Friday, December 21, 2012

Arming Teachers: A Stupid Idea

I WROTE THIS STORY six years ago. Nothing has really changed since, except the names of the victims and the increasing frequency of the carnage in our schools. 

The names of the dead at Stoneman Douglass are fresh in the news, the pain of survivors raw and terrible to behold.

Arming teachers after Sandy Hook never seemed like a good idea. 

It doesn’t seem any better today. I’ll leave this post the way I wrote in in 2012, adding only a few thoughts, italicizing them as I proceed.

VICTORIA SOTO, 27, WAS BURIED THURSDAY under a cold winter sky. Soto, as you may know, was the teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary who stood in front of students in a vain attempt to save their lives.  

Jack Pinto, 6, another victim, was buried Monday.

Tragically, that promising young man will never know if his favorite football team made the playoffs. He was laid to rest in his New York Giants football jersey: Number 80, Victor Cruz. (For Jack’s sake, let’s hope God hates the Dallas Cowboys.) In stricken Newtown, Connecticut, Jack’s best friend penned this sorrowing letter:

And now, with twenty-six fresh graves filled or to fill (and seventeen more in Florida just days ago), what do the most strident gun-rights advocates want to discuss? What do Second Amendment absolutists, those who say the right to bear arms cannot be infringed, suggest we do to protect innocents like Jack Pinto? (Or: Jaime Guttenberg, 14, or Peter Wang, 15, both among the dead in the massacre this past Valentines’ Day.)

We arm people like Ms. Soto. We arm teachers. (We arm people like Scott Biegal, 35, killed on February 14 of this year.)

Why is this idea stupid?  

As a former teacher, allow me to explain. First and foremost, it won’t work. It won’t guarantee the safety our children deserve. And we, as a nation, can no longer afford the luxury of wishful thinking where these attacks are concerned. We owe the victims of this horrendous attack (and attacks in Orlando, Las Vegas and Southerland Springs) something more. We owe it to all our children, living and dead, to face reality and craft sensible national policies. Here are a few reasons why arming teachers is an absurd place to start:

1. If we place a gun in the office, ready to a principal’s hand (or to the hand of some other school defender), as some absolutists suggest, what happens if the heavily-armed intruder shoots his way in through a different doorway?

2. What if two maniacal killers are involved? Then one defender isn’t enough (See: Columbine, 1999).

3. If the psychopath has a semi-automatic weapon clearly the defender will require (at minimum) a semi-automatic weapon. How exactly does this gun vs. gun strategy play out if the attack occurs at the start of the school day, or during a class change, when halls are crowded with children? How many bullets do the absolutists want to see flying around the schools?

4. How do we protect kids on a playground during recess if a psycho shows up and starts spraying fire? (That’s already been done. See: Stockton, 1989.)

5. What if the psycho lurks by the roadside and waits in the morning till a bus filled with children passes? What if he opens fire on them? (Same concern: end of the day.)

6. What if the killer forces his way in through the kitchen and into the cafeteria at lunch? (Arm cooks with guns? At least they already have knives.)

7. How do we defend if the perpetrator calls in a fake bomb threat and children empty out onto the lawn; and then he arrives to start shooting?

8. What do we do if the shooter pulls up in a car in front of any school, which is exactly what happened at Sandy Hook, and jumps out and starts shooting as students enter some morning? (Same idea, exiting: afternoon.)

9. What if the perpetrator parks his car, walks up to just about any first floor classroom in America and starts firing through windows?

10. Suppose a killer approaches a high school soccer field after classes have ended, during the first period of a tie game, and starts blasting? (Same idea: track meet, tennis match, marching band or cheer leading practice.)

AND LET’S NOT FORGET PSYCHO PLAN B: What if the killer can’t get into the school? What if he heads for a college campus, a theater, a Sikh temple or mall (a music concert venue, a gay nightclub, a place of employment) in frustration? (We do know that’s been done, don’t we?) 

If the idea of arming teachers is dumb, what about doubling down on dumb? After all, the Second Amendment is sacred, according to absolutists, and all gun-control is wrong. What choice, then, do we have other than to arm everyone in schools—every teacher and even school nurses.

Drop that mop, Mr. Janitor.  

From now on you patrol the halls with an AR-15. 

Is that the sad state our nation is in? Are we too cowardly and too blind to face hard American-made facts? Can’t we at least be honest about where we stand? If we have 300 million guns in private hands and those aren’t enough, then guns for all educators is but a tiny first step. Next we need to issue every public school employee body armor. And there’s the whole idea of child-size bullet-proof vests for kids. 

If we can’t pass reasonable legislation, let’s just give up and up-armor all the yellow buses. Place guards on board, riding shotgun beside drivers, like stagecoaches of yore. Brick up first floor school windows—except for maybe loopholes. 

Cancel outdoor school activities, for sure.

Come on, we want kids to be safe. So let’s create schools that resemble bunkers. Let’s add 12-foot-high perimeter walls. Let’s require teachers (when they’re not preparing for standardized tests) to take turns guarding those walls instead of “wasting time” grading and creating lesson plans and talking to kids who need help.  

Maybe we should add moats. 

A conservative friend of mine suggested recently that I should stop “prattling on” about gun control. Maybe I am. Prattling on. I don’t think so. I think I’m just pissed because Jesse Lewis [at Sandy Hook], on the day he was murdered, told his father in an excited voice before heading to school, “Dad, this is going to be the best Christmas ever.” I’m pissed because that little boy believed what he said and we as a nation allowed a killer to prove him wrong. 

I’m pissed because Ms. Soto, possessed of “captivating blue eyes,” is dead. 

I’m pissed because Grace McDonnell is no longer with us and can never follow her dreams.  

I’m pissed to know that Anne Marie Murphy, another teacher at Sandy Hook, died cradling Dylan Hockley, 6, in her arms.  

I’m pissed because all of them died in a “firestorm of bullets.” 

In the wake of great tragedy, I’m pissed because gun-toting absolutists refuse to admit that it’s an indictment of a gun-loving culture when teachers and children are swept away in a “firestorm of bullets.”

Like mechanical men, they keep repeating a single refrain: “My Second Amendment rights cannot be infringed. My. Rights. Cannot. Be. Infringed.” So let’s follow their logic and end with a look at the amendment in question: 

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Clearly, the rights of gun owners are sacred. Clearly, they cannot be infringed. Clearly, to protect our freedoms the Founding Fathers understood that what was needed was a well-regulated militia. Got all that? We need armed citizens to repel foreign invasions. Check. And to shoot back at our potential government oppressors. (There’s a strong element of anti-Obama paranoia at play in the minds of a number of absolutists.) Sure. There are already 300 million guns; but that’s not enough, even though it’s more than one for every adult in America.  

In other words, we need to man up. A modern militia—even though the militia no longer exists—would logically require firepower. (You can argue, and should, that the National Guard is now the militia; but then you get stuck, because they already have their own guns.) Therefore: a private citizen, following absolutist logic, who thinks he’s part of an imaginary militia, and thinks he’s getting ready to repulse imaginary invaders (because, frankly, the U.S. Navy can’t do it) or boogie man oppressors (Muslim Obama), has a god given right to purchase any kind of weapon his heart might desire. And come to think of it that should include a .50 caliber machine gun, an M1A1 tank and an F-16 fighter jet if they want.  

SEE, THE SECOND AMENDMENT IS SACROSANCT. So we do the next best thing. We put ourselves in position to brag to foreign visitors (of the non-invading type), “Here in America we build schools that double as forts!”

We owe Grace McDonnell and the others better.


SIX YEARS AGO, the slaughter at Sandy Hook was carried out. Try to think of one step our lawmakers have taken to address the problem.

I can’t think of one.

And now I’m pissed all over again.

I can only say: the brave teen survivors from Stoneman Douglas, their families and friends, their courage in calling for change.


That gives me hope.

How many victims must there be before we realize, "We already have more than enough guns?"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Timely Warning from the Mayans?

USUALLY, AT THIS TIME OF YEAR, Americans are too busy searching for holiday bargains (or, if they watch Fox News, worrying about losing the imaginary “War on Christmas”) to focus on world events. This year it’s different.

Fear is building with each passing hour as we count down to the Mayan Apocalypse, just two days away. You think the fiscal cliff is a concern? Not really a problem. Let them raise your taxes if you’re a millionaire! Who cares! Not one taxpayer is going to be around to pay the bills after December 21, 2012. The planets and stars are going to align and bam!

That will be that.

We’re never going to know if President Obama and Speaker John Boehner might have worked out some kind of compromise. We’ll never learn who would have been this season’s winner on The Voice. The Chicago Cubs will never ever reach the World Series again.

Neither will anyone else.

Some skeptics, of course, may still be saying, “Screw the Mayans. I’m going Christmas shopping.” This writer admits to being skeptical, himself, until he received this ominous letter from his dentist, who claims to be “retiring” after 46 years in the field. Look at the date! My god, he’s just trying not to create a panic:

Now that you understand how short the time you—personally—have left on earth you might like to know a little about these Mayans, who somehow knew, thirteen centuries ago, that we were going to be screwed. First, they were math wizards, expert at charting stars and planets and heavenly cycles. They built impressive temples and developed a written language. They understood the concept of “zero” at a time when our European ancestors were trying to divide and multiply using Roman numerals. The Mayan people were skilled farmers, working communally to build vast reservoirs and irrigation channels. They grew corn and beans and actually liked squash.

An advanced people.

They had a monetary system (involving jade and cacao beans, the stuff of chocolate). They lived in cities like Tikal, population 60,000. They traded for hundreds of miles up and down the coast of what we know as Central America and out across the Caribbean. And they computed time backwards and forwards. According to their figures the first date in human history was August 13, 3114 B. C. Or is it August 10? My history books disagree.

Wikipedia says: August 11.

Who cares! The Mayans knew we we’re doomed. They knew it wouldn’t make any difference, not even if Obama kicked Boehner square in the nuts.

THEN AGAIN, MAYBE THEY WEREN’T SO SMART. Their civilization collapsed around 900 A. D.; and somehow they failed to predict that.

Maybe the Mayans are wrong about December 21; but maybe they still have a warning to offer. From what we know, as Mayan population grew, farmers cut down the forests and planted more and more crops. With forest cover gone there was heavy erosion and fields produced smaller and smaller yields. According to archaeologist Richardson Gill, when a long drought hit their homeland around A. D. 900 water tables dropped so fast, “There was nothing they could do. There was nowhere they could go. Their whole world, as they knew it, was in the throes of a burning, searing, brutal drought...There was nothing to eat. Their water reservoirs were depleted, and there was nothing to drink.”

It might make you feel safer knowing that the Mayans never saw their own collapse coming. Maybe we have plenty of time left. Maybe the Cubs do reach the World Series in this century.

Well, that’s the moral of that story. It’s time to quit worrying and head for the mall to do some serious shopping. When you get home, maybe, turn on the television and relax and watch Fox News. At Fox News, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Well, fear itself and labor unions. 

And Muslims.

Oh, and gay marriage.

Otherwise, Fox News is like a powerful sedative. Gretchen Carlson doesn’t scare fans with stories about melting Arctic ice and rising sea levels. Sean Hannity won’t bring up altered weather patterns and wonder why the Mississippi River was almost unnavigable last summer. The weather babes at Fox aren’t concerned about why Superstorm Sandy packed an unusually powerful punch. Megyn Kelly doesn’t care if the Ogallala aquifer, which underlies the heartland of America, is being drained at a fearful rate putting farming at risk. (Even the Wall Street Journal took note of that story). No one who works for Rupert Murdoch or Roger Ailes is ever going to admit there’s a problem when toxic chemicals show up all over the world in women’s breast milk or when traces of Prozac show up in fish. Nope. Nothing to worry about when it comes to the environment. 

Even the fish are relaxed.

Did you hear? Steve Doocy says Obama is crazy because he’s pushing solar energy. So, sit back and crank up the volume because Sarah Palin is coming on after a commercial. Listen to her coo seductively, “Oh, baby, oh baby, drill me baby, drill me!”

After that, it’s time to listen to Bill O'Reilly fume about the “War on Christmas.” So, yeah, screw those  Mayans.

What did they know?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Problem Solved? Arm All the Teachers?

I GUESS I’M FINALLY CONVINCED. Those who cherish Second Amendment rights and guard against all limitations have shown me I’m wrong. I’ve been trying to argue that we can limit gun sales and ban military-style assault rifles and high capacity of ammunition clips. Now I understand. Tyranny is just one unsold pistol or rifle or shotgun away.  

I didn’t realize until now that we needed more guns. (We also need to turn our schools into forts, it would seem.) 

Here, I thought, we were talking about children like Madeline Hsu, Charlotte Bacon and Olivia Engel, all 6, who died Friday after being hit in a spray of gunfire. Now I know. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. This is an absolute truth, is it not? Or, as one no-limits-on-guns thinker sagely noted, we might as well ban forks and spoons as ban guns. People in America are fat and obesity kills. 

True. SO true. If we start banning guns, what comes next? I think that’s what he was trying to say. Are we ready to ban donuts? 

I’m not being sarcastic at all. I’m not saying this kind of thinking is for idiots. I’m saying these absolutists are right. There’s no other way to address the incredible carnage.

Except to get our hands on more guns. 

Madeliene F. Hsu,
one of twenty children cut down at Sandy Hook

You want to protect first graders in schools? You can’t do it by limiting guns. How could you think that? Now our greatest leaders are stepping forward to offer solutions. A member of Congress has already expressed sorrow to learn that Dawn Hochsprung, the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was unarmed at the time of attack. If only Hochsprung had had an assault rifle hanging on the wall in her office! (I’m not joking. That’s what he said.) Then she might have engaged the shooter and possibly won. 

I’m embarrassed to say I’m a retired teacher—and all those years I spent in a classroom I never saw the logic of this kind of position. I had a student who brought a gun to school to shoot me and at least one of his classmates back in 1985. Now I see. The gun that troubled young man picked up so easily at home, that wasn’t the problem. No, I needed my own gun for protection. He had a loaded pistol in his book bag. I should have had one holstered on my hip. It would have been hard to teach without turning my back to the class; but, hey, if it means protecting the Second Amendment, I could have adjusted. 

NO WAY CAN WE LIMIT GUNS. We don’t limit freedoms in America. No sir. The Founding Fathers knew their freedom shit. (Okay, true, maybe some did own slaves.) Ignore that. We are talking here about teachers fighting back. 

Fight fire with return fire, you might say. 

Yes, it’s the deepest kind of human tragedy that Noah Pozner, 6, had to die, hit by gunfire unleashed by a disturbed individual with a military-style assault rifle. According to his mother, Noah hoped to grow up to become a doctor or maybe own a taco factory. He loved tacos, that wonderful little boy, and that way he could have tacos whenever he wanted. 

He’d be alive today, according to gun-rights absolutists, if only his teacher, Lauren Rousseau, 30, had been armed. 

Why didn’t we see this before it was too late? You can’t arm just one teacher in every building. What if that teacher is out sick? What if the shooter enters from a different direction? If we want children to be safe we have to arm every educator in the land. We do it for the kids, or the gun companies, at least. Until recently, Ms. Rousseau had been a substitute teacher and before Friday she had to feel fortunate to land a regular job. What if the school had provided her gun training? Sure. We train every teacher in America in the handling of heavy weapons. Because, let’s face it, we all have Second Amendment rights and they cannot be infringed. Read your Second Amendment. Don’t make me quote it, now that I’ve seen the light: 

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

We can’t infringe on freedom. Not a spec. If we do we’re open to invasion by Iranians or North Koreans or maybe Redcoats. I know some no-limits Americans worry about invasion by U. N. inspectors coming to take their weapons away; or agents in black helicopters sent by Mr. Obama. What if they’re right! We can’t limit guns. In one fell swoop, U. N. inspectors could grab them all, all 300 million currently in private hands. We can’t do psychological profiling, either, before we put assault rifles in private hands. 

That would be crazy, right? 

It may seem incomprehensible to most of us to think that Allison Wyatt, age 6, died with most of her friends in a room blown to bits like a set in a Rambo movie. But guns don’t kill people. Don't you see? Lack of guns kills people. Her teacher, Ms. Rousseau, would be alive today if she’d been armed and ready. In fact, I apologize to NRA leaders who love America and freedom ten times more than I do. I see now that they don’t have foul blood dripping from their hands. A first grade classroom in an elementary school in a peaceful town in Connecticut was turned into a slaughterhouse.  

Well, it was my fault.  

It was yours, if you think there’s a way to limit guns.  

One of the first responders on the scene was a veteran of two combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq; and he told friends what he saw in that room, with the torn bodies of twenty little children strewn about, was worse than anything he could have imagined in wartime. And look, we have to have guns to stop guns.

ROUSSEAU SHOULD HAVE HAD AN ASSAULT RIFLE lying atop her desk, loaded and ready. She’d never hit any pupils. She’d be trained, don’t you see? Now that you think about it, she should have been wearing body armor. It’s perfectly clear. In the future all teachers shall be issued body armor. This is America and we believe in freedom without limits. I am not being sarcastic. We can only expect safety in theaters and malls and on college campuses if every citizen has weapons within immediate reach. 

We’re Americans. We don’t joke about freedom. If we ban clips that hold twenty or thirty or a hundred bullets, only criminals will have clips that hold enough bullets to take out an entire first grade classroom; and then our teachers will have no chance to fend off attacks by maniacal intruders (or Redcoats). 

The logic is clear. Cannon don’t kill people, people kill people. If there had been a cannon in the hallway, trained on the front door of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the principal could have stopped that killer cold. James Mattioli, age 6, and Chase Kowalski, age 7, would still be alive today and excited about the presents wrapped and already under the family trees. Victoria Soto, 27, who dived in front of students to shield them, allowing some to escape, might be looking forward to the holidays to rest up and recharge—since working with first graders requires limitless energy. Too bad she didn’t have a rifle. 

Or a cannon. 

I’m not angry, except with myself. Those poor children, each hit at least three times, some as many as eleven, they’d be alive if we all had more guns. 

What can we do, then, to insure that these kinds of tragedies don't happen again? Let’s follow the lead of the strident no-limits NRA types. There are six shopping days left until Christmas. Go out and get your child’s favorite teacher an assault rifle. After all, you’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. 


(I just had to write a similar column about the slaughter in Las Vegas; only the pools of blood seem to change.)

P. S. If anyone thinks that I’m being serious read this post again. Arming teachers is a ludicrous idea; I thought that was crystal clear.

Cut off guns before they reach the schools.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Guns and Innocent Blood: What Are We Going to Do?

EVER AMERICAN OUGHT TO BE SICK TONIGHT. Gun-owners and non-gun owners, alike, it doesn’t matter. Every one of us should be ill.  

How else does one react to news of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown? We now know that twenty children, mostly first graders, were cut down in a fusillade of gunfire. An elementary school here in America was reduced to a charnel house. Eight adults are dead, too, six of them men and women who rose this morning for work, never expecting to die, and dedicated only to helping children learn to sing and spell and subtract and smile at the dawn of knowledge.  

Maybe, I’m too emotional.  

I’m a retired teacher and a parent and I think about all the terrified children inside that slaughter pen and parents outside, not knowing the scope of the tragedy, praying sons and daughters were safe, learning, horribly, that they weren’t. I think back to my own experience in 1985, when a young man brought a gun to my school to shoot me.  

At times like this, most of us shake our heads and have no idea what to say. There’s no pattern to this kind of violence. It can happen anytime, anywhere, we think. 

The problem is that there’s a pattern. It keeps happening all the time and it keeps happening here, in this country. In Ohio, where I live, a bloody shooting occurred at Chardon High this past February. Before the carnage finally ended three teenagers were dead and two others badly wounded.  

You can find Demetrius Hewlin’s obituary on line if you care. Known as “D” to friends, he was one of the slain. Born March 8, 1995. Died February 28, 2012. A sixteen-year-old gunned down in the cafeteria by another teen with a gun. 

That’s the thread that runs through all these stories, the guns. Don’t you see? Don’t you care? When do we admit that we are already the “best-armed” nation in modern history? When do we agree that guns are absurdly easy to acquire? Already, there are 88 handguns, rifles and shotguns in private hands for every 100 Americans. Boil down the pro- and anti-gun arguments to their essence. You don’t read about people in this country killing each other with hand grenades. That’s because it’s not easy to get your hands on hand grenades. 

Guns are easy, though. 

As a result, we lead all modern nations in murder rates and lead by a gory mile. The murder rate in Iceland is close to zero. In Japan it’s .5 per 100,000 people. If you study a list of 32 advanced nations The Netherlands comes in tenth, with 1 murder per 100,000. Finland is 31st with 2.5. The United States stands last with 5.2 per 100,000.

Guns in America are a problem and that fact is written again in the blood of innocent children. Think of the guns, the guns, the guns. Twelve dead, fifty-eight injured in a theater in Aurora, Colorado. The massacre in Arizona that ended with 9-year-old Christina Green-Taylor and five others dead, twelve wounded, including Gabby Gifford. Thirty-two dead and seventeen wounded at Virginia Tech in 2007. 

The list is long and horrific and it comes down to guns.  

Better than most, I understand what it’s like to have a loaded weapon carried into a classroom. Twenty-seven years ago a young man brought a pistol to school to shoot me and to shoot one of his teammates on the wrestling squad. The other boy had been taunting him about weight and I had caught the boy during class drawing an obscene picture and told him to take it home and show his dad. That was all it took—a teen with emotional issues—easy access to guns—a potential disaster in the making. The boy carried a loaded weapon around all day in our school, hidden in a book bag, but for reasons unknown never pulled it out to start shooting. He didn’t shoot me. He didn’t shoot his classmates by mistake. He didn’t shoot his wrestling teammate. Ten years later, however, he picked up another gun—still just as easily accessible—and shot himself.  

IN THE END, THIS ISN’T about gun owners vs. non-gun owners, or hunters vs. vegans, or conservatives vs. liberals. This is about the massacre of elementary school kids. It’s about blood on the floor—in classrooms —theaters—and malls. 

It’s about guns.  

You can either address the issue in a reasonable fashion or you can keep burying the innocent—this time mostly six and seven-year-olds. Or you can make some absurdist argument that we’re all better off the more guns we have, that first grade teachers (and everyone else in America) should be armed and ready.  

In the face of this tragedy every American should be asking today, “What are we, as a society, going to do?” 

Say a prayer for the dead.

Allison Wyatt, murdered at age 6.
Sandy Hook Elementary.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Grading Schools, Grading Society?

I WAS GETTING MY HAIR CUT LAST SATURDAY and while waiting had time to read a good portion of the Cincinnati Enquirer. One story noted that President Obama’s “approval ratings” were going up. That’s good.  

I usually vote Democratic. 

There was a story about Joey Votto and how the Reds’ playoff loss stings. A third article focused on a missing bulldozer and driver down in Kentucky after his machine slid off a steep embankment into a coal slurry pond. That sounded a lot worse than losing a deciding fifth game to the Giants. 

I also had time to read two stories that touched on education. The headline on one read:  What Makes a Grade A School?” The other might not have looked like an education story; but considering the other it was:  

“Teen Inmate Seeks Parole in Resentencing.”

I suppose I could say, “Hell, I’m retired. Why do I care?” But it troubles me that in Ohio and elsewhere, politicians believe we can grade schools in simplistic ways. The school where I taught, Loveland Middle School, would doubtless earn high marks from the State of Ohio under the new system. (Rich, suburban district’s usually do.) I’m just not sure what that proves. We had our slice of dysfunctional families and messed up kids; but for the most part, I was seeing bright, motivated teens come through my door. 

So, how do you measure schools? Based on the dropout rate? We now have a system that says you do. I scratch my head on that one. Can a teacher make a kid drop out of school? A teen can join a gang and get in trouble with the law and drop out, as a result. A teen can get pregnant by mistake and drop out of school. A teen can get addicted to drugs and drop out. Is this the fault of the school? 

I once had a student (a really nice kid, too) who, by the time I had him in eighth grade, had piled up an incredible record of unnecessary absences. In seven years in the Loveland City Schools, John had racked up 452 missed days of class. 

That’s the equivalent of 2 1/2 years. So, do we grade the school in this situation, if John fails to make adequate yearly progress? The new system says we do. (I’m thinking we grade his parents. Or maybe we grade pediatricians!) If you’re not a teacher, you might believe kids like John are rare.  

You would be mistaken. 

A study recently for the Chicago Public Schools found that the “average” student was out of class 26 days each year. That means for every kid who shows up diligently and misses 1 or 2 or 4 days, you have another who misses 51, or 50, or 48. 

Try that at your job and see if the boss feels he deserves a failing grade based on your failure to appear for work 

I TAUGHT A LONG TIME. I KNOW there are crappy teachers. I understand that; and we need to do the best job possible to get them out of America’s classrooms. But grading schools is a shotgun approach and a stupid idea.  

I also understand that teachers must try to save every child. I think I only gave up on one kid out of the 5,000 I taught during my career. 

That doesn't mean it isn’t ten times harder to save some than to save others and nearly impossible to save some. Since I taught seventh and eighth grade, I saw girls come to school who were pregnant; and many ended up wrecking their educations. That wasn’t the fault of teachers. I remember a girl, so wasted on drugs that she shit herself in class, passed out, and left our building on a stretcher. I remember a young man who came to us after release from juvenile detention. At the time he had the longest criminal record of any teen in Hamilton County. And his chances for a quality education were hardly enhanced one afternoon when he told his science teacher he was going to kill her. 

So, what do our politicians decide to do to address these kinds of problems, which, to a greater or lesser extent, beset all schools? Um....grade schools. 

How does the other story fit in, you ask? The one about the teen seeking parole? It involves the case of Emily Ball, 14, when she was charged with involvement in the murder of another teen, Travis White, 17. At a hearing to discuss her fate (now that she has turned 18 and is old enough to go to an adult facility) her public defender, Amanda Mullins explained to the judge: 

“I’m not here to talk about a 14-year-old Emily Ball whose life was characterized by violence and chaos and extreme poverty. We are here today to talk about the 18-year-old Emily whose life is now filled with growth and progress and hope.

 “This is a girl that has had an unwavering hope that life has something better in store for her. You have the opportunity today to let her continue to grow, progress and hope.”

As a former teacher I notice that line about a girl whose life was characterized by violence and chaos and extreme poverty.” I worked in a good district but taught a few kids like that. My wife taught in a poor district and had to save all kinds of young kids like Emily Ball. 

Regardless, the prosecutor countered testimony in Ms. Ball's favor, calling retired Covington police Detective Mike McGuffey to the stand. Mullins had explained to the judge that while her client did lure White into ambush she left the scene before she knew what was going to happen.

McGuffey disagreed: 

“[He explained that] Emily left only after the ambush began and then returned three times to check on the progress. McGuffey knew this because Emily’s whereabouts was being tracked by an ankle monitor she was ordered to wear because she was a habitual truant.

 “He had never investigated a crime where someone was so severely beaten during his 26 years in law enforcement.

 “McGuffey recounted finding the ‘huge’ wrench, hammer and baseball bat used to kill Travis, whose body was stripped to his underwear, rolled into a red carpet and dumped along train tracks. Travis had been stabbed or hit more than 40 times. There were crude gang or satanic symbols carved into his chest. Cigarette burns were too plentiful to count.”

It’s a sad story, no matter what the judge might decide. But I read it like a former teacher. I wonder: “How is grading schools ever going to help these kind of kids, kids who absolutely need help the most?”


I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER. I do know politicians and school reformers are ignoring this critical question.

Saving Emily was never going to be easy?
How do we justify grading schools if they fail to do it?

P. S. Think this sort of case is rare? Think that schools can be tasked with saving every single child? Google “teen murders” and start asking yourself how.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Right-to-Work Laws, Horse Meat and Wal-Mart

WELL, WHAT’S NEW IN RIGHTWINGLAND? Oh boy! In Michigan, GOP lawmakers have passed a “right-to-work” law in an attempt to break labor unions. 

The Koch brothers, Charles and David (and isn’t there a third brother, Beelzebub) are really happy. 

They might even donate another ten bazillion to right-wing political causes. 

This means, according to voices on the right, that great days are ahead for American business. Jobs will be created left and right. Crappy paying jobs, with no benefits, true. Still, as Gertrude Stein once said, a job is a job is a job.  

Isn’t that right? 

It’s gospel if you listen to Tea Party voices that Big Government and Big Unions are crippling the economy. (Not to mention terrible public schools, producing uneducated workers and terrible unionized teachers). We must free Business Heroes from regulation. We must defeat the machinations of unions, which are collections of greedy bastards.  

We must hand over control of public schools to corporations. 

That’s the Tea Party mantra. Business Heroes are always good. Not half the time. Not ninety percent. Always. 

ALWAYS? YOU MIGHT THINK TWICE if you’re planning a trip to Europe any time soon and plan to do a little eating. It has long been legal to ship broken-down American horses to slaughterhouses in Canada or Mexico. Then the slaughterhouses sell the meat for consumption on the other side of the Atlantic. In Paris horse meat is considered a delicacy. Lately, though, there have been concerns about what’s in the food chain. It seems at race tracks across the United States sleazy owners and trainers (no, wait, we mean Business Heroes) have been shooting mounts full of steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers. This allows badly injured horses to keep running, even if they tend to break down at times in the middle of the races that they are running. 

See! We’re already talking job creation! After all, someone has to inject those drugs into the animals. 

Someone has to shoot all those horses.  

Wait…what was the big problem in America again? Oh yeah, unions. And too much government regulation. Canadian authorities just had to start meddling when they found phenylbutazone and clenbuterol, which mimic anabolic steroids, in slaughtered horse meat. You damn Canadians stick to your hockey and leave our Business Heroes alone.  

If restaurants in Paris want to serve horse meat let them.  

Trust the Koch brothers and the Business Heroes. These people aren’t greedy bastards doing everything they can to drive down wages for working men and women. They’re humble bazillionaires who happen to have bazillions of dollars. 

UNIONS…THOSE ARE SOME GREEDY BASTARDS, driving jobs away from places like Michigan. Then Business Heroes have no choice but to send those jobs to Bangladesh. No greedy unions there. No stupid safety regulations, either.  

Great place to do business and pile up stacks of money. No, no. These business folks aren’t greedy.  

You say a factory in Bangladesh, where clothing was being produced for Wal-Mart, went up in flames a few days after Thanksgiving? A hundred and twelve workers died as a result? Hell, in a way, that’s job creation. Kill off one set of underpaid, non-union workers, with no health benefits (who don't need them anymore, anyway) and replace them with another set of desperate human beings. 

Down with unions! Up with right-to-work freedoms! Let’s have some horse meat for supper and go Christmas shopping at Wal-Mart because their checkout people and greeters and truck drivers aren’t unionized. This is America friends. And Merry Christmas to bazillionaires everywhere and good night. 

If you think unions are the problem in America today, you’ve been listening to way too much right-wing horseshit.


ADDENDUM: For the poor fools who think unions are ruining America (see comments at end of this post) here are a few facts: 

The average construction worker in a union makes $361 more weekly than a non-union worker in the same field. This is partly true because non-union jobs often go to illegal immigrants. Unions used to be able to protect such jobs. 

Factory workers in unions make $56 more per week. That might not sound like much but it comes to $2,912 per year.  

Transportation and warehousing:  union guys make 30% more than non-union workers. 

Even a business newsletter, citing advantages of non-union workers, admits that union workers make $200 more per week ($917 vs. $717). So: you’re either for the average working guy getting higher pay. Or you’re not. Unions fight for the average American who wants to insure a place in the middle class. 

The billionaires and millionaires are doing fine. Think Wal-Mart couldn’t pay more? Think the Koch brothers are hurting? 

Go to the Forbes 400 list for 2012. Unless you’re blind you might notice some eye-popping figures.

 4. Charles Koch is worth (in billions): $31

5. David Koch: $31

6. Christy Walton $27.9

7. Jim Walton $26.8

8. Alice Walton $26.3

9. S. Robson Walton $26.1

No wonder these people fear unions and their wild wage demands, like for a Wal-Mart clerk to make $13.50 an hour and not $12. 

Other famous right-wingers to make the cut:  Sheldon Adelson, who gave more than $100 million to GOP candidates in 2012. He’s not greedy at all, way down there in 12th place, just getting by on $20.5 billion. 

Ron Perelman? He might not support the GOP (that I don’t know). But he did make his money in leveraged buyouts, which is the very essence of killing American companies and jobs with it. He’s in 26th with $11 billion.

Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News—which fills the empty heads of viewers every chance it gets with hatred for greedy unions? Poor Murdoch. How does he get up every morning, realizing he’s mired in 36th with only $9.4 billion? 

It’s interesting to note that Ann Walton Kroenke shows up at #79 on the list, with a crappy $4.5 billion.  

Every family has at least one loser.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fox News: When Crap Passes for Chocolate Pudding

IN SMALL DOSES, WATCHING FOX NEWS can be almost as much fun as watching Jon Stewart’s Daily Report. What passes as “fair-and-balanced” news in the eyes of right-wingers is just as comical. There’s additional pleasure to be found in knowing that regular Fox viewers are never in on the joke. Instead, they’re part of the joke. Roger Ailes feeds them crap and they think it’s chocolate pudding.  

On Fox and Friends one morning last week, Gretchen Carlson was going after the Buffalo, New York, teachers’ union. 

What had Ms. Carlson fired up? The fact that union members’ health benefits included coverage for plastic surgery. Taxpayers, she fumed—and nobody fumes with more conviction than Gretchen Carlson—were stuck with $2.7 million in bills. 

Fox News hates unions, and Fox News wants viewers to hate unions. That much about News Corporation is clear. 

What’s harder to grasp, unless we consider the possibility that Fox is nothing more nor less than the mouthpiece for a Plutocrat Class, is why Carlson never seems to get fired up about the bad behavior of our nation’s corporate citizens. They are citizens aren’t they? Didn’t conservative justices on the U. S. Supreme Court decide corporations are people with free speech rights? Too bad we can’t jail some of these “people.”  

How about solitary confinement for JPMorgan Chase and Credit Suisse, after they agreed to pay $417 million “to settle federal civil charges of selling risky mortgage bonds to investors that the banks knew could fail ahead of the 2008 financial crisis.” Screwing investors out of $417 million? Or evil unions and $2.7 million in plastic surgery?  

Do the math. Which is the bigger story? 

If Fox wants to do “righteous indignation” why not this story from today’s New York Times, about an investigation involving “wiretaps, cooperators and informants—[techniques] once reserved for infiltrating the Mafia and narcotics rings.”  

Who are the crooks in this sleazy tale? Not greedy unions. Nope. Hedge fund managers. White collar types, up to the tops of their $500 imported Italian loafers in shitty dealing. In fact, in this case the brown footprints lead upward, through the ranks of SAC Capitol Advisors, and stop, for now, but only for now, at the door of billionaire Steven A. Cohen.  

(Remember, Fox viewers, we can’t raise his taxes!) 

It’s a long, winding trail. So here are the bread crumbs. April 2009:  an F.B.I. agent visits with Richard Choo-Beng Lee in Silicon Valley. The agent explains that the government has proof he has engaged in insider trading. Lee promptly confesses and agrees to cooperate. Eighteen months later the same agent stops Noah Freeman in the parking lot of a school and plays back a secretly recorded conversation of Freeman getting insider tips from a woman named Winifred Jiau. Freeman quickly agrees to help investigators and save his own neck. In the winter of 2011 F.B.I agents visit Mathew Martoma. Confronted with evidence of his own illegal activities, Martoma faints on the lawn in front of his 8,000-square-foot Florida mansion.  

(Don’t raise that man’s taxes!)  

When he recovers he calls his lawyer. 

The plot thickens, as they say. Mr. Lee has close ties to Raj Rajaratman, the since-convicted billionaire head of Galleon Group.  

(Oh, oh, oh, woodman spare that billionaire and don’t raise his taxes!)

Lee is heard in 2008, on a recorded conversation, receiving insider tips from Danielle Chiesi, who works for Galleon. Pressed by the F.B.I. he reveals a sub-culture of “expert-network firms” that are “cesspools of inside information.” These firms feed tips to the Big Boys on Wall Street, allowing them to buy stocks they know—and smaller investors do not—are going up and sell stocks they know are going down—same idea as above—to suckers.  

Meanwhile, Freeman, a Harvard graduate, is hired by SAC Capitol Advisors at a guaranteed salary of $2 million per year for two years.  

(Do not, we repeat, DO NOT raise his taxes by 3% to help keep the country from plunging over the fiscal cliff!)  

As noted, recorded calls pick him up, receiving insider information from Jiau. Freeman passes on the tip to a friend and colleague at SAC, Donald Longueuil, who uses it to earn SAC a quick $1.1 million.  

(That would get you plenty of plastic surgery.) 

The F.B.I continues to follow leads in the investigation. Ms. Jiau is charged, convicted, and sent to prison. Longueuil, who served as best man at Freeman’s wedding, joins her behind bars.  Seven individuals at two more hedge funds are ensnared in an expanding federal net, as well as an SAC tech-stock analyst named Jon Horvath. Horvath admits to insider trading, agrees to cooperate, and points a finger at Michael S. Steinberg, a SAC manager, who is named in court filings as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” 

The case continues to build. Evidence is uncovered that Martoma was receiving insider info from Dr. Sidney Gilman, a neurologist involved in clinical trials of a new drug to fight Alzheimers, then under development by Elan and Wyeth, two pharmaceutical giants. The drug was failing, Dr. Gilman warned. SAC quickly sold out its huge holdings and then turned around and made negative bets on Elan and Wyeth stock to plunge. News of the failure broke and down the stock went and SAC was $276 million to the good, in terms of losses avoided and profits garnered.

(That would buy a hell of a lot of plastic surgery; but, still, don’t raise taxes on capital gains, whatever you do!)

THESE STORIES AREN’T DIFFICULT TO FIND. Maybe a producer for Fox and Friends could try Google.  

How about Hyundai and Kia inflating gas mileage figures to bilk customers? That meant a $100 million hit to unsuspecting consumers.  

How about UBS, the Swiss banking company, preparing to pay $450 million in fines to settle claims by British and U. S. regulators that they manipulated interest rates to the detriment of ordinary folks seeking home or auto loans?  

How about news this week that Bank of America (BoA) is facing potential penalties of $3 billion related to “brazen fraud” in the mortgage business? The company has already paid fines of $2.4 billion for fleecing investors. BoA’s legal troubles are far from over, having to do with ties formed with Countrywide Financial, a company at the epicenter of the 2008 home-mortgage crisis.  

Let’s hear it for former Countrywide CEO Angelo R. Mozilo who agreed to pay $67.5 million to settle civil fraud charges. Or David Sambol, second in command at Countrywide, who got off with a lighter fine:  only $5.5 million for crooked dealings. 

If you look at it realistically, which means doing something besides swallowing the Fox News line, you come to realize unions aren’t the problem. The boys and girls who keep Big Business in this country running smoothly are willing to do anything to pile up huge profits.  

If they can close down American factories and ship jobs to China, they’ll do it and be glad they did. If they can simultaneously break labor unions in the U. S. and hire illegal immigrants to drive down wages, they’ll do it and be glad. At times, the whole ugly picture can seem surreal, like Salvidor Dali explaining economics. 

One final example should suffice:  this time involving James F. McCann, minority stock holder of the New York Mets, and founder of 1-800-Flowers. According to documents in a recent federal lawsuit, McCann and other retailers were involved in a carefully designed scheme to rip off customers. The deal went like this, according to plaintiffs:  Callers dialed up the number and asked for a dozen roses for mom on Mother’s Day or their special girl on Valentine’s Day. They entered a credit card number, hit “purchase,” and were told they could apply for a rebate. Great! Or was it?  

According to the New York Times:
“If the customer clicked on the rebate option and failed to read the fine print, however, he or she wound up registering for a near-worthless club membership that would charge the credit card for months, sometimes years, before the expenses on the credit card statements were detected. Outfits like received a cut of the operation, what regulators and others have called ‘bounties.’”

“A recent legal filing by lawyers in the case asserted that ‘1-800-Flowers was well aware that its customers were getting defrauded.’”  

So there you have it loyal Fox viewers. Next time you see Carlson having a bad day, fuming about greedy unions, send her some flowers.