, we can't open the doors," she told the board, her voice rising with emotion. "I will guarantee you this city would be up in arms if they have to teach their children at home or find somewhere for them to go."

The vote came 21/2 hours into the emergency meeting, with impassioned arguments on both sides from members of the teachers union.

Cash said the board had spoken but said it was no victory.

"Our children need to be in school. I can't tell you that passionately or emphatically enough. I am going to keep fighting to get a resolution," he said, but made no promises. "What's next? I expect the city to be in touch with us."

Earlier, Wharton was perplexed by the board's discussion to delay, telling the City Council that money to fully fund the district had been set aside.

"The money is in the budget -- no ifs, ands or buts about it," he said. "On Friday, I stated to Dr. Cash that we have fully funded Memphis City Schools for the fiscal year 2012. The money is there, point blank. I don't know how to state that with any more clarity."

Wharton was visibly upset, at times pounding the podium in the council chambers.

The district says the city has shorted it $151 million over four years, including $78.4 million for the 2011-12 school year.

The city has not approved the district’s budget, required by state law. The district is to submit its budget to the state by Aug. 1. School had been scheduled to start Aug. 8.

If MCS cannot produce an approved budget showing the city is paying its fair share for schools by Oct. 1, new Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman told Cash on Tuesday that he would withhold state funding for MCS.

At 50 percent, the state is the largest provider of funds for public education in Memphis.

MCS board president Martavius Jones cast the lone vote against the move to delay the start of school after talking on the phone with Wharton during a recess in the meeting.

"I didn't get a commitment from him. I tried," Jones said, adding that the best solution would be one that didn't hurt taxpayers. "The city is going to have to take this out of their reserves (and) that will make borrowing costs go up, which hurts taxpayers."

While the city has approved the money, it has not been sent to the school system because the council has not yet approved the district's budget, as required by state law.

While Jones said he has never known the council not to approve the budget before school started, it was not approved until Sept. 14 last year, more than a month after the start of school.

But the environment this year is different, said school board attorney Dorsey Hopson, because the council's legal position in the merger with Shelby County Schools is that the city schools no longer exist.

Well, the school district is certainly right about one thing (left unspoken): The second parents will have to scramble around for day-care (which unfortunately many parents feel is the primary function of school districts rather than promoting learning), they will hold their elected city officials's feet to the fire.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

President Obama's re-election problem

I am sure that I am not the only one who has been receiving the multiple emails asking for political donations. I have not responded to these emails.

I am sorry, President Obama. I am not going to donate to your campaign. I may not even vote for you (my fingers are shaking as I am writing this, given how important my vote is-- at least to me).

Look, I understand that for the past year, you have had a Republican House, led by John Boehner (with Eric Cantor grabbing more and more control of his marionette strings even as we speak). But that's partly your fault.

You entered the presidency with a huge pile of political capital, and you squandered it. I will say that I was very pleased by your signing of the Lily Ledbetter Act as your first bill. You did approve a raise of the tobacco tax. You did sign the renewal of SCHIP, which tries to make sure poor children have access to health care. But you talked about the Hundred Days of FDR, but then you started backpedalling from other principled positions almost immediately. You backflipped on employing lobbyists in the administration. You kept using signing statements. You did not push Congress hard enough and sat on the sidelines while necessary reforms to our financial systems were either papered over or killed outright (I am still steaming over your inability to articulate why Elizabeth Warren is the person to oversee the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was her idea, and which will probably get gutted while you once again stand aside).

You are not a member of Congress. I get that. But you have this asset known as "the bully pulpit" (in the words of Teddy Roosevelt), and even George Bush proved to be a more masterful user of this asset than you, and you have the advantage of being able to speak English.

I would love to see some bipartisan action in our government, and I know that you believe you have been trying to do that. But compromise in which only one side-- yours, supposedly-- does the compromise is just weak. You keep trying to get the Republicans to play with you like a computer nerd trying to hang out at the jocks' table in the high school cafeteria, but you have lost your momentum to pressure them into it. You have also lost the House. As long as you do not specifically highlight again and again and again the class warfare that has been utilized by Republicans for the ultra-rich against the middle class for decades, you will keep losing ground. On the campaign trail you used to be a pretty good speaker. Where did that guy go?

I am a moderately progressive voter. I believe we have a duty to use government for good. I believe we should work for economic justice, transparency in government, and ethical decision-making. I believe that the budget must be balanced through a combination of tax increases and cuts in spending. I believe in raising taxes on companies that cut jobs. I support public education, and high standards and expectations for students. I believe in the right to privacy. I also support the death penalty. I support limitations on illegal immigration through the enforcement of laws on the books, because I believe that illegal workers are not only exploited and endangered thanks to their illegal status but that they drive down wages and working conditions. In a country with nearly 10% unemployment, we do not need to be importing workers. It's that simple.

I am also a teacher. Your education secretary has no real education experience, and "Race to the Top" is certainly not much of an improvement over No Child Left Behind. You and Basketball Boy have not yet admitted that charter schools run by for-profit corporations do not work.

No, I do not feel represented by you.

And I am not the only one. About a month ago, at the Netroots Nation Conference, it became obvious that the White House strategy of depending upon fawning liberal and progressive support while ignoring many of their concerns might have some consequence. Read the opinion piece at the link, please do, but I want to point out this one particularly resonant point:
Pfeiffer didn't really have to submit to this. The White House desperately wants liberal dollars but I can't imagine they're particularly worried about liberal votes. Democrats are never scared of their base, because liberals are terrified of Republicans:

"We can either work together and finish that work that we started in 2008 or we can be relegated back to the sidelines and see what a Republican president ... does to this country," he said at the event, which was streamed online.

He's right! A Republican president will most likely do what the last three Republican presidents have done: Starve the government of revenue, allow industries to capture regulators, launch pointless and bloody foreign misadventures, and threaten to gut the welfare state. I mean, all of those things might be happening now, with a Democrat, but they would happen so much worse with Mitt Romney, probably! So vote Obama again!

But it goes back further than this. In August 2010, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs basically said that liberals who criticized President Obama were on drugs:
"These people ought to be drug tested," Gibbs said. "They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality. They wouldn't be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president."

Later in the day, Gibbs put out a statement saying he had spoken "inartfully."

"I watch too much cable, I admit," he said.

Still, the dust-up underscored the tough political position in which the president finds himself. Left and right are unhappy with him, narrowing the political base that Obama needs to pass legislation and avoid losses in the November midterm election.

Until this point, Obama and liberal activists have largely minimized their disagreements in public. But Gibbs' comments could strain the uneasy alliance, ushering in a period where mutual disenchantment is voiced more openly.

The backlash against Gibbs was swift.

Gibbs, who put the "ass" in "political assassination" held on until May of this year, which goes to show something about how out of touch the President really is.

Some liberal blogger famously stated that Obama wasn't liberals' boyfriend anymore. The thing is, President Obama was never my boyfriend. I preferred Hillary Clinton, because I felt that she was the stronger candidate, but I accepted that he won the primary and there was a clear choice between his professed platform and that of Senator McCain. I am not one of these people who lets emotion cloud my judgment regarding political candidates. I understood that it would be hard for President Obama to do many things while he addressed the very real economic problems created by Republican economic policy, especially deregulation and de-funding of government programs. But you lost your fighting spirit almost the moment your hand rested on the Bible and the Chief Justice mangled the oath of office.

Now, at the Netroots Nation Convention, White House Communications director Dan Pfeiffer claimed victory on a number of progressive fronts, but there are some glaring problems that are the root of our discontent.

1. Taking credit for ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." As I recall, this administration has gone to court repeatedly to keep DADT in place while the military has "time" (maybe "all deliberate speed?" Is that vague enough?) to get ready for the eventual day when this administration may finally try to sneak in the extinction of this policy when it may attract the least attention. The policy is still in place. So don't pretend it's gone.

2. Health Care "Reform." Real health care reform is not a give-away to the insurance companies. We don't have a health care system in this country. We have health insurance, which only makes money if it discourages people from getting health care. This vaunted "reform" was the product of massive compromise (read "capitulation") to the very people who then promptly turned around and began denouncing some of their very own demands (hello, Mitt Romney!).

3. Iraq and Afghanistan (oh, and Guantanamo). Still there. Still adding billions monthly to the deficit, since none of this war has been paid for through taxes. And I want to point out that historically, we have made sure that that "shared sacrifice" included the people back home during war by attempting to pay for at least some of the war in question with tax increases. Until these two. No, the very people who screamed that it was our patriotic duty to go to war in 2001 and 2003 also deny that it is our patriotic duty to at least attempt to pay for this war. And President Obama has given them a pass on that.

4. Education. See above.

5. Financial Reform. Again, see above.

6. Economic policy. Do you have one-- one that you really care about enough to fight for it? And economic reform does not happen through compromise. Period.

A while back, Mr. Gibbs made some sort of a comment that the White House didn't need to worry about liberal and progressive backlash against the unfulfilled promises of the Obama Administration, since we have nowhere else to go. Okay, your half-Republican administration has been marginally better than a Republican administration. But is that really much of an accomplishment? Talk about being damned by faint praise.

Here's the thing. My most important political priorities were ignored during the first eight years of this century. But at least I wasn't being constantly asked to pay for that privilege through giving political donations to the people doing it.

I am just about your age, Mr. President. I am not a young adult who cast their first ballot for you caught in a haze of starry-eyed promises-- one who very well may stay home come November of 2012. I will not throw away my franchise. But there is a difference between voting for a candidate in whom I believe while knowing that Electoral College calculus means my vote will not count, and voting for someone who solicits their constituency's money and then openly and gloatingly ignores that constituency.

So, about those donations? During the Republican administrations under which I have lived during my life, I have learned that I can be ignored politically for free. That's the part that you and your advisors and spokesmen didn't figure out. And it may not matter to you. But it matters to me, and my pocketbook.


Generosity Straight From the Heart

This young man won a $40,000 college scholarship in a free-throw competition, and then got a full-ride on a basketball scholarship. The NCAA rules said he could take the full ride and keep the money. He did something different:
This is a story of a teenager who did something so generous - so big-hearted - that it's making plenty of adults swoon.

Allan Guei, 18, was a star basketball player at Compton High School in the Los Angeles area before he graduated last month. He also had a GPA above 3.0, and his good grades made him eligible for an unusual competition: A free-throw contest in the Compton High gymnasium. The top prize: $40,000 in scholarship money.

Guei, whose parents immigrated to the United States from the Ivory Coast, knew how much that financial aid could mean for his family. So he was feeling a fair share of pressure as students and teachers crushed into the gym to watch Guei and seven other randomly selected, academically successful students make foul shots.

Guei won the free-throw contest by one basket and netted the $40,000. But it's what he did next that's truly astonishing.

'The right decision'
In the weeks following the March free-throw competition, Guei learned that he'd scored a full-ride basketball scholarship to California State University-Northridge. NCAA rules allowed Guei to accept the athletic scholarship and also keep most of the $40,000 he had won.

But Guei couldn't stop thinking about the seven talented runners-up from the free-throw contest. They, too, had dreams - and very real needs. So, he asked Principal Jesse Jones to make a surprise announcement at Compton High's graduation ceremony: Guei wanted to donate the $40,000 to the other seven students.

"I've already been blessed so much and I know we're living with a bad economy, so I know this money can really help my classmates," Guei said in a statement. "It was the right decision."

Guei elaborated on his decision to give the money away in an interview with ESPN: "I was already well taken care of to go to school, to go to university for free. ... I felt like they needed it more than I did."

The beneficiaries of Guei's generosity were ecstatic.

"It was a shock," said Omar Guzman, 17, a runner-up who plans to use the money to attend San Diego State University. "I'm really grateful there are people like that out there. It was generous."

Another of the seven runners-up, Donald Dotson, also plans to start at Cal State Northridge in the fall. Dotson described Guei as "a very deep, intelligent and warm person."

"He's going to go really far in life," he said in a statement. "Because of what he's done for us, God will bless him. That's what life is all about - stepping forward to help other people."

Lines that divide - and unite
The free-throw competition was the idea of Court Crandall, the Hollywood screenwriter behind the movie "Old School" and a partner at a Southern California advertising firm. Crandall was well aware of Compton's image problems due to gang-related crime. Many of the city's residents also deal with extreme financial pressures; according to Census data, more than 25 percent of the city's families live below the poverty line.

One day Crandall was watching his teenage son play basketball with some bright, ambitious Compton students, and he got to thinking about the lines that divide us. Then inspiration struck: Could a free-throw line bring people together?

He decided to create the free-throw scholarship competition and make a stereotype-busting documentary film about the lives of Compton students in the process. Compton's senior class had about 80 students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher; the eight students who participated in the competition got selected randomly from that group.

Crandall's advertising firm, Wong, Doody, Crandall, Wiener, raised more than $75,000 for scholarships, making it possible to give $40,000 to the first-place winner and more than $5,000 - enough to cover about a year of college expenses - to each of the seven runners-up.

Now, with Guei's added generosity, each of those seven runners-up has around $11,000 in scholarship money.

"It was the perfect ending," Crandall told TODAY.com. "I was ecstatic about how everything turned out. ... Most kids don't have the sense of composure or leadership that [Allan] does, so after spending time with him and getting to know him, I really wasn't that surprised by what he did."

These kind of stories about students don't get enough press, at least not while they can be painted as lazy or ignorant. This story warmed my heart.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

And this one is from Oklahoma. AND a former teacher. So proud.

Oklahoma State representative Sally Kern. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Crazy Politician number 2. Well worth the entertainment value, although apparently her numbnut remarks have garnered attention even Across the Pond at The Daily Mail:
Outspoken Oklahoma Representative Sally Kern has caused outrage by making both racist and sexist remarks during a state House debate on Wednesday night.

The House met to discuss a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate affirmative action from state government.

During the debate, Republican Kern said minorities earn less money than white people because they are not willing to work as hard.

She also insulted her own sex, saying they earned less than men because they want to have more leisure time.

Speaking about black people she said: 'Is this just because they are black that they are in prison, or could it be because they didn't want to work hard in school.

'I taught school for 20 years and I saw a lot of people of colour that didn't want to work as hard. They wanted it given to them.

'Matter of fact, I had one student who said to me I don't need to study. You want to know why? The government's going to take care of me. That's kind of revealing there.'

Speaking about women, she said they earn less because they 'tend to think more about their family, wanting to stay at home more, wanting to be with their family, have more leisure time.'

But less than a day later the representative backtracked, apologising for her comments, and released a statement which was a complete reversal of her views from the night before.

She said: 'I want to humbly apologize for my statements last night about African Americans and women. I believe that our government should not provide preference based on race or gender.

'I misspoke while trying to convey this point last night during debate. Women are some of the hardest workers in the world. My husband is a pastor of a diverse inner-city church and the way that my words came out last night is certainly not my true spirit.'

The Oklahoma Democratic Party took the opportunity to retaliate and use her comment against Republicans as a whole by saying: ''Rep Sally Kern's comments on the House Floor this evening in regards to SJR15 shows that discrimination is far from dead and affirmative action is still necessary in our great state.

'It saddens and angers me that the women and minorities of Oklahoma are represented by such bigotry and outright ignorance.

'This rhetoric will drive new businesses and new jobs from our state. All no votes on this bill will stand on the right side of history.'

The proposed constitutional amendment passed the House by a vote of 59 - 14. The Senate already passed the amendment. Oklahomans will vote on it next year.

Yeah, I don't know about the rest of you ladies, but when we get home after work it's ANYTHING but leisure time for either the Husbandly Unit or myself.

Oh, and hey! I hear she has a book out! It's called The Stoning of Sally Kern! (I swear I can't make this stuff up!) You know, drug use probably WOULD explain a lot here. What? You didn't mean that kind of "stoned?"



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I'm thinking of starting a "Crazy politicians" blog. This could be my first entry.

Oooh, her Ruger is pink, and is good for aiming at reporters! I couldn't help boldfacing the extra fun parts. From Liz Goodwin at The Lookout:
A reporter for the Arizona Republic writes in a profile of state senator Lori Klein that the politician pulled a loaded, raspberry-pink handgun from a special zippered case and aimed it straight at his chest during an interview.

The revelation--mentioned off-hand in the original story--has now created a media firestorm about gun safety, and a potential PR headache for gun advocates.

Richard Ruelas writes that Klein said "Oh it's so cute," before aiming the pistol square at his chest so he could see the red laser sight beam appear on his body. It probably didn't help the often adversarial character of relations between the press and political leaders for Ruelas to learn that the .380 Ruger in question had no safety.

"I just didn't have my hand on the trigger," Klein told the reporter, by way of reassurance.

Ruelas was writing about the freshman lawmaker's controversial move of carrying her pistol into the Statehouse just two days after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Tucson, was shot in the head while at a "Congress on Your Corner" event in January. Guards tried to stop Klein from going in with the weapon, but she insisted on her right to carry, and the incident became something of a crusade for the pro-gun movement. Since then, Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce has lifted a weapons ban in the Senate building, despite an existing state law that bans guns in government buildings.

Even though Klein says she is standing up for people's right to bear arms, some local gun-rights advocates took issue with her antics according to a report in the Arizona Guardian.

"Whoever would do something like that needs to have a better grounding in gun safety before ever laying a hand on a firearm," Rob Mermelstein of the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club told the paper. He said the incident was bad PR for the gun-rights movement.

"I kind of cringed when I read that she had done that," Senate Ethics Rule Chair Ron Gould, a Republican, told the Capitol Times. "She wasn't brandishing the weapon. I think she just thought it would be cute to shine the laser sight on the reporter. I personally don't like seeing that kind of thing—because that's how people get killed."

In a follow-up story, the Arizona Republic writes that Klein at first denied pointing the gun at Ruelas, telling the Arizona Capitol Times that he sat down in front of where she was pointing it. But in a later statement issued through the Senate, Klein doesn't mention that version of events, only saying she won't comment any more so as not "to contribute to a media feeding frenzy that is driven by a few individuals who never miss the opportunity to advance an anti-2nd-Amendment agenda." She said she had cleared the gun's chamber before displaying it.

Ruelas says he didn't realize the gun was loaded until later in the interview, and that their exchange was friendly and amicable. Their exchange was recorded on tape, which the paper says backs up Ruelas' reporting of the incident.

We'll update this post when Klein responds to our request for comment.

And by the way, Rep. Klein, I am not attacking the 2nd Amendment in my scorn. I am solely blaming YOU for being an idiot.



This made me smile:
Mila Kunis earned major street cred (like she needed any more) by apparently accepting an invitation from a fan to this year’s Marine Corps Ball. Sgt. Scott Moore, who is stationed with the 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines in Musa Qalain, Afghanistan, took a leap of faith when he posted a quick video on YouTube last week asking the Friends with Benefits star to the annual soiree.

According to Fox411, a reporter asked Kunis at a recent event if she’d seen the video. She hadn’t, but Benefits co-star Justin Timberlake vowed to make it his mission to get her to view the viral invitation, urging, “You need to do it for your country!”

Eventually Kunis has gladly accepted, saying on the red carpet, “I’ll do it.” The event will be held in Greenville, North Carolina, this November 18.

If you click on the link, you can see Sgt. Moore's video asking Ms. Kunis to go with him.

Big props to Ms. Kunis (and to Justin Timberlake for bringing it to her attention!)

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Is it just me, or is this a faulty headline?

I was arrested by the headline to this article: "Most teachers favor inclusion for autistic students!"

Then I read further. Let's see if you spot the problems that set off alarms for me:
The majority of general education teachers support the notion of including autistic children in a regular classroom environment, a small new survey suggests.

Overall, the eight general education teachers surveyed expressed positive views of inclusion for children with autism, but they felt additional resources would help ensure success in a mainstream classroom.

Survey co-authors P. Rosen and E. Rotheram-Fuller, of Temple University, and D. S. Mandell, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, are scheduled to present the findings Wednesday at the International Meeting for Autism Research in San Diego.

The teachers surveyed worked in a single, large urban school district. Each had between one and four students with autism already present in classrooms that catered to an average of 25 students. The majority of the autistic students spent at least half a day enrolled in a general education setting, according to a meeting news release.

On average the teachers had more than 10 years of experience, although specific work with autistic students ranged from none to 15 years.

The preliminary results revealed that all the teachers shared a positive perspective on including autistic children in an otherwise standard classroom setting.

Doing so was completely appropriate for 44 percent of students, and somewhat appropriate for 33 percent of students, they said. And as a whole, those surveyed indicated that they felt most of the autistic students (66 percent) would do well to remain in their current classroom situation.

However, for 22 percent of students, inclusion was considered somewhat inappropriate, and for one-third of students, a different, more restrictive environment would be better, the teachers said.

Regardless of their views, the teachers generally expressed confidence in their ability to handle autistic students, while at the same time observing that not all of the children were adequately prepared for the demands of a general education environment.

Overall, the participants suggested that more resources were needed to help promote social interaction between autistic students and their healthy peers. Also necessary: continued support from special education teachers and training in how to meet the demands of individual education plans, they said.

Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary because it has not been subject to the scrutiny required for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Okay? Now here's what I see:

Eight general education teachers in ONE large urban school district is hardly the basis for a sweeping statement about all teachers. And this study hasn't even been peer-reviewed yet.

How in the world can one extrapolate widespread support from such a small sample from one school district? What subjects do these teachers teach? What grade levels? Is this school district also majority-minority and economically disadvantaged beyond what is common in a typical school district in America?

Now, it may be that most teachers DO support inclusion of autistic students in regular classrooms. I personally support the inclusion of any exceptional student in my class if they receive adequate support from special education professionals and if they do not detract from the learning environment to the detriment of other students. This includes my advanced placement classes, as long as they can maintain the level of scholarship necessary for an advanced placement class. I have had several students who have been diagnosed within the autism spectrum, and some placements have worked well.

Some have not.

But I would prefer to see the study authors cast their nets a whole lot wider before such sweeping claims are made.


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