Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lying Scientists Claim to Have Proof of Dramatic Arctic Melting! Still Can't Find Obama Birth Certificate

OKAY, FAR RIGHT Fox News fans. Here's what you missed, while you were cleaning your guns and hunkering down for that U. N. invasion of Lubbock, Texas.

The tree huggers are up to their tricks again, what with their science and evidence and advanced college degrees and crap. Yep:  more lying scientists have gone on record today, warning about ominous new signs of global warning.

And where do we find these lying scientists doing their lying? Smack dab in the middle of the lying New York Times. Why, Bill O'Reilly was just talking last night with Bernie Goldberg about all the liberal lying that goes on in the Times. Bill is the man. And, boy, don't we miss Glenn Beck. He'd set those scientists straight.

Used to be a radio disc jockey, you know.

What are these green freaks up to now? Well, with two months still left in the melting season, satellite photos show that only 30% of the Arctic Ocean is covered in ice. Satellites! Photographs! NASA! How low can these "libertards" go? Noah's Ark. Sure. Glenn and Bill believe in that. But where does it mention melting Arctic ice in the Bible? Tell me that, left-wing Eco-Nazis. The polar ice caps may be melting at a record rate. But you will have to pry my cold, dead fingers off my assault rifle before I give up my Second Amendment right to shoot any polar bears heading south.

Well, here's what scientist claim. They say polar ice in the north has been reduced by 40% since 1979, when the first detailed photographs were taken. They say evidence points clearly to human activity and greenhouse gasses. Ignore those scientists. Let's hear what a great leader like Sarah Palin has to say:  "I can see Russia from here! I once read an entire book although it was filled with pictures. Drill, baby, drill!"

Stand up for the U. S. Constitution, patriots with teabags hanging from your hats! Tell Commie Obama, "You can take away my right to drive my Giant Land Roving Mark XII Escalade SUV when you pry my cold, dead fingers off the steering wheel." The Founding Fathers never mentioned global warming now did they?

Oh, yeah, big deal. According to the New York Times, scientists (a.k.a. "liars") predict a day is coming when the Arctic Ocean will be totally ice free in summers. More Eco-Nazi talk. The Times story goes on and on, letting scientists spew more of their stupid facts: “It’s hard even for people like me to believe, to see that climate change is actually doing what our worst fears dictated,” said Jennifer A. Francis, a Rutgers University scientist who studies the effect of sea ice on weather patterns. “It’s starting to give me chills, to tell you the truth.”

What does some college egghead with chills know? Don't you hate elitists with their knowledge and shit.

Todd Akin. Now there's my man. Knows the scoop about sperm and egg and rape.

Meanwhile, the Times absolutely spews falsehoods. Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State, says climate-change risks are greater than even most scientists feared. Elitist. Tree hugger. If he's so smart, why doesn't he show us Obama's birth certificate?

Can't find it? That's what I thought.

Mann might explain to reporters:  “In this case, the models were almost certainly too conservative in the changes they were projecting, probably because of important missing physics.” But, we don't fall for his tricks. See what he says about conservatives!  He's saying we hate physics. Mann and his fancy terms:  like "Arctic amplification." He says it has something to do with less white snow and ice to reflect sunlight back into space. Says melting, itself, is causing an increase in melting. We're way ahead of Mr. Bigshot Science, though. We know polar bears don't care about louder music.

Dr. Francis--oh, big deal, a doctor--warns that changes in climate may already be altering weather patterns farther south, including the United States. "She has published research suggesting that air circulation patterns are being altered in a way that favors more extremes, like heat waves and droughts."
Drought? Ha. Not gonna happen.
When Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan take over we're going to win "The War on Christmas" (even if the holiday isn't as white as often as it was back in 1979). Mitt will stop global warming by offering tax cuts to billionaires. Ryan will save the planet by privatizing Medicare. If the ice sheet sitting on top of Greenland begins to melt, which scientists predict, even if we cared, even if that meant ocean levels might rise dramatically and force the abandonment of several Micronesian nations, we're going to be ready. We'll still have our guns and we'll stop those Pacific Islander refugees at the beach.
Walt Meier, a researcher at the National Snow Ice Data Center, a government-sponsored research center, might explain, “Parts of the Arctic have become like a giant Slushee this time of year.”
Well, we're way too smart to fall for that. Science. Government sponsored science isn't the solution. It's the problem. Drill, baby, drill!

And watch out for those U. N. boys, too.
Just because evidence shows the polar ice is disappearing,
that doesn't mean Fox News viewers have to believe it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The GOP and the Morality of Rape and Abortion

BY NOW, YOU KNOW Republican leaders agree. They want Todd Akin to shut up and gracefully exit the stage. Party leaders have demanded that he withdraw from the U. S. Senate race in Missouri; and to help him along they have cut off his campaign funding.

If you didn't know better, you'd think he had said something truly outrageous to right-wing minds. You know, like:  "Yes, I believe President Obama has a birth certificate and an absolute right to lead this nation."

Only, Akin is a Tea Party stalwart. He'd never say that.

The real question is this. When Akin says he's against abortion, even in cases of rape, why is his party running away? When he says that's what his religion tells him, when he relies on ridiculous science, when he rambles on about how in cases of "legitimate rape" women don't really get pregnant, why do Republicans blow the bugle and retreat?

We know, in just a few days, that the GOP intends to include an anti-abortion plank in their party platform, a plank without exceptions. Not for rape. Not for incest. Not for the mother's health. No abortions, ever. You can't even get a morning-after pill past these vigilant folks! In fact, only God can stop them, maybe by doing a little smoting of the Tampa Bay region in the form of a hurricane now on the way.

Really, why rap Akin's knuckles when he puts into words what your party embraces? If you have God on your side, go all the way. Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, at least, has come to Akin's defense. Now Sharon Barnes, a member of the Missouri Republican Central Committee has tried to add clarity to the debate.

She wants us to know she stands shoulder-to-shoulder with God and Todd Akin. As she sees it, Akin has taken a "'totally, firmly, solidly pro-life' stance." Barnes told reporters from the New York Times that "'abortion is never an option.'" In fact, she believes what Akin believes, that rape almost never leads to a pregnancy. And don't worry if it does!

Because if you are brutally attacked in the dark (legitimate rape), or you are knocked out at a college party by a date-rape drug and assaulted (legitimate?), or if you are twelve and you are molested by your uncle (???), well, look on the bright side. As Barnes explained: "God has chosen to bless this person with a life."
You don't kill it. That's more what I believe [Akin] was trying to state," she said. "He just phrased it badly."

PHRASED IT BADLY?  YOU THINK he just phrased it badly! No:  the question, if you happen to be on the other side in this debate is why Akin and Barnes and so many on the right believe they can force their version of morality down your throat. Because God is on their side? Because they have the Bible to guide them?

What makes one man or one woman's opinion in such matters superior to another's? On this side of the debate, we might need help from a Biblical scholar. But does the Bible even mention "abortion?" It does say something like, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." So, if we accept Akin's position on abortion, when can we expect the GOP to show some guts and include anti-witchcraft plank at the Tampa convention?

Sure. On this side we know the Bible includes wording about gays and abomination. We are humble, though. We admit we might be wrong, but when we read the Bible, we can't find any verse that tells mankind, "Life begins at the instant one of the 250,000 sperms cells released into the vaginal channel during ejaculation penetrates the outer lining of the egg."

We have our doubts. And those of us opposed to the thinking of people like Akin and Barnes and the GOP have our own views about morality and think they're as good as theirs. Some of us are Presbyterian, like Akin, himself. Some of us are Mormon like Mr. Romney. Some of us are Jews or Muslims or Catholics, like Paul Ryan. We just read our religious books differently. Some of us might call ourselves "humble, confused agnostics." But we have our own moral codes and try to live accordingly, just as Akin and his supporters do.

We say, for example, that God created gays. So we think "love thy neighbor" applies to them, too. We say, those of us who are practicing Christians, that when God speaks of helping the poor he means it and think that if Jesus were alive today he'd be for universal health care. Some of us, less religious, think the Bible is only one of many commendable human attempts to come up with a code of conduct. We have no problem with how anyone else chooses to interpret the Bible or how they apply it in their lives. We just aren't as cocksure. We don't see why we have to accept our opponents' interpretation of when life begins, or why they accept the virgin birth, but not birth control. We honestly look at their positions, and wonder why Mitt Romney believes an entirely different religious book, and we're curious to know how is that possible when their side seems to feel it has a corner on truth?

On our side, we come to our own conclusions. We see right and wrong, 95% of the time, the same as people like Akin and Barnes and Romney do. But we honestly believe that a woman has a right (within limits) to choose. We think if our wife gets raped, she should have a chance to be sure she doesn't get pregnant, to purchase a morning-after pill. We believe if our daughter in college comes home distraught, having been drugged and raped at a party, that she is not morally obligated to carry a rapist's child to term. We think you, on the right, Todd Akin, and your family may fairly choose to  bring a child into the world, if ever any of your loved ones fall victim to such a heinous attack. We believe, if Barnes were to be assaulted and raped, a terrible, terrible act, and she might want to see the resulting pregnancy as part of God's plan, a "blessing" in disguise, well, let us admire her as a woman of firmest conviction.

WE'RE SORRY, THOUGH. We firmly believe our attempts to grapple with such questions yield answers as close to the truth as yours do. We don't believe we should be forced to accept the answers you come up with on your own.

See also:


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

So Not Hitler: President Obama and the Unreasoning Right-Wing Fear

OKAY, RIGHT-WING TYPES, you’re still confusing thinking Americans and the election for president is just months away. Could you please pick your paranoia and stick with it, at least till November?

You’ve pretty much run the gamut of all fears. Four years ago, Sarah Palin warned that Obama was going to “pal around with terrorists.” The implication was that we were all going to die in 9/11-like attacks. Glenn Beck predicted next that the president’s enemies would be arrested by the millions and billions and sent to FEMA prison camps. Fox News tried to sell the idea that Obama hated America because back in Chicago he listened to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.

When thinking Americans shrugged it all off, Rushbo and other right-wing types did an Exorcist-like 360 swivel and started warning that Barack Obama didn’t just pal around with terrorists.

He was one.

Now, you want us to believe Obama is Hitler. You color in that little mustache on his picture and slap it up on your Tea Party posters. On Facebook you put up paintings of Obama in storm trooper garb.

It’s kind of pitiful.

It’s lame.

Perhaps it’s time for a history lesson. What thinking Americans call “using actual facts.” If you haven’t noticed, there are no gas chambers in America and we don't have any Zyklon-B. Your side pretends Obamacare is the same as mass murder, but you can’t find the ditches filled with corpses. The police aren’t even torturing critics. But perhaps you forget: Obama is the one who opposes waterboarding.

President Obama doesn’t have political goon squads, either. Oh, sure, you quake in your boots when “union thugs” are mentioned. But you’re just pissy because sometimes we outvote you, and you can’t handle that fact.

You might be relieved to know that Hitler hated unions, just like you do. In May 1933, shortly after he gained power, he ordered unions dissolved and leaders beaten and carted off to concentration camps. Anti-union? Hitler? Check. Right-wing governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich? Check and double check.

It’s kind of fun, if you carry the comparisons far enough. By 1930, Hitler was already relying on 100,000 brown-shirted bully boys to depress the vote, sending them to attack opponent’s political rallies and murdering rival politicians. But when it comes to voter suppression, in 2012, your side is the bomb. Good try in Ohio, for example, screwing with voting hours, limiting them in Democratic-leaning counties, expanding them in Republican-leaning areas of the state. Yep. You care about freedom. Sure you do. Come to think of it, liberals, in the main, are prone to go around unarmed. If you want weapons at political rallies...you might have noticed that was kind of a Tea Party thing.

And remember the thrill your side got when Ted Nugent suggested President Obama should suck on his machine gun?

Admit it. You thought that was cool.

LET'S SEE IF WE CAN KEEP SCORE—and see which side in America most leans in the direction of Hitler. Writing in Mein Kampf, before he came to power, the Nazi leader labeled Jews a separate race and called racial pollution “the original sin of humanity.” (624) And what do you know, in a poll this spring, nearly half of Republican voters in Mississippi said interracial marriage should still be illegal.

In fact, isn’t religious intolerance a trick often found buried deep in your bag? Don’t a lot of Evangelicals, who flock to your side, say Jews are Christ-killers and doomed to burn in Hell? If Obama were like Hitler he’d order attacks on Pat Robertson’s home and Joel Osteen’s church, as the Nazi leader did on Jews’ homes and synagogues during Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) in 1938.

So: Is Obama like Hitler? Then which side today hates an entire religion? Which side fears all Muslims, including those born in America, with full citizenship rights? Which side burns down a mosque in Tennessee? Which side shoots down Sikhs? Religious intolerance. Yeah... that's a check for your side.

How about marriage and reproduction? You might be happy to know that Hitler believed marriage was first and foremost a matter of procreation: “And marriage cannot be an end in itself, but must serve the one higher goal, the increase and preservation of the species and the race. This alone is its meaning and its task.” (252) He was against the right of the individual to decide in matters of reproduction: “We must also do away with the conception that the treatment of the body is the affair of every individual.” (254) Oh my: Your side says if a woman is raped the government can force her to have a baby.

You fear, with unreasoning fear, a “homosexual agenda.” Hitler didn’t like gays either and sent them to concentration camps. Jews wore yellow stars. Gays wore pink triangles. Today, in America, Charles L. Worley, a Christian minister in North Carolina, can vilify Obama after he comes out in support of gay marriage and say what we need to do is build prison camps for all homosexuals. That way, they’ll die out.

Remind me again, how is Obama like Hitler?

THE RIGHT TALKS ABOUT AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM and complains because Obama is slow to get involved in Syria. He’s unwilling to bomb the hell out of Iran. Hitler believed in exceptionalism, too, but his was the German kind. He could talk patriotism with the best, wave the flag, too, only his flag included a swastika. “We, as guardians of the highest humanity on this earth, are bound by the highest obligation,” he once argued. (646) In other words, what Germany did was always right. What America chooses to do, your side says in similar fashion is always right. Again, a check in your column.

Hitler wanted to insure that public schools taught love of country first and foremost. He wanted to foster a nationalist spirit and reinforce hate. “Science, too, must be regarded by the folkish state as an instrument for the advancement of national pride. Not only world history but all cultural history must be taught from this standpoint...The curriculum must be systematically built up along these lines so that when the young man leaves his school he is not a half pacifist, democrat, or something else, but a whole German.”

Now, the Tennessee Tea Party wants slavery taken out of the textbooks. (Makes America look bad.) In Arizona, ethnic studies are banned. And don’t forget inserting Creationism in the science curriculum or teaching the Bible as “literature” in the public schools. Ignore that kid who thinks different in the front seat. Make him study the Bible because that’s what your side believes.

How about all those illegal immigrants? What’s the existential fear on the right? Here’s how Hitler might put it: “All great cultures of the past perished only because the originally creative race died out from blood poisoning.” (289)  He’s talking Aryan superiority. You’re talking fear of brown-skinned peoples, those speaking Spanish, particularly, and Asians, too. You’re afraid for the Anglo-Saxon race.

Finally, for people who talk so much about the Founding Fathers, have you noticed that we still have three branches of government? Hitler took away lawmaking power from the Reichstag (Germany’s legislature) almost the moment he assumed office. He drummed up unreasoning fear of communists to ram through restrictive laws. And, hold on, now. Isn’t that a specialty of Michele Bachmann and Allen West, running around, warning about all kinds of “Al Qaeda sympathizers” and “commies” in Congress today?

Sometimes, it’s hard to see how you folks sleep at night.

Have you forgotten Republican presidents appointed seven of the nine current members of the U. S. Supreme Court? Can't you see you control the U. S. House of Representatives? Don’t you notice your side is pouring hundreds of millions into the current campaign? You have, in all likelihood, a 50-50 chance of regaining control in the Senate and Obama holds only a slim lead over Mitt Romney in all the election polls. So stop with the scary bedtime stories.

OR, FOR GOD’S SAKE, double your medications.


(Sunday morning:  The author stands corrected on one point: It’s five of the members of the U. S. Supreme Court. Save for that error, he hopes right-wingers will feel a little better, reading this and knowing they have so little to fear.

Or as the comic strip character Pogo once said, and as applies more to them than they might imagine: “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Big Evil in U. S. Education: Teachers' Unions?

WHAT KIND OF DAMN FOOLS make movies about education? And what kind of damn fools review them?

Those were my thoughts when I picked up the New York Times last Sunday and saw Frank Bruni’s column, Teachers on the Defensive.

Bruni has no children and normally writes about food. Now he had decided to go all “two thumbs up” and review the forthcoming movie, Won’t Back Down. He calls it a David and Goliath story about a mother fighting to save her daughter from being required to attend a failing public elementary school. Randi Weingarten, “powerful president of the American Federation of Teachers,” gets a brief mention in his column.

No practicing teacher (Weingarten last spent a day in a classroom in 1997) appears in the story. 

Bruni admits the people backing the film are sworn enemies of teachers’ unions. He brushes that aside. Teachers unions, he says, have lost their way and represent the great impediment to needed change. He’s surprised to discover teachers and their unions are less than pleased with U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (who, if Bruni interviewed me, I might label an “insufferable ass”). He mentions “Race to the Top,” Duncan's bold initiative to save America’s schools. He mentions unanimous agreement, cutting across party lines, at a recent conference of mayors, endorsing “parent trigger legislation.”

These trigger laws, Bruni explains:

...recently passed in only a few states but being considered in more, abet parent take-overs of underperforming schools, which may then be replaced with charter schools run by private entities. Parent trigger hasn’t yet led to a new school, so no one can really know the sense or efficacy of the scenario. But it informs Won’t Back Down, which envisions [actor Maggie] Gyllenhaal’s trigger-pulling parent as an Erin Brockovich in education.

“It gives parents an opportunity to weigh in,” said Antonio Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles mayor, who supports the idea, in an interview here on Thursday. He believes that new approaches are vital and that teachers’ unions are “the most powerful defenders of a broken system.”

SO, WHERE DO WE STAND IN U. S. EDUCATION TODAY? Apparently, we all accept the premise that public education is failing, even when evidence is as thin as a Vogue model. Then, like assorted Chicken Littles, critics go running about, warning readers that the sky is falling, when actually it’s not.

And why is the sky falling (when it’s not)?

Unions. Teacher seniority. Unions. Tenure. Unions. Greed for pension benefits. Unions. Even Weingarten is quoted as saying unions have focused too much on fairness for members and ignored matters of quality. (To be frank, every time I hear her talk on TV or read what she says in interviews, I find myself thinking, “This poor woman couldn’t defend teachers if you gave her a baseball bat.”)

Bruni hammers home what he believes is the critical point—and if you’re a dedicated educator his column may make you a little sick: “Better teachers, better teachers, better teachers. That’s the mantra of the moment, and implicit in it is the notion that the ones we’ve got aren’t nearly good enough.”

Won't Back Down, he says, raises important questions. It’s ultimately about the impact of superior teaching, the need to foster more of it and the importance of school accountability. Who could quibble with any of that?”

I could, for one.

I’ve noticed something odd while doing research for what I hope will be my first book about education. And I wonder why Weingarten and Bruni and all the experts never bring this up. If unions are the problem, how come unions in some places are so much more of a problem than in others?

How did Vermont graduate 83% of its students in four years, and Wisconsin 81%, and North Dakota 80%? Why did Mississippi come in at 61% in 2008? If Louisiana was at 60% and South Carolina and Georgia were at 59%, maybe it wasn’t unions. Maybe it was some strange phenomenon related to flying the Confederate flag.

IF THAT THEORY SOUNDS RIDICULOUS, what about lack of trees? There’s a huge gap in graduation rates between suburban and urban districts within states. A study done in 2005 noted that 38% of Cleveland, Ohio high school students graduated in four years. In surrounding suburbs the rate was 80%. It was the same all over the country. The gap for the Baltimore region was 40 percentage points, for Milwaukee 35, in New York City environs 29.

For Chicago, where Duncan was then wrapping up his fourth year at the helm of city schools, the difference was 28 points.

Here, in the Cincinnati area, you can easily uncover evidence of the same. Loveland City Schools, the suburban district where I once taught, has held onto an “excellent” rating from the State of Ohio for eleven years straight. In 2012 Loveland graduated 96.7% of seniors and 84% of the class planned to go on to college.

I could climb behind the wheel of my car this minute and drive three miles south and be in the district of the Wyoming City Schools, ranked 86th best in the nation in 2011, according to Newsweek. Teachers in Wyoming, like those in Loveland, are unionized. In 2011 Wyoming graduated 100% of its senior class.

How was that possible?

What variables besides union membership might apply? In Loveland, to cite just one explanation, student attendance in 2012 was 95.4%. Wyoming City did even better the year before, with 96.4%.

Unfortunately, there’s no time for nuance in discussing the failure of America’s public schools. The only variable is teacher quality. If we’re going to win the “Race to the Top,” Mr. Duncan knows all that matters is better teachers.

No questions asked.

Yet, I find myself asking questions, as I once did in the classroom. Why is it we think teachers are failing in Chicago, the district Duncan gained credit for fixing, if 258 school-age kids were shot in gang-related violence in one year and 245 the next?

WHY WOULD ANYONE THINK we have a school crisis if a study shows that the 10,000 kids most at risk of being victims or acting as perpetrators missed an average of 71 school days per year?  I wish Mr. Bruni had considered that issue, because I'm not a food critic. I'm a retired teacher and know what almost all teachers know.

When I worked in Loveland, I certainly found most parents were supportive and committed. But when you looked at kids who struggled, it wasn’t because I had tenure, or because, eventually I had so much seniority I couldn’t have been laid off unless the district suffered a direct hit in a nuclear attack.

Back in the 90s, for example, a previous generation of Chicken Littles screamed bloody murder and said we needed to hand out vouchers to parents and let them send their kids off to “superior” private schools. We had to “measure” how students were faring on state standardized tests (those didn’t work, by the way). One day I caught an editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer, blasting teachers because test scores were low. The writer was for vouchers, for “school choice,” for parental triggers before triggers were invented. He grumbled that there was “ample time” in the school year to teach what ought to be taught. He implied (oh, that word again) that lazy teachers were the real issue. But I didn’t feel lazy. I saw what Elliot was like the year I had him in class, the same year that stupid editorial came out.

I saw what it was like to try to work with a seventh grader who was absent or tardy 107 times in one year

One Friday, the young scholar arrived twenty minutes late for first bell history. I explained what everyone was doing and got him started. A few minutes later he was slumped over, sound asleep. I woke him gently. He remained briefly alert. When I turned to help others he conked again. I woke him a second time. He went under a third. I woke him again and called him back to my desk. Was he sick? No. Mom let him play video games till 4:00 a.m.

     I had him take a seat on the floor, hoping cold hard linoleum would jumpstart his cognitive functions. I answered several questions from classmates and then glanced in his direction. His head was twisted to one side, resting against the light green concrete block wall. His eyes were shut, mouth agape. His history papers had slipped from his grasp and he let out a snort. 

Elliot came late again Tuesday when we had a test. He didn’t have any supplies. So I wasted my “ample time” to fetch him a pencil. Five minutes later, having colored in answers, A, B, C and D, at random, Elliot was done.

He laid down his pencil—my pencil—laid down his head—and was soon fast asleep.

UNLIKE BRUNI, UNLIKE GLIB MOVIE PRODUCERS who make shallow films, I know what it was like to work with parents like Elliot’s mom. (It almost goes without saying dad was no longer in the picture.) I discovered what it was like when she got arrested for fighting with our school resource officer after Elliot’s older brother got suspended for fighting on the bus.

I saw what happened when Elliot, by then an eighth grader, got arrested for selling drugs on school grounds the next year. So: I’m telling you now you could get rid of all the teachers’ unions in the country tomorrow, and still wouldn’t begin to touch the most serious issues in our schools.

I’m sorry to have to say this, but Mr. Bruni should stick to telling us what’s wrong with how most of us eat.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Paul Ryan's Tragic Love Affair with Ayn Rand

Paul Ryan’s Tragic Love Affair with Ayn Rand
(August 17, 2012)
REMEMBER WHEN GOOD-HEARTED Christians used to favor bracelets that read “WWJD,” meaning: “What Would Jesus Do?”
Well, then, what should “godless” liberals make of GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan today? Not too long ago, Ryan told anyone who cared to listen that he loved the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a notorious atheist.
(Imagine what Fox News would do with that kind of story if President Obama ever said he read Rand.)
Now, Congressman Ryan has ditched his WWARD bracelet, because he’s running for national office, and some right-wing types certainly wouldn’t like it. Still, we know by his own statements that he wore it for years: 

...Ryan made no bones about his philosophical influences just a few years ago. He told the Weekly Standard in 2003 that he gave his staffers copies of “Atlas Shrugged” as Christmas presents. Speaking to a group of Rand acolytes in 2005, Ryan said, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”


Even three years ago, Tim Mak of Politico noted, Ryan channeled Rand. “What’s unique about what’s happening today in government, in the world, in America, is that it’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now,” Ryan said. “I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault.”


Suppose we give Congressman Ryan the benefit of the doubt, unlike the far-right folks who see a hint of Vladimir Lenin in everything President Obama does, including floss his teeth. Let’s assume Ryan never fell head over heels for the atheism in Rand and figure Rand’s moral case for capitalism and against collectivism is perfectly sound.
A BIT OF FULL DISCLOSURE, FIRST. Like Ryan, I read Rand when young, both Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead, while serving in the Marines.
To sum up her ideas simply, Rand was champion of a philosophy know as Objectivism. She was against all state interference in economic affairs, which is where Ryan would have you believe he now stands. Rand believed human rights were best safe-guarded in a free market system, which I suspect is true, and a concept, simply framed, which serves as foundation for most Tea Party thought. Rand, on her part, placed full faith in the individual, free to stand alone, arguing that each of us should rely, first, second, and third on ourselves, and not expect handouts from anyone else.
I liked that idea, when I was young, and as a liberal, as far as it really goes in real life, I still do. I took away from Rand, like Ryan (or so I suspect), the idea that we should stand on our own two feet and do all we can.
That still doesn’t mean her books are very good—or that her philosophy, or the philosophy of Paul Ryan and the extreme conservatives, stands up well in the end. I tried to read Atlas Shrugged again two or three years ago.
I couldn’t do it.
First, the writing is pretty bad. Worse, her characters, especially the villains, are caricatures. John Galt, for example, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, is a paladin of unfettered capitalism. He asks help from no one and scorns meddling government types. Galt desires only to be free to run his business, to create, to follow his own path. Hank Rearden is the same kind of man, intent on building a great steel company and turning out the best product possible.
Eventually, Rearden falls in love with Dagny Taggert, lithe, leggy, sensual, daughter of another capitalist hero, a railroad builder, if memory serves. All Ms. Taggert wants is to be free from government intervention—not to mention accepted social constraints—to exercise her talents, despite her sex, a character who undoubtedly reflects Rand’s view of herself. By Rick Santorum’s or Rush Limbaugh’s standards, though, Dagny’s kind of a slut. She sleeps with Rearden without taking time to marry him. Then, when she meets John Galt, she sleeps with him and they have torrid sex.
It’s Fifty Shades of Gray, only with economic implications.
It’s the villains, however, that make these books ridiculous, and it’s this fetish for finding all kinds of villains that makes much conservative philosophy seem shallow today. In Rand’s works half a century ago, and on Fox News every day, the bad guys might as well be cardboard cutouts, for all the nuance Rand or Fox display. In Atlas Shrugged, which helped Paul Ryan learn how to think, they are creepy and weak. They’re craven business types, with minimal talents, who work in tandem with sleazy bureaucrats, and leach off the success of individuals like Rearden and Galt. Our only hope, Rand wants us to think, is a system free from government interference, where capitalist heroes create wealth, innovate, and, as a by-product, lift the rest of us up, carry us along, like Atlas, on their broad shoulders.
(It’s Mitt Romney, working at Bain Capital, Hercules performing the Seven Job-Creating-Labors. And, no, mythic heroes don’t have to show us their income tax forms.)
The problem, of course, is that villains and heroes in real life are much harder to tell apart and so simplistic logic won’t do. There are all kinds of crooks in business who skirt good government regulations and rig the whole system. (Did we mention that we’d like to see Mitt’s tax returns, just to be sure what kind of business type he really is?) And there are noble and good people serving in government, members of all parties, in all times, some on each side, some running for office today.
Take Ryan, for example. In 2009, from his comfortable seat in the U. S. House of Representatives, he blasted the “wasteful spending” of the Obama stimulus plan. He was the perfect Ayn Rand hero, standing up against all those interfering government types. Unfettered capitalism must triumph.
The individual stands alone.
And, oh yeah, Mr. Ryan wrote to ask Obama’s Secretary of Energy soon after, could you please send a little stimulus funding to the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation, in my district, while you’re handing out checks?
Paul Ryan, guardian of economic truths, justice, and the American Way, wanted the federal government to give his constituents a helping hand. Suddenly, a little butting in, where business was involved, looked good: 

“I was pleased [Ryan wrote] that the primary objectives of their project will allow residents and businesses in the partner cities to reduce their energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and stimulate the local economy by creating new jobs,” Ryan wrote to Energy Secretary Steven Chu on December 18, 2009, on behalf of the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation.


So: there it is. Our buff, blue-eyed hero, bold defender of individualism, darling of the farthest-of-the-far-right, railed against government intrusion, stood by his values, and voted against the Obama plan.
Then he stuck out his hand and asked for a cut.
What other fiscal skeletons might we find if we looked under his Objectivist bed? Who is Paul Ryan, to put it in the way Ayn Rand might? Ryan’s work in Congress isn’t any worse than most members of that august body; but it’s not much better in the end. Like all those sleazy elected officials Rand describes, Ryan was less than noble when core values and beliefs got in his path, when not doing favors and helping grease a few constituent palms might interfere with his core purpose—of holding on to his elected office.
Remember earmarks, which conservatives railed about during the 2008 campaign? In 2005, Ryan voted for a $712 million transportation bill that included the “Bridge to Nowhere” which Sarah Palin (another conservative hero) was all for and then all against when she ran for VP. As an elected official, Ryan managed to sneak in a few of his own, small potatoes by comparison, but still government potatoes, a total of $5.4 million in taxpayer monies. The requests included $3.28 million for bus service in Wisconsin, $1.38 million for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and $735,000 for the Janesville transit system.”
And what do you know! Ryan voted for the auto bailout, the same bailout conservatives labeled a bold move by President Obama to move us all down the road to socialism. Ayn Rand would have freaked.
According to a report this week in the Boston Globe:

John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville, a business advocacy organization, said that Ryan’s support of the auto bailout should be considered in the context of Janesville’s devastating loss when General Motors closed its assembly plant there in 2008. An estimated 5,000 jobs were lost from the plant and supporting businesses.

That’s right, far-right folks. Consider the bailout “in the context” of various towns, like Janesville, Wisconsin, Ryan’s hometown, and hundreds of others across this land. Then tell us, Ayn Rand fans, and VP candidate Ryan, and Mitt “Let the Auto Industry Die” Romney, when is it wrong for government to be involved in the economy?
And when is it right?

Ryan solicits stimulus funds.
Fans of unfettered capitalism and Randian individualism weep.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

America's Teachers! We're Dumb. And We Suck!

OKAY, AMERICAN PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS: Raise your hand if you’ve heard the education experts moaning about all your failures.  

Raise your hand again if you’ve seen the charts and graphs they use to prove you’re failing. 

You know the statistics. The horrible graduation rates in many cities and states. Worst of all, you have the poor showing U. S. students make in international academic competitions. I mean come on!  

Who but you could possibly be to blame? 

Ask Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York. That pompous ass will set you straight. If he could have his way, he said recently, he’d fire half the teachers in New York City and start from scratch. But the evil unions won’t allow it. 

In a speech at M. I. T. last November, he grumbled that the biggest problem in American education was stupid teachers. Well, okay, he wasn’t quite that blunt; but his meaning was just as clear. He said we were culled “from the bottom 20 percent [of our college classes] and not of the best schools.” 

Bloomberg did go to Johns Hopkins University, a prestigious school. He did make $22 billion in business. That means we have to listen to him because he knows everything about education. He just hasn’t spent a day in a classroom in his entire life. 

So:  how is Bloomberg doing, in his third term in office, after promising to make education reform the signature of his elected career? He thinks teachers are the biggest roadblock on the path to reform. But he might want to check statistics. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University (there’s irony for you), 15% of American parents let their sons or daughters miss at least 10% of all school days and do it every year. 

Hey, stupid math teachers! I know you came from the bottom 20% and went to crappy colleges and universities. But check my figures. (Give me a second. I’m pretty dumb, too.) If a kid misses 18 days every year, grades K-12, then won’t that mean he or she missed classes 234 times. If one year equals...and we divide 234 by...um…doesn’t that mean, academically, these students should be 1.3 years behind, and not because of you? 

Raise your hands if you have telepathic powers, stupid teachers. Anyone? You mean you can’t teach kids who don’t come to school? 

WTF!! What’s wrong with you! 

Well, let me humbly offer this idea. Maybe we could notify Mayor Bloomberg. He’s a brilliant guy. He’ll get this. He’ll see the truth. Someone tell him that the same study found 200,000 kids in the New York City Schools missed 10% or more of every school year. 

For the love of god and learning, tell him, “Mayor, we need better doctors in this city quick! We must be culling them from the bottom 20%, and not from the best schools! There’s plague in Lower Manhattan! There’s a smallpox epidemic in the Bronx!” 

Come on stupid teachers. If U. S. kids finish 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math in the most recent international comparison (65 countries), we’ll, let's face the Ugly Facts. We’re Dumb.

And We Suck. 

Read ‘em and weep, numbskulls. Look at international rankings (left column) for 15-year-olds in reading! Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? It’s a travesty and you are all to blame: 

READING (2010)

1. South Korea                                                (Singapore)

2. Finland                                                        (Italy)

3. Canada                                                        (Australia)

4. New Zealand                                               (Switzerland)

5. Japan                                                           (Japan)

6. Australia                                                     (Israel)

7. Netherlands                                                (Spain)

8. Belgium                                                      (Netherlands)

9. Norway                                                       (Sweden)

10. Estonia                                                      (Germany)

11. Switzerland                                               (Cyprus)

12. Poland                                                       (Austria)

13. Iceland                                                      (France)

14. UNITED STATES                                    (Canada)

15. Sweden                                                     (New Zealand)

16. Germany                                                   (Greece)

17. Ireland                                                       (Hong Kong)

18. France                                                       (Norway)

19. Denmark                                                   (Ireland)

20. United Kingdom                                       (Belgium)

NOW LOOK AT THE SECOND COLUMN. Be sure you have your hankie handy, because if America’s schools suck, our primary care offices and hospitals must be an abomination. According to Bloomberg News. Yep. Bloomberg Bleepin’ News. According to Bloomberg’s own publication, we don’t come anywhere close to the Top 20 when we rank the “The World’s Healthiest Countries.”

Doctors in Singapore are crushing our medical professionals. Our medical guys can’t even beat Cyprus! Check the full list. America’s health care system comes in on a stretcher, in 33rd place. We get beat by Cuba. We get beat by Slovenia. We get beat by Kuwait!!!  

(Then again, it could be worse. We could live in Swaziland, which finishes dead last, 145th in international rankings.) 

So:  there you have it. We use another simple list to “prove” another simple point. If U. S. students stink up rankings—and the only explanation is that teachers are to blame—at least we’re not pathetic losers like cardiologists and oncologists and transplant floor nurses.  

And if you’re ready for more bad news, let’s face another set of Ugly Facts:  In an annual report, titled F as in Fat,” state rankings for adult obesity were released today. Where do we find the worst dietitians? 

Mississippi, where the obesity rate is 34.9%. 

I’m just a dumb, retired teacher; but if you ask me, it looks like we need Congress to act and pronto. Let’s shape up lousy, lazy medical people. It’s time for Congress to pass a law and call it No Fat American Left Behind.

(Maybe No Fat American Behind Left Behind?) 

If we’re going to criticize teachers based on simplistic comparisons, let’s not forget all the dumb people clogging up the U. S. health care system.

What the heck? What's wrong with America's doctors and nurses?
(I'm joking, of course.)
Could it be that Mr. Bloomberg is an idiot?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ready for Another War in the Middle East! Romney and the Neocons

ON THE DOMESTIC FRONT IT'S LOOKING like the Romney-Ryan ticket and the Tea Party base are planning like it's 1928. The outlines of their approach seem clear. Kill off the last unions and get the working stiff in an ever tighter economic noose. Collect multi-million dollar campaign donations from the super rich and repay them with Paul Ryan-inspired tax breaks so that they get their money back, and more, once you take office. Cut Social Security to the bone; bleed Medicare and Medicaid white.

Don't just unplug granny. Blow up the electric company with granny inside.

It's might be hard to imagine, but the trend in foreign affairs is even more ominous. Because, when it comes to foreign policy, it's de ja vu all over again, with Mitt Romney leaning hard on the same geniuses who plunged us into Iraq War. As Bill Keller noted in the New York Times yesterday, Romney has fallen head over heels for neoconservatives like John Bolton, Dan Senor and William Kristol.

If you're lucky, you've been able to purge the memory of these men from your consciousness in recent years. But we need to remember that nine weeks after 9-11, Bolton was assuring the media that Saddam Hussein had vast stockpiles of biological weapons"The existence of Iraq's program is beyond dispute."

Old news, of course. But now Bolton is whispering in the right ear of Mitt Romney, himself. Bolton! The man who insisted Saddam had all kinds of WMD's hidden under his bed. The man who claimed it was imperative, in 2009, that Israel launch a nuclear strike on Iran at once.

A nuclear strike!!!

"Negotiations have failed," Bolton told a bug-eyed Chicago audience, "and so too have sanctions...So we're at a very unhappy point--a very unhappy point--where unless Israel is prepared to use nuclear weapons against Iran's program, Iran will have nuclear weapons in the very near future."

Today, with only three months remaining until the election, Bolton, who doesn't blanch at the thought of possibly nuking tens of thousands of human beings, still claims that the United States must back Israel in any Iran attack.

Senor wasn't nearly so prominent in the early days of  the W. administration. But he did spend fifteen months in Iraq, as spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which tried its bumbling best to govern the fractious country after the 2003 invasion. And what did Senor tell reporters pretty much every day?

Navy medics attend to the wounded.
Hey, it's doing great!

The first car bomb that spring killed four American soldiers at a checkpoint. No sweat to men like Senor and Bolton. It's going great. Major Kevin Nave's family receives word of his death on his daughter's fifth birthday. Yep. All good. Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch catches a shell splinter in the skull that leaves him almost blind and suffering from seizures and mood swings. Great, great. Lt. Therese Frentz gets caught by a bomb in a restaurant, leaving her burned over most of the upper body, her left ear hanging by scraps of flesh. No problem. Major fighting in Falluja in 2004? Great. A Marine chopper is shot down with 31 men aboard and John House, a Navy medic, dies without meeting his newborn son? Cpl. Carlos Pineda, tries to put down covering fire during an ambush and takes a bullet through both lungs and dies?


The fighting continues; but Senor doesn't have to worry, because he's soon safe and sound at home, going to Harvard Business School, making money in big chunks in the hedge fund business. So the dirty work is left to people like Chris Dyer, a 19-year-old from Cincinnati, who joins the Marines. Before he leaves for Iraq he tries to reassure his father, "Don't worry, Dad, I'm coming home." He did--in a flag-draped coffin in 2005--after a gigantic roadside bomb flipped the heavy tracked vehicle he was riding inside, killing Dyer and fourteen others on board.

The fighting continues into 2006; and 2007 turns out to be the goriest year of all; and it isn't going great; and we can't find the hidden WMD's, either. Yet, on the advice of men like Bolton we pour the blood of tens of thousands of young American men and women into the sand, watch untold numbers of Iraqis die, spend a trillion dollars on the sorry enterprise, and can't extricate ourselves from the mess until Barack Obama takes office.

NOW, SENOR AND BOLTON AND OTHERS JUST LIKE THEM are murmuring sweet nothings in Romney's left ear, reassuring him that we can jump, head-first, into what is shaping up as a very similar Syrian civil war. And you know what?

It' going to be great.

If possible, William Kristol is the worst of the sorry lot, a leader when it came to drumming up support for the Iraq invasion. As early as January 1998, he and fellow neocon Robert Kagan were faulting the Clinton administration for relying on limited bombing attacks and calling for the United States to launch a ground assault. Again, they said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Not to worry, though. The invasion would be easy, smooth sailing across the desert, so to speak:
We can do this job. Mr. Hussein's army is much weaker than before the Persian Gulf war. He has no political support beyond his own bodyguards and generals. An effective military campaign combined with a political strategy to support the broad opposition forces in Iraq could well bring his regime down faster than many imagine.
It was easy for Kristol to say, smugly in one Fox News interview after another:  "We can do this job." Like all leading neocons, including five-times draft-deferred Dick Cheney, Kristol never did a minute of fighting for the country he claimed to love; and since he didn't have to actually see any blood, it was that much easier to believe it was necessary for others to fight and die in a noble cause.

Sadly, these are the experts who are advising Mitt Romney today.

In a July 24th speech to a meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in Reno, Nevada, the GOP candidate boldly promised his audience:  “I pledge to you that if I become commander-in-chief, the United States of America will fulfill its duty, and its destiny.”

More dying to come? It looks that way if Romney wins the election. And all this from the man who gave up a chance to help the United States of America do its duty and fulfill its destiny when he skedaddled for France, and did missionary work for the Mormon Church, instead, giving other lucky young men the chance to do their duty in the mud and the jungles of Vietnam.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A LIBERAL to wonder, "Haven't we already asked our military to do enough? Isn't it a crime to send the same men and women back to the combat zones three, four and five times?"

If the neoconservatives want to start another Middle East fight, can't we agree that they should raise their own taxes to pay for the next war, sign up their own sons and daughters to do some of the fighting, and maybe jump into the blood and the gore themselves?

How many killed and wounded have there already been?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why is Being Liberal So Hard? Romney and Ryan Bring Back the Fun

SOMETIMES, IT'S TOUGH BEING a liberal. Rush and his legions of Dittoheads call you a "libertard" and pretend they're better Americans than you. As a liberal, you think this country and the world could be better and want to help make those twin ideals come true. Conservatives warn that you're a communist and insist you and your type want to wipe your feet (or worse) on the U. S. Constitution.

And when all else fails, and conservatives start losing the case on merits, they pull out the Big God Gun. They claim to have the Lord on their side.

How do you argue with that?

Then comes a bit of serendipity. The Republicans field a ticket with a Mormon at the top and a Catholic in second position. Mitt Romney for President! Paul Ryan waits in the wings.

As a liberal, you begin to feel that healthy liberal doubt rising again. How, for example, can people like Ann Coulter insist they have God on their side, when God can't seem to get His Own message straight? Is the Bible the last and only true word from on high? Is it where we go for all answers about gay marriage and abortion and scientific topics like global warming or not? What about the Book of Mormon? Is that what God, speaking to Moses thousands of years ago, simply left out?

Ross Douthat, a leading conservative thinker, argues in today's New York Times that Romney needs to open up his campaign narrative in coming weeks. He needs to let voters catch a glimpse of his Mormon faith.

As Douthat sees it:
Romney’s years as a bishop would be woven into a biography that emphasized his piety and decency, introducing Americans to the Romney who shut down his business to hunt for a colleague’s missing daughter, the Romney who helped build a memorial park when a friend’s son died of cystic fibrosis, the Romney who lent money to renters to help them buy a house he owned, and so on down a list of generous gestures and good deeds.

In this scenario, faith is an absolute positive, and, conversely, we can assume, lack of faith is a liberal failing. Douthat argues that during a visit to Salt Lake City this summer he was struck by the emphasis the Church of the Latter-Day Saints put on "faith, family and neighborliness."

As for those bedraggled, woe-begotten liberals? They assign the key role in society to the state.

A LIBERAL ENDS UP, RIGHT ABOUT THERE, scratching his or her noggin'. A liberal believes in both freedom of religion and individual freedom. Let Mormons practice their faith in their beautiful temples, with the figure of Moroni displayed on high, blowing his trumpet. If they believe Joseph Smith found golden tablets on a hillside near Palmyra, New York in 1830, and believe these outline the last true version of the Word of God, let them pray as they like. A good and decent member of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints is a good and decent human being, first, second and last. The same is true of the good and decent Catholic. It is the same again, when we are talking about good and decent Jews or Muslims or Sikhs.

If you're a liberal you have a few questions, not because you hate religion or God or this nation. (In fact, even though you aren't sure, you think God probably loves not only all Americans, but all human beings.) First, if Romney reads one religious book and Ryan reads another and those devout Evangelicals who represent the base of the GOP believe them both wrong and put forward a third version of the truth, why must we assume these people know what they're talking about when they quote chapter and verse on subjects like gay marriage?

If the Book of Mormon goes on in great detail about the battle between Lamanites and Nephites, two ancient peoples on the continent of North America, a liberal says, "Let the Mormons worship in peace, for they are human, and they have basic freedoms and rights. They do me no harm in the practice of their beliefs."

Still, the liberal mind swirls. Why do so many right-wing types, who say they care more about religious freedom than liberals, oppose the building of mosques in places like Tennessee? How is a good and decent Muslim, reading his or her Koran, any more a threat to the individual rights and freedoms of any other American than a good and decent Mormon or Catholic? If two Mormons marry in a special temple ceremony, or even a Catholic and Mormon marry each other, how does that effect anyone else save that couple? In the same way, a liberal wonders how the equation changes if two gays marry? When a conservative says, angrily, "You want to destroy marriage as it has existed for thousands of years!" you can't help but wonder. What were Mormons leaders thinking, when they allowed polygamy, under church doctrine, until 1890?

In fact, if you're liberal, you find yourself muttering, "And this is the same church that offered all kinds of support to Proposition 8, the California referendum to ban gay marriage in that state?

Sometimes it's great fun to be liberal, as it is now, with this "liberal" mixed marriage of Ryan and Romney. Because at times like this you get to confuse conservatives with logic and fact.

Here's one to try on the next right-wing type who says you hate God and kittens and the United States of America. When they insist we need to put prayer back in public schools, ask them exactly which prayer and led by whom? When they say God is against gay marriage, and quote from Leviticus, ask them their position on the sacrifice of goats. After all, if you're a liberal you wonder why there are something like 182 verses on that topic in Leviticus and but one related to homosexual behavior.

Better yet, next time Ann Coulter opens her mouth in any public forum, to spew out more hate, can some good and decent liberal in the audience simply stand and inquire, "Ann, at 49 or 51 (there's dispute over her birthdate) are you still a virgin?" Because, let's face it, conservatives, if the Good Book isn't clear about abortion, it's certainly clear on the topic of sex before marriage.

AND YOU KNOW WHAT Rush Limbaugh, now four-times married, might say. If Ann isn't still a virgin, then she must be a slut.