Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Obama and Romney and Reagan on Unemployment

SAD. SADDER. SADDEST. (SADIST?) THE HOWLING from the right, regarding President Obama's "job-killing" policies continues. Mitt Romney can't seem to pull his tax returns out of his know...Still, he wants us to believe that if he's our next president, starting in January 2013, he's going to roll up his sleeves and reverse all the damage done by that evil job-exterminator, Barack Hussein Obama.

There's additional screeching from the right at the state level. Here, in Ohio, for instance, Governor John Kasich wants the electorate to think that every job created since he took office in January 2011 was created by him. Apparently, though, every job lost in Ohio or anywhere else in America during the last three-plus years, including jobs killed in Kenya and on Pluto, must be a direct result of the missteps of Mr. Obama.

Leave aside the fact that many jobs created in Ohio in the sixteen months since Kasich took office are related to a rebounding auto industry, which Mitt Romney, speaking like a man running for "Undertaker-in-Chief," insisted should be left to expire. Leave out, too, all the teachers, firefighters, police officers and social workers axed in recent years as a result of Tea Party tax-slashing job-gashing fervor.

Now Mr. Mitt, the man with the weather vane mind when it comes to staking out positions, is changing his tune in the middle of a song. "Did I tell you how Mr. Obama killed jobs?" he seems to whistle at breakfast. Then at dinner time he whistles a different tune ("Whistle While You Work," perhaps?).

For months, Romney and every other GOP candidate who was running for president have insisted that Mr. Obama is to blame for every job lost since he took office, including Bob the Wood Chopper, a man laid off from work while President Obama was pausing to catch a breath after reciting the oath of office.

So, what about Mitt, when he takes office next January? Same deal? No sir, no sir, no sir. In a recent interview with CNBC Romney said voters who want a strong economy should vote for him, but they "ought to give, whichever president is going to be elected, at least six months or a year to get those policies in place."

Well, for once, the Stormin' Mormon is onto something. Let's take a look at a simple graph of U. S. unemployment. In May 2007, we find, for instance, that U. S. unemployment was at 4.4%. Great news for the GOP! The magical Bush Tax Cuts were working! Unfortunately, the party of tax cuts during wartime, the party that gave us the Trillion Dollar Iraq Mistake, the party that exploded the federal deficit in the first place, also crashed the U. S. economy a year later and job losses in 2008 were staggering.

By January 2009, when the Democrats swept into power the unemployment rate had already surged to 7.8%. But, for purposes of comparisons, let's say our first "Muslim" President deserves a ten-day break.

By February 2009, 240 hours after his inauguration, 8.3% of Americans were out of work.

So, what about just ten days? If we give President Obama just that much of a pass, then he has reduced unemployment, however modestly, to today's 8.2%. Scratch your head if you want; but means any progress from here on in is cutting into a backlog of job losses created when the GOP was last in charge at the White House.

If we give Mr. Obama six months, as Romney says we should give him, then we know by July 2009 unemployment had risen to 9.5%. By Governor Romney's standard (and who knows job creation better than Mitt the Man from Bain) that would indicate the policies of the current occupant of the Oval Office have caused no job losses, whatsoever, but have instead turned around a terrible trend and saved America's battered economy.

Again:  we're at 8.2% today. Sure. We need to keep working, of course; but that's way better than 9.5%.

Suppose we use Mitt's standard of a year. Now we find that unemployment peaked at 10% in October 2009, nine months after Obama took office.

IT MIGHT EVEN BE FUN TO CONSIDER A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON about Mr. Reagan. If we go back to February 1981, giving him just that ten-day pass, we find the U. S. unemployment rate at 7.4%. Fair-minded individuals almost certainly remember that the nation's economy, when the Gipper took office, was in a deplorable state. So:  job losses soared during his first 16 months in office.

Unemployment peaked at 10.8% in November 1982.

Mitt Romney and the Tea Party leaders might genuflect at the mention of Saint Ronald of Tax Cuts, but they certainly wouldn't want you to think this all over. In fact, it took Reagan his entire first term to cut unemployment, so that by January 1985, the rate had fallen to 7.3%, hardly a stunning drop from 7.4% four years previously. Indeed, it's perfectly in line with the painful progress President Obama has managed since he took a seat in the Oval Office, although we can hope, with five months left until the next inauguration, that the final figures in January 2013 will actually be better than those under Reagan.

At any rate, at this point in their first terms, Obama and Reagan would be tied.

SO LET'S TAKE THIS A LITTLE FARTHER. Let's give the GOP their due. In eight years Reagan “tamed” the jobs problem, reducing unemployment to 5.4% (January 1989). In other words, the last great Republican president saw unemployment balloon from 7.4% to 10.8% and then drop again to 5.4% during two terms.

Unfortunately, unemployment surged again under George H. W. Bush, to 7.8%, wiping out all of the Reagan gains, plus a few hundred thousand good jobs more, by summer of 1992. By January 1993, when Bill Clinton took office, the level had dipped slightly to 7.3%. Or to put it another way:  after twelve years of GOP tax cuts and policies, we ended up right where we were when Jimmy Carter left office. (Again, fair-minded people might argue that Mr. Bush had bad luck and that the economy was turning as he left office.)

Regardless, during President Clinton’s two terms in office, unemployment fell to 4.2% in January 2001. We had a budget surplus, too—something every Republican born since 1819 has claimed to really, really, really like.

President George W. Bush, of course, came next (although Romney wants you to forget that period, too). Unemployment spiked to more than 6% by summer of 2003, and then we saw a recovery and a decline again to 4.4%--still never getting back to the level where it was when Clinton took office, and then, Bush Tax Cuts and all, the economy tanked in 2008.

So:  Here's what we know now. If you want to claim that all job losses since the moving van brought Sasha and Malia's books and dolls to the White House are the fault of Dad O., you have to stop and check the figures. Obama is doing as well as President Reagan did during his first term and far better than Bush 41 or Bush 43. All the right wing wolves need to do, if they don't mind facing reality, is check a simple graph.

THOSE BOYS WILL COUNTER BY INSISTING that Obama is a communist. Maybe, if they study the charts they'll feel a little better. And, oh yeah. We've seen Mr. Obama's tax returns and he's not hiding any money in Cayman Island bank accounts, either.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shooting in Aurora: Can We at Least Have a Mature Debate?

IF YOU MISSED IT IN ALL THE MEDIA sound and fury surrounding the terrible massacre in Aurora, Colorado, Friday night, you might want to consider words of wisdom offered by former Arizona state senator, Russell Pearce.

In the wake of the slaughter at Virginia Tech in 2007, the shooting at Chardon High in Ohio this past spring, and the 2011 attack on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, in Pearce's own state, you might imagine that Pearce would be able to offer some useful perspective.

You would be imagining indeed.

In a Facebook post, since deleted, Pearce describes having just spoken with a good friend. That friend's niece, Kim, and two of her buddies were seated in the front rows of the Aurora theater when gunfire interrupted the showing of The Dark Knight Rises. "What a heartbreaking story," he notes correctly, at first.

Then his post goes off the rails:
Had someone been prepared and armed they could have stopped this "bad" man from most of the tragedy. He was two or three feet away from folks, I understand he had to stop to reload. Where were the men of Flight 93???? Someone should have stopped this man. Lives were lost because of a bad man, not because he had a weapon, but because no one was prepared to stop it. Had they been prepared to save their lives or lives of others, lives would have been saved. All that was needed is one Courages/Brave man prepared mentally or otherwise to stop this it could have been done.

Pearce has since tried to walk back his comments, but it's worth considering what he was trying to say. It wasn't bad that James E. Holmes, the shooter, had an AR-15 assault rifle. Lives weren't lost because he had a military weapon, capable of massive bursts of fire.

If you follow Pearce's logic, Holmes could have been armed with a creampuff instead of an AR-15. It wouldn't have mattered, if only someone had been prepared to intervene.

According to Mr. Pearce it wasn't bad that in this country it's easy, even for convicted felons and people with mental illness to purchase all kinds of weapons at gun shows, without undergoing any background checks. (Admittedly, Holmes was neither.) It wasn't bad that a killer could amass 6,000 rounds of ammo, and do it all on line, with phenomenal ease. It didn't even matter that the shooter was "wearing a 'ballistic helmet,' a bulletproof vest, leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector, [and] a gas mask and protective gloves."

It was the absence of one brave man, or maybe even some armed young woman, like Kim, prepared to step up, mentally. Then Holmes might have been stopped.

Given the fact that the United States is the most heavily armed nation in the industrialized world, with handguns, rifles, shotguns and assault rifles ready at hand, and given the fact that our murder rate is the highest by far in the industrialized world, it would seem to be clear that people of all political persuasions, and none at all, might want to see some kind of reasonable discussion about all the violence that surrounds us--and what we need, as a nation, to do.

It's time to stop thinking that doing nothing at all is a plan. It's time to stop focusing on anecdotal incidents. Sure, my neighbor stopped a home invasion because he had a gun. Well, so what, that cop in Pennsylvania just shot his own son coming home in the dark. Maybe Pearce is right in this one hypothetical case. If Kim, or some brave young man in that theater, had only thought to strap their very own AR-15 over a shoulder, yep, they could have returned fire.

If that dad in the third row, seated between his two teenage daughters, had only thought to wear his own body armor and helmet and carry six pistols along when he went to the movies to relax with his loved ones, yeah. He could have shot it out.

OR WE COULD TRY TO BE MATURE and ask ourselves what do the statistics below prove and what do we do to try to cut down on this country's incredible murder rate? Here are the results, lowest (best) to highest (worst), for thirty-two member-countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development:

  1. Iceland  
  2. Japan
  3. Austria
  4. Slovenia
  5. Norway
  6. Switzerland
  7. Germany
  8. Spain
  9. Sweden
  10. Netherlands
  11. Greece
  12. Italy
  13. Poland
  14. Portugal
  15. England/Wales
  16. Australia
  17. New Zealand
  18. Northern Ireland
  19. France
  20. Denmark
  21. Hungary
  22. Luxembourg
  23. Canada
  24. Slovakia
  25. Belgium
  26. Czech Republic
  27. Ireland
  28. Scotland
  29. South Korea
  30. Israel
  31. Finland

We're not just last, either, in murder rates. We're dead last by six feet and a mile. The Netherlands falls to tenth place on this list with one murder per 100,000 in population.

The Czech Republic and Ireland rank close to the bottom with two murders.

Finland lands in 31st with 2.5 murders.

The United States ranks at the bottom of the Marianas Trench with 5.2 murders for every 100,000 people.                                                                                                          

AND IT'S NOT JUST BECAUSE there were no "brave" or "courageous" men in the Aurora theater last Friday night.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Privatizing Public Schools and the Loch Ness Monster Bonus

IF YOU ARE AN EDUCATION NEWS JUNKIE, and who isn't, you've probably heard Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Governor "Candy Bar" Chris Christie in New Jersey talk about problems in education. Usually, when they mean "problems," they mean teachers and unions. Their favorite solution? Let's privatize America's public schools. It's the Tea Party Holy Grail. If we are to believe what they say we would know that government is always bad and business is pure and good. So let's see how privatizing schools is working in that place we liberals call "reality."

Frontier Virtual Charter High School (based in Philadelphia) closed down this week after Pennsylvania State Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis revoked the school's charter less than one year into "operation." Authorities said they had no choice but to take drastic measures, "citing an astonishingly long list of academic and financial problems."  Most of those problems came to light in March when John Craig, Frontier CEO, laid off the teaching staff and principal.

Minor details.

At that point the school year came to a grinding halt. Parents reported that kids sat around for weeks, pretty much doing nothing. Frontier failed to provide promised computers. Minor details. And failed to provide...classes. Minor, minor details. It gets even better. When school leaders, those still left, realized everyone was going to fail for the year they created "Save-My-Year" credit packets to stave off academic disaster. Meanwhile, authorities reported, the people who ran Frontier "spent a 'significant' amount of money on things that weren't related to the cyber school."

Next, let's give it up for Pennsylvania Cyber School! If you're a foe of privatization this one is almost too good to be true. On July 12, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:

Federal agents executed a series of search warrants today at Pennsylvania Cyber School offices in Beaver County and several other locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio in connection with an ongoing investigation.

It's safe to say that any time the words "federal agents" and "series of search warrants" appear in a sentence about schools, well, we're not having the best educational day.

On July 15, the Post-Gazette added details. PCS, is the largest internet school serving Pennsylvania and Ohio, enrolling 11,300 students and raking in $103 million from local school districts last year. The school was founded by Nick Trombetta, 57, who announced in May that he was leaving the field to "try something else."

Read about all the spinoffs PCS created if you'd like details. Read how one "education" company begot a second and then a third and fourth, how different executives and boards at all these various entities, filled with ex-PCS executives, pocketed millions. Read how Trombetta held several paying positions at once. You might be excused if you suspected he was leaving education to try his hand at bank robbery.

Or:  working for J. P. Morgan.

STILL NOT CONVINCED THAT BUSINESS HEROES, aided and abetted by politicians like Governor John Kasich here in Ohio, can save our children? Or that they'll really care??? How about K-12, Inc. an online school operation, which owns Ohio Virtual Academy? The company spends $6,108 per pupil vs. $10,660 at traditional brick and mortar schools, mainly because K-12 pays teachers half what regular public schools do. This huge savings for taxpayers! Ohio Virtual Academy has only one building and 7,277 students (although numbers do fluctuate wildly) and a student-teacher ratio of 56-1 vs. a state average of 16-1. Assigning each teacher three-and-a-half times as many pupils and paying them less, allows K-12, Inc. to make tidy profits taxpayers a fantastic deal. What? Not such a deal? The school's own website admits to a yearly dropout rate of 14.9%.

The average for the rest of the state:  4.3%. Really. You can look it up.

What about ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow)? According to education reformer Diane Ravitch the school enrolled 12,000+ Ohio students in 2010-11. Sadly, 6,738 satisfied customers...we mean "students"...withdrew in a period of nine months. Another 3,045 dropped out. A turnover rate of 81% in a single year! So what do you do when private enterprise really sucks?

You cover up a staggeringly bad graduation rate, 35% as recently as 2009, by donating $220,000 to leading GOP politicians.

If paying off politicians doesn't work do what Success Academy Charter Schools Inc. does in New York. The company operates ten schools and is headed up by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, who knows a money-making scheme when she sees one. Moskowitz is demanding an increase in funding of $1,350 to $2,000 per child from the state, preferably the higher figure, citing an "unsustainable" deficit. Juan Gonzalez, writing for the New York Daily News paints the picture in slightly different colors. On its annual tax forms, SAC has consistently reported year-end surpluses, $23.5 million last time Gonzalez checked.

You don't want to run a privatized school on the cheap, not when you know the State of New York is footing the final bill. So why not spend (tax dollars) to advertise?

As Gonzalez notes:
Last year alone, the [SAC] network spent an astounding $883,119 on "student recruitment"--much of it for glossy flyers mailed to hundreds of thousands of parents; bus stop and Internet ads and an army of paid recruiters to go door-to-door soliciting student applications...It paid $243,150 to SKD Knickerbocker, a high-powered public relations firm, to supplement its own in-house press people, and another $129,000 to a Washington consulting firm...But that wasn't all that Success Academy spent on marketing itself. The network's first seven schools incurred an additional $912,000 "student recruitment" expenditure last year, most of it going to big advertising and branding companies.

And how does Moskowitz do helping students? She do nicely, herself, yes she do. In 2006-2007, for example, when her network ran four schools and enrolled 1,000 students, Eva raked in a healthy $371,000 in salary.

Business people. Always putting kids first and profit second. Not like all those greedy, greedy teachers.

In related crazy-town news, lawmakers in Louisiana passed legislation three weeks ago to expand a school voucher program, "allowing educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups." Republican Valarie Hodges put up a valiant, highly unexpected, last-ditch effort to halt the move. Hodges was gung ho and ready to vote "yea," until some random thought started rattling around inside her head and she realized such legislation might mean the little Louisiana boys and girls might attend...Muslim schools!

You can't fool Valerie Hodges! No, mam, no way. The woman knows her U. S. Constitution and her Bill of Rights. “I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” Hodges assured reporters. “I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.”

Only...not so much if parents were Muslim...or, we can probably safely assume, Jew.

(This is why many thinking individuals, such as those who cherish First Amendment rights, tend to believe we should keep the Bible, both King James and Latin Vulgate versions, the Koran and the Book of Mormon out of public schools.)

Hodges went on to sound a typical tocsin (or might "toxin" work better) of right-wing alarm: “Unfortunately [the expanded voucher program] will not be limited to the Founders’ religion.” The danger was clear. All you had to do was look under the bed and there was that terrorist Boogie Man, sort of a paranoid Tea Party person's version of the imaginary friend. "We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools," she continued. "There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

Good save, heroic defender of liberty! Honor the freedoms you supposedly cherish by imposing your ideas about religion on fellow citizens.

Finally, if you're going to fund religious schools, you have to have standards. So, we save the best for last. According to the HeraldScotland (which follows all Loch Ness-related stories, even in this country) Louisiana taxpayers' support for religious schools will include...well, not those dirty Muslims...but vouchers for "private schools [that] follow a fundamentalist curriculum including the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) programme to teach controversial religious beliefs aimed at disproving evolution and proving creationism." Those who teach ACE science like to believe "that if it can be proved that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as man then Darwinism is fatally flawed."

According to Scottish reporters, who have to be scratching their heads, ACE textbooks are also "hostile towards other religions and other sectors of Christianity, including Roman Catholicism; and present a biased version of history that is often factually incorrect."

No problem so far! The story continues:
One ACE textbook – Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc – reads: "Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the 'Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? 'Nessie' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

If you're a liberal you don't think Nessie appears to be anything. You think these right-wing crackpots who want to privatize public schools and spend taxpayer dollars to support all kinds of religious schools are nuts.

Use a little imagination and you can hardly wait to see what kind of science they'll be teaching at Scientology High, perhaps coming soon to Shreveport, Opelousas or Baton Rouge.

Coming soon to a taxpayer funded school near you!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Obama's Secret Un-American Plan: And How Only Mitt Romney Can Save Us

EVERYONE KNOWS, IN THAT PARALLEL UNIVERSE where many Tea Party-faithful live, that free markets and American freedoms are under sustained attack. The danger is critical. The cast of characters nefarious. The leading malefactor, of course, is President Barack Hussein Obama. His allies and abettors include swarming dark-skinned people who want to live in America, evil union thugs and gay people.

The latest howl of fear comes from John Sununu, who warned a petrified right-wing audience yesterday that President Obama needed to "learn how to be an American."

Hoping it might be possible to come to grips with this paranoia, your humble blogger decided to sit down with Tea Party philosopher John Galt for a talk. What follows is a transcript of the interview (which, trust me, we are not making up):

Humble Blogger: Mr. Galt, an honor. (Galt is normally highly elusive.) I loved how you saved free enterprise in Atlas Shrugged.
John Galt:  Let us hope it is possible to save it still, even to finish our interview before agents of the Marxist in the White House come for us...

HB:  I wonder. If the president is a communist how is it that the stock market has recovered from its incredible plunge, touched off by Wall Street barons, themselves, while he has been in the Oval Office? It sank to a low of 6,400 in 2009, wiping out trillions in investment. Now the market has rebounded to 12,870. Why aren't corporations more worried if a communist has his tentacles wrapped round the economy?
JG:  This is why the situation is so grave. Because most people don't see it. It's like trying to see what possessed Disney to think John Carter was a good idea for a movie.

HB:  Could it be that you can't see the threat because it isn't, technically speaking, "real?"
JG:  No, no. Look at the clever way Obama first convinced people he was a Muslim. Remember how he used to go around in 2008, bragging about his ties to Islam, always calling himself "Barack Hussein Obama" in every speech?
HB: ...I think that was Sarah Palin and all the douche bags at Fox News...
JG:  It was a plot to make us forget Obama was a communist. That he was, at heart, always un-American. And threats to individual freedom are everywhere. First, gay people destroy marriage...
HB:  They destroy marriage by marrying...destroy individual freedom by exercising it?
JG:  If gay people are treated equal, un-Americanism wins.

HB:  Uh....
JG:  Don't you see? Tyranny is already peeking around the corner! Gun ownership goes next. As leaders of the NRA have warned, the Obama administration plans to ban the use of firearms for home defense, ban possession and manufacture of handguns, close 90 percent of gun shops and ban hunting ammunition.

HB:  Wouldn't the U. S. Supreme Court, which includes seven justices appointed by Republican presidents, stop them? Or your Tea Party friends in the U. S. House of Representatives? Or couldn't you filibuster in the Senate? We have a critical election coming in four months. Can't conservatives just win at the ballot box?
JG:  No, no, all those illegal voters, mostly dark-skinned ones, want to kill democracy. So we have to use all kinds of voter-ID laws to disenfranchise as many poor and elderly Americans as we can... especially dark-skinned ones, because we have to save the freedoms we cherish...
HB:  But "all those illegal voters" couldn't kill democracy in 2010. Your side kind of kicked our side's butt during the last election cycle. And your side won the Citizens United case and now captains of industry can pour tens of millions into campaigns. And if anyone should kind of have a rash on their posteriors, it should be liberals. Didn't activists judges hand your side the White House in 2000?
JG:  Liberty is doomed...
HB:  Has the Obama administration actually advanced any of these ideas to ban home defense, possession of handguns, hunting ammunition?
JG:  No. That's what makes it all so diabolical. Obama doesn't DO what we fear. So we know he has a secret PLAN to do it.
HB:  Like when he was going to go "soft on terror" as Glenn Beck used to say...before we got Osama?
JG:  Right. Obama hates this country.

HB: Let's get back to Citizens United. It is now possible for one super-rich individual, like Sheldon Adelson, to give $35,000,000 to Republican candidates and causes...for corporations, with direct interests in government policy, say, big pharmaceutical companies, to give $100 million if they desire?
JG:  Yes. We are trying to save democracy buying it, if necessary.
HB:  Save it from whom?
JG:  People who vote for Democrats. Union members, for example, those dirty thugs, funneling all their dirty money into politics...
HB:  I know your side hates unions donating to President Obama and Democratic candidates and issues. Why?
JG:  Unions undermine individual liberties. Unfortunate workers all over America are forced...forced (Galt has to choke back tears), to (he sobs)...belong to unions.

HB:  Do you think the fact that union members make, on average, $10,000 more per year than non-union members, might soften the blow?
JG:  Of course not. In a free market system we are all completely free, as individuals, to do as we please.

HB:  Let me pose a few hypotheticals. A 43-year-old divorced mother, raising three kids, no support from a dead-beat father, working two jobs? Better off, because she's not in a union, doesn't have to pay dues, has no paid sick leave or health care coverage?
JG:  Better off by far.
HB:  A non-union clerk at Wal-Mart, making $11 per hour after five years. Clerk has to go against the company and bargain for a raise on his own?
JG:  Free market perfection. Wal-Mart, free on one side. The clerk, free on the other. Just the right balance.
HB:  A teacher belongs to a union and the union wants her to negotiate a $1,500 raise.
JG:  Class warfare!!!

HB:  Meanwhile, J. P. Morgan can make risky bets and lose $7 billion in investor money and we don't want to interfere with how Wall Street conducts business?
JG:  We're not communists!
HB:  So, the British banks rig the LIBOR, the basic interest rate, and this affects what the Wal-Mart clerk pays for a car loan and what the teacher pays for a home mortgage, driving up costs? Still, no need to regulate?
JG:  We don't want to mess up the free market...
HB:  We don't want to pass legislation to stop the super-rich from hiding their money in Cayman Island tax shelters, either?
JG:  Tax increases slow job creation.
HB (mumbling to self):  Where, in the Cayman Islands?

JG:  Allow me to explain. The plumber who belongs to a union is a terrible danger to liberty. The CEO who makes $100 million and has a secret bank account in Switzerland is a great patriot. The gay person who wants to marry wants to destroy Christianity. Apple Corporation, which pays Chinese workers, holding college degrees, $22 per day, is protecting your right as an American citizen to worship as you please. The teacher who wants that raise wants to see your taxes skyrocket and wants to kill the American Dream. The owner of the company that wants $50 million in tax abatements to build a factory in Kentucky, or he might just have to build his factory in Taiwan, is trying to save the Dream.

HB (shaking his head in disbelief):  Mr. Galt, do you think there is any hope to save the freedom's we cherish?
JG:  Glimmers. Faint glimmers. Mitt Romney might do it. He has run a business before. Bain Capital, which he led for many years, was always looking out for the interests of the average American worker.
HB:  Shouldn't Mr. Romney release his tax returns, then, so we can get a clear picture of how he created all those jobs?
JG:  Has anyone told you lately that President Obama hates America?
HB:  Didn't Bain kill Worldwide Grinding Systems, a Kansas City steel mill, after it took over the company in the 90s? When the company failed, under Bain, didn't the federal government have to step in and bail out the pension fund, costing taxpayers $44 million, and making it a federal bailout for Romney and pals?

JG:  Those who invest capital must be rewarded. Or they don't create jobs. Poof! There goes your American Dream.
HB (grinding his teeth and muttering, "not to mention your pension," then asking audibly): Bain took over KB Toys, saddled the toy-maker with debt, cost thousands of jobs? Didn't Romney and crew put up a mere $18 million investment, then borrow $302 million, then pay themselves an $85 million dividend? Didn't they again saddle a real company, selling a real product, employing real people, with real debt, and end up killing 3,400 jobs?
JG:  You do realize Obama is coming for our guns...our ammo...our TV remotes...

HB:  And...didn't Romney and crew get the special capital gains tax rate of 15% for all the hard work they did, pushing around paper...(sarcastically) "real work" opposed to those poor shlubs in that Kansas steel mill or that KB toy plant in Pittsfield, New York? Don't you think maybe Mitt and his type, the guys on Wall Street, who produce nothing tangible, except obscene profits for themselves, are the real threat to the American Dream?
JG:  Next, Obama starts closing churches...

HB:  Didn't the Washington Post report that Bain was a pioneer in outsourcing American jobs to foreign countries? I have the article somewhere. Here it is: "[The] private equity firm was involved early on, at a time when the departure of jobs from the United States was beginning to accelerate and new companies were emerging as handmaidens to this outflow of employment."
JG: ...making us hang pictures of Karl Marx in bedrooms...

HB:  Didn't Bain start with Corporate Software Inc., then develop a talent for shipping jobs to other countries with Stream International Inc., which "gave birth to another, related business known as Modus Media Inc., which specialized in helping companies outsource their manufacturing. Modus Media was a subsidiary of Stream that became an independent company in early 1998. Bain was the largest shareholder, SEC filings show."
JG:  Before you know it government is unplugging granny...

HB:  Didn't Modus soon say it was operating call centers and serving Microsoft from Asian locations in Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan? Didn't the same company expand into packaging and assembly work, serving IBM, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard Co. and the Dell Computer Corporation?
JG: You're a communists, are you, Humble Blogger?

HB:  No, sir, just a concerned American. Thank you, Mr. Galt. That's all the time we have for today.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mitt Romney to Retroactively Select VP Running Mate?

NOW THAT WE KNOW—according to leading GOP political strategist Ed Gillespie—that Mitt Romney has the power to “retroactively retire” from Bain Capital, let’s talk about Mr. Romney’s choices for vice-presidential running mate.

Clearly, his magical abilities, allowing him to travel back in time and alter reality, open up all kinds of possibilities. We already know, for example, that this retroactive power, or “RP,” allows Romney to forget past opinions. A woman’s right to an abortion?

For it once. Now, retroactively, against it.

The health care mandate? Great idea in the past. Terrible idea in the present.

Tax returns? The Governor has retroactively forgotten where he hid his.

What else can Mitt forget? With his special gifts, pretty much anything. We know that Romney’s RP power allows him to draw a total blank when asked about an incident in high school where he led a gang of boys in an attack on a gay classmate. Just “pranks,” Mitt says today. He doesn’t remember holding the victim down in a hallway, cutting off the poor kid’s hair with a pair of scissors. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.” “It was vicious,” said Philip Maxwell, a few months ago, he being one of the others involved, admitting his shame decades later.

Mitt? Mitt took the RP machine for a spin.

Regardless, the search for a running mate is heating up along with the summer weather. Last week someone in the Romney camp floated the name “Condoleeza Rice.” That idea was blown to bits inside 24 hours, because “Condoleeza” reminded too many voters of nutty claims involving weapons of mass destruction, of wrong wars, fought in wrong places, at wrong times. “Rice” conjured up images of 40,000 real American heroes, killed and wounded in Iraq, all for nothing.

So, Ms. Rice is out. This week the national media is engaged in a frenzied game of guessing whom Mitt will pick. Tim Pawlenty, possibly? The poor man has all the charisma of a toaster. Marco Rubio? Bobby Jindal? The problem with both of these choices might be that far-right tendency to go crazy whenever they see dark-skinned individuals and start demanding their birth certificates and immigration papers.

We know, of course, that the Romney crowd would love to pick almost any woman (well, not counting a gay one), to shore up their candidate’s weakness with female voters. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has been mentioned. And what the hell! There’s always Sarah Palin! The woman has had four more years to finally read a book or a newspaper.

Maybe she’s ready.

Truly, Palin would be a bold choice, but if Mr. Romney has the true RP gift, why not use it? So far, he hasn’t exactly been coming across in this campaign as bold. More like milk-soppy Mormon—nice man—with good hair and good teeth. So playing the RP card could help. Go retro, in other words, Governor.

No, not Dick Cheney. Not crazy.

BOLD! WE’RE TALKING TIME-TRAVEL! We’re talking Spiro Agnew. That man was master of political put downs, once labeling Democratic foes “pusillanimous pussyfooters,” blasting media types as “nattering nabobs of negativism,” and pillorying liberals as “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”

Imagine Tea Party crowds going wild, as the ghost of Vice-Presidents Past attacked Mr. Obama and his college-educated supporters as “an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”

On a close reading of the U. S. Constitution, we find, technically, that there is no clause which might preclude the choice of a deceased running mate. Agnew would offer other powerful advantages. He was impeached for tax evasion. So he could advise Mitt on what he should hide in his returns (pretty much everything) and what he should not hide (pretty much nothing), when it comes to releasing information.

Another solid RP choice? Why not Schuyler Colfax, who backed up President Ulysses S. Grant? (Wasn’t he the very first Republican to take the Grover Norquist pledge?) Colfax understood job creation, presiding as Speaker of the House, before he ran with Grant, at a time when the first transcontinental railroad was being constructed. Colfax could offer Romney advice on illegal immigration, too, since most of the building was done by Irish and Chinese workers.

A Romney/Colfax ticket would fire up the base. It would remind the Tea Party faithful of the kind of “good old days” they think they remember. American workers wanting to join unions and go on strike during the 1870s? Just call in a few private company guards and shoot a few strikers dead and blacklist the survivors. That African American vote which buoys Obama? In those days the GOP actually benefited. Well: not counting voting down South, where the Ku Klux Klan was leading a campaign to lynch enough black people to convince the rest to stay home on election day.

A time, if you listen to the right-wing fringe now, when they would argue that “America was still great.”

Colfax had warm ties with business, just like today, with the modern GOP in the pockets not of Robber Barons, but Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and the Big Bankers of Wall Street. The only blemish: Colfax’s involvement with a bribe scandal involving the big railroad companies.

Maybe that means Colfax is out.

What about Aaron Burr, a man totally lacking in scruples, making him a perfect pairing with Romney, who can’t remember having any? Think of the political imagery:

Romney/Burr 2012 

Take Back America 
Shoot Your Foes in Duels—Safeguard the Second Amendment. 

It would be catnip for crazy right-wingers.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fox News Goes All Warm and Fuzzy for Public School Teachers

I’VE ALWAYS WONDERED WHY any sane public school teacher watches Fox News. After all, if there is a story out there that can be used to shed a negative light on public school teachers, Rupert Murdoch’s sock-puppet commentators will find it and flog it. 

But, wait! Fox News is suddenly “standing up for teachers!” 

That's right—Gretchen Carlson and Megan Kelly and Sean Hannity will soon be boo-hoo-hooing the fate of poor public school teachers. 

According to a recent Fox News story, teachers are getting absolutely hosed. It’s tragic, they want their viewers to know. Just terrible—and unfair—and un-American too. The average teacher is making a mere $44,000 a year.

It’s tough going, says Tracie Happel, a teacher in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. And here’s where the story gets interesting. 

Whose fault is this? You’re thinking, maybe, that ass, Governor Scott Walker, who wants to take away all bargaining rights from teachers? Maybe the infamous Koch brothers, who donate tens of millions to all the big right-wing-nut causes, and who dream about crushing the last glimmer of life out of the U. S. labor movement? 

Nope. Fox News found the one teacher in America who would agree that the real problem was fat cat union bosses. Says Happel:

It’s always about the union. It’s never about the teachers or students. When you’re a teacher, you know you will not always be able to have the money for renovations on a house or go away on vacation, but it’s a tough pill to swallow when you can’t do those things when the people who are supposed to represent us get paid more and more every year.

That pill might be even tougher to swallow if you’re one of the tens of thousands of teachers who have been laid off by Tea Party- loving, tax-slashing, union-busting governors in the last couple of years.  

But no one at Fox News bothered to talk to any of those teachers. 

Not a snowball’s chance on a Fourth of July grill! What Fox really wants to see is the smashing of unions. It’s simple. No one at Fox News actually cares about teachers. The key to this “awful” story isn’t teachers’ pay. It’s those evil union leaders, and by extension their diabolical Democratic political friends. According to Fox sources, the evil leaders of the evil teachers’ unions are pulling down salaries and benefits of almost half-a-million annually. 

That’s the real takeaway from the tale. Don’t stop to remember that Wall Street types crashed damn near the entire U. S. economy in 2008, while hedge fund CEO’s raked in $100 million salaries. Don’t look at stories in newspaper about banks rigging basic interest rates—affecting what every teacher (and every poor sucker who watches Fox News) pays on mortgages and car loans. Pay no attention to the pharmaceutical companies that have paid huge fines for illegal marketing tactics. Ignore companies, including Bain Capital, that ship good American jobs overseas to India, China and Bangladesh. 

Biggest economic problem in America today?  

Overpaid union leaders. 

YOU MIGHT THINK THE DUMB CLUCKS who let themselves be gulled nightly by the Fox crew would have the tiniest clue. Then again, you’d think public school teachers wouldn’t be watching a channel that vilifies them. But if you think fans of Fox News didn’t get the real point of this recent story, all you have to do is read a few typical posted comments. 

“Well,” Warren Reichle noted, the Average teacher is a know nothing Slug! End the unionization of our educators, end the tenures, increase quality of our educators, increase their pay with results!” 

Clearly that man felt bad for all the “know-nothing slugs” (to polish up his grammar) who make only $44,000 a year. 

Estella Bunny Howe added:  Hey, the teachers have the right to opt out of the unions. Stupid if they don’t. And, just remember these are the same teachers who are teaching math, etc. to our kids. And, you wonder why our society is so screwed up?????” 

Yeah, don’t you hate it, Bunny, when teachers screw up the world? Starting the War in Iraq, for example, making American adults fat, causing health care costs to skyrocket. 

Yeah, damn teachers. 

Diana Lynn Friemann certainly caught the point of the story. She picked up the football and ran with it down the field and spiked the ball in the end zone. “We need to have a law outlawing these unions. They are full of thugs, liars and thieves. All they are good for anymore is raising money for the Democrat candidates. That is NOT what they are supposed to be for! They are supposed to be a voice for workers, but that ended years ago. Thugs!” 

The sympathy (cough, cough) for teachers that Fox News, in its heart, hoped to elicit was everywhere in view: 

Theresa Victorino Stevens:  “Public education system is RIDICULOUS!!” 

Joe Armato:  “This is why the children do not get an education. The teachers are so dumb that they allow this to happen.” 

“There’s probably no more overpaid profession than teacher,” Tom Van Riper grumbled. Apparently, he didn't care if Tracie Happel (or any other teacher in America) made $44,000 per year or if she had to get by on minimum wage.

John Hammack was equally sympathetic, noting, “around here they make on the average $90K. I’d love to make $44k, get three months off during the summer, and leave the job at 3:30 with no accountability.”

Marc Mathews pretty agreed with Mr. Hammack:  “44G with a pension, summers off and very good benefits and what is basically a job for life. Doesn’t excuse the 500g salaries but I'm playing the worlds smallest violin for the whiners.”

GregandAngie Jones—which could be a couple sharing a Facebook page—or maybe a posting by co-joined twins, responded:
Good teachers are the exception, not the norm. Many teachers are there to put in their 180 school days per year. Take their winter break, spring break, and summer vacations; collect their pay and retire on the taxpayer. The level and standard of public education in the US is a good indication that it is failing.

Charles Donaldson looked under his bed, couldn’t see President Obama’s birth certificate anywhere, but caught a glimpse of the Red Menace boogie man: “schools, public education, is destroying america…kids don’t have an idea what work is cause they spend their whole life in school socialism.” 

Jeff Runyan touched on a common sentiment, damning to America’s teachers in general, when he grumbled:  The US doesn’t even rank in the Top 10 in the world for education yet we spend the most on it. Wonder why that is.” 

John Bravo backed him up, especially after a more liberal individual noted that maybe the matter was more complex than a simple list that showed the United States wasn’t in the Top 10 in terms of education. He lambasted Azhar Din, who dared to disagree, then made it crystal clear where the problems in education began:  “[We] rank low because liberals have been in charge of our schools for the past 50+ years wake up troll.” 

I did what I could. I posted a few comments of my own, including one in response to Mr. Runyan, noting that the U. S. doesn’t rank in the Top 10. True. We stood 25th in the most recent international math comparison. Unions, right, fans of Fox News? I explained that if he cared to do a snippet of research he might discover that the U. S. was 24th in life expectancy, using the same 30 countries in the international math survey. We’re 1st in health care spending, too. 

It must be our terrible doctors. Are they union members, too? 

UNFORTUNATELY, LOGIC ISN’T A STRONG SUIT for fans of Fox News. So let’s leave the last word to Lowell Smith, a Tea Party philosopher. Says Mr. Smith: “For all you history majors here, on the upside, when the communist finally do get total control the first thing they do is shoot all the intellectuals and teachers.” 

Of course, Mr. Smith, won’t it be great when they shoot all the intellectuals and teachers! That’s the upside.  

Something tells me, sir, you’re going to be perfectly safe.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Tea Party and the "Unplugging Granny" Delusion

NOT ONCE, IN MY WILDEST DREAMS, did I ever imagine writing a defense of the Internal Revenue Service.

For the second time this week, however, Tea Party Governor Paul LaPage of Maine has compared the IRS to the Gestapo. April 15 might not qualify as a national holiday. Still, it's hard to follow Mr. LaPage's thinking. The governor backed off a similar comparison earlier in the week. Then he told reporters yesterday that, sure, he was right all along:

"What I am trying to say is the Holocaust was a horrific crime against humanity and, frankly, I would never want to see that repeated. Maybe the IRS is not quite as bad - yet," LePage told listeners, end-ing with that last note of foreboding.

Reporters couldn't quite grasp his logic. Asked if the IRS was headed in that direction, LePage responded, "They're headed in that direction."

Still baffled, someone in the audience wondered if LaPage knew that the Gestapo had played a role in the deaths of millions. It was kind of a softball question and Governor LaPage leaped at a chance to show that he was up on his Tea Party history. "Yeah, they killed a lot of people," he admitted. Someone else wondered if he really thought the IRS "was headed in the direction of killing a lot of people."

LePage answered again: "Yeah."

THAT'S WHEN IT HITS YOU, the problem with what passes in Tea Party circles for history, their paranoia, their fun-house mirror view of current realities. It's their "Unplugging Granny" delusion. Google "Obama and tyranny," for starters, and you get 8,990,000 results.

One of the first carries the the ominous title:  In 2014, the Obama Dictatorship Will Be Complete. You figure it's going to be about gas chambers and tanks in the streets of American cities. But this particular story by Doug Book is about an evil plot to impose government health care on uninsured citizens. It's a chilling tale about "the Manchurian Candidate...[in] the White House." About President Obama's plan to pack some health care panel with "a select coterie of like-minded, Marxist plutocrats, eager to wrench by any means from the American people their last remaining vestige of individual liberty[.]"

It hits you again, even more forcefully. That the Tea Party doesn't understand the meaning of words like "tyranny" or "Gestapo." You're certainly entitled to do a double-take when someone uses the term "Marxist plutocrats." But give Book a pass.

Let's stick with this unreasoning fear of a growing "tyranny" in America.

What is tyranny, Govenor LaPage? Tyranny is when judges lose their seats on the bench, and their lives, if they go against power-mad rulers. It's not the same when seven of nine current U. S. Supreme Court justices, asked to rule on the health care law, were appointed by Republican presidents. Tyranny is when a dictator closes down a legislature, entirely, and rules through blood-letting. Not quite the same when the GOP controls the U. S. House of Representatives and votes 33 times for repeal. Tyranny is when a writer like Doug Book gets arrested and handed over to the Gestapo for horrific torture. (Book might take consolation knowing that it is liberals, President Obama, in particular, who oppose even waterboarding.) Tyranny is when the courts in Nazi Germany order the beheading of a girl named Sophie Scholl and her brother, after they pass out anti-Nazi leaflets. Not the same as a country where Tea Party "patriots" can post freely on the internet and show up at anti-Obama rallys heavily armed. Tyranny is when you cancel elections completely, or try to block your foes when they show up at the polls, ironically, a popular measure with GOP state legislatures these days. It's not about free elections this November, it's not about a country with a free speech and free press absolutely intact, where opinion polls, freely and regularly conducted, show President Obama with only a very slim lead. Tyranny is packing families in cattle cars, carrying them off to Auschwitz, gassing innocent men, women and children. Tyranny is not about extending health care to 30,000,000 Americans who lack it.

TO CONFUSE HEALTH CARE AND TYRANNY IN THIS FASHION is to make us wonder if people like the Maine governor could even tell the difference between a Gestapo agent and a Girl Scout.

Here's a hint:  one of them is armed only with cookies.

Recognize tyranny?
It's not quite the same as a doctor with a stethoscope.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cheney and Romney to Reminisce at $30,000 Per Plate Dinner

GOOD NEWS, FANS OF IRONY. Today, two giants in the annals of American patriotism get together for dinner.

Dick Cheney, the man who never saw a country he didn’t want to bomb, even if it meant bombing the wrong country—the same man who dodged any chance to serve his country when he actually had one (five draft deferments)—hosts Mitt Romney, the “Mormon Mauler,” at a $30,000-a-plate fund raising dinner, at the Cheney home in Jackson, Wyoming.

No doubt, Mitt will be wearing the requisite flag-lapel pin to telegraph his unflinching patriotism. Maybe the “Mormon Mauler” will even talk to reporters about all the fighting he did for this country. On second thought—maybe not. He might want to stick to safer subjects. Like how trees in Michigan are just the right height. He certainly isn’t likely to bring up all his hidden bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, or agree to release his recent tax returns, either, although he swears he has nothing to hide.

Mitt loves this country. He talks about it all the time. He just didn’t want to fight for it, maybe muss up his perfect hair, or damage his rugged good looks. Mitt doesn’t want to pay taxes to support the U. S. government, either.

He just wants to lead it.

Perhaps you’ve forgotten what bold deeds Mitt performed while carrying the “Stars and Stripes” high overhead into battle?

Pretty much the same kind of heroism displayed by his new buddy, the tough-talking former VP. Mitt kind of checked out during the Vietnam War. Went to France as a Mormon missionary.

Didn’t have to dodge bullets there.

Might have dodged the occasional flying croissant, however—if religious discussion heated up. Could have been clubbed with a loaf of French bread. Bold deeds, Mr. Romney, bold deeds.

The Washington Post reports that Cheney, the man with no heart, and Romney, the man with no spine, have not had a close relationship heretofore. Perhaps that will be changing:
“Cheney has generally shied away from politicking and he remains controversial, in part because of his hawkish foreign policy stances, including his support for interrogation techniques like waterboarding.

“Still, Romney has embraced Cheney in the past. Last year, he told an Arizona town hall that Cheney’s ‘wisdom and judgment’ would provide a model for choosing his own vice president.”

So far, during his campaign, Romney has avoided the mere mention of George W. Bush by name. You might fondly remember Bush and Cheney, however.

Implemented huge tax cuts.

Promised the economy would boom as a result.

Got us into two fearfully expensive wars, one of them totally unnecessary. Put the entire cost on the national credit card.

Couldn’t find Osama for eight years, and tried to say it didn’t really matter.

Crashed the entire economy in 2008.

Yeah. You remember.

Perhaps Mitt and Dick will have a glass of very-expensive wine after dinner. You can imagine them reminiscing. Cheney and Romney, sharing war stories, getting misty-eyed, thinking about the quick passage of time. How they were young and virile and brave once, in the 60s, when both had the chance to serve. They might stop a moment to recall the 58,000 lives lost in those same years, all the patriotic young men who did serve, who did go, who did die in Southeast Asia, while they stayed clear of danger and went on with their sheltered lives.

Something like 6,000 more good young men and good young women have died bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Tens of thousands more have been badly wounded or maimed. Now GOP leaders tell us we have to bomb Iran and jump head first, without looking, into what is shaping up in Syrian as a complicated, bloody civil war.

You’d think “hawkish policy” might not be as popular as it was. You’d think Cheney and Romney might have learned something.

Well, it seems they have. They’ve learned not to worry. Put on a flag-lapel pin every morning. Talk tough when it comes to foreign affairs. You never had to serve in combat. Neither did your kids. So, send some other poor family’s son or daughter to carry out your wars instead.

Let’s offer these two heroes some how-to-beat-President Obama advice. It’s a photo op we’re suggesting, one that’s sure to resonate with voters. Let Cheney and Romney get together this November, a few days before the presidential election and lay a wreath at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

What better way to remind us all what patriots they truly are.

"Teach us to distrust and despise those clamorous patriots
whose courage dwells but in the tongue." 
Washington Irving

Why Don't We Hear More about Good Teachers?

Kyle's present: 
a Christmas coffee mug
SOME MONTHS BACK, I ASKED former students to tell me about teachers who had made a difference in their lives.

I've been side-tracked lately, focusing on other issues, including making fun of Mitt Romney's position on teachers' unions, but decided it was time to do another post about the ways teachers make a difference. I was drinking coffee this morning out of a mug given to me by a former student.

In Kyle's case, I had him for a class in Ancient World History. So the subject of religion often came up. Kyle was serious in his Christian values and what I liked (though I'm not especially religious) was his strong commitment to principled conduct. I tried to be sure he knew how much I respected his thinking and he gave me the mug as a present at Christmas.

The point is, I tried to make a difference, tried to help students learn to think for themselves. That's just one part of what good teachers do; and I saw countless good teachers during my career and still do. But to listen to critics you wouldn't even know they exist.

Good teachers don't make the news.

In the same way, I noticed a post on Facebook a few weekends ago. It was from Ms. Katie Rose, a Loveland Middle School teacher, congratulating the graduating class of 2012, kids she'd worked with four years before. I think she said that she was going to three graduation parties. In other words, that's three lives she touched.

And I was telling a friend recently about Mr. Scott Sievering, another Loveland Middle School teacher. I once watched him console a pregnant girl, in the eighth grade, with a couple of the most perfect sentences I ever heard anyone utter.

I wish I had written them down at the time so I could demonstrate how he did it. I only known now he told the young lady he always respected her because she was "real" and "genuine." And I know it made an impact, because the same young lady came to me in class the next day and told me how Mr. Sievering's words had touched her and how much better she felt afterwards, because he had shown her he cared.

In my case, I'm still lucky enough to hear from former students on a regular basis. Dave Eastman, a Loveland High School and Yale graduate, stopped by my house and gave me a copy of his book:  Paul the Martyr:  The Cult of the Apostle in the Latin West.  I think it shows us something important about teaching, and what good teachers do, to note that he made sure I received a copy. Jay Vinson, another former student, and I trade political opinions via Facebook. He's a conservative guy and I'm an old liberal codger; but I enjoy hearing what he has to say, just as I did when I was still teaching. I'm Facebook friends with Jennifer Chast, too, a former star student, now a Loveland High School teacher of math. I've heard from a number of sources that she does an excellent job and I can't say I'm surprised. Mandi Vargo also checks in on occasion. Another great young lady to have in class "back in the day." She has a high school position in Louisiana, working with Teach for America, and she's determined to make a difference.

No doubt she will.

This past May I visited my old place of employment, Loveland Middle School. Mr. Dave Fletcher was organizing a visit by an array of veterans, in celebration of Memorial Day. I talked about my funnier experiences in boot camp in 1969, and my "heroic service" as a clerk in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. But Dave had some real heroes:  men who fought in World War II, an F-16 pilot who dodged missiles over Baghdad in 1991, Ace Gilbert, a great speaker who saw heavy combat in Vietnam, and more. I'd heard Joe Whitt, a Pearl Harbor survivor, talk during previous visits. But this time he told a story he hadn't when he visited before. Mr. Whitt took part in the Battle of Savo Island in 1942 and saw a U. S. battle cruiser take a direct hit from Japanese fire, breaking in half and sinking in seconds.

Joe told students he still has dreams sometimes about that moment. He sees the cruiser explode. He sees the bodies of U. S. sailors go flying into the air. Only, in his dream, he's one of them. He flies high in the sky, and when he starts coming down he's scared. At the last moment, as he's about to hit the water, he puts his feet close together and locks his arms at his side and prepares to hit the ocean perfectly.

And then he wakes up.

Seventy years later, Whitt still remembers what war is like, still recalls the horror, and Mr. Fletcher lines up Joe and thirteen other veterans to speak. And through that effort, Mr. Fletcher also touches lives.

I ATTENDED A CINCINNATI REDS game recently with two old friends. Steve Ball, is recently retired after a long career, teaching math at Loveland Middle School. It's a long story to explain how I know what I'm going to explain, but at the end of every school year, I let my students rate my class. I had them do so anonymously, because I wanted to know what they really thought and try to improve.

One young man told me succinctly:  "You suck 4 Real!"

At any rate, in order to form a kind of baseline comparison, I asked kids to name "any teacher" they thought had done an "excellent" job. Not just a "good" job. I asked them to single out "excellence." Every year--every year I gave that survey--more than half of all students, if they also had Mr. Ball, mentioned his efforts.

The third member of the trio was Jeff Sharpless, and he's still working today. He and I used to teach the same subject; and we often worked on joint projects with kids. Jeff once dreamed up a play, based on Homer's Illiad, and including Jessica Simpson (as Helen of Troy's rival), and we put it on every year for our classes. That meant Jeff had to stay after school twenty or twenty-five afternoons to work with actors and artists and singers. (Yep:  his play included a Greek chorus.) So he got fifty kids involved and did it for free every year. He also ran a guitar club after school, also free, and got young men and women interested in music.

I KNOW THERE ARE CRAPPY TEACHERS OUT THERE, TOO. I've never had an ounce of respect for educators who don't give the job their all. But we need to hear far more about those who do.

So I'll give one more example. Then I'll turn it over to a former student to finish this up. At the end of this month my wife, Anne, retires, ending a long career as a speech therapist with the Hamilton City Public Schools. Yet, she still came home all this last year excited about what she was doing to help real kids. With the assistance of several other dedicated special education instructors, she managed to get a nine-year-old girl to say the first words she'd ever spoken. Those same teachers, working with my wife, found a way to get a severely autistic boy to start using a book with pictures, representing basic words and phrases, so that he could stick them on a velcro strip in proper order and "say" "I"

They taught a young man to communicate.

Finally, I turn it over to Cathy Nye. When I had Ms. Nye for American history, back in her middle school days, she was the kind of classroom star who always stood out. She, too, went on to a career in the classroom. So, when I asked former students, sometime back, to comment on educators who made a difference in their lives Ms. Nye had plenty to say:
Going through [the] Loveland School system, I had countless teachers that were amazing - the list of ones I'm not particularly fond of is amazingly small...

My 2nd grade teacher, Miss Hipp (not Loveland schools) I remember truly loving. There are also some vague recollections of going to her class when I was in 1st grade for reading class because I was ahead of the rest of the class.

Mrs. Martin in 5th grade I think is who I have to credit with my love of math and history (though the latter I also blame on my dad). On a more embarrassing note, I still sucked my thumb in 5th grade and Mrs. Martin challenged me to stop - even offering me her own incentive (which I have long forgotten).

Cathy listed several others who made a lasting impact, including Mr. Bob Wagner, at Loveland High, a name that repeatedly comes up whenever good teaching is the subject. So, yeah, teachers like Wagner and Rose and Sievering and Sharpless and Ball, make a huge difference and do it in all kinds of ways. Ms. Nye provides a last example:
What I love about what Mr. Viall is doing here is pointing out the awesome and amazing impact that teachers have - an impact that is not measurable on any kind of test, standardized or not. I had a student for Psychology one year who told me that I was his favorite teacher he'd ever had, the one that made him feel most comfortable in the classroom. I was incredibly touched by that statement but also incredibly sad because this student was a senior in high school and it was sad that it'd taken that long for someone to impact his life. This student wasn't the best in the class, we never had a heart-to-heart chat but still, a teacher had an impact and made a difference in his life.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Climate Change? Don't Sweat It!

Good news, fans of reduced home heating bills and early-arriving spring flowers. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the first six months of this year were the hottest of any January-June period in the U. S. ever reported.

"Experts" at Fox News, Gretchen Carlson, for example, might poo-poo such news. Glenn Beck might peek out from the bunker where he's been hiding lately, and lambaste all those evil climatologists and liberal "tree huggers." But the NOAA says it was noticeably hotter:  4.5 degrees warmer than normal in the 48 contiguous states.

Another record to fall:  hottest 12-month period ever recorded in the United States.

Oh hell. Who cares? Evolution, global warming, that absurd notion that the earth revolves around the sun? The right-wingers are used to denying obvious truths. They'll tell you weather has ups and downs; and Fox News will do a hundred stories on Solyndra, the failed solar panel manufacturer, to try to befuddle their easily-befuddled regular viewers. But they won't mention that in 2007 scientists reported 11 of the 13 hottest years in recorded history had occurred since 1998:
  1. 1998
  2. 2005
  3. 2003
  4. 2002
  5. 2004
  6. 2006
  7. 2007
  8. 2001
  9. 1997
  10. 1995
Damn those liberal thermometers and all that liberal statistical analysis. Don't worry your empty heads, Fox viewers. Point your car south, instead, and aim for the Creation Museum near Petersburg, Kentucky. If you're lucky, and fund-raising has been successful, you can see a life-size replica of Noah's Ark.

See the penguins and dinosaurs and people, all cohabiting together, just 6,000 year ago.

Those hard-hitting journalists at Fox News, they wouldn't fart without Rupert Murdoch's permission, and good old Rupert doesn't want you to remember that NASA said 2009 tied for the second hottest year on record.

What do NASA scientists know?

The right-wingers, who spend all their time worrying about President Obama's birth certificate, are too busy to notice that 2010 then tied for the global record for hottest twelve-months ever. That 2010 was the wettest year ever recorded, in part because warmer air has the capacity to hold more moisture, and so freak storms are going to be far more common. They don't know (or don't want to admit) that 2010 was the 34th year in succession with temperatures above normal. Or that 2011 and 2011 continued that trend.

They won't bring any of this up:  that NASA statistics showed 2011 squeezed into the top ten "hottest" years ever before it was over. That Oklahoma had the hottest average summer temperature that year, ever, for one state in this country, 86.9 degrees, including nights, worse than the Dust Bowl days of 1934.

But don't sweat it. Looks like 2012 is going to be a good year for right-wingers. Tree huggers? Hate 'em. Solution. Abnormally warm winters out west, huge problem with beetle infestations, insects that now survive winters they never were able to, killing entire mountainsides of lodge pole pines. Then hot dry summers in places like Colorado and Utah. Let's add a little of God's wrath in the form of lightning and watch all the western forests burn to the ground.

That will fix those liberal tree-huggers.

Right-wing apologists will say, "Don't worry." They will tell you there's some evil plot to put the poor coal corporations and oil companies out of business. Pay no attention! Let's focus on the illegal aliens under the bed!

Scientists tell us this is more than a variance in weather. They tell us we're facing serious climate change.

No way, Fox News commentators tell their loyal viewers, keep on living in your safe fantasy land. Look at all the pretty Fox Newscaster babes.

Look at their shapely legs.

If you really wanted, you could look it up. In 2012 the Arctic ice sheet retreated for the sixth year in a row, to record low levels, a million square kilometers less coverage, in Canadian waters, than even 2007, until now the worst year for ice retreat ever. You could read about methane "seeps" in the region, where ice is melting, and gasses trapped for centuries under permafrost are being released, adding to the climate change dilemma. You might read that scientists are surprised by how fast the northern ice sheets are disappearing, that plants extinct for 800,000 years on the eastern coasts of North America are now migrating from the Pacific Ocean region, that a type of whale not seen in the Atlantic for hundreds of years is now returning by way of the Arctic. But if you're a right-wing fan of Fox News, mesmerized by the usual horse manure, well...that would require a whole lot more serious cogitation than you're used to.

Besides, whose afraid of rising sea levels. That's where Noah's Ark will come in handy. You might even get to ride with the dinosaurs.

I wonder if Governor Rick Perry, who hates federal interference in his state,
will ask for assistance again. He did so repeatedly last summer and this summer looks worse.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Barney Frank and Jim Ready Marry; Cuddly Puppies Still Safe

SOMEHOW, MY WIFE AND I WOKE UP THIS MORNING, and we're still married. It was a stunning development and both of us were surprised.

In case you missed it, former Congressman Barney Frank, an avowed liberal crusader during his time in office, representing a district in Massachusetts, married Jim Ready, his long-time love, yesterday. This riled up ultra-conservative experts on marital matters. After all, as they like to point out, gay marriage is a threat to:

A) Every straight person's marriage;
B) America;
C) Christianity;
D) All morality;
E) Everything else good and true:  including love for mothers, respect for the flag, and cuddly puppies.

A notice about the nuptials, in the New York Times, included these details:
Mr. Frank, 72, and Mr. Ready, 42, were married in Newton, Mass., part of Mr. Frank’s district, on Saturday in a low-key ceremony on the banks of the Charles River. Gov. Deval L. Patrick of Massachusetts officiated. The guests included Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, as well as Senator John Kerry and Representatives Dennis J. Kucinich and Steny H. Hoyer. 

Mr. Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, became, in 1987, the first sitting member of Congress to volunteer that he was gay. He is now the first to be married to a partner of the same sex. Both bridegrooms said they recognized the historical significance of the ceremony, which lasted less than five minutes. Gov. Patrick told the guests that Mr. Frank had requested that the service “be short and to the point.”

THAT'S RIGHT. IT TOOK FIVE MINUTES to doom civilization as we know it and insure that the wrath of God would soon rain down upon our collective national head.

When Americans Against the Tea Party posted a link on their Facebook page, messages were mostly congratulatory (it's a liberal site) but also elicited a few examples of solid, patriotic conservative thought:

Pam J-------S--- commented:  "this is a sin.god says so he needs to step down." (You can read that to mean "God" should step down, of course, but let's assume she meant Mr. Frank, who left Congress some time ago.)

Jeremy V-- E-- had this to say (although it was a little hard to follow his logic):

Another raw fact: Religion is a personal freedom, of which marriage was born into. The tax breaks that come from it are religious freedom acknowledgments. So to demand "equal and fair rights" would be to create your own religion for same sex marriage* But nothing of that sort has been created for same sex...

Meanwhile, Moses M---- captured the essence of anti-gay philosophy when he responded, "PUKE how freakin nasty !!!."

It seemed possible that the voice of conservatism might sound more impressive if I tried a different site. So I switched to the feed from Yahoo on the story and the first comment was from some modest fellow who posted as "Mr Good-Lookinz:"  "I wonder what the thoughts would be of a person living in America in 1776 if he/she was asked if there would ever be a possibility of electing an open queer who talks like ELMER-FUDD to serve in Congress."

"Jeff" seemed to get all kinds of social issues muddled in his head when he added, "Wat will obama do now with the loss of his onetime boy toy!"

"Son of Quisp" added to the mix with this cogent observation: "picturing those 2 on their wedding night will turn all gays straight - this is NOT good news for the 'gay agenda' business......" "Ludwig" grumbled, ALL IN CAPS, and in true right-wing fashion: "FREAKS ARE RUNNING THE COUNTRY!!!!"

"Hammertoe" added a grim, society-is-in-danger" warning: "Parents are rolling over in their graves right now."

And Tombett wrapped up the conservative position with this ringing call for action at the polls:  "Obama & queers....whats next..oh Nov."

SO, WHAT DO WE KNOW IN THE END? My wife and I married in 1986 and we're still married and still love our kids. President and Michelle Obama are still happily married and Sasha and Malia, their daughters, still strike all fair-minded observers as credits to their mom and dad. Nothing at all has changed for our families.

Even America's cuddly puppy are safe.

Finally, in response to Mr Good Lookinz, and all those like him who seem to steep what passes for political thinking in a brew of hate, we might note that in 1776, the Declaration of Independence included these memorable phrases: "that all men are created equal," "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," and "that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

We know, if we love this country--and we might point this out to Jeff and Hammertoe and Tombett, too--that America had a long way to go in 1776, before we could say we had lived up to those ringing ideals. We know that the property qualification was dropped and poor white men started voting only in the early 1800s. We know that advertisements for jobs in the 1850s, when the Irish were first started coming to this country, included the line:  "No Catholics Need Apply." We know African-Americans were freed only in 1865; and that it was another century, with passage of the Voting Rights Act, before a real path to the ballot box was open in places like Alabama and Mississippi. We know women gained suffrage in 1920, that interracial marriage became legal in all fifty states in 1967.

We know the State of Massachusetts ruled in favor of gay marriage eight years ago.

America didn't disintegrate then. It won't disintegrate now. What the haters miss is this:  "America" is an ideal. It is a place where, in theory, freedom is protected, where liberty grows, despite all droughts and bad weather.

SO, I'M STILL MARRIED TODAY. Maybe there's even a Mrs. Good Lookinz, who is still happy today.

In the end, however, those who specialize in hatred have never been in tune with the arc of our nation's history. They've stood in the path of freedom for a time. But in the end, the ideal has always proved stronger than they seemed to realize.

If we look at it from that perspective today is a good day, for marriage, for human dignity and for the freedom we cherish.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why Vote for President Obama in 2012?

YOU MIGHT HAVE SENSIBLE REASONS not to vote for President Obama in 2012. You might be a billionaire, for example. But when you read a few blogs, check out the political pages on Facebook, and listen to nutjob right-wing news, you quickly realize there are two bizarre strains of thought when it comes to voting against Obama in November, or not bothering to vote for him.

1. The crazy right-wing types insist Mr. Obama is a commie, a Kenyan, a tyrant in black sheep's clothing (emphasis on "black") and warn he wants to destroy America with gay marriage licenses and crippling taxation.

2. The grumbling types, including a few disgruntled liberals, complain that President Obama hasn't carried out all his promises and so say it makes no difference whether he or Mitt  Romney is elected.

In the end, most Americans choose the candidates they support based in part on fact, in part on opinion. So let's start with a fact in his support. Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the death of 3,000 innocent Americans, sleeps with the fishes. The nutjob right-wing types sneer, saying:  "Obama didn't kill Osama, the Navy Seals did." But they're lying through the right side of their teeth if they try to say they wouldn't have gone loco if the nighttime raid into Pakistan, ordered by Mr. Obama, had failed.

It's also a fact that the previous administration, headed up by a rock-ribbed conservative crew, didn't kill Osama, either. They got us involved in the wrong war, at the wrong time, in the wrong place.

Not convinced? Say what you will about flaws in the Affordable Health Care Act. It may be like having watched legislative sausage being made. But it's a start. It's at least an attempt to address serious problems that beset our current health care system. And right now--this very day--if you have a type-1 diabetic in your family, an uncle with lupus, or a wife with multiple sclerosis, your loved ones can no longer be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. That's not all, as they say. If your family has an adult son or daughter, age 19-25, without their own health care coverage, they can now be covered on your family health plan.

Millions of young Americans are better off, as a result.

In fact, if Mr. Obama is a communist, business leaders haven't noticed. Corporate profits in 2011 reached all-time highs, even as wages stalled or declined. (More on that later.) When the U. S. economy crashed in 2008, the Dow-Jones began a long plunge from 14,164 (October 9, 2007) down to 6,440 (March 9, 2009). Trillions of dollars in investments were wiped off books before the "with-out" a valid birth certificate could recite the first line of the oath of office. Since then, whatever the nutjobs say about the "communist" in the White House, stock market valuations have doubled and the retirement plans of many an angry Tea Partier have been saved.

Remember when Mitt Romney and Republican leaders made fun of "Government Motors" and said it would be a far better thing to "let the U. S. auto industry die?" Talk to a GM or Chrysler worker today, men and women with families and bills to pay, just like you, still collecting their paychecks and now earning a bit of overtime. How are those "bailed out" companies faring? June 2012 sales figures for General Motors were up 15.5% over 2011, and with 248,750 vehicles sold the company had its best month since the 2008 collapse. Chrysler did even better with sales gains of 20.3%, and its best June figures since 2007.

Speaking of the auto industry, what about howls from the right, blaming Mr. Obama for rising gas prices? As recently as March, Rush Limbaugh was almost apoplectic. Other right-wing types went to great pains to point out that on the day Obama took office a gallon of gas sold for $1.81. Of course, they ignored the fact it was selling cheap in January 2009 because the world economy looked like it was about to go bust.

So, let's go back to 2008 for a broader perspective. On May 28, 2008, crude oil sold for $135 a barrel and the average price of a gallon of gas was $3.94. Four years later, under Mr. Obama, the average cost of a gallon of regular unleaded has dropped to $3.50 and a barrel of crude is selling for $84. So, congratulations, President Obama.

Really, all you right-wing nutjobs. Go look it up.

NO PRESIDENT, DOMESTICALLY OR IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS, can put up a perfect record. Unemployment is too high and Obama has struggled to bring it down (just like President Reagan during his first term.) He hasn't closed the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Nor has he managed to push through the Dream Act. Unlike Mitt Romney, however, he hasn't emphatically stated that he'll veto it if it should ever pass. Meanwhile, he has pushed hard to deport illegal immigrants with criminal records; but he has decided not to deport young Latinos, who came to this country as children, who grew up here, who look in their mirrors and see themselves as Americans. Mr. Obama supports gay marriage, too, a far cry from haters on the right who want to put gay people behind barbed-wire fences. And in Libya, we helped take out Moammar Gaddafi, a dictator responsible for an array of terrorist attacks on Americans, including the Lockerbee bombing (December 21, 1988), which numbered 189 U. S. citizens among its victims, and occurred while Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of conservative thinkers, was still in office. President Obama rallied NATO behind him and won the full support of our allies for military action and not ONE American serviceman or servicewoman died in Libya as a result.

In addition, all U. S. troops are out of Iraq.

In recent months a parade of conservatives has marched across the screens on Fox News, spluttering with indignation, because Mr. Obama won't stick Uncle Sam's red, white and blue nose into Syrian affairs; but now that country is spiraling toward civil war--and if we are saddened by the loss of life, at least we aren't stuck in the middle. And these same conservatives, who said we could easily march into Iraq, find weapons of mass destruction, and march right back out again, fault President Obama for not taking a stronger line regarding Iran.

They might tell you President Obama wants to destroy our nation. But Obama is careful not to involve our nation in wars we can avoid. Since January, the U. S. and it's allies have ramped up diplomatic and economic pressures on Iran and even Iranian leaders admit that the international sanctions are biting. We're also building up naval and air assets in the Persian Gulf region, sending Iran and our ally Israel signals that we have not ruled out military intervention to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran's oil exports, which support 80% of it's national budget, have dropped from 2.5 million barrels daily to 1.5 million. The Iranian banking system has been cut off from all electronic connection with the rest of the world and the Iranian currency has lost half it's value.

SURE, SENSIBLE PEOPLE MIGHT VOTE AGAINST President Obama; and let them all vote openly, fairly, by all rights. But there are good reasons for most Americans to vote for a second term for Obama and here are a final few for the day. The decision of the U. S. Supreme Court in the case of Citizens' United, with five conservative U. S. Supreme Court judges holding for the first time in history that corporations are "people" and can pour unlimited funds into political campaigns, means that those same corporation "persons" will soon be in position to buy up politicians in bulk. It's a decision as bad as any since Plessy v. Feguson, with the potential to corrupt our entire democratic system; and it proves that it is imperative to keep Mitt Romney from having the chance to fill the next high court vacancy. Last but not least, if you're a union worker in this country, you should be clear by now, and should understand that the GOP won't rest until it breaks all unions, public and private sector alike.

And if you're a non-union, blue-collar worker today, you should think twice about which party you're supporting and keep in mind that the average union worker makes $10,000 more every year than you do, and ask yourself, what do the Republicans ever really say or do to help you get any increase in wages?

Think Bain Capital. Picture Mitt Romney and friends pioneering the outsourcing of good American jobs.