Monday, September 29, 2008

The Problem: A Lack of Vision, Not Credit

I am so grateful for the Republicans and Democrats who refused to bail out Wall St. It, in part, restores the idea that America is not wholly brain-dead.

The commentators in the Main Stream Media (MSM) have created a duality of Main St. vs Wall St. Could any analogy be more out-of-touch? Main St. in America disappeared in the 1960's and the Wall St. the media hypes is a conceptual auction house that no longer has veracity in the 21st century.

The MSM exudes the specter of unemployment to an American workforce whose jobs have long fled the country thanks to the very CEOs begging to restore their global empires.

And they blame people who were entangled in a credit swindle that punished consumers for not accepting credit, for attempting to cancel credit cards, and for begging to stop the telephone credit entrapment calls. Instead of blaming the credit industry that kept consumers in a state of indentured servitude with 18% and 21% and higher credit interests, these geniuses blame the home-buyers too illiterate to recognize the con game.

They cite Chrysler, and Ford and GM as needing credit when what is really needed is vision.

Nothing about this bailout will help the middle-class.

May the bailout bill rest in peace forever.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fear, Inc

The Wall St bailout continues unabated by 98% of the public who don't want any such thing. Washington proves yet again that it is wholly disconnected from the American public and has no intention of doing the right thing.

Last night our miserable excuse for a President addressed the nation selling the Wall St snake oil that bad things will happen if this bailout doesn't get passed. This morning, on CNBC we are being told that if it does pass to expect a 7 or 8% unemployment figure for the coming years and so on. Woo Hoo!

The Washington Post carries this story by Frank Ahrens called Bailout Could Deepen Crisis, CBO Chief Says Asset Sales May Lead to Write-Downs, Insolvencies, Orszag Tells Congress.
During testimony before the House Budget Committee, Peter R. Orszag -- Congress's top bookkeeper -- said the bailout could expose the way companies are stowing toxic assets on their books, leading to greater problems.

"Ironically, the intervention could even trigger additional failures of large institutions, because some institutions may be carrying troubled assets on their books at inflated values," Orszag said in his testimony. "Establishing clearer prices might reveal those institutions to be insolvent."

In an interview later yesterday, Orszag explained using the following example: Suppose a company has Asset X, whose value is recorded on the books as $100. Because of the current economic decline, Asset X's real value has dropped to $50. If the company takes part in the government bailout and sells Asset X for $50, the company has to report a $50 loss on its books. On a scale of millions of dollars, such write-downs could ruin a company.

Such companies "look solvent today only because it's kind of hidden," Orszag said. "They actually are insolvent" already, he said.

Exactly. The reason I am against the bailout is because the government is trying to save a house of cards. At the end of the day its still a house of cards.

By letting the cards fall, America can start building an infrastructure of credit and economy that serves the nation in this century. It is not only the regulation that is outdated but the market and the mechanisms as well.

Propping up an antique only marries us to something that no longer has relevance. And patching it and shining it doesn't make it any more worthwhile.

Already the estimates for the bailout(s) are escalating. When this fails, we may not even be able to afford an internet connection to complain on.

These are sad days in America. Mad Max here we come.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Fix is In

I've been watching the Congressional testimony on the Wall St bailout plan. The plan will pass ans always would. There's a lot of Congressional posturing going on but the fix is in.

CNBC's economic commentators are wetting themselves at the prospect that the Wall St game can resume - business as usual. The money that's infused into the system will find itself in the coffers ogf the rich and the average citizen will take major hits on their investments if not get wiped out. This is not a game for the weak of stomach.

The fools at GM, Chrysler, and Ford are advocating the passage of this bill because they think it will help sell their wares. How a taxpayer suddenly $10K/year deeper in debt can afford their wares is never considered.

Americans who have to train their foreign replacement workers now have to pay their bills as well.

And in Washington the lies flow like honey.

"It's not a bailout its and investment!"

"No, this won't cause inflation."

"In the interest of the taxpayer..."

This is a bad idea that should never be approved.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Smile: You're Getting Robbed

As I write this Ben Bernacke says the government is not only going to buy garbage but its going to buy garbage at premium prices. Of course they all insist it's for the good of the taxpayer.

Washington is incorrectly blaming the Wall St. meltdown on bad mortgages. But anyone with a brain knows that's not the problem. They are blaming Americans for the global hollowing out of our national prosperity.

I made the following comments on a Courant story a few days ago. They're slightly edited to correct one poorly written sentence.

There are a number of things that are curious about this financial disaster.

1.) George W. Bush, neo-con evangelist, rightest of right-wing Republicans has accomplished what Karl Marx could have never imagined, socialism as an economic paradigm in America.

2.) American workers whose jobs have been pirated for over a decade by globalism are now being asked to pay for the collapse of our own economic prosperity. How many ways can the American workforce get stabbed in the back?

3.) American IT workers who dared question the delusional business practices that at face value made no sense were shown the door. Global pirates whose only ambition was to saturate the market with ever-cheaper foreign labor were treated like royalty as the businesses drifted further and further from reality.

In turnabout, now those global interests are left holding worthless paper for their efforts. Will any American shed a tear? Will Americans be forced to buy that bad paper? [update: The answer is YES AND Bernacke insists that the sellers of garbage will be offered generous profit.]

4.) People on fixed incomes and living on pensions will have their standard of living reduced by the inflationary pressures this bailout will bring to bear. Are they guessing ONE Trillion? If this crisis takes the same giddy arc as the Iraq War, what they really mean to say is *TEN* Trillion.

5.) [To the Courant] Please run more articles by conservatives who insist on privatizing Social Security.

6.) [To the Courant] Please run more articles about businesses who want to reform schools because the stock market is a shiny example of global competition.

7.) [To the Courant] Run more articles about how corporations need more tax incentives and deregulation because Americans really need a laugh.

8.) Any bailout package [edit] *MUST* insist that any qualified American who applies for a job in this country must be hired before that company can even consider outsourcing that [edit] job.

9.) Any bailout package that does not insist on heavily taxing the outsourcing of American jobs toward this buyout of Wall St. should not be passed.

10.) Any bailout that does not insist on severe penalties for age discrimination in the workplace should not pass. Older workers who have lost their retirement savings will have to work, starve, or visit Dr. Kevorkian.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama's Education Plan, Extra Credit Raise His Grade to a 'D'

The New York Times has an excellent discussion about the Democratic party's education reform debate. In an article called 24/7 School Reform by Paul Tough NCLB and alternative remedies are debated. Rather than argue about public school reform, the article focuses on programs having nothing to do with schools.
What is most interesting and novel about Obama’s education plans is how much they involve institutions other than schools.

The American social contract has always identified public schools as the one place where the state can and should play a role in the process of child-rearing. Outside the school’s walls (except in cases of serious abuse or neglect), society is seen to have neither a right nor a responsibility to intervene. But a new and growing movement of researchers and advocates has begun to argue that the longstanding and sharp conceptual divide between school and not-school is out of date. It ignores, they say, overwhelming evidence of the impact of family and community environments on children’s achievement. At the most basic level, it ignores the fact that poor children, on average, arrive in kindergarten far behind their middle-class peers. There is evidence that schools can do a lot to erase that divide, but the reality is that most schools do not. If we truly want to counter the effects of poverty on the achievement of children, these advocates argue, we need to start a whole lot earlier and do a whole lot more.

The three people who have done the most to propel this nascent movement are James J. Heckman, Susan B. Neuman and Geoffrey Canada — though each of them comes at the problem from a different angle, and none of them would necessarily cite the other two as close allies.

Heckman argues;
the problem of persistent poverty is at its root a problem of skills — what economists often call human capital. Poor children grow into poor adults because they are never able, either at home or at school, to acquire the abilities and resources they need to compete in a high-tech service-driven economy — and Heckman emphasizes that those necessary skills are both cognitive (the ability to read and compute) and noncognitive (the ability to stick to a schedule, to delay gratification and to shake off disappointments). The good news, Heckman says, is that specific interventions in the lives of poor children can diminish that skill gap — as long as those interventions begin early (ideally in infancy) and continue throughout childhood.

Susan Neuman who turned her back on NCLB offers a program that complements Heckman's argument.
she describes nine nonschool interventions. She includes the Nurse-Family Partnership, which sends trained nurses to visit and counsel poor mothers during and after their pregnancies; Early Head Start, a federal program, considerably more ambitious than Head Start itself, that offers low-income families parental support, medical care and day-care centers during the first three years of the lives of their children; Avance, a nine-month language-enrichment program for Spanish-speaking parents, mostly immigrants from Mexico, that operates in Texas and Los Angeles; and Bright Beginnings, a pre-K program in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina that enrolls 4-year-olds who score the lowest on a screening test of cognitive ability and manages to bring most of them up to grade level by the first day of kindergarten.

Neuman’s favorite programs share certain characteristics — they start early, focus on the families that need them the most and provide intensive support. Many of the interventions work with parents to make home environments more stimulating; others work directly with children to improve their language development (a critical factor in later school success). All of them, Neuman says, demonstrate impressive results.

Finally, Geoffrey Canada runs the only comprehensive program that synthesizes many of these ideas.
Canada’s agency, the Harlem Children’s Zone, has a $58 million budget this year, drawn mostly from private donors; it currently serves 8,000 kids in a 97-block neighborhood of Harlem. (I’ve spent the last five years reporting on his organization’s work and its implications for the country.) Canada shares many of the views of the education reformers — he runs two intensive K-12 charter schools with extended hours and no union contract — but at the same time he offers what he calls a “conveyor belt” of social programs, beginning with Baby College, a nine-week parenting program that encourages parents to choose alternatives to corporal punishment and to read and talk more with their children. As students progress through an all-day prekindergarten and then through a charter school, they have continuous access to community supports like family counseling, after-school tutoring and a health clinic, all designed to mimic the often-invisible cocoon of support and nurturance that follows middle-class and upper-middle-class kids through their childhoods. The goal, in the end, is to produce children with the abilities and the character to survive adolescence in a high-poverty neighborhood, to make it to college and to graduate.

Though the conveyor belt is still being constructed in Harlem, early results are positive. Last year, the charter schools’ inaugural kindergarten class reached third grade and took their first New York state achievement tests: 68 percent of the students passed the reading test, which beat the New York City average and came within two percentage points of the state average, and 97 percent of them passed the math test, well above both the city and state average.

Obama is throwing his support toward these efforts.
Obama has proposed that these replication projects, which he has labeled Promise Neighborhoods, be run as private/public partnerships, with the federal government providing half the funds and the rest being raised by local governments and private philanthropies and businesses. It would cost the federal government “a few billion dollars a year,” he acknowledged in his speech. “But we will find the money to do this, because we can’t afford not to.”

As a critic of both Obama and McCain's education proposals, I must say that I like this proposal a lot. McCain remains lost in the halls somewhere.

And may I recommend, this article highly. There are more links and resources there as well as a far more comprehensive discussion..

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Education Doesn't Create Jobs

I've been reading a new voice in the national dialog about globalization. His name is Ralph Gomory and he has some very interesting theories about globalization and education's role in job productivity.

In an article in the Nation called The Establishment Rethinks Globalization by William Greider, Goromy's thoughts are explored.
"The situation today is that the companies have discovered that using modern technology they can do all that overseas and pay less for labor and then import product and services back into the United States. So what we're doing now is competing shovel to shovel. The people in many countries are being equipped with as good a shovel or backhoe as our people have. Very often we are helping them make the transition. We're making it person-to-person competition, which it never was before and which we cannot win. Because their people will be paid a third, a quarter of what our people are paid. And it's unreasonable to think you can educate our people so well that they can produce four times as much in the United States."

As this shift of productive assets progresses, the downward pressure on US wages will thus continue and intensify. Free-trade believers insist US workers can defend themselves by getting better educated, but Gomory suggests these believers simply don't understand the economics. "Better education can only help," he explains. "The question is where do you put your technology and knowledge and investment? These other countries understand that. They have understood the following divergence: What countries want and what companies want are different."

The implication is this: If nothing changes in how globalization currently works, Americans will be increasingly exposed to downward pressure on incomes and living standards. "Yes," says Gomory. "There are many ways to look at it, all of which reach the same conclusion."

I ask Gomory what he would say to those who believe this is a just outcome: Americans become less rich, others in the world become less poor. That might be "a reasonable personal choice," he agrees. "But that isn't what the people in this country are being told. No one has said to us: 'You're probably a little too rich and these other folks are a little too poor. Why don't we even it out?' Instead, what we usually hear is: 'It's going to be good for everyone. In the long run we're going to get richer with globalization.'"

Gomory and Baumol are elaborating a fundamental point sure to make many economists (and political leaders) sputter and choke. Contrary to dogma, the losses from trade are not confined to the "localized pain" felt by displaced workers who lose jobs and wages. In time, the accumulating loss of a country's productive base can injure the broader national interest--that is, everyone's economic well-being.

"Our objective," Baumol told a policy conference last summer, "is to show how outsourcing can indeed reduce the share of benefits of trade, not only for those who lose their jobs and suffer a direct reduction in wages but can wind up making the average American worse off than he or she would have been."

The conventional win-win assurances, they explain, are facile generalizations that ignore the complexity of the trading system--the myriad differences in country-to-country relationships and the vast realm of government actions and policy interventions designed to shape the outcomes. "Many of our 'dismal science' colleagues speak unguardedly as though they believe free trade cannot fail, no matter what," Baumol said.

Some nations, in other words, do indeed become "losers." Gomory fears the United States is now one of them--starting to go downhill. When he and Baumol wrote their book, they figured US trade relations with China and India produced "mutual gain" for both ends. The United States got cheaper goods, China and India got jobs and a start at industrialization. But the rapid improvements in those two nations during the past decade, Gomory thinks, are putting the United States in the bind where their gain becomes our loss.

Essentially, the terms of trade have changed as more and more value-added production has shifted from the United States to its poorer trading partners. America, he explains, becomes increasingly dependent, buying from abroad more and more of what its citizens consume and producing relatively less at home. US incomes stagnate as the high-wage jobs disappear and US exports become a smaller share of the world total.

The persistent offshoring of domestic production is leading to a perverse consequence: The United States finds itself paying more for imports. The production that originally moved offshore to get low-wage labor and cheaper goods is now claiming a larger and larger share of national income, as the growing trade deficits literally subtract from US domestic growth. "All the stuff you were already importing from them becomes more expensive," Gomory explains. "That's why you can start going downhill--because you pay more for what you were previously getting." Put another way, one hour of US work no longer buys as many hours of Chinese work as it once did. China can suppress its domestic wages to keep selling more of its stuff, but that does not alter the fundamental imbalance in productive strength.

The US predicament is vividly reflected in the nation's swollen trade deficits, now running at nearly 7 percent of GDP every year. The country consumes more than it produces. It borrows heavily from trading partners, led by China, to pay for its "excess" consumption. This allows America to dodge--temporarily--a reckoning with its weakened condition, that is, falling living standards. But that will eventually occur, when Americans are compelled to reduce their consumption and pay off the overdue bills. Postponement will deepen the ultimate injury because, meanwhile, the trading partners will gain greater industrial capabilities, while US productive strength weakens further.

Americans can choose to blame China or disloyal multinationals, but the problem is grounded in US politics. The solution can be found only in Washington. China and other developing nations are pursuing national self-interest and doing what the system allows. In a way, so are the US multinationals. "I want to stress it's a system problem," Gomory says. "The directors are doing the job they're sworn to do. It's a system that says the companies have to have a sole focus on maximizing profit."

Gomory's proposed solution would change two big things (and many lesser ones). First, the US government must intervene unilaterally to cap the nation's swollen trade deficit and force it to shrink until balanced trade is achieved with our trading partners. The mechanics for doing this are allowed under WTO rules, though the emergency action has never been invoked by a wealthy nation, much less the global system's putative leader. Capping US trade deficits would have wrenching consequences at home and abroad but could force other nations to consider reforms in how the trading system now functions. That could include international rights for workers, which Gomory favors.

Second, government must impose national policy direction on the behavior of US multinationals, directly influencing their investment decisions. Gomory thinks this can be done most effectively through the tax code. A reformed corporate income tax would penalize those firms that keep moving high-wage jobs and value-added production offshore while rewarding those that are investing in redeveloping the home country's economy.

US companies are not only free of national supervision but actively encouraged to offshore production by government policy and tax breaks. Other advanced economies have sophisticated national industrial policies, plus political and cultural pressures, that guide and discipline their multinationals, forcing them to adhere more closely to the national interest.

Neither of Gomory's fundamental policy reforms--balancing trade or imposing discipline on US multinationals--can work without the other. Both have to be done more or less at once. If the government taxed US multinational behavior without also capping imports, the firms would just head out the door. "That won't work," Gomory explains, "because you will say to the companies, 'This is how we're going to measure you.' And the corporations will say, 'Oh, no, you're not. I'm going overseas. I'm going to make my product over there and I'll send it back into the United States.' But if you insist on balanced trade, then the amount that's shipped in has to equal the amount that's shipped out by companies. If no companies do that, then nothing can be shipped in either. If you balance trade, you are going to develop internal companies that work the way you want." Public investment in new technologies and industries, I would add, may not achieve much either, if there is no guarantee that the companies will locate their new production in the United States.

Essentially, Gomory proposes to alter the profit incentives of US multinationals. If the government adds rules of behavior and enforces them through the tax code, companies will be compelled to seek profit in a different way--by adhering to the national interest and terms set by the US government. Other nations do this in various ways. Only the United States imagines the national interest doesn't require it.

In recent months Gomory and Leo Hindery of the Horizon Project have been calling on Congress with these big ideas and getting respectful audiences. The two met with some thirty Democratic senators and Congressional staffers from both parties. Senator Byron Dorgan, with co-sponsors like Sherrod Brown, Russell Feingold and even Hillary Clinton, has introduced several bills to confront the trade deficits.

Gomory's concept for multinational taxation is a tougher sell amid Washington lobbyists because it goes right to the bottom line of major US corporations. On the other hand, this proposal has stronger intuitive appeal for citizens, who reasonably ask why multinationals are allowed to undercut the national interest when they enjoy all the benefits of being "American" companies.

Hindery's group is advocating Congressional action to arrange a "national summit" on trade, where all these questions can be thrashed out. The political system has never really had an honest, open debate on globalization in the past thirty years. The dogmatic church of free trade--"free trade good, no trade bad"--wouldn't allow it. As more politicians grasp the meaning of Gomory's analysis, they should start demanding equal time for the heretics.

Gomory's vision of reformation actually goes beyond the trading system and America's economic deterioration. He wants to re-create an understanding of the corporation's obligations to society, the social perspective that flourished for a time in the last century but is now nearly extinct. The old idea was that the corporation is a trust, not only for shareholders but for the benefit of the country, the employees and the people who use the product. "That attitude was the attitude I grew up on in IBM," Gomory explains. "That's the way we thought--good for the country, good for the people, good for the shareholders--and I hope we will get back to it.... We should measure corporations by their impact on all their constituencies.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Numerology of Totalitarianism

A brilliant photojournalist, Lindsay Beyerstein, captured a stream of pictures documenting events outside the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN.

One picture in particular caught my attention.

What is the number on this unidentified woman's arm?

Lindsay explains in an inline comment.
That's probably the number for the National Lawyers Guild, the ColdSnap Legal Collective, or some other contact that can bail her out of jail if she gets arrested. I wrote a number on my arm, too--I didn't expect to get arrested, but it seemed like a good idea.

Anyone who grew up studying the Holocaust recognizes the archetype.

The Jewish Virtual Library explains the tattooing of Auschwitz prisoners.

After their heads were shaved and their personal possessions removed, the prisoners were officially registered. Beginning in 1941, this registration consisted of a tattoo, which was placed on the left breast of the prisoner; later, the tattoo location was moved to the inner forearm. It was not only Jews who were marked: all prisoners other than ethnic Germans and police prisoners were tattooed. These tattoos were just one of the ways in which the Nazis dehumanized their prisoners. Despite the perception that all Holocaust prisoners were given tattoos, it was only the prisoners of Auschwitz after 1941 who were branded this way.

Rabbi Lerner explains the extended historical problem, the children of survivors ask if propagating these numbers by acquiring the identical tattoo of the father or mother is allowed.

The question:
Would I be allowed, under these circumstances, to tattoo my left arm with the number of my father, who recently passed away. I know tattoos are contrary to the Torah, but this kind of tattoo could be a reminder to the world to not forget the Holocaust.

Rabbi Lerner responds,
I've never considered such a question and I thank you for bringing it to my attention. It is tragic that we even have to think about such a topic.

I would urge you not to have the number tattooed on your body, and I believe that most of those who endured the camps and the tattoos would also wish that their descendents not be tattooed, and davka with a number from the camps.

There are other ways perhaps to insure that the members of your family never forget his number, just as they will never forget him. Consider sculpture, paintings, commissioning a print for each member of the family, a special mezuzah built from those numbers, etc.

Even though your intention is good, this tattooing would still be contrary to Torah tradition.

Even though the numbers written on the bodies of protesters had a practical value, one has to ask what has driven our government to this extreme of fear.

The numbers are unimportant as digits but the mythological archetype of citizens who will be so dehumanized by any system that they require such measures is an important signal that our society is heading into very troubled territory.

The Jews are not alone in recognizing that you will be forgiven for doing those things that you have no choice but to do. The government that forces such choices will receive no such forgiveness no matter how many flags it hides behind.

Visualizing Tax Cuts

A site called ChartJunk is redesigning tax comparison graphics to more accurately depict population distributions.

This is an interesting math exercise because it is a real world example of how figures get distorted. Here's ChartJunk's improved graphic:

Contrast and compare it to MSM reporting of the tax plans.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Great Read: Rick Green's Spot On Analysis

Today's Courant features a Rick Green column, West Hartford Teachers: Be Open To Change, that is must reading for educators everywhere.

It's about the knee-jerk hubris that too many local teachers unions suffer from. i urge you to read the entire piece.
Barbara Carpenter, the now former president of the 900-member West Hartford Education Association, walked out the other day, blasting her union's commitment to the future of education in town.


"We really need to change the culture," Carpenter said when we met to talk one afternoon a few days after she quit. For the union, she says, this means less arguing about workplace rules and more involvement in actually running schools.

Right now, Carpenter said, "it's all about salary and benefits and prep time. The 'same old, same old' is not working."


"The old model is broken," she said, referring to school districts where unions too often behave as if they are workers on the assembly line on the factory floor.

"We have to be able to sit down collaboratively. Both sides have to be open."

Carpenter told me she worries as she sees classroom size climb ever larger. She sees more schools adding homework centers to help students who can't keep up in the classroom.

She thinks schools ought to be redesigned to allow for longer school days, perhaps with teachers working different, non-traditional shifts. She thinks teachers and administrators and board of education members ought to be working together more — instead of fighting over trade-union issues, like who has bus duty.

I called John Yrchik, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, to ask whether it troubled him that the president of the West Hartford local had walked out with a broadside against the teachers' union.

"A complete shocker," he replied.

Yrchik was quick to note that my call had "ironic" timing because the union is aggressively moving in new, progressive directions and pointed to a new collaboration with the University of Connecticut that aims to redesign schools in Hartford and other cities.

"This is an extraordinary coming together of major education stakeholders," he told me, that utilizes "the best ideas of everyone."

"Collaboration is always the goal to be sought after, when it's possible," he said.

Carpenter, ironically, wasn't finding much of this within the ranks of her hometown union local. Within hours of her quitting, the union changed the locks, seized her computer and shut off her cellphone.

"I didn't want it to go under the carpet," she said of her profound disagreement with fellow union members. "Let's get it out. Let's put everyone's feet to the fire here."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why Are McCain/Palin Unwittingly Encouraging Pedophilia?

The McCain campaign is running political propaganda advertisements in key states making the accusation that Obama endorsed hard-core sex education on Kindergartners.

Here's what Obama said and ABC reported about the legislation in 2007:
"Keep in mind: I honor and respect young people who choose to delay sexual activity," Obama continued. "I’ve got two daughters, and I want them to understand that sex is not something casual. That's something that we definitely want to communicate and should be part of any curriculum. But we also know that when the statistics tell us that nearly half of 15 to 19 year olds are engaging in sexual activity, that for us to leave them in ignorance is potentially consigning them to illness, pregnancy, poverty, and in some cases, death."

When Obama's campaign was asked by ABC News to explain what kind of sex education Obama considers "age appropriate" for kindergarteners, the Obama campaign pointed to an Oct. 6, 2004 story from the Daily Herald in which Obama had "moved to clarify" in his Senate campaign that he "does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten. . . The legislation in question was a state Senate measure last year that aimed to update Illinois' sex education standards with 'medically accurate' information . . . 'Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it,' Obama said. 'If they ask a teacher 'where do babies come from,' that providing information that the fact is that it's not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing. Although again, that's going to be determined on a case by case basis by local communities and local school boards.'"

In addition to local schools informing kindergarteners that babies do not come from the stork, the state legislation Obama supported in Illinois, which contained an "opt out" provision for parents, also envisioned teaching kindergarteners about "inappropriate touching," according to Obama's presidential campaign. Despite Obama's support, the legislation was not enacted.

Pretty shocking stuff:

Local school board autonomy for content
Local school board autonomy for when the education gets introduced
The content is not about explicit sex
Intended to curtail teen pregnacy
Intended to educate kids about inappropriate touching
Parents could opt-out of such material

The legislation might have benefited Sarah Palin's daughter.

But that's not the whole story. Obama explained to the Christian Broadcasting network the deeper concern:
We have a existing law that mandates sex education in the schools. We want to make sure that it's medically accurate and age-appropriate.

Now, I'll give you an example, because I have a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old daughter, and one of the things my wife and I talked to our daughter about is the possibility of somebody touching them inappropriately, and what that might mean.

And that was included specifically in the law, so that kindergarteners are able to exercise some possible protection against abuse, because I have family members as well as friends who suffered abuse at that age. So, that's the kind of stuff that I was talking about in that piece of legislation.

So the larger issue is:
Educating kids to recognize inappropriate touching by others and to avoid it and report it.

Readers of this blog know that I am a staunch advocate of building children's character when it comes to values issues. Adults and schools cannot shelter children from the monsters and monstrosities of society - the porn, the predators, the hucksters, thieves, and bullies. But we can build up their character and resolve to resist, avoid, and report the inappropriate. But first they must know that their sensibilities are calibrated to recognize these situations.

On PBS Newshour last night, McCain education adviser Lisa Keegan asked the public to read the SIECUS Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten-12th that are the basis of the legislation Obama endorsed. Presumably she believes that the subject matter intended for older students will be mistaken as being aimed at the youngest students.

She thinks we're stupid.

Here's what the Guide says:
Life Behaviors: Life behaviors are essentially outcomes of instruction. For each of the broad categories identified as a key concept, the Guidelines note several life behaviors of a sexually healthy
adult that reflect actions students will be able to take after having applied the information and skills.

For example, life behaviors under Key Concept 3: Personal Skills, include: “Identify and live according to one’s values”; “Take responsibility for one’s own behavior”; and “Practice effective decision-making.” (A complete list of life behaviors appears on page 14.)

Why the McCain/Palin team are seething against identifying and living according to one’s own values, taking responsibility for one's behavior, practicing effective decision-making, and avoiding exploitative or manipulative relationships to name a few may be little more than a smokescreen to divert attention from McCain and Palin's own family's inability to recognize and effectively avoid drug habits, teen sexuality, multiple infidelities, and more.

But what becomes very clear in their attacks is that they have no problem allowing young children to fall prey to predators out of ignorance rather than educate these kids to protect themselves. To me that violates childrens Fourth Amendment Rights to be armed with enough knowledge to defend themselves.

It also makes the McCain/Palin education policy an advocate for encouraging acts of pedophilia through ignorance, silence, and helplessness of the victims.

Shame on McCain! Shame on Palin!

On this education issue, Obama gets an 'A' while McCain and Palin are busy comparing body parts behind the school - an 'F' for misguiding their own constituents.

Update! The Washington Post analysis of McCain's ad agrees that it FAILS THE PINOCCHIO TEST!
The Pinocchio Test

Nobody expects television ads to be fair and objective analyses of public policy. Almost by definition, the ads are partisan sales pitches, designed to promote one political brand while running down the rival brand. But they should not misrepresent the record of the other side and should clearly distinguish quotes from non-partisan news sources from standard political rhetoric. The McCain "education" ad fails this test.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Meaning What You Say

When we talk about reading education in this country, there is a great emphasis on understanding the meaning of what is being read. Readers need to trust the veracity of material they're presented and part of that trust is faith that the virtue of the deeds match the expectations expressed by the words.

In McCain's acceptance speech for the Republican nomination to run for the office of President he says,
If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you're disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our armed forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.

I'm going to fight for my cause every day as your president. I'm going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank him: that I'm an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on Earth, and with hard work, strong faith and a little courage, great things are always within our reach. Fight with me. Fight with me.

Fight for what's right for our country.

Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.

Fight for our children's future.

Fight for justice and opportunity for all.

Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.

Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.

Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We're Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.
The sad truth of the matter is that outside the convention, everyday citizens of this country already attempted to comfort the afflicted and defend the rights of the oppressed and more.

But these citizens were not treated like heroes and they weren't treated like Constitutionally protected Americans. Here is a description of the street scene from a Minnesota college student,
I am just one person, my story will not fully depict the absolute circus this convention has turned my state into. what brought me to St Paul today, a city that is normally extremely quiet and without event, was the Take Back Labor Day festival. I went to the city to see friends and hear music and stand up as a supporter for real worker's rights and further, most importantly, the freedom of our Republic.

What i saw was extreme...

There is no doubt in mind, from the limited exposure I did get of the whole RNC scene, that we are in fact under Martial Law. There is no walking through downtown St Paul without coming to the absolute realization that we are not safe and most certainly not free.

From Harriet Island, where the above-described music and awareness event was taking place, dozens of us saw, with our own civilian eyes, the true arsenal the federally-sponsored RNC had in store for us. "The department, awarded a $50,000,000 security grant from the federal government, will have at its disposal $330,000 in helmets, $1,000,000 in chemical masks and $1,900,000 in chemical irritants, according to plans approved by the [Saint Paul] City Council this month."

First hand, I saw at least 4 snipers on top of downtown buildings surrounding the RNC ground zero at any given time. In the river just ahead of our festival, there were coast guard boats with massive machine guns loaded and ready to fire, two per boat. Many boats patrolled the waters of the mighty [city-polluted] Mississippi throughout the day. Later on, about 10 boats were seen at once, all surrounding a non-violent sit-in on the banks of the Mississippi, along with various officials inland, their squad lights ablaze.
The very citizens McCain instructs to act like citizens became little more than tactical dummies to be roughed up, herded, goaded, intimidated, gassed, and profiled as targets for extermination in the event a signal is given.

You see, his words are lies. Big lies. He and everyone in the convention knew what was going on. Why not trump Obama's Denver spectacle by leaving the convention hall and embracing the marchers as just the people he was talking about and talking to?

Had McCain had the guts to do that he would have witnessed a scene out of mad max. Police and paramilitary armed to the teeth covered in more protective gear than the troops in Baghdad wear. One has to wonder to what end? Was the government expecting WW III?, an invasion of body snatchers from another dimension?, an alien invasion?, what??? What could justify the armaments in a sleepy American metropolis in the middle of nowhere?

Apparently moms and pops urging peace or food for pantries or waving an unauthorized sign is red alert these days.

Red and belligerent. The storm-troopers targeted media. Media with big security badges identifying themselves as observers of the events and not objects of them. The storm-troopers targeted watchdog groups first. The people who keep the government accountable.

True patriots would be proud of these reporters and lawyers whose dwellings were targeted for break-in by authorities armed to kill.

The rule of Constitutional American law was nowhere to be found in Minnesota last week in the flood of platitudes and self-serving sanctity. It was no accident. McCain's idea of reform and change includes more of this Orwellian stuff or he would have insisted on stopping it the minute Amy Goodman's story became the headline.

Teaching kids to look for meaning in speech is one lesson. The other is teaching them the difference between, words, intent, and moral culpability for words.

We need to be careful in encouraging children to question. Watch Amy Goodman ask a question here:

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Putting Lipstick on a Pig: McCain's Education Policy

About a week ago, I gave the Obama team an 'F' on education policy. Well, this week McCain spoke and his sorry excuse was to say that, "A pitbull with lipstick ate my education policy." Furthermore, he backtracked and obfuscated on two ideas that I particularly liked, a.) end NCLB and b.) eliminate the Department of Education.

By retarding the education conversation, I decided to simply treat McCain's antics like a candidate more suited to greet shopper's at special interest events rather than influence something as important as child development. Rather than fail him, he qualifies for Special Ed. In keeping with Sarah Palin's gift of creating snarky names for things she loves we will refer to the McCain-Palin education policy as the Greeter policy.

The Greeter policy puts lipstick on the Bush education policy that McCain and Palin plan to continue and expand. The Bush-McCain-Palin policy is the bloated pig of NCLB trussed up with right-wing union-bashing, redecorated big government interference with local issues, and another four years of suppressing and silencing education critics.

This does not reach across partisan nor professional differences. This is Bush all over again.

NO THANKS! Don't tell a reform story to gullible voters when you want their vote and plan more Washington interference with schools to your cronies. That's bad form.

Here's McCain's words from the acceptance speech. I'll bold the troubling and polarizing rhetoric.
Education is the civil rights issue of this century. Equal access to public education has been gained. But what is the value of access to a failing school? We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them. Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children will have that opportunity.

Sen. Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched bureaucracies. I want schools to answer to parents and students. And when I'm president, they will.

The entire concept of failing schools is a NCLB myth invented by neocons. The Greeter policy firmly entrenches this idea into the Bush-McCain-Palin strategy. Without it, an intelligent conversation can take place about education.

Education is not a shopping trip. And public schools, unions, and so-called bad teachers cannot cure inadequate i.q., learning disabilities, willful ignorance, poverty, and a slew of cultural phenomenon that ails society. The Greeter policy is solely a strategy to bully and beat up public schools, steal the public funds and enrich cronies already wallowing in stolen national wealth.

I feel cheated by the Republican platform and Americans should demand their money back from the Bush years of lies and social thievery.

Obama's policy still fails but they haven't written public schools off. That counts for extra credit in my book.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Obama's First Legislation Exposes Triple Cross

In 2006, George W. Bush signed Obama's first piece of legislation into law and it allows citizens to see where the tax money is being spent. The University of Illinois newspaper, The in Bush signs Obama's first bill into law 'Google for Government' bill creates database of government spending by Riley Roberts, Staff Writer gives us some details:
When President Bush signed the bill into law last Tuesday, the freshman lawmaker scored his first solo victory in his longtime campaign to increase government accountability.

It was a big day for Obama, D-Ill., who has partnered with other senators on previous acts but never authored successful legislation himself.

"I finally got a bill passed," he told The Associated Press.

The legislation, proposed in conjunction with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., will create a Web site designed to allow Americans to search a comprehensive database of government grants, contracts, insurance, loans and financial assistance. The act is slated to go into effect by no later than January 1, 2008.

"He's thrilled that it passed," said Tommy Vietor, Obama's press secretary, in an interview with The Daily Illini. "It represents a bipartisan effort to make government spending more transparent for everyday Americans as well as the media."

The public's reaction to the provisions of the act has been positive.

"I think (the law) sounds like a good idea," said Erinn Mitchell, sophomore in LAS and a registered voter in Illinois. "It's a mystery where the money is. Especially given the history of Illinois, it's understandable why he's proposing it. People want to know where their money is going."

Despite Obama's collaboration with his Republican colleagues and widespread public support, several lawmakers anonymously threatened to pigeonhole the legislation before it ever reached the Senate floor.

"The opposition held the bill up for awhile, but thanks to the support of bloggers on both the left and the right, (Obama) was finally able to get it passed," Vietor said.

So the question for Connecticut taxpayers is, "Where does the money go?"

A site made possible by Obama's bill called gives us a breakdown.

Connecticut is one of the original thirteen states (one of the stripes on the flag) so you and I are wondering where we rank, say, one through fifty in terms of federal "assistance" (a euphemism for getting tax money back). Well, you'll notice that nothing in CT ranks in the top fifty, nor in the top 100.

But you will notice almost a billion dollars to Air India Limited, STAPLCOTN a cotton subsidy gets approx. $700M, AIR CANADA gets a cool half billion as does PUERTO RICO DEPT OF EDUCATION and JET AIRWAYS (INDIA) PVT. LTD. and oil rich assets in the Gulf States such as EMIRATES AIRLINE get approx 270M per year.

Now you might be thinking that high-rollers like Christopher Dodd and Joe Lieberman would ensure that Connecticut - whose population is larger than Alaska (whose citizens pay ZERO state taxes), with some of America's poorest cities, whose schools need infrastructure funds, special education funding, and whose overburdened taxpayers need tax relief - would get a fair share of what they've put in for education.

Well, they obviously don't and it is inexplicable and inexcusable.

When Puerto Rico's (not a state) Department of Education is subsidized more heavily than an actual state then there's something seriously askew in Washington.

When foreign airlines are subsidized to import cheap labor to take American's worker's jobs with American tax payer's dollars the term of betrayal is a Washington double-cross.

And when American public education is used as a scapegoat to obfuscate the funneling of tax dollars to undermine American student's ability to compete on a fair playing field, that level of betrayal is the triple-cross.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Can the State Legally Medicate Kids Into Vegetative States?

This is a new one to me.In Alsaka, and maybe elsewhere, the State is drugging children that come under their control without consent of parents or the children themselves.

The website Furious Seasons reportsin Alaska And Gov. Sarah Palin Sued Over Drugging Kids:
A lawsuit was filed yesterday in an Alaska superior court seeking to stop the de facto forced medication of children under the state's care (foster kids, juvenile detainees) and children covered under state health programs with psychiatric medications. Named as defendants were the State of Alaska, Gov. Sarah Palin and a host of officials with various state agencies. The suit was filed by Psych Rights, the Alaska-based mental health law project, which has vigorously fought the forced drugging of adults in the state's psychiatric hospital. Jim Gottstein, the president of the group, was instrumental two years ago in ensuring that the leaked Zyprexa court documents reached the public. A press release from Psych Rights can be found here.

The lawsuit is sweeping and seeks to go after the age-old practice of giving psych meds to children and teens in the custody or care of various state programs, at times without the knowledge of the children's parents (if there are any) and without the informed consent of the child or teen. Gottstein argues in his filing (2.2 MB .pdf here) that such practices violate the constitutional rights of children. I'm not going to put on a law class here (to the degree that I could), but here are some snippets from the suit.

Gottstein wrote to Gov. Palin in February 2008:

"It is a huge betrayal of trust for the State to take custody of children and youth and then subject them to such harmful, often life-ruining, drugs. They have almost always already been subjected to abuse or otherwise had very difficult lives before the State assumes custody, and then saddles them with a mental illness diagnosis and drugs them. The extent of this State inflicted child abuse is an emergency and should be corrected immediately. Children and youth are virtually always forced to take these drugs because, with rare exception, it is not their choice. PsychRights believes the children and youth, themselves, have the legal right to not be subject to such harmful treatment at the hands of the State of Alaska. We are therefore evaluating what legal remedies might be available to them. However, instead of going down that route, it would be my great preference to be able to work together to solve this problem. It is for this reason that I am reaching out to you again on this issue."

Gottstein got a mealy-mouthed answer to this letter from an agency head, but there's no indication that Palin, who is Sen. John McCain's vice-presidential choice and quite the advocate for families, ever saw the letter. There was no response from her office. I'm not criticizing Palin, but am simply noting the irony that she's named in this lawsuit given her sudden emergence on the national political scene.

In his filing, Gottstein notes that over 4,500 Alaska children and teens were being given various psych meds under the state's Medicaid program.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Economic Schizophrenia

In yesterday's post we explored the market forces at work molding the habits and values of children to spend, spend, spend.

Today we explore the paradoxical reality of family economics in America. he International Herald Tribune reports in Hard times hitting American students and schools in double blow by Sam Dillon:
In interviews, educators in many states said they were seeing more needy families than at any time in memory. Two charities in suburban Detroit announced in August that they would hand out student backpacks, attracting hundreds of families.

"They went through all 300 backpacks in three hours, boom, and that was that," said Kathleen Kropf, an official in the Macomb Intermediate School District. "We're seeing a lot of desperate people."

There were no giveaways for Jacci Murray, 28, a single mother in West Palm Beach, Florida, who said she lost her job six months ago. Murray bought pencils and crayons for her son, Cameron, who is in the second grade, from a discount bin at Office Depot. Saying she felt "cheap and broke," she pored fretfully over her school supplies list, afraid to waste gas by making more than one shopping trip.

"It's been tough this year," Murray said. "I'm depressed about school."

And so are many educators.

West Virginia officials issued a memorandum recently to local districts titled "Tips to Deal With the Skyrocketing Cost of Fuel." Last week, David Pauley, the transportation supervisor for the Kanawha County school system, based in Charleston, met with drivers of the district's 196 buses to outline those policies. Pauley told them to stay 5 miles per hour below the limit, to check the tire pressure every day and to avoid jackrabbit starts.

The Caldwell Parish School District, in northern Louisiana, took a more sweeping approach to saving fuel by eliminating Monday classes. The district joined about 100 systems nationwide, most of them rural, that in recent years have adopted a four-day schedule.

The district's superintendent, John Sartin, said the move should save $145,000 in a $15 million budget. The decision, made in June, came after crude oil prices had risen for 29 consecutive days, Sartin said.

"People here worry that they won't have enough money to last through the month," he said.


Nationally, 14.9 million students qualified for free lunches last year, according to data from the Agriculture Department; the Bush administration's budget estimates that an additional 283,000 students will be eligible this year.

A department spokeswoman, Jean Daniel, said that subsidized meals were an entitlement and that no students would be turned away if participation exceeded estimates.

The office here where parents fill out forms to qualify for subsidized meals has seen a stream of anxious parents this year, often in tears, pleading for the free meals for their children because they do not have 70 cents a day to pay for the reduced-price meals, Owens said.

"We've had a lot of daddies coming in to say their check doesn't cover like it used to," she said.
All of this puts children whose expectations for consumption are non-stop suddenly in situations that most surely will trigger bouts of depression and resentment toward their parents.

This will not end well.