Category Archives: Politics

I was once told, “You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.” Local, state, national. Governing people, controlling people. The exercise of power.

Seriously, Don’t Read This Post About Illegal Immigration

What follows are my thoughts on illegal immigration. There’s really no point in writing this. I won’t change anyone’s mind. And yet, I am writing it. Why? Cause this way I can “talk” about it and you can ignore it. Which you should do. There is no good reason for you to read this post. Either you already agree with me and you will only have your opinion confirmed. Or, you will be angered and feel like arguing with me.

Don’t bother arguing with me.

Mostly, I’m writing this because one of my family members sent a mass e-mail to me, among others, that was pro-Jan Brewer and anti-illegal immigrants, quoting Jan Brewer and her disagreement with the Phoenix Suns’ president who voiced his disapproval of the Arizona immigration law. My family member indicated that Jan Brewer should be president.

Please please please let Jan Brewer be Sarah Palin’s running mate! That would be so good for the Daily Show!

I am not in favor of illegal immigration. Illegal immigration is a crime. However, I *am* sympathetic to people coming to this country trying to make a living and make a better life for themselves. You know, The American Dream? I look at one street corner and there’s that same guy there, selling oranges or cherries, in the sun. He’s wearing the same clothes, too. But, he’s working. Then, on another corner, there’s that same guy with the sign declaring he’s a homeless veteran that will work for food, but I never see him working, just taking handouts (I have to wonder if a real veteran would actually be able to swallow their pride and beg for money.) I also realize that illegal immigration costs taxpayer money. I am not arguing that illegals should be granted amnesty. I am arguing that the rhetoric is way overblown. I am arguing that people act like illegal immigrants are destroying this country when it was built by illegal immigrants (or did I miss where the Cherokee issued visas?).

I wonder what Jesus would have to say about illegal immigration? Would he say to feed his brother, take care of the poor, shelter the children… as long as their status is properly documented? I think Jesus had a lot more compassion for people than many of his followers do. Maybe this doesn’t apply to you, but I think it clearly does to some others. Republicans will go to great lengths to declare their allegiance to Jesus and then promptly ignore what Jesus taught them.

Mostly what I object to is that people say they want illegal immigrants out for economic reasons. Then, when it’s pointed out that undocumented workers actually add to the economy, too, that they do pay income tax in some cases, etc., they don’t care about all that. They just want the Mexicans to go home. Hmmm. Yeah, for economic reasons. Except when it’s not about the economics. Then we’re glad they’re not here bothering us Americans.

We like illegal immigrants to pick our produce, to wash our cars, clean our offices, do our landscaping and construction. But, when the economy is tough, all of a sudden, illegal immigrants are persona non grata. Really, they are taking jobs away from Americans?

We are all content to buy our products from China and Taiwan where the workers get pennies an hour. How is this different? Couldn’t those jobs be American too? What about those American jobs that went to India so customer service phone centers could cost less for credit card companies and tech support? Those could be American jobs, too.

The criminals are the companies that are making money off the backs of all of us. If there were no market for workers willing to accept awful work conditions, no benefits, and low wages then illegal immigration would drop to zero. But, people, mostly Republicans and Tea Party “patriots” (how many scoundrels have wrapped themselves in a flag to avoid detection?), would rather scapegoat someone who just wants to work, just wants to feed his family.

Then again, lots of people go around these days believing things, forming opinions, without letting themselves be bothered with facts.

I excerpted a section of a story from the Arizona Republic below to illustrate my point.

Kavanagh, a sponsor of SB 1070, said it is difficult to tell whether illegal immigrants are being driven underground by the economic downturn or the immigration law.

Tom Rex, who studies the state’s economy for the Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, said immigration crackdowns, notably the state’s employer-sanctions law, have driven more undocumented workers from the aboveground economy into the underground cash economy.

The sanctions law, which took effect in 2008, requires all employers to electronically verify whether employees are legally eligible to work. That has made it harder for undocumented workers to use fake documents to get legitimate jobs, as many did in the past.

It also means less revenue for the state, since undocumented workers employed in the aboveground economy typically pay income taxes, unlike those working for cash.

On top of that, the state has lost sales-tax and other revenue from the thousands of illegal immigrants who have left due to the immigration crackdowns, further hurting the state’s sagging economy, Rex said.

The Pew Hispanic Center recently estimated that the state’s undocumented population shrunk by 100,000 people in the past three years, dropping from 500,000 to 400,000.

Such a large and sudden loss of people dealt a severe blow to the state’s economy, even when costs such as education and other services are factored in, Rex said.

As evidence, he pointed to retail sales, which plummeted 9 percent in 2008 and 10 percent in 2009. Rex called the drop unprecedented and said it likely resulted from an overall decrease in spending during the recession and immigrants leaving the state.

“Nothing remotely close to that has ever happened in this state,” Rex said.

Still, Kavanagh said the loss of more than 100,000 illegal immigrants opened job opportunities for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants at a time when the state’s unemployment rate is 9.5 percent.

“So losing 100,000 or 200,000 workers who were undercutting legal workers and depressing wages is a big plus, as far as I am concerned,” he said. “Good riddance.”

Clint Hickman, vice president of sales and marketing for Hickman’s Family Farms, the largest egg producer in Arizona, said sales to supermarkets and grocery stores that cater to Latinos dropped 20 percent in the wake of SB 1070.

“Eggs are not easily substituted, so it wasn’t that there was some other foodstuff that was being substituted,” he said. “It was a real loss of consumption because the people aren’t here any more.”

Kavanagh said the drop in sales suggests SB 1070 was a “very effective deterrent.”

“It makes me feel good,” Kavanagh said. “Mr. Hickman (will have to) have less hens. You don’t overproduce. I am not going to maintain a large population of illegal immigrants who drain our economy and cost us in benefits just so that Mr. Hickman can sell 20 percent more in eggs.”

(apologies for the videos.  I’m still learning how to format those.)


The Haircut Debate

I went to get my haircut today.  My stylist is an older gentleman, in his late 50’s I guess.  He’s also conservative and not afraid to tell you about it.

Usually, I just keep my mouth shut.  Why bother?  After all, is it likely I’m going to change his mind during the 30-45 minutes I’m sitting in his chair?  Probably not.  But, today, I decided to calmly, politely refute his claims.  Why?
He brought up teacher’s unions.
So, basically, he posited that teacher’s unions are “out of control.”  How so? I asked.  He said, “In every way.  We pay more for education and get less now.”
So, I couldn’t let that stand.  Test scores have actually risen over the last 30 years.  He was positive that the majority of teachers are simply cruising in the classroom, but I don’t believe.  That.  I would say that I can only think of 1 or 2, maybe 3 teachers of 80 at my high school that might be accused of “cruising.”  That’s 3 percent!  I bet there’s another 5-10 that are not doing their best.  That’s 12 percent.  That means that I am betting that 80 percent or more of the teachers at my school are doing pretty good and trying hard to be better.  That’s not scientific, but I bet it’s close.
He said that in the corporate sector, those 15% – 20% would be fired for incompetence.  Oh really?  I told him that maybe, unless they knew the right people or had the right family.  Oh no, he said, things have changed in the private sector since I worked in it.  Oh?, I said.  In ten years?  Oh yes, he responded.
See, as we talked, I calmly tried to present him with information.  Yes, there are some bad teachers.  But, is it the Union’s job to get rid of them?  No, it’s the job of administrators to fire them.  Show me a bad teacher that still works and I’ll find you an administrator unwilling to document why that teacher is bad and unwilling to take the steps to fire the teacher.
Well, he said, that’s because your union is good.  Los Angeles is out of control.  L.A. Unified is completely awful.
I began to see that, no matter what I said, he was going to position my experience, my information as the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.  He even said to me, “If all of our teachers were like you, we wouldn’t have these problems.”  See, even I was an exception because I was being polite, thoughtful and reasonable.
Then he said, “Times are tough, we all need to tighten our belts.”  I said, Teachers are sacrificing.  We haven’t had a raise in five years and we have taken a pay cut by taking furlough days.  He laughed and said he doesn’t get raises.
Now, bear in mind, this is a hair stylist who sets his own prices and can go cut hair anywhere he likes.  He does a good job, knows what he’s doing.  Truthfully, he should be getting $25 per cut, if you ask me.  He charged my $18 and I tipped him $4.  It took him half an hour to cut my hair.  So, if he lined up clients, then he could, conceivably, make over $40 an hour.  That’s more than I make!!!  But, he pointed out that times are tough and it’s not his fault.  But, honestly, I’ve been in a lot of hair salons.  I go back to this one because they’re cheap and this stylist is charging less than he could.  The salon is poorly managed and, compared to a high end shop, dirty.  You get what you pay for.  Usually.  In this case, I could care less about the dust on the counters and hair on the floor.  I get my hair cut for less than I would elsewhere.  And, moreover, he can do a flattop which most hair stylists either balk at or butcher.
But, I digress.  My point is that he’s pissed off because I make more money than him.  He doesn’t have a college degree, he said, but he’s had as much education as me.  Now, I respect his craft.  He is an expert hair stylist.  But, I don’t think his education is the same as mine.  Getting training in a vocational area is not the same as a college degree.  It doesn’t make me smarter than him, but it’s totally false to suggest that all education is the same if it’s the same amount of hours.  He’s pissed off that I’m in a Union and have protection against being fired according to the whims of administrators (which I have been the victim of already).  He’s pissed because he believe that “Fox News is telling the truth.”  Those were his words.
Anyway, I guess my main point is, the man is a nice guy.  He cuts a good haircut.  He is ill-informed, misogynist (When I said that I had some bad haircuts, he said, “Well, I bet those ladies are typing in an office now.” Cause, only women give bad haircuts, see.)  He’s borderline racist (“The other problem is that we have to pay for all these illegals in California, too!).  And, he doesn’t give a crap that Wall Street and the banks are what crashed our economy.  I said to him that teachers didn’t get us into the problems we’re in, that they’re getting plenty of raises and bonuses on Wall Street lately.  He said, “Well, I don’t work on Wall Street.”
That’s where that ended.
This is what teachers are up against.  It’s all our fault.  Teachers are responsible for the whole thing.  It’s not the administrators who are hiring bad teachers or not firing them.  It’s not the district office for making poor decisions about how to spend money and use resources.  It’s not the parents who don’t support education.  It’s not poverty that keeps kids from doing better in school.  It’s not kids being lazy and unwilling to work.  It’s teachers and the unions who are wasting money and making kids stupid.
It’s sad because education is really important and too complex to reduce to such simple terms.

Paying A Fair Share: US Uncut and Parasitic Corporations

You may have heard about this already, but there is a movement called US UnCut that I think we should all support. We have many U.S. corporations that are profiting in the billions and paying little to no income tax.

They will tell you that if you tax them, they will stop bringing jobs to America. They will be forced to go to friendlier countries.

Then we must stop buying from them.  We must force them to pay their share.

My dear readers, we have to stop buying into this Ayn Rand inspired nonsense. The corporations are not taking care of you and me. They are not interested in anything except our hard-earned cash. And, they will not stop selling to us as long as we are buying. Vote with your dollars! Buy from companies that pay their taxes!  You see, in Atlas Shrugged, Rand puts forth this idea that the businessmen and women of America are holding the rest of us on their backs.  They are carrying us.  And, the welfare state is destroying them.  We are just parasites to them, the producers.  Right, because without large corporations, America was nothing and would never exist.  The problem with that line of thinking is that America DID exist prior to large corporations.

The truth is, the corporations have become the parasites.  A corporation, especially a publicly held corporation, exists for one reason: profit.  If a corporation does anything that is not directly related to increasing profits then it opens it’s board of directors up to liability.  So, corporations will do anything they need to do in order to increase profits.  They will lay off expensive workers, cut benefits, lower the cost of components in their products (and thereby, often, lowering the quality of the product), move to a less expensive country, and so on.  Corporations use workers the same way they use electricity.  They burn it and move on.

Rand, and her disciples would have you believe that we have make sure that the businesses get what the want so they don’t leave us.  Because, what would we do without them?  Are you really that helpless?  Do you think that if the corporations and Wall Street bankers all left that we would all disintegrate into a hopeless mass of humanity?  Are we all children that need the parental care of Goldman Sachs, Koch Industries, GE, and so on?  It’s total silliness.  America would survive because it is full of Americans.  You may find this laughable, but, think about it before you dismiss it.  There is a show called Swamp People that I think a lot of people would initially pass off as stupid and not worth watching.  Well, being that my relatives are Cajuns, I found myself interested in the show.  It depicts people who make their livings in the swamps of Louisiana.  They hunt dangerous creatures like alligators and snakes.  They eat shrimp, frogs and crawdads that they find in the swamp.  And, they survive.  Do you think that if the corporations left that the “swamp people” would pause for a second to think about it?  Nope.

America does not need the corporations as badly as they need Americans.  We have to wake the sleeping giant.  It’s us.  It is you and I.  America is not the army.  It’s not Fed Ex and Ford.  America is the people and we have been sleeping too long, allowing corporations and Wall Street to feed off of our labor.

Look, no one likes to pay taxes. We all want free stuff. But, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you cut taxes then you have no choice but to cut services as well. Ask yourself, which is more important: tax free profits for multinational corporations or providing a quality education for the children of America? Why are we laying off teachers, cutting funding for school supplies and then handing tax credits to companies like GE who are posting record profits while the rest of us suffer through this double dip recession?

Do you like to pay bank fees?  How often have you gone to the ATM only to find you got docked $2 for the convenience of taking out money?  Or NSF fees during a hard month?  What about interest rates on your credit cards?  That’s the price of doing business, right?  Well, the price of doing business in America is called taxes and Bank of America doesn’t like paying them.  Does that seem right to you?  They can charge you fees and then they don’t have to pay income tax?  Or worse, they get TARP funds AND a tax credit!?

We have to find a balance in which the owners of business get paid for their work but they compensate and care for their workers as well.  Do you really want to continue living in a country where we have to victimize each other to make money?  Scarcity is a lie they feed us to make us feel hungry when we are not!  There is enough money, enough land, enough food for all of us to live comfortably.  But, some are too greedy and they are stealing from us.

People need to pay their fair share.  Don’t you hate it when you go out to eat with friends and some knucklehead looks at the bill and throws in a ten for their $9.95 entree?  They totally ignore the $2 soft drink and the $2 tip.  As a result, the bill is short and someone else has to pay it.  And, meanwhile, that knucklehead sits there like they don’t know what they’re doing.  They are stealing.  Because when you force someone else to pay for you, it’s stealing.  We are all paying for companies like Apple, Verizon, and BP because they don’t want to pay their share.

Join US Uncut.  Tell the corporations that the free ride is over.  If you like doing business in America and having American customers, you need to be part of American society, and that means paying your fair share of the tax bill.

Everything and Nothing: We love symbols

The news is chock o’block with coverage of the Bin Laden death/killing. I have a bunch of random things floating in my head and I’m just going to download them here. Maybe you will enjoy it, maybe not. Here goes:

I think there’s a lot of symbolism going on. Some of it obvious and some of it deeply coded. Our military loves symbols, don’t you know. Eagles, purple hearts, Marines carrying around sabers even though nobody fights with them any more. I’ll get into the symbols in a minute.

I’ve read two really good pieces about the search and killing. This one from Mother Jones and this one from The New Yorker. If you’re interested in a little more depth then they might fit your fancy.

This is a really conflicting story for me. On one hand, I have no doubt that Bin Laden was a bad guy and deserved to die. But, as Gandalf said, “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be to eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” (Lord of the Rings: Book One: Chapter II)

Yes, I fully recognize that I am quoting The Lord of the Rings in the context of talking about Bin Laden’s death and I realize it is completely geeky. And I’m okay with that. I think it’s completely valid though and everyone else has their Martin Luther King Jr. quotes and Mark Twain quotes, so, I’m busting out the Tolkien, yo. Anyway, that’s my conflict. I think that Bin Laden deserved death if anyone did. I’m only against the death penalty in the sense that it costs the state way too much money for appeals and there are times that we conflict innocent people. So, I don’t favor the death penalty in legal cases in the United States.

But, Bin Laden was not innocent. He was a bad motherscratcher.

But WHAT DOES IT MEAN??? Well, I don’t think it means a lot, really. Not in the sense that we are safer or that Al Qaida is now weaker or something. I read a piece by Nick Kristof of CNN and NY Times that talked about the on-one-hand-and-on-the-other-handedness of this situation. I agree that it kinda does send a message to terrorists that, sooner or later, if you mess with the United States you will eventually find a Navy SEAL in your room in the middle of the night. You will have to live the rest of your life fearing every shadow and living without using the Internet or cell phones. That’s the price you have to pay if you really want to be a terrorist and kill Americans.

But, do you really think that makes terrorists nervous? They strap bombs on themselves and crash planes into buildings, for goodness sake.

Does this increase the threat? Do they want revenge? Um, well, see, that’s the thing. Do you think that terrorists were, like, “You know, those Americans haven’t really been that bad. Maybe we should leave them alone. Unless they kill Bin Laden. Then it’s on like Donkey Kong.” I don’t think anything like those words were ever uttered by a terrorist. So, saying this might prompt a terrorist attack is a little like saying that Jon Stewart might make fun of some politicians if they go on TV saying things. Pretty sure that train left the station a while ago.

For me, I’m glad we got him. Nobody needed killing more than Bin Laden did. I don’t feel bad about it one bit. But, let’s move on. I don’t want to spend the next week fist pumping and singing “God Bless America” because we killed one guy who probably wasn’t really in the fight anymore anyway. This means everything and nothing. Everything because we needed to put him in the ground (or water – more on that later), like, five years ago. Bin Laden eluding our military was embarrassing and this feels like justice. But, it changes nothing. And everything.

See what I mean? It’s symbolic. Like a wedding ceremony. Marriage doesn’t take place in a church. It takes place in the hearts and minds of two people. It is a commitment and a promise. The ceremony is symbolic. And so is this killing/death.

A couple other things jumped out at me, speaking of symbols. Remember when we first invaded Afghanistan and we called it Operation Infinite Justice? And then, they changed it to Operation Enduring Freedom? Do you think they accidentally named the military operation after an Islamic description of God? Look, I know it’s funny to say that people in the military are idiots. You know, the old oxymoron, “Military Intelligence?” Yeah, so I don’t think that everyone in the military is stupid. In fact, I bet there are some smart people in the military along with some that aren’t just like in any other big company. And, I bet someone who is one of those smart people thought it would be totally cool to name the war to kill Islamic terrorists after a quality they use to describe God. It would be like naming the plot to fly planes into the World Trade Center “Operation Alpha and Omega.” So, that wasn’t an accident. It’s just that they didn’t really think through how bad it would look to the rest of the world. But, they knew what they were doing when they did it.

There’s another piece you might find interesting that talks about how this looks to the rest of the world. That was something I was thinking about today, as well. I will grant you that it is horrible that over 3,000 Americans were killed on 9/11. But, does this one death cancel those out? It doesn’t really get talked about a lot in our news, but there have been estimates that well over 100,000 Iraqi’s have died since we invaded in 2003. Is that justice? How many Americans deserve to die to equal that? Or, is there some weird math that I’m not aware of that means that 3,000 dead Americans is equal to 100,000 dead Iraqis. Plus dead Afghani’s, too, don’t forget. There’s been a lot of vengeance going on.

Something really weird jumped out at me. On ABC News tonight, (I was watching as I was using the elliptical machine so forgive me if this is not factually accurate.) they related that the code name the military was using for Bin Laden was “Geronimo” and that when they killed him the call was “Geronimo KIA.” (KIA stands for killed in action, if you didn’t know.) I thought that was odd. Why “Geronimo?” So, having read a few books on secret societies, I recalled that (go here to see the Wikipedia page about it) allegedly, members of the secret society/fraternity at Yale called Skull and Bones broke into Geronimo’s grave and stole his skull. One of the members, allegedly, was Prescott Bush, who was George W. Bush’s grandfather. Both President Bush’s were members of Skull and Bones, too. This skull was supposedly used in rites at The Tomb (as the Skull and Bones members called their secret meeting place) and was a kind of mascot for the group.

And then the same name is used to signal that Osama Bin Laden, Bush’s nemesis that eluded him, was dead. Coincidence? Sure it could be. But, I think, maybe, it’s not super far-fetched that Obama, a clever guy, helped choose the name as a veiled jab at the former president. He gets to appear presidential and yet George W. sits at home, sees the “Geronimo KIA” and just KNOWS that Obama is giving him the business over it.

Also, there are some indications that a burial at sea, as happened with Bin Laden, is not allowed under Islamic law. I can just hear Urkel saying, “Did I do that?” Yeah, that was an accident, too. If it turns out to be true, I guarantee that someone who was in on the planning knew that it was not cool to Muslims. How about the story that, supposedly, Bin Laden hid behind a woman during the firefight. Is it true? We’ll never know. But, it’s a total insult to an Arab. This is an ultra-paternalistic culture. Women are not respected at all. There’s only one reason to say Bin Laden used a woman as a shield (a human shield – Say, wasn’t the Invasion of Iraq the first time we heard of the use of human shields? It’s the first time I remember it, anyway.), and that’s to make him look like a total wimp. It could be true, but it just as easily might not be. But, it’s getting repeated on nearly every news report as a fact. So, since the winners get to write the history, I guess it’s true.

There’s a lot of symbolism going on, I think.

I Hope It Is Just a Dream

I was talking with one of our Counselors the other day, as we were setting up for our 8th Grade Orientation assembly and she mentioned how it might be the last time she does it. It really bummed me out. For one thing, I got laid off about 9 years ago and it sucked. You do everything thinking it is the last time you will do it. It’s a sad thing if you really like your job. I knew where she was coming from. I knew that feeling. And, it bummed me out because I believe that a great disservice is being done to the students of our district.

The things that our state and federal government is doing to education is like a bad dream. I keep thinking, “Seriously?” Some of it is so bad that I don’t know how it’s going to get back to the way it should be. So, a friend of mine and I had a discussion about other models for education and counseling. In the end, if I summed up the conversation, it would go something like, “Education is really complicated and there’s not only one way to do it.” Maybe there are other models for counseling that we can follow. Maybe our district leaders have some really good ideas in store that they can’t talk about. But, I believe that our district leaders are every bit as beleaguered in this as we are.

There’s something different these days. In my job as Activities Director, I am tasked with coordinating and organizing graduation activities. I don’t know what it means or why it’s happening but, and this is the fourth year I’ve done this, for some reason, this year unlike all the others, people started calling me in November and December about graduation. You know, the event that happens in May? The end of May? I’m not kidding. I had people asking me how many tickets they were going to get, where graduation would be, and so on. And, they really felt like they needed this information six months ahead of time. (I know all about planning ahead, but come on. Even if you need to book flights or hotels, you don’t need to do it six months ahead of time.) Every year for the past four, I have made a leaflet that we give out each April that covers pretty much everything a Senior or their family would need or want to know about graduation. But, this year, because there were so many questions, I had to update and give out this leaflet in January. Four months early. And, there’s an anxious quality to a lot of these inquiries. I can’t really put my finger on it, but underlying the questions is this vague feeling that people think graduation will happen without them and they will be unprepared.

Look, I know that graduation is a big deal. It’s a big deal for me, too. Ten thousand people are counting on me to organize a celebratory yet respectable ceremony that includes somehow getting over 500 giddy 12th graders to cooperate with me. It’s a huge deal. I realize fully that, for all of them, this is a once in a lifetime experience. And, for me, this is a lot of pressure. I was taught in film school that when you provide a show for someone, you owe them the best you can do. They are giving you hard-earned cash to provide them with entertainment. Applying that to this, I am being paid a decent salary to provide an experience for these students and their family and friends that they can never repeat. So, it’s a big deal to me too.

But, I know it’s going to happen. I know that it will happen as it always has, that people will do pretty much what they have always done and it will go pretty much as it always has done.

There is an anxiety underneath practically everything that people are doing today, in my opinion. It’s as if many people are worried that this is the last time they will be doing some of these things. As someone whose job it is to create school pride and spirit, this is a tough time. I feel as if I need to just keep going, plowing ahead as if things are as they have always been. Whistling in the night as I walk past the graveyard, in a sense. But, morale in the schools is awful. People are sad and angry and feeling helpless.

I’ve mentioned I’m reading “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein and as I’m reading it there’s bells ringing in my head; alarm bells and bells of recognition. In case you missed it, the short synopsis (I’m still in the first part of the book, so if this is wrong or oversimplifying, I apologize) is that there are people in government waiting for disasters to happen so that they can institute reforms (and this “reform” should not be construed to have a positive connotation) that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. For example, remaking the school system in New Orleans completely, or nearly so, to be of for-profit charter schools on the heels of hurricane Katrina. The classic example is 9/11. Capitalizing on the aftermath, the Bush Administration created two wars that are hugely beneficial to private corporations and made advances in increasing surveillance and “security” here in America, rolling back all kinds of civil liberties.

Conspiracy theory, right? Well, not exactly. I am not suggesting for a second that these disasters were in any way created by the administrations that took advantage of them. Rather, Klein posits that these people that use the Shock Doctrine have their plans ready and wait for disasters so they can move in and take advantage of the confusion, anxiety and disorientation that the disasters have created. It’s the same exact method used by the CIA in “coercive interrogations.” People will do many things outside of their normal behavior when you shock them and disorient them enough. What’s more disorienting or shocking than a huge natural disaster or a tragic terrorist attack?

I am going to be watching Alabama and those areas affected by those devastating tornadoes last week. It might not even register on a national level, but I would not be surprised to see something along the lines of big changes made in the educational system in that area, or large areas of land and buildings built up by private corporations having close ties to politicians in the state and federal government. The things that will happen will be far more advantageous to the corporations and politicians than they will be to the general population.

This is what I hope is really just a dream. I hope that the things I’m watching happen, and even taking part in, to schools won’t last, that we will snap out of the shock and disorientation that this financial collapse has brought upon us and remember what made America great. Because, this is exactly what’s happening. We are shocked by what’s happened. So many of us have lost jobs, houses, and security because of the financial meltdown of 2008. How can you not be affected by that? What do the corporations start doing? Raising prices (gas, food, commodities (by the way, this is exactly as it was described in Matt Taibbi’s book “Griftopia”)), privatizing education, busting unions, vilifying public workers and working to extend tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. How is any of that going to help the average person making less than $250K a year? I’ll answer for you. It won’t. Trickle down economics has been shown to be a complete myth. Rich people don’t trickle down jack to anyone willingly. That’s how they got to be rich. Right? And, tax cuts do not create jobs. Otherwise, we would have corporations hiring all over the place. But, GE laid off thousands just a couple months ago while paying zero in taxes and instead getting a $14 billion tax credit. They had a hugely profitable year. And, laid off a bunch of people.

The only people dreaming are those buying into the myths being sold to them on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and via politicians like John Boehner, Scott Walker and Michelle Bachman. Republicans had eight years to prove they were going to make our lives better. Were you better off in 2008 than you were in 2000? I’ll answer that for you. No, not unless you were working for one of the banks getting bailed out by the Federal government. Not unless you were one of the mega rich. This is not to say that I think the Democrats are doing a lot better. Are you better off today than you were in 2008? I know I’m not.

The bottom line, to me, is that the vast majority of the politicians are beholden to their corporate sponsors. Have you seen the movie Idiocracy? You should. Get past the toilet humor and look at that film as an absurd satire of our country and I think you will be chilled by how accurate it is. Wouldn’t it be nice if our politicians would actually say, “This speech brought to you by Taco Bell.”? At least we would all know where their loyalties lie. But, to know who the politicians are working for, all you have to do is see if the things they are doing are benefiting you or not. Most of them are not. That “healthcare reform” we saw last year? It was a sham that will only benefit healthcare companies. Thanks, Mr. President. That’s not the change I was looking for. That’s not change at all. That’s business as usual.

It’s not just a dream. This is happening. Years from now, we will look back at the 2008 to 2011 time period as a turning point. The gap between the haves and the have-nots will get larger. Our civil liberties will continue to erode. (Friends, they take naked pictures of you at the airport! Or, you can get groped by a stranger in a uniform, your choice. Oh, and if you resist in any way, you are considered a dangerous terrorist and arrested. Nice.) It’s not that this stuff just started happening in the last couple years. No, the foundation for all of this was laid in the 1980’s. But, this is when the snowball is really picking up speed. That’s where the anxiety and sadness is coming from. Somewhere in the back of all of our minds, we all know that snowball is on it’s way. We all know that we’re not dreaming and this is really happening.

When Test Scores Drive Schools

“A Pep Rally for Tests…?”

An interesting post from Will Richardson:

As I said, Emerson is not alone in this pep rally effort. But I wonder what the parents of those kids at Emerson think of this. Sad to say, most of them probably are just going along with the flow, missing the whole point of what their kids are really learning by going through this exercise — that the test is what we do school for, and that it’s something to be conquered.

I’m not even sure I dare to say what I’m about to… First, let me say, as an employee of the school district, I am not a free agent. I am well aware that I get paid to deliver the education that the Board of Superintendents mandates. Further, I sincerely mean no disrespect in this post as I realize that probably everyone in my district realizes that the tests are awful and that the emphasis on them is totally ridiculous.

Find me someone that works as a teacher, principal or other administrator in K-12 education that likes standardized tests, honestly, and I’ll show you someone whose relative probably writes the tests, scores the tests or makes test prep materials. In short, we all hate them and what they are doing to the schools.

But, my friends, until we get through this cycle of “educational reform” and teacher bashing, this is the way of it. This is what you, the public are asking for. If you weren’t so dead set on getting numbers and data to prove if teachers are good or not, if schools are good or not, then we wouldn’t be using these tests anymore.

It’s as simple as that.

See, because here’s the truth. My principal wants to me to put on a CST (California Standardized Test) pep rally. I’m doing it, too. Monday, right after 2nd period, the entire school is going to gather in the stadium. We will hear the choir sing, BSU dance, Marching Band play. The kids are going to shave my head because I promised I would do it if we met our goal last year. So, we did and I’m getting a free haircut. We will shoot off confetti cannons. I have even been playing “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey for the last 50 school days every morning over the all call system. No kidding.

I bet you think it’s ridiculous. I agree. But, I’m doing it because I don’t blame my principal. His job is on the line. Ifene doesn’t lift test scores then he’s looking at being replaced. That’s what they do, almost first thing, if a school “fails”. Last year, our school was incorrectly listed as a low-performing school in California, one of the bottom 5%. The truth was, we were more like bottom 7%, but, still. We got put on a list of failing schools. Now, if you came on my campus, you wouldn’t think we were a failing school. Know why? Because we’re not. So, we all got pumped up and the kids made a 48 point jump in the API. We went from 666 to 713. But, if we don’t make our goal this year, then we have only one more year before we will again be considered failing. And, then, they almost always get rid of the principal first.

So, can you blame him for pulling out all the stops? I can’t.

But, this is what happens when test scores drive schools. We have to produce higher and higher scores because that’s what No Child Left Behind says we have to do. It’s Federal law. So, until you, or We, the people, convince the politicians that these tests are actually ruining our schools, not making them better, we will continue to do these things.

My daughter says to me on the way home from school, “Dad, I got a magic bowl from my teacher. She says we have to eat breakfast out of it all next week! Whatever we eat out of it makes us smarter because of the magic!”

I died a little inside. They think they have to lie to my daughter and tell her that a piece of plastic has supernatural qualities just so she will think she is smarter?

Look, I’m not trying to boast, but my daughter is guaranteed to test at least in the 80th percentile or higher in all of the categories. She even told me that they took a practice test and she got all of them right but one question. So, I gently told her that she was already smart and she didn’t need a plastic “magic” bowl to make her smart.

Honestly, am I alone thinking that is some messed up brainwashing? What happens if the bowl gets lost? Can you imagine what will go through her little 2nd grade head if she forgets to eat out of the bowl on Monday? Or if it gets melted in the dishwasher? She will FREAK OUT! And can you blame her? The teacher told her it would make her smart so she could do well on the tests next week.

But, can I blame the teacher? Well, a little. But, not really. She’s just trying to make sure that the school keeps it’s test scores going up. But, personally, I think it’s really screwed up to tell a kid that the bowl is magic. I mean, dammit, this is education!!! And we are resorting to fairy tales and superstition to help the kids do better on the tests?

Does anyone else not see what a betrayal of the truth that this is? But, this is what happens when test scores drive schools. And, if you think this is bad, wait until they force merit pay on teachers and use the tests to decide who gets the bonuses and who gets fired.

I will buy a bunch of magic bowls. Just see if I don’t.

Shock Doctrine: A new book for me to read

Inspired by reading “Griftopia” by Matt Taibbi, I thought I’d pick up a new book. I got “Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein. But, before I say anything more about Shock Doctrine, I want to say a bit more about Griftopia.

Something that jumped out at me at the end of the book was when Taibbi talked about how most of the government’s operations are hidden from us. And, what’s worse, a lot of it is that way because we prefer it that way. One reason is that being informed about these issues takes work. Just reading this book was kind of tough sometimes. I’m not a numbers person. But, I can do pretty well with ideas and concepts. The chapters that talked bout credit default swaps, derivatives, and collateralized debt obligations were not easy to get through and I still feel like I have a weak understanding of the concepts at best. But, I do know the larger picture, that banks deliberately and knowingly built up fraudulent practices such as insuring things they didn’t own, or lying about the quality of the products they were selling to boost the prices they got for them. These are the kinds of things that land you and me and jail. But, the banks not only got away with it, they rewarded themselves for it.

Listen to the news. It’s right there. I listen to NPR almost every single morning and afternoon. In the morning, my local station KVCR has a 15 minute segment on finances. Do you have any idea how many corporations are actually making record profits right now? We are in the middle of a recession (does it feel like it’s ending to you?) and corporations are taking record profits? Doesn’t that seem odd to you? And, yet, jobless claims are rising again. Can you guess how corporations are taking these profits? Prices for things are not going down but the number of employees are.

Don’t even get me started about the price of gas and the blatant manipulation of those prices.

Taibbi pointed out how every story in politics, no matter how complex, gets boiled down into two narratives, one for the Fox News crowd and one for the MSNBC crowd. The Republicans pound one set of talking points and the Democrats the other. It’s pretty ridiculous. And sad. Because it means we aren’t getting real information and we can never get a chance to do something meaningful about it. Those “reforms” that President Obama is so proud of? They are to meaningful reform as running a vacuum over the carpet is to remodeling a room. As in, it’s not even close. But, it won’t matter, because it takes a lot of work to understand health care, or credit cards and then a new story pops up like a government shutdown, or revolution in the Middle East, or union busting in Wisconsin or whatever. And the memory fades. The story drops down the Memory Hole.

So, really, if you love your country, do some reading. At very least, stop watching network news and listen to NPR (and if you’re a conservative, it’s okay. Trust me. NPR is way less biased than you’ve been led to believe. Try listening for a month and see. Read a couple of papers. But, even better, get on Twitter and follow some people you like and trust who can start pointing you to stories in alternate press sources. Get better information.

See what I mean? It takes work. No wonder they keep getting away with it.

So, on to Shock Doctrine. I just barely started it. The book proposes that the people in government and business who subscribe to pure capitalism use disasters to take over new markets or push through “reforms” that would have otherwise have been politically impossible. It works because the people are trying to cope with the disaster and put their lives back together and they get too distracted to fight back. It’s why they were able to basically privatize the public education system in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina. The majority of schools in New Orleans are now charters.

I think this is the same thing going on right now with education. Conservatives and pure market capitalists are seizing on the Tea Party outrage over government spending to propose massive cuts to… yes, education. Meanwhile, they are also looking for ways to break up the powerful teachers’ unions. In the book, Klein talks about being in New Orleans in the days after Katrina and talking with residents about how politicians were describing this as an opportunity to start fresh, that New Orleans was a clean slate. One person said something like, “Why can’t they see what they’re doing here? Can’t they see how bad this is?” And another responds, “They see just fine, they’re evil.”


Pink nail polish

I’m so grateful we live in such a wonderful country that pink nail polish on a little boy merits national discussion. We’re wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth in despair.

Meanwhile, Japan is glowing in the dark with a disaster of Chernobyl proportions.

So awesome. And, you know why this is an outrage, right? Because that pink nail polish might make him gay, or at least a transvestite. Icky!!!

Let me just say, I don’t remember choosing to be straight. I can’t recall when I did it. I don’t even remember choosing not to be gay, for that matter. Even more to the point, I don’t remember ever choosing to fall in love with one person or the other. I never thought, “She would be a good person to be in love with because of her many good qualities and level-headedness in financial matters.”

Know why? I think it’s because I didn’t choose. And neither did anyone else. Nobody chooses who to be attracted to or who to fall in love with. Nobody chooses to be straight and nobody chooses to be gay. But, because we live in this closed-minded society, some gays have to choose to seem straight. They have to adopt a lifestyle opposite to their own feelings.

So, I don’t really think that nail polish is gonna make some kid queer. Just saying.

This article from Smithsonian Magazine says that one of America’s greatest president’s wore a dress until he was 6. His parents must have messed him up, big time! No wonder he was a Democrat!!!

What’s that? You say that all boys wore dresses until their first haircut in the 1800’s? Hmm. Okay, so they were all weird. Must have been a lot more confused boys back then. I’m shocked our species didn’t die out with so many boys almost becoming gay. In fact, according to WiseGeek, pink was considered a pretty masculine color prior to the 1950’s.

I almost hesitate to write this knowing that someone who reads this might actually think someone is gay if they wear pink. I might be embarrassing them right now. But, then, I thought, good. I hope so. Personally, I don’t understand being gay. I’ve never felt gay (except that one time when I was choosing wall colors for my daughter’s room and, um, I liked it.). I never caught myself wanting to hold hands with another guy. So, I don’t get when two guys dig each other. But, just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with it.

You know, I’ve seen guys sit there and talk about their girl as being so beautiful and she’s not. She’s plain. I’ve seen guys get all wound up over some girls that just weren’t good looking at all. That doesn’t make those guys perverts because they like girls with big noses and unibrows. Should we look into their childhood to see if their mothers wore Groucho Marx glasses or something to give them this fetish?

As a teacher, I have seen too many gay students have to hide it, or worse, face condemnation by family or friends or peers because of who they were. And, then, we have the gay marriage thing. My favorite reason for being against gay marriage? “When gays marry it devalues straight marriages.”

Um, no, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh getting divorces and then marrying three times devalues straight marriages. Look, if you’re serious about protecting marriage then you need to pass a law that outlaws divorce. But, you won’t hear that on the Excellence in Broadcasting network.

People are dying in the Middle East for freedom from oppression, civil protestors being shot for wanting to have a say in their government. The situation in Japan keeps getting worse. We are cutting education throughout the Federal budget. Teachers are getting lay off notices and school budgets are being eviscerated. Corporations are reaping record profits in the middle of a recession thanks to favorable tax loopholes. The banks that caused the recession are handing out bonuses.

And people are outraged over pink nail polish.

Guest Post: Don’t Make Me Do This To You

By John Boehner

My fellow Americans, I’m happy to be invited to be a guest blogger for The Gurp Files. First, I have to say, I’m a little bit giddy to be blogging. I’ve never done this before. I feel so technomalogical!

It’s with a heavy heart, however, that I have to say, don’t make me do this to you. And by me, I mean, us, the Republicans, or really, the government. Don’t make us shut down.

You don’t really want us to shut down the ENTIRE government, do you? But, that’s what we will have to do if we don’t get our way. And, that’s good because our way is really super awesome. If the government shuts down then you will really regret it. Really.

Remember a couple years ago when the whole financial market was melting down because the Democrats were so awful about things and they caused it? Well, remember when they had the bailouts? We had to do that because you don’t want those banks to fail. That would have been bad. Very bad. This would be bad, too. Imagine if there wasn’t a federal government! First of all, the IRS people can’t go to work. Now, many of you are trying to negotiate payment plans and settlements on outstanding taxes. That will take even longer without the IRS working. Plus, if you’re late, you’ll have to pay interest, so you better not let the government shut down so that you can still pay your taxes.

With no federal government, our military can’t function. Do you want us to have to pull out of the three different wars we’re fighting in the Middle East? What would you watch on CNN? Plus, all those soldiers would just come back here and want jobs. And we don’t have jobs now!

This is why we need to reduce spending. We need to cut the hell out of Medicaid and Medicare. This will stimulate job growth! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the reason so many companies aren’t hiring is because they think that senior citizens will continue getting a free ride from the government. We also need to cut some other welfare programs that are weighing down our economy and get Americans back to work.

And, since a lot of teachers are reading this blog, I – uh, what? Oh. I thought you said – No? Okay. Well, The Gurp Files guy just told me that it’s not really a lot of teachers. Probably 12 or so, but still. My point remains, teachers, I want you to really get those kids ready for those standardized tests! We need some high scores! If your school hasn’t continued improving toward the goal of having all of your students at or above proficient and all of the subgroups at or above proficient and you aren’t making adequate yearly progress toward that target academic percentile whatsit. I mean, wait, um, okay, look, just teach those kids. That’s all we’re asking. Teach the kids or we’ll shut down your school and take it over.

Don’t make me do this to you.

Tired and sad

Not going to go into details but the staff meeting at my school today bummed me out. If you’ve read some of the more political posts on my blog you know that I don’t blame my administrators, nor the superintendent, nor our school board.

No, I am going to take Metallica’s advice, kinda. I’m going to save all my hate for those that deserve it: the politicians that sold us out and the corporations that own us.

I’m tired and sad because, as a teacher, I know we are wasting time. We aren’t wasting time like, as in, hey, stop wasting my time, bro, with your silliness. We are wasting time as in years, formative years, in children’s lives. We are wasting their time to get educated, to get prepared to contribute to the world and realize their potential. We are wasting years of their lives. But, then again, I learned some time ago that education isn’t really for the kids. Education, as an industry, largely exists to employ text book writers and publishers, people who make smart boards and other “Ed Tech”, administrators, and, yes, teachers. If you doubt me, sit in a board meeting, read the minutes. Go to a school and spend a little time there. You can tell what’s important to a business by how they spend their money and what they use to make decisions.

For example, when I directed plays, I had to examine the text to find the theme. I would then use the theme to help me achieve the “purpose” of the play. My decisions for paint, costumes, acting choices, casting and so on all had to be tested against whether they helped me achieve that purpose, whether they contributed to the theme.

My experience is that most of the time people in education will do what is right for kids. That makes sense, right? But, you have probably noted the “most of the time” in that statement. That’s a problem. See, because the sentence really should read that people in education always do what’s right for kids. That’s who is being educated.

But, many times, if it is not convenient, or expedient, we do what is right for adults.

I will be the first to tell you, no one gets anywhere without a teacher. You can’t learn if someone doesn’t teach you. If you think about it, this is maybe the most true statement I have written. Even if the teacher is the ground and you learn that climbing trees is dangerous, you still need the ground to be your teacher. The nice thing about a school is that you can learn most things there without risking broken bones or even slight injures.

So, you can’t run a school without teachers. And, teachers need support. We need good administrators to organize and coach. We need them to see the big picture and steer the staff in the right direction. We need support from clerks, secretaries, bookkeepers, receptionists, custodians and food services. And, yes, we need counselors in those schools.

I’m tired and sad because today California found out that some tax extensions will not be sent to the voters. Without those tax extensions, the “worst case scenario” that our board of education prepared for is now the reality. So, basically, our district cancelled the entire counseling program. No more school counselors. I’m tired and sad because I can’t believe I live in a country, in a state, in a county, in a city where this is acceptable. That we will take away vital services for our children because it is expedient. That we accept this because we don’t want to pay taxes.

No, I take that back. We allow corporations like General Electric to not pay taxes. No, no that’s still not right. We allow corporations to post record profits and we still give them a 3.2 BILLION DOLLAR TAX CREDIT!

Unbelievable, right? The New York Times article says it’s true. If that doesn’t absolutely frost your melon, then let it sink in that the chairman of GE, Immelt, is who Obama just tapped to be the Chair of the Presidents Council on Jobs and Competitiveness

Nice. I can add a new emotion. Angry.

So, the students of my district are going without so many things, already and now we can’t have ANY counselors. I guess we have as many counselors as GE paid taxes. None. No, instead, we gave our money to them. Could that have anything to do with General Electric making a lot of stuff that we use to fight wars? Nah. And, Obama, the president I voted for, appoints this guy to work on creating jobs and making us competitive? Immelt needs to return that tax money and resign. Obama needs to go on TV and apologize for either an appalling lack of information or an even more appalling sense of humor.

I’m tired and sad and angry because I live in a country, in a state, in a county, in a city where this is okay, where we will accept it. Or worse, we will watch GE and the politicians squirm and someone will get their hand slapped and the news cycle will move on.

Or finally, what’s left of the people, the middle class and the working class will stand up for themselves and make all of them pay for betraying our trust. We have to think past insipid and vapid sound bytes and look for people that will actually do what leaders do. Leaders make followers better, not worse. Leaders protect their greatest resource, their followers.

I’m tired and sad and angry. I’m tired of being lied to. I’m sad that the people that run our government and our corporations have zero respect for us, and I’m angry that I have do something about it. But, I’m going to write letters, and blogs and tweets. I’m gong to talk to people. I’m going to knock on doors with my union brothers and sisters and educate the people. I’m going to vote and I’m going to keep voting until we finally get decent people in office to do what they’re supposed to.

Are you tired and sad and angry, too? Are you with me? Comment, share, speak up, tweet and let’s take our country back from the corporations.