Monthly Archives: September 2011

Another Shutdown Averted… For Now

Well, the Senate passed a resolution that will keep the government solvent for a while, but it’s not a permanent fix. The whole thing can keep happening over and over again because the two houses of the legislature aren’t playing ball with each other in a nice way.

But what complicates things further is how the Tea Party Republicans are breaking party discipline and are instead behaving like a rebellious junior partner in a coalition government. This is real gridlock in government at a time when we need real action instead.

And though Americans don’t like Congress as a whole, most Americans like their own Congressman, even though he’s typically part of the problem in the Congress. What to do if we’re just going to re-elect the same gang? Don’t tell me the solution is to vote for the other guy or a third-party candidate. The fact is, the incumbents win their elections and they’re going to keep doing what they’re doing now or become more extreme. With that in mind, what can we do that has a serious chance of succeeding?

The Perfect Gifts!

These are some of the best gifts you’ll ever find.

My wife is in a choir that will be traveling to Europe for some performances this coming summer. She needs to raise money for the trip, so she’s going all-out on the crafts front.

These just sold, but she’s got other items of jewelry and some great ladies’ handbags that she’s rebooted that would be PERFECT gifts for that special lady in your life. If you’re a special lady, then you can drop a hint to your man that these would be great gifts. We men appreciate minimum thinking when it comes to finding gifts. But I digress.

The prices are modest, and you know that they’re going for an excellent cause! Buy as much as you can and she’ll make more when she runs out of what she has.

She also has knitted robots. Believe me, these are totally cute and totally cool.

Send PayPal payments to yvette (at) zzztpm (dot) com and let her know what your heart – or sweetheart – desires.

Krugman Agrees with Perry

Both these men sit on opposite sides of the political divide. Yet, they’ve made the same call about Social Security. Perry called it “a Ponzi scheme.” Krugman said, “In practice it has turned out to be strongly redistributionist, but only because of its Ponzi game aspect, in which each generation takes more out than it put in. Well, the Ponzi game will soon be over, thanks to changing demographics, so that the typical recipient henceforth will get only about as much as he or she put in (and today’s young may well get less than they put in).” That was in 1997, even.

Technically, it’s not a Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme involves an intent to defraud. We’re really not intending to defraud people paying into Social Security, but it’s Ponzi in every other way. It needs more people paying in than those collecting benefits. As originally structured, most people would die – losing what they paid in – before being eligible to collect. Now, changing aging in the USA means more people don’t die before collecting, so the system is drawing down rapidly.

As people discuss benefits, the overall consensus is to cut them for younger folks and preserve them for people already receiving them and who are about to receive them. Worse, there is no discussion of what should be done in the place of cutting those benefits, which act as a lifeline for so many people. Even if people never receive the benefits of Social Security, there are a lot of folks that would need to have those benefits in order to keep going.

As a nation, as a people, we have failed in our duty to preserve our vision for what it means to be an American. Our soldiers in our movies and on the battlefield never leave a man behind: why do we lose that camaraderie for the poor, the aged, and the infirm?

We need a plan. We need one that works and that is sustainable. Simply saying, “*I* plan to take care of my family” isn’t enough. There are enough resources in the USA so that nobody would have to go hungry or homeless. We need to figure out how to make it so we don’t have any hungry or homeless.

Or do you prefer images like this?

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The Next Iran?

If there was any doubt Egypt was radical, the latest news should lay those doubts to rest. Egyptian mobs stormed the Israeli embassy and the 86 diplomats there barely escaped with their lives. The USA was able to help negotiate their release, but I now wonder how long it will be before the US embassy faces down a mob of its own.

There’s no question that the people of Egypt hate Israel’s policies regarding Gaza and the West Bank. Whether or not Israel is in the right, the Egyptians hate ’em. The Turks, formerly strong friends of the Israelis, have now declared they’re going to escort flotillas into Gaza. Together, Egypt and Turkey are going to support Palestinian statehood in the UN. The USA has vowed to veto such a measure.

That’s where my fears mount. If the USA torpedoes Palestinian statehood, it sends a clear message to all the Arab protest movements that the USA is not on their side. Yes, the US support of Mubarak to almost the very end and continued US support of the Saudis and Bahrain’s monarchy are also clear messages, and this would be just one more. But it would be a big one. Palestinian statehood is a showdown vote: are you with them or are you against them? If against, then being their enemy makes a nation an enemy to all of Palestine’s friends. That’s when the mobs start looking at the US embassy as a target.

So what if the Egyptian Army tries to put down the mobs? I don’t think that’ll work. Egypt is radical, and will increase in radicalization as barriers crop up in its path. Think French Revolution: it went from constitutional monarchy in 1789 to dead king and Reign of Terror in 1792-94. These things won’t happen all at once, but the wheels are in motion for them to plow ahead.

And what if Egyptians start exporting their revolution in a serious manner? They’ve got a short sea route to Jeddah and their brand of Islam is Sunni, same as most of Saudi Arabia. They’re also Arab, making them much more in common with the Saudis than, say, the Iranians. What if the Egyptians chose to close down the Suez to tanker traffic? These are serious considerations, with very serious consequences.

The USA may choose to honor its commitments to Israel. Doing so, however, comes at a high price. We need to be aware of that and we need to understand that it could give us even more impetus to develop an energy policy that doesn’t depend upon imported oil.

The Tea Party and the Nazi Party

Let me be clear that I do not equate the two, but that I see similarities between the two. There is no formal paramilitary wing of the Tea Party, for example. (Although, there is the matter of Sarah Palin’s “hit list” that resulted in an attack on a Democratic congresswoman…) However, both movements were funded by wealthy industrialists that sought to take their grassroots anger and make it more business-friendly.

I would refer the interested reader to chapters 5 and 6 of Shirer’s excellent Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. As you follow along, starting on page 135 of the PDF file, make note of the similarities.

First to be seen is the funding from industrialists, as described by Walther Funk, who later joined the NSDAP. His modern equivalent would be the Koch brothers, who have plowed extensive amounts of cash into the Tea Party to keep it from denouncing ethanol subsidies, among other things. Hitler was eager to adopt an Ayn Rand-like attitude towards business when it meant large amounts of cash would flow his way. The Tea Party is the same. When the Nazis introduced a bill in 1930 that would have made interest rates over 4% illegal, Hitler stopped that bill immediately. The Tea Party is equally quick to do the bidding of its industrial masters.

Both parties gained a great deal of popularity during hard economic times. While this is natural for populist movements, both these movements have sought to worsen conditions in order to increase their own popularity and, hence, power. The Nazis chose to start massive street battles with their political opponents, while promising strict law and order if they were elected to power. The Tea Party held the nation’s finances hostage in the debt ceiling debates, while demanding that those very finances be put in order. As a result of Tea Party intransigence, the nation’s finances took a big hit with the downgrade of our debt rating. Shirer’s description of Nazi-led parliamentary maneuvers (on p. 161 of the PDF) echo the ways in which both the Tea Party and the GOP in general have sought to rule as a minority through exploitation of rules created to facilitate legislation. They have taken those rules and twisted them into procedural weapons.

Both parties also refused to work with the majority of the people of their nations in order to impose their views upon their respective nations. The Nazis had it easiest, given the highly fragmented nature of Weimar Germany’s political parties. The Tea Party grew as a movement within the GOP and has come to dominate much of the GOP’s political discourse. The Tea Party is seen as being closely connected to the GOP base and while it cannot count on a fragmented opposition, it can count on an opposition unable to move any bills through the House without Tea Party approval. By withholding that approval, the Tea Party has effectively brought Congress’ ability to pass laws to a halt. That means the whole of America is subjected to a de facto Tea Party veto on any legislation, even though a majority of Americans oppose the Tea Party’s extremism. It’s straight out of the Nazi playbook: Gregor Strasser, one of the top Nazi leaders in 1931 said, “All that serves to precipitate the catastrophe . . . is good, very good for us…”

And what of the opposition to the Nazis and Tea Partiers? Shirer’s words about the German scene in the 1930s could easily describe the USA of the 2010s: “… too absorbed in looking after the special economic and social interests they represented to be able to bury their differences.” Dead on, I would say. “Parliamentary government had become a matter of what the Germans called Kuhhandel – cattle trading – with the parties bargaining for special advantages for the groups which elected them, and the national interests be damned.” Did Shirer have a crystal ball, or are humans that prone to such failures in representative democracies?

Both the Nazis and Tea Party movements worked with conservative political factions, with varying degrees of accommodation. In the case of the Nazis, they saw no true common purpose with the old-line conservatives and hoped to bring about a new sort of conservatism in Germany. Likewise, the Tea Party does not always play well with the rest of the Republican caucus, and has flaunted party discipline on ideological matters. There’s another similarity: the placing of ideology above all else, using it as a guide to shout down truths that would give the lie to their positions. The Nazis would hear nothing to contradict their lies about Jews and Communists: the Tea Partiers can stand no word against their position on global warming (or the lack thereof) and the free market.

Within two years of the Nazi’s big political showing in 1931, their leader was in power. If the economy doesn’t turn around soon, a Tea Partier may very well be elected to the presidency of the USA within two years of the Tea Party’s big splash in 2010. This is where differences between the Tea Party and the Nazis become critical. Hitler was not a puppet of the industrialists and they badly miscalculated in supporting him. I don’t see anyone with the same energy and drive as Hitler in the Tea Party leadership, so it’s likely that a Tea Party president would be very much like a worse(!) version of George Bush II: a plaything for the industrialists, given free hand to inflict a disastrous social and foreign policy on the nation.

Sadly, there’s one difference I wish the Tea Party had, but does not. While the Tea Party itself is not a racist movement, white supremacist groups report that they have excellent recruitment opportunities whenever the Tea Party stages a protest. That means that although the Tea Party itself does not advocate a racist agenda, its ranks are shot through with radical, racist elements.

Could a Tea Party candidate win, even if a majority of the nation was opposed to the Tea Party itself? Absolutely. If people are mad enough at Obama to either vote against him or not vote at all, a GOP led by the Tea Party could find itself in control of the White House and both branches of the legislature.

Sheesh, Perry… Man Up!

The man that had the nerve to deny federal aid to help pay for teachers is now looking for that same federal aid to help put out the fires in his state. Rick Perry. What a disappointment.

Perry, I thought you were actually going to be the guy to get Texas to secede, you were such a states’ rights kind of guy. You really stuck it to all those money-grubbing bureaucrats we call “teachers” when you told ’em to take a hike and that Washington’s dollars weren’t welcome here. Now you’ve done a 180 and gone hat in hand to the White House and begged a DEMOCRAT, of all people, for a charity handout.

Sir, you have insulted The Great State of Texas. One way or another, you have insulted the state I call home. Either you should have cared enough about the children of the state to not make them pawns in your power politics or you should stay consistent and let Bastrop burn for all your pandering, pathetic, and just plain poor so-called principles.

Perry, I hope Obama tells you “No.”

Then takes a picture of the look on your face.

Then he says, “Psych! Just kidding.” After that, he pulls out a sign and says, “There’s just one condition: you have to wear this at the next debate.” The sign reads:

I TOOK AID FROM BARACK OBAMA AND I *LIKED* IT!

Game Over, Man! Game Over!

Great article at Truthout about the rise of authoritarianism in the GOP. I called it a while back in this blog, and it’s good to see I’m not alone. The time has come when comparing the GOP to the Nazi party really is valid and not a sensationalist ploy in an argument over policy. It’s part of a sane debate.

In my religion, we have a book of scripture known as The Book of Mormon. In it, there’s an episode when the nation of the protagonists is under severe attack from without and a group of people that want to subvert the freedom and justice of the protagonists refuse to help in the struggle. They obstruct the government of the nation at every step of the way. The protagonists refer to them as “the King-men” and call them traitors to their nation because of their willingness to betray the freedoms of the land for their own benefit. They hate the poor and despise the needy, while proclaiming their own righteous superiority. More and more, this sounds like a description of the Republican party to me.

Yes, there’s rot in the Democrats, as well. But it’s not anywhere near as bad as what’s surfacing in the Republicans. The Democrats can mess up the economy and get us in a foreign policy jam. The Republicans are on a course to create a republican dictatorship. Their politics are ruinous and their ideology poisonous. I know I have friends that are in the GOP, and I know they’re good, principled people. The problem is that the top ranks of the party are shot through with madness, money-grubbing, and megalomania.

Can you find your school here?

This is a list of remediation rates for Dallas-area students that enroll at junior colleges. If you’re not in the Dallas area, just Google up your district name and the keywords “college remediation.”

Now a word on the statistics: you can also see the number of students per graduating class that went to junior college. The percentage of remedial students is a percentage of that number, not the total graduating class.

So why would a student need remediation if he or she was able to graduate high school? Is this evidence of the existence of social promotion, which was supposed to be wiped out with the testing regime imposed waaaaay back in 1990-91? As it turns out, the NCLB act has given it new life.

If a school is going to be considered unacceptable, unclean, and untouchable with a too-high dropout rate, no school administrator is going to want to have a student drop out. Students that fail courses drop out, so the pressure is on to get these guys to pass and graduate. What they do after graduation is not an overriding concern of the school district, at least not enough to take on the real overriding concern to keep from being rated non-performing because of a bunch of kids that, for whatever reasons justified or otherwise, do not perform well at their campuses.

I’m against the idea of schools arbitrarily kicking out students or using expulsion to target unpopular minorities, but I’m equally against the idea of the Vietnamization of schools, where statistics are the end-all and can be tweaked to hide the fact that the actual mission is not being accomplished.

And, the fact is, for all the efforts made at so-called reform, which is actually a bunch of micromanagement and statistical fudgery from above, we still see that nearly all the schools in the Dallas area – and they’re by no means alone – still graduate students that need to be taught what they were supposed to have been taught.

Is it the fault of the teachers? The parents? The administration? The society in which we live? The students themselves? Yes. But the key to success in the schools is not to be punitive. The best program I have ever taught in has been in my own church’s education system. There, the emphasis was on having the right spirit, the right attitude about education. There, we invited the students in. If they did not attend, that was a matter for a case-by-case assessment, not a blanket ruling. We invited the students to participate in the lessons and to find their own value in what we taught. For those who chose to be there, many had a fantastic experience that affected their lives for the better.

I was a student myself in that program when I was in high school, and I don’t remember specific lessons, but I do remember the spirit of that classroom. I remember the teacher’s love and dedication to us, her students, and how that love helped us to enjoy what we were learning. I then think over to my other great teachers in the schools I attended, and it’s the same with them. I don’t recall specific lessons, but I do remember that attention, that love, that dedication, that care for each of us as individuals, rather than as an aggregate of data for accountability reports.

That’s what made my schooling great: the teachers on the front lines that taught with love, often in spite of what their administrators were doing to them. As a teacher, I know I’ve brought that same love and dedication and, yes, I have taught in places where it was in spite of what the administration, state regulations, or NCLB did to me.

I see the numbers for my high school on the list and I have to think that maybe, just maybe, the solution in dealing with the remediation problem might just be in junking the government-mandated high-stakes tests and other punitive metrics and instead dealing with each student as an individual – and realizing that, in a free country, some individuals will simply choose to not participate with the others. They will be left behind. It is sad, but we have to move on.