Archive for May 2012

John Edwards

One has to wonder about this one. Republicans are all hot and bothered “to get” John Edwards and it is fairly clear that this case stands on flimsey if no grounds. So we are wasting millions on dispicable behavior, but not violations of the law. If dispicable behavior were grounds for prosecution, our prisons would be filled with Congressman and Wall Street Masters of the Universe.

Poscript: It is true that real conservatives have a problem with this prosecution, just like they have a problem with Citizens United. But fake conservatives like Fox News, Karl Rove and the blow hards they represent are not in this category. It is also true that it is the Obama Justice Department that is prosecuting this, but the original case was put together by sworn political enemies of John Edwars in North Carolina. It was just an act of political cowardice that the Obama Administration pursued this case, afraid of criticism from the right. Again, is this a great country or what?

Wisconsin

How Wisconsin goes, there goes the Democratic Party.  Next Tuesday will be the recall election for Governor Scott Walker.  His war on the middle class and union rights is what the Republicans are all about.  He wants to outsource government and bring back crony capitalism.  Yet the Democratic Party doesn’t seem to get it.  They have been late to the party while the Republicans around the country have been pooring in millions.  As McClatchy News pointed out, “His campaign is fueled largely by out-of-state money. He’s collected $13.87 million in individual contributions from out-of-state sources, and $9.18 million from in-state backers. Barrett, who started later, has collected $102,998 from out-of-state individuals and $712,551 from in-state contributors, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a non-partisan group.”

President Obama (through spokespersons) does not see this as his fight.  Translate that to its too risky if they fail.  But sooner or later you have to stand for something and this fight in Wisconsin is what Democrats should be all about.  If President Obama thinks he can run on his record, he is a fool.  He has to draw a line and not only show how he is different, but what he would really do different.  He has to show he is fighting for the working man and Wisconsin is ground zero.  But I will grant them it is politically risky but, then leadership always is.  But conservatives get it:  “’Conservatives around the country see Walker as a symbol of the kind of change they want,’ said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University Law School poll.”

Meanwhile Wisconsin seems to show us what the nation as a whole is thinking about and why Republicans still have a fighting chance to win both there and nationally, and it all goes in the category of denial and small minds.  Here are a couple of quotes from McClatchy News:

“Carey Peck, who just graduated with a master’s degree and is unable to find a job, offered a typical lament ‘I don’t agree with the recall. It should be reserved for someone who’s committed big offenses,’ he said at a coffee shop in this Milwaukee suburb. “I don’t agree with what Walker has done, but I don’t think he’s done anything to warrant a recall.”

Gee Carey, the fact that he has wiped out union rights in an attempt to squash an organized resistance to the Republican Party, none of which he ran on, is not a reason to remove him?  You elected him to create jobs and with outside Republican money he has been on a roll to destroy government employment and by the way, pay for his tax cuts to the wealthy with these cuts which is a gross transfer wealth and nothing warrants a recall?  You live on a different planet than I do.

McClatchy’s article noted that:  “Walker’s approach resonates in Milwaukee’s suburbs. Cutting government spending, people say, motivates people to seek jobs and prods employers to hire.”  Of course none of the data shows this.  If people don’t have money to spend, there are no jobs or “prods” for employer hiring.  But there is something else going on here besides a gross misunderstanding of the problem:

“’I just believe in everything Walker is doing. I’m tired of people getting away with doing nothing,’ said a vehement Nancy Walker – no relation – a crafts worker from Hartford. ‘I worked three jobs, raised my children, paid my own health insurance and I don’t agree with people who say you owe it to me to help me.'”

In essence, people are poor because they are lazy.  People don’t deserve health care as a right, and the only  thing wrong with the economy is these leeches on our system.  Except the data doesn’t show that, where there are five applicants for every job and affordable health care will no longer be affordable for the Nancy Walkers of the world if the Scott Walkers get their way.  Oh and Nancy, see what Scott Walker’s version of austerity is doing for Europe.

So you can see what we are up against and why this fight in Wisconsin is so important.  But our President only  sees it as a political liability instead of ground zero where we must draw a line.  Is this a great country or what?

Postscript:  You know if the Republicans win and get their way, it will interesting to see how they blame the disaster they create on the Democrats.  What I really can’t fathom is how they can assume that they will continue to bury the middle class and assume there will be anyone around to buy what they produce.  Just look to Europe to see what real austerity will get you. We can’t seem to remember the last eight years under the Republicans and those “two wars, Abu Ghraib, torture chambers, Hurricane Katrina, the worst terrorist attack in American history and the biggest economic meltdown since October 1929. The good old days. How I miss them.”

Education

Well it would seem education is the topic of focus these days, but of course their (the media’s) focus has once again missed the target.  Example:  I listened to a report on some of the top 10 schools and they were surprised that many of them were in the South.  Then the interviewer asked what these schools were doing different to achieve their great results.  The answer was more or less focusing on college level courses and getting their students really ready for college (many of them were charter schools).  Missed the point entirely.  Charter schools operate with different rules and more importantly, can be selective about who they entroll and disenroll.    Looking at the top 10 schools that has a student body totally unrepresentative of the general population and funding is mostly meaningless.

I actually made a comment last weekend on the Up with Chris Hayes Web Site that we ought to look at the Finn system since they are in the top 3 and see what we could learn.  Almost immeadly I got a response telling me the Finn system was not the problem and it was ethnic diversity.  Actually the Finns do have a growing ethnic diversity population (it doubled in the last 10 years) and when compared to many of our states of similarr size to Finland with similar ethnic diversity populations, their system outperforms us hands down.  The point here is not whether we can learn anything from the Finns, but that there is this knee jerk reaction to refuse to look.

But what really bothers me the most is that we don’t seem to be able to even discuss what education should be for.  Are we trying to create worker drones for industry or are we trying to create good citizens?  This is not a frivolous question.  Should we be training people to work in the markets (say like a software engineer) or should our system develop the mental capabilities to think critically, have some perspective on history and literature, and be more  adept in many environments.  The answer is both.  You wouldn’t know it if you look at what most business leaders call for in reform, and what the “No Child Left Behind” competition and testing is leaving of our education system.  Basically the meterics on education are, is it useful to industry now, and if it isn’t measureable with a test and aggregated statistics, it is not meaningful.

In some ways I think the mess we are in today is a reflection of our failed education system and our failure to reecognize that we ought to spend more time developing thinking individuals instead of test taking whizes.  Brillance is not an accumulation of facts, but an understanding of those facts in terms of what we have learned throughout our human history.  Basically everything you need to know to be a well adjusted and competent individual is contained in our great literature.  Understanding the mistake of becoming a Christian nation is enccompassed in history and its lessons.  See 300 years of wars in Europe.   The idea that  business knows what is best for us would be ground into dust if we could just remember our own history of the Robber Barrons and why labor unions are so necessary.   Our current economic crisis and its solutions are contain in both our and other’s near term history. Shakespeare has covered the lust for power and the depths of evil from A-Z.

But we seem to have become a nation where data is important, but the meaning of data is poorly understood.  It builds a world where people can choose their facts to match their preconceptions and with no real perspective or critical thinking to challenge ourselves.  So we know more, and understand less.  Meanwhile we refuse to even pay for poor outcomes.  Are a great nation or what?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poor Chris and Being Politically Correct

Let’s see.  We have Barney Frank getting in trouble for making a comment about hoodies, and we all remember Hilary Rosen and her comment about Romney’s wife not working a day in her life (true), and now we have poor Chris Hayes being pilloried for saying maybe we use the term hero too loosely.  Now note that all of the comments were true, dead on, and yet we the people can’t stand the truth.

Barney was trying to make a comment about how we have charactured blacks in hoodies, and people are offended.  Hilary Rosen was saying the obvious about Anne Romney when she was just trying to point out that the woman has no experience in the workplace and is totally out of touch with the common working woman, and suddenly it is about motherhood.  Then poor Chris said the obvious about how the term hero is an over used expression to describe anyone in a uniform and maybe used to glorify war.  Geez people, get a life!

Well on the Chris thing, let the sparks fly.  What it indicated to me was that we have a whole generation of people who clearly don’t understand linguistics and how words are used subtly to manipulate our actions.  Which when you think about it explains a lot about our politics today.  When people think anyone who wears a uniform is a hero, they have no concept of the term.

Now much of the criticism is that how can a pointy headed liberal criticize what he never has experienced (never had to duck a bullet).  Well this pointy headed liberal did duck bullets in Vietnam (at least I saw tracers), and flying in a RF-4C was not being a hero.  It was doing my job.  There were real heroes, but they sacrificed mightily, and just being in combat does not make you a hero.  In fact many service men I have spoken to today are as uncomfortable with this label as I am.

Here we live in a nation that refuses to pay for the wars we have, and fights it with a volunteer force, and it just seems to me that it is too easy to label a person a hero to do the work most of us are unwilling to do.  Even more irreverent, if we were forced to actually get skin in the game, we might not be doing it.  So we label them heroes, make their sacrifices seem worthwhile so we can get more to do our bidding.  Fighting for your country is a noble and valiant ambition.  But it does not make you a hero, and sooner or later we ought to ask if we put these people on a pedestal so we never have to get up there ourselves.

No, Chris did us a service and is unafraid to say what is obvious although an inconvenient truth.  There are very few heroes in this world and we should not debase those who are by labeling everyone who does a job we would not do a hero so we don’t have to.  Had I been shot down in Vietnam (Cambodia or Laos) and not come home, I would not have been a hero.  I would just be a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time when that SAM found my tailpipe. False hero worship can ruin lives.  See Iijima.  Oh, and one other thought here:  When people you have called heroes  so they will do your bidding come home to no jobs, cuts in funding for their benefits, and their service forgotten, they will then get it and be very angry.

I think this whole hero thing is really an excuse not to discuss what the Vietnam War memorial says so eloquently without saying anything.  There on a cold piece of low granite are the names of 58,000 men and women who died there and the real question is what for?  The reality of their sacrifice is emblazoned in the cold granite, and that is all that is left of their sacrifice.  Instead of labeling them heroes, maybe we should spend more time asking why.  Oh, and dare I say it, celebrate them for fighting for Chris’s right to question it.

Meanwhile in political land, Mitt Romney outright lies about Obama’s spending and no one comments, but we get all hot and bothered when someone points out the obvious that makes us uncomfortable.  Exactly what these guys were fighting and dying for right?.  Is this a great country or what? (Romney Ventures into Fact Free)

Memorial Day

I am always very conflicted on Memorial Day.  One one hand I want to remember the sacrifice that so many have made for our country, but on the other hand, I don’t want to fall into the trap of glorifying war and setting up the recuritment campaign for our next one.  I am a Vietnam veteran and quite frankly nobody cared.  But then again it was a frivolous war that wasted many lives, both Vietnamese and American.  I believe many are coming to the recognition that Afghanistan and Iraq fall right into that category.

But what of those who paid a horrific price there?  Some were heroes some were not.  In my mind getting killed doing your job does not necessarily make you a hero.  Worse we label everyone a hero if they will do what many of us won’t do.  I can’t help but wondering if we use the term hero for our own political ends of convincinng others to sacrafice for us.  Note that in this day of all volunteer military, the most rabidly pro-war are usually those who have never served.

I am even more uncomfortable today because our services are filled primarily by young people who the miltary offers one of the few great jobs programs and there are very few other options.  Had there been a draft, Afghanistan and Iraq might of ended a long time ago.  We have built up this myth about war experience and we tend to idolize warriors, yet there were more kids in the military who killed themselves last month than were killed in combat.  War brutalizes us and then leaves us to deal with our inner demons.  And we seem to forget our obligations once the troops come home and we have to fund all those benefits we promised.

So I sit here conflicted.  I want to honor those who really did sacrifice themselves for this country whether frivilous war or not.  On the other hand I don’t want to be part of a campaign to glorify war so that the next batch of kids are willing to sign up.  We need to think deeply about what war really is and how for many, it will destroy their lives.  We need to make sure that if we are going to sacrifice lives, we really think it is worth it, and we do not do it with a volunteer military.  Unless it is a shared sacrifice, it is just too easy to send someone else.

Maybe that is what is so hard for me today.  Feeling guilty about thanking people for giving their lives when the rest of us couldn’t be bothered.  Well that is not totally true.  According to George Bush I did do my part at the mall the other day.   I guess I don’t like today because putting those who died for us on a pedestal makes the next war that much easier.  I would feel a lot better about it if I knew we all had skin in the game.

Living in an Alternate Reality

Yesterday I presented some fairly damning evidence that what Republicans commonly believe is just false.  I like to think of them as living in an alternate reality.  But yesterday I heard a better description from an ex-Reagan official that pointed out that they, like the famous participants in the Salem witch trials, are suffering from mass hysteria.  Their carefully crafted world of entitlement is not working and they are denying reality to hold their world view together.

Well Mitt has trotted out a new one, and that is that education and teacher unions are the bogey man.  Now denial is on full display here.  Mitt’s answer is more school choice, charter schools, and giving educational loans back to the banks so they can continue to suck money out of the system.  Even Bill Gates understands after throwing millions at charter schools, that they are not the solution.  But here is the really interesting thing about Republicans.  Their philosophy does not allow reality and science to inform them about what works.  It must be about choice and competition, you know, the market place model with all that government hate angst.

One of the things one might consider if one were rational and the answers were not already predetermined by our philosophy is to look around for what is working and steal their ideas.  I have raised this before when I have asked the question, “Why are we the only industrialized nation in the world who does not have universal health care and a single payer system and yet cost almost twice as much as everybody else who has better outcomes?”  Well, who in the world is beating the snot out of us in education?  Well that would be China, Korea, and Finland.  These three are in the top three in mathematics, science, and reading for the last two measuring cycles.  See any local schools with local control in that list?  Meantime we are down in the low also ran thirties.

Okay so we know that those Asian devils with their institutionalized education systems can enforce strict learning standards and grueling learning schedules, but the Finns?  And here is where it really gets interesting.  The Finns weren’t concerned about school performance, but equality in education.  So they established schools (there are no private schools in Finland) with equal government funding and put the teachers in charge.  The details are in an article written by Anu Partenan in the Atlantic Journal, What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success, but here are some highlights from her article:

  • Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school
  • The public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.
  • All teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.
  • While Americans love to talk about competition, nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable.  It’s hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.
  • Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all.  Private institutions don’t exist and all schools are free up to your PhD

Can you argue with success?  Why is it that we cannot learn from the success of others?  Oh, I forgot.  Straying from the ideology is not allowed.  Results don’t matter.  Are we a great country or what?

It’s Really Getting Scary Out There

As I read the news it is becoming apparent that everyone gets that austerity did not work in Europe and then they do nothing to change the path we are on.  So maybe the message they are sending is, intellectually I get Keynes, but it is still a morality play and the bad have to suffer even if a lot of the not bad are also suffering.  I also think I get why people do that.  It is the provocative dress in the rape scenario.  She asked for it.  It could not happen to me, because I wouldn’t act that way.  Or, the Europeans brought it upon themselves and now they must suffer.  It is a form of pseudo control where you believe that following the right rules ensures your protection from chaos. The other day a meteorite crashed just 12 miles from my house.  Nothing protects you from chaos.

Of course the media is getting the story line all wrong in Europe.  The people are starting to rebel against the dictates of austerity and governments are falling so the media message is austerity may work, but the people won’t stand for it.  The real message is that when you implement a program that makes things worse, people are going to rebel and it is not about the obvious outcome of the people rebelling, but that the policies, as moralistic as they think they are, don’t work.  And what is even scarier is that they don’t seem to be able to translate that lesson from the European experience to the austerity plan the Republicans have in store for us and we are slowly implementing

Oh but wait, isn’t our problem that Obama has grown the government, spent us into oblivion?  I mean, watch the latest ad from Global GPS (Karl Rove) and you get these assertions:

  • Obama has destroyed jobs.  Well not like his predecessor George Bush, and  oh by the way, government jobs because of state layoffs are killing the economy.  Any look at the government jobs and you have to wonder where the Republicans come up with their claim he is ballooning government:

  •  Then there is the Republican claim that Obama is spending us into disaster.  Another boldfaced lie:

 

  •  Then there is the Republican lie about how Obama has ballooned the deficit.  Here is where the deficit is really coming from:

  • Finally there is the BIG lie about how slashing government while cutting taxes for the wealthy would help the deficit.  Here is the reality of the Obama approach and the Romney approach if you believe that cutting the deficit right now is a top priority:

 

Romney’s plan would require deep cuts to domestic spending—which could slash investments in areas like education, clean energy, and research—it includes $5 trillion in tax cuts weighted towards the wealthy and large corporations as well as $2 trillion in defense spending above the caps both parties agreed to last year. That means that without even deeper cuts to spending than he has promised or tax increases for the middle class, Romney’s plan would result in increasing deficits.

 

So even if you buy into all the Republican nonsense about cutting government and saving us from the deficit, your ideas are counterproductive.  But facts don’t matter and the press continues to fail to really challenge the Republicans on their nonsense for fear of losing access.  So ignorance and stupidity are the hallmarks of deciding who our next President is and facts are irrelevant.  What a great country.  We’re number 1!  We’re number 1…

 

Capitalism

One thing we ought to think about as we have this discussion about Romney’s experience at Bain Capital and whether that experience has anything to do with managing a country, is what do we mean by capitalism.  Is capitalism the use of venture capital to invest in new products and services or has it become a giant casino where the really big profits are made by leveraged bets by our banks who are too big to fail?  The answer, sadly is the latter, and this is being glossed over in the “for it or agin it” debate about capitalism as reframed by the Republicans.  Robert Reich has a good piece today in the Huffington Post that lays out the real argument (Why Obama Should be Attacking Casino Capitalism), but does anybody care?  Facts don’t seem to matter anymore.

Oh, and one other thing that ought to really bother you.  Chris Mathews asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz where were the real Obama surrogates defending his position on Mitt and Bain and she listed a ton of people nobody has heard from.  So where are they? Hiding because they are really afraid to offend the big money on Wall Street being willing to point out the Emperor has no clothes.

We the People

The most important thing in a democracy is that we the people have a voice and feel we have a voice. That is what does and will hold us together. It is the basis of our consent to be governed by the majority.  That is what is under attack today.  The obvious attack comes from wealth and money and how they buy our government to do their bidding.  That one most of us see and are starting to rebel against (See occupy  Wall Street).  The other obvious attack comes from the use of the filibuster where the minority can shut down government and thwart the will of the people.    The more subtle attack comes from an attempt by Republicans to disenfranchise many voters through voter ID laws (by any other name a poll tax), limiting access to the polls, and by limiting mail-in ballots.

This last one is the most pernicious because in the case of the first two, if people will organize and vote, they can undo the will of money and the filibuster. You can always throw the bums out. But if we lose our basic right to vote, then we no longer have any stake in our government.  It is the first step to anarchy and chaos.  It is funny in a way: The conservatives who so love order and hierarchy will destroy the very government they love so much by trying to disenfranchise the people because, well, they know better.  In many ways, conservatives, today’s version, hate democracy.

One of my heroes, Congressman John Lewis, is standing up against this onslaught of our rights.  Now Congressman Lewis knows what he is talking about.  He stood tall in the civil rights movement in the sixties for the rights of blacks to vote.  He paid the price in blood.  He and several others have introduced the Voter Rights Act to make voting as simple and convenient as possible. He has always been about making sure that no matter what else, we protect our civil rights.  Here is what he said and they are words that should be burned into the soul of every American:

John said one more thing that is at the heart of the matter. He was willing to go into the streets and be beaten bloody to stand up for the rights of all Americans. I wonder where our youth are today. Okay, we have OWS, but nothing like what I saw when as a young man, the young hit the streets protesting Vietnam and the boring future their elders were leaving them. Remember that great line in the movie The Graduate when the character Dustin Hoffman played is told that his future is “plastics”? I guess you have to have skin in the game to vote and to mass in the streets. Well my young friends, it is only your future. Mine is pretty much over.

Missing House

Oh I am going to miss him. I wonder why I never got the House/Holmes, Wilson/Watson juxtapose? But it was more than the puzzle solving. It was about an extremely complex and damaged man that is more like us than we like to admit. But what I loved the most was his irascibility and his irreverence. It was that kiss my ass attitude that I have only experienced once in my life and that was in war. We did our job, we were good at what we were doing and if you did not like my attitude, well fire me and send me home. House had that attitude on steroids. And yes his behavior could be rude, crude, and hurtful. But usually their was a subtext or as Thirteen told him, his firing her was the most selfless thing she had ever experienced. In a world where our characters seem to have few dimensions, House had so many.

Did I like the finish? I loved the finish. He rises out of the ashes with a new lease on life, all the old left behind, and spending his time with his only friend on his last days on earth. Instead of doing the selfish thing (as Wilson pointed out at his funeral), he will give himself to his friend, and yet, well, “cancer is boring”. The rest of the cast grew up and moved on, and so did Greg. It was a great ending, maybe a masterpiece. It was about all the missed opportunities, and all the potential of the future. Remember the episode where House is under rubble trying to save a woman’s life and in the end she dies and he goes berserk. Dr Foreman reminds him that he did everything right and Greg replies, “that is what make me so mad.” Life can be grossly unfair.

But the character will always be with me. In one way or another we are all that flawed character. And finally, as I grow old, I really do enjoy giving the world and life in general the finger in the best tradition of Dr. House.  Thank you for that gift.  Oh and by the way, everybody does lie.