Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I like government because ... I'm not rich


I like government.  I do like it to be effective, but I don’t worry about how big it is.  Maybe that’s because I’m not rich.  If I had a lot of money I wouldn’t want a big government because that would mean more of my hard earned money would go into building roads and bridges, stocking libraries, dredging canals, collecting garbage, policing airports, negotiating trade agreements, enforcing clean air standards, protecting crops from diseases and pests invading from beyond our borders, enforcing civil rights, and keeping my children from being exposed to lead paint and asbestos.  I mean, it’s not like rich folks use the roads, produce garbage, eat food, or have children.  It’s not like they used any of those things and services to get (or stay) rich.  It’s just those of us who make under a hundred thousand that check books out from the library or breathe.  So, I completely understand why people get so upset about big government.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Neshaminy nastiness ... from words to action


I’m going to blog about some things that don’t have anything to do with the Neshaminy School District for a while … after this.  I just wanted to informally throw out a few thoughts I had concerning the recent accusations of harassment that a teacher has leveled at fellow teachers and ultimately the union.

First, there is no excuse for the things that this teacher alleges were done to him and others.  These actions are wrong … and in some cases criminal.

Second, we don’t know who is behind all of them, and so we should refrain from passing judgment.  Let’s leave that to the authorities.

Third, the leadership of the Union should be taking actions to prevent this sort of thing from happening.  Maybe they have been.  I don’t know.  They certainly should have been though, because it is hardly a surprise that something like this might happen.  This dispute has gone on a long time.  It has also gotten very nasty.  Teachers have had to deal with this nastiness in their everyday lives.  Teachers have not gotten raises in a while.  They have just been out on strike, getting no pay.   There are a lot of teachers, and they are not all going to agree on everything.   This is a combination of factors that make conflicts between teachers inevitable.  Inevitable and natural.  Inevitable and natural things aren’t signs of collapse or evidence that the teacher’s position is wrong, but they are things should be anticipated and dealt with. 

Fourth, we have a very poisonous atmosphere on our hands.  That these sorts of things are happening shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone outside of the union leadership either.  Those of us that have declared war on one side or the other, hurling insults and personal attacks around willy nilly, should recognize this as a product of their actions.   Foster hate and fear and anger, and you get people who act out. 

Hopefully this will be a call for saner heads to prevail.  Unfortunately, it seems to be causing folks to dig in.

We Should be Ashamed of How We've Reacted


The following was published in the Bucks County Courier Times on January 30, 2012 (Link)

We should be ashamed.  We should all be ashamed of the way we have reacted to the contract impasse between our teachers and our school board.  There is really quite a lot to be ashamed about. 

We should be ashamed that when Larry Pastor and others like him called on us to take sides, we did.  We gave them lots of space in the newspaper to wage war, even waving the normal requirements for frequency of publication.  In the paper and on the internet they used fear and anger and hate to reach us, and we responded.  They told local politicians to pick sides, even though all involved are constituents, and some politicians did … while others felt compelled to clarify their positions and/or burnish their anti-teacher credentials.  They talked about the legality of strikes and the insidiousness of unions.  They told us that teachers aren’t entitled to ask for more money or better benefits.  They compared teachers to terrorists.  They talked about liberals and the elite and the exotic extravagances being enjoyed by teachers, and we bought all of it.  Instead of focusing on the issues we readied our insults, put our lawn signs up, strapped on our jackboots, got our guns, and prepared for battle in Larry’s army.

We should be ashamed that we have allowed our school board to become a combatant.  School board members speak at what can only be called anti-teacher rallies, and we applaud them.  They appear at school board meetings, and we cheer them as if they are conquering heroes or athletes about to take the field and represent our school.  We chant their names.  We declare our love for them.    We take their side against the teachers.  We have forgotten that the school board isn’t supposed to take sides … isn’t supposed to fight with the teachers.  The school board is supposed to balance the needs of teachers with the needs of the district as a whole.  We were supposed to remind them of this.  We should be ashamed that we haven’t.

We should be ashamed that in the wake of strike action by the teachers we all came out to that first school board meeting to shout at each other.  We chanted and shouted right into the beginning of the national anthem.  We clapped loudly for those that agreed with us, and booed and moaned and shouted insults at those of us who did not … often while they were still speaking.  We talked about the harm to our children and the bad example that was being set, and then called teachers names and shouted insults when they spoke their mind.  We talked about Catholic school closings, losing our homes, past strikes, and our own school experiences ... none of which had anything to do with the differences between the board and teachers on the key issues.

Most of all we should be ashamed at how we have chosen to solve this very real problem.  We have chosen to gather with folks who think like us and scream at those who don’t.  We have chosen to call each other names.  We have turned the ‘other side’ into empty caricatures … teachers are elitist, liberal, self indulgent, child haters who are living in the lap of luxury.  We have chosen to talk about everything from outlawing strikes to Obama, rather than spending all of our energy on issues of teacher involvement and compensation. 

This doesn’t, however, have to be the whole story.  We all will have to live with the way we have acted.  We don’t, however, need to be ashamed of what we do next.  Take the signs out of your lawns … all of the signs.  Politely clap for everyone at school board meetings, regardless of whether you agree or not.   Stop cheering for the board.  Stop yelling at the board.  Leave signs depicting teachers as child hating pigs at home.  Stop throwing insults around.  Try to keep all comments substantive.  Reject those who try to do otherwise.  If elected officials take a different course, don’t elect them again.  Do what you can to take back this problem and help solve it … and stop being ashamed.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Teacher's Comment That Is Worth Reading

"I have been really disturbed by the vicious diatribe that has been sparked by this editorial. I started to type a long rebuttal and then deleted it. There is no point. No one is going to change his/ her mind based on even logical arguments. I am a teacher, I buy school supplies (about $1200 a year), I work after contract hours and am not compensated, I spend my "vacations" in my classroom doing WORK for my students, I have taken a 14% pay cut over the past several years etc, etc, etc. Haters don't care. They just attack what they don't understand nor would never choose for themselves. It saddens me that I have become public enemy number one when I thought I was going to be a child's hero."


This was a comment to an opinion piece on CNN (Carole Simpson Opinion Piece).  I just had to share it.  This is one of those elite and pampered teachers who live in the lap of luxury.  One of those folks you vilify as self interested and out to harm your children.  This is the person you want to take away a pension from.  The person who needs to pay more of their health insurance just like you do.  The person who is already helping her employer pay for office supplies just like you do ... you do too right?  Right?  

Bottom line ... try to understand what it is that teachers do.  And try to get beyond generalizations and slogans.  Try to see this from their side.  If you are going to use your voice ... make it an educated one. 

They hate Obama ... really really hate him


There are a lot of people out there who really hate the President of the United States.  The hate has reached such a level that now these folks aren’t willing to concede that there is anything positive about our President at all.  A year ago he was a foreign born socialist/communist/fascist seeking to weaken America and destroy individual rights.  He was also, however,  a good speaker.  That was really all he had going for him, but it was admitted that he could turn a phrase.  Now, the hate has so consumed these people that they can’t even give him that much.  If you can stomach reading the comments after articles on the internet, you see a new theme emerging.  Our President’s speaking ability is teleprompter enabled.  He really isn’t that eloquent, or smart either.  Lists of his gaffes have started to surface.  Maybe this is just an extension of the racist undertones that have fueled much of the Obama-hate … he’s black, so he can’t really be eloquent or smart.  I certainly think race has a role … a big role.  But it is more than that.  This is blind hatred we are dealing with now.  It is not connected to any real logic.  There isn’t much of substance behind the accusations of socialism and the references to big government and real Americans.  The hate itself has become the reason for the hate.  When that happens, there is no room left for anything positive.  Many people see the President of the United States as something akin to Satan.  You certainly have to be on guard against the words of Satan, but Satan himself is not eloquent.  His skills are just evil magic and without it he is nothing.  And that is where we are … in the midst of a religious type crusade against our President.  I have to admit I don’t know what the proper response is to this level of completely blind and irrational hatred, other than to identify it as such.  I guess that is the first step … so check.  We see your hatred.  Do you?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Open Minds and School Board Meetings

A woman walks up to the microphone at a School Board meeting. Folks at the front are already muttering. When the woman announces that she is a teacher, several moan and groan. Then when she announces that she lives outside of the district, moaning turns to boos and smug laughter. These folks in the front are clearly being rude, but more importantly they aren’t listening. They will reject anything this woman says because of who is saying it. All of us start judging an argument the moment we see the person who is going to make it. That is unavoidable. At a city council meeting concerning a directive to police to pull over people who are likely to be illegally in the country and ask for documentation, when a woman who appears to be of Mexican descent steps up to the microphone everyone in that meeting has already started to draw conclusions about what she will say. It’s just human nature. What is not unavoidable is what happens once she opens her mouth. Not all of us find ways to support our initial conclusions regardless of what is said. Some of us actually listen. Some of us are able to alter our initial impressions. A few of us can even change our minds on the underlying issue. It can even happen at a school board meeting. Just because children are involved, doesn’t mean we have to be rude, irrational, and completely unable to listen to the arguments of other folks and try to appreciate their logic. Just something to think about in case you happen to find yourself at a school board meeting in the near future.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It is time to get serious

Dennis Miller of Langhorne had a guest opinion in the Bucks County Courier Times today (http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/courier_times_news/opinion/guest/unholy-alliance-perpetuates-warming-scam-delays-drilling/article_eddfbb7d-ef60-5a14-87bf-5b8fc38d72a0.html?success=1#user-comment-area). If you read it, I hope it made you feel sick. Miller’s piece is the kind of ridiculousness that needs to be vigorously and loudly denounced. Those of us who actually want to come together to solve problems cannot let this sort of nonsense get any traction. First of all, if you want to assert that global warming is a scam, then present some scientific information. The problem is, of course, that most of the scientific community supports the idea that we are changing the world in profound and dangerous ways. It also makes sense. The world is filled with interconnected systems, and if you throw one off there will be ripples through the whole system. Second, if we are going to have a fruitful conversation about energy policy, we need to have all the numbers on the table. Yes, about 70% of all energy sources are domestic. This includes hydroelectric, solar, etc. Only about 40% of our oil comes from domestic sources. Yes, Canada is the biggest supplier of oil, but we get plenty of oil from places like Nigeria, Mexico, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia. Yes, there are oil reserves that are untapped, but they won’t last forever. If you are going to throw a couple of numbers out that support your argument and ignore the rest, then step aside and let serious folks work to solve the problems. We don’t need your input. Third, what is the problem with developing lots of sources of energy? If you are going to grouse about it, it would seem like you should say why. Developing renewable energy seems like a no brainer. Fourth, if we are going to talk about an issue, like whether this pipeline should be built, then we need to get some agreement on the parameters. How many jobs are we talking about? I’ve seen numbers ranging from thousands to ten. Ten jobs don’t seem like such a big deal. And how long do these jobs last? Where will this oil go? Some contend that it won’t be staying in the United States. How much energy are we using to get at this oil? This oil is ‘dirtier’ than oil from other sources, what does that mean? What harm, if any, is the pipeline going to do to natural habitats? Why should a vote be demanded? Many folks assert that the demand for a vote was a political move, and that the proposal wasn’t actually ready for consideration. It sounds good to say that jobs are more important than caribou, but it is meaningless. This isn’t about jobs versus caribou. If you don’t know the answers to these questions than you shouldn’t have an opinion on this. Mr. Miller’s position is ignorant and dangerous. I used to think that such things should just be ignored. But there is so much of it now, that I think we can no longer ignore it. We need to forcefully push it aside and make room for serious folks to come together in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration and really solve problems. Until this trash is moved out of the way, it just may not happen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Left Foot Time

A 92 year old living in Levittown was quoted in the Bucks County Courier Times as offering up this advice for the President on the eve of the State of the Union: “We need friendship across the aisle. … He needs to say that ‘I’ve extended my hand of friendship. If you don’t accept that, these are my elbows and knees. And here comes my left foot.” I agree, with one caveat. We’re already past elbows and knees. President Obama extended far too many hands in friendship for far too long. I think that collegiality and cordiality are great. Cooperation and collaboration are extremely important. When people you are trying to work with make it clear that they are interested in none of them, however, the time has come for knees and elbows and feet. This is particularly true when the agenda they are pushing makes no sense at all. No, the time for handshaking ended a while ago, and unfortunately President Obama was late to realize it. He really needed to take more leadership from day one. He let the Democrats in Congress take the lead on health care and other issues when he should have done that. He responded to Republican intransigence with bewilderment and inaction, when he should have been pushing back. The Republicans steadfastly refused to work with Obama and he kept hoping they would. They pushed a bewildering agenda of deregulation in response to a financial crisis caused by inadequate regulation, general bashing of the size of government with little attention paid to efficiency and other things that matter, illogically heavy handed foreign policy demands, the linking of a whole host of social and cultural propositions that would never pass muster with the majority of Americans to issues on which there should have been less disagreement, and generally obstructive politically motivated machinations. They refused to agree on even the most inane things (like the President’s place of birth). He kept right on trying to work with them. He needed to be pointing out who is protected by ‘big’ government and who the Republicans want to reduce taxes for long ago. He needed to be appointing folks when Congress was out of session and scoffing at artificially created deadlines long ago. He needed to be leading and pushing back long ago. He needed to be in there with elbows and knees long ago. It’s nice that he is rising to the occasion. I just hope he realizes that it’s left foot time now.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It would be nice ...

This is what I would like to see. It won’t happen, but it would be nice. I want someone to run for Congress without spending more than a few thousand dollars. I want them to pledge not to take out a single television ad or print a single flyer on a piece of paper … of if they are going to print flyers, have them be blank on the one side so I can use them to print off recipes and descriptions of crafts I want to do with the kids. Their office should be in their house. Their campaign should be coordinated through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other hip computer thing is out there that I don’t know about. They could simply have people ask questions, and respond to them. A nice succinct statement of their basic positions on all the key issues would be nice too. Scheduled appearances in parks and coffee shops to speak to people face to face, people who wanted to speak to them, would be Awesome. No door to door stuff. Just, “I’ll be down at Starbucks for two hours, if you’re free come ask me a question.” Debate participation would be OK, I guess. I’m not sure what that is really worth, though. Is a good debater really a good leader? Maybe, but I think it might be up for debate … just not with me, please! I want my representative to be a thoughtful person, willing to compromise, interested in helping people, always willing to listen, and primarily focused on solving problems. I can figure out if a candidate fits this description by learning about her experience, reading her thoughts on issues and her responses to questions, and maybe talking with her. An ad doesn’t really help me. Millions of dollars in campaign contributions doesn’t help me do this either. The usual attacks and indignation really don’t help. I don’t need any of it … unfortunately, I keep getting it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Where we are on addressing pressing social issues ... a very scary place indeed

Sophia Brugato asked folks to donate money to a pro-choice group every time Tim Tebow scored a touchdown and she received death threats. Randall Terry, a man who in the past has stood outside a senator’s office stabbing plastic dolls with a scalpel, took this personally and decided to use a loophole in election law to register as a Democratic candidate for President allowing him to run graphic anti-abortion ads that compare abortion to the Holocaust on network television. This is where we stand on important social issues in America. Don’t agree with me that life is sacred, well I’ll kill you. Want to counter a gimmick meant to raise awareness for efforts to maintain the legality of abortion, compare it to the Holocaust and claim that you will have blood on your hands if you vote for Obama. Want to show displeasure over the actions of a football coach when faced with the possibility of a child abuser in his midst, say nasty things on chat boards when he dies. Want to save the Social Security, propose banning condoms. Forget logic. Forget manners. Forget consistency. Forget solving a problem. Don’t pay attention to reality just choose a position and attack. Yell, scream, and say something shocking. It used to be called irresponsible, dangerous, and stupid. It still is. Someone should run an add reminding us of that.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

After the but ...

“Individual freedoms and rights are great, but ….” It’s a great sounding beginning, and most people stop there. They just stop paying attention after the comma. The United States is the land of the free after all. We are free to rise or fall on our own talents and ambitions. What else is there to know? Unless, of course you are falling. The funny thing, is that even many of the folks who are falling tend to overlook the comma. Maybe they forget it is there. Maybe they don’t want to see it. Maybe they have been convinced that it is their fault. Whatever the reason, ignoring it doesn’t make it not exist. What comes after the comma is the most important part. It’s a big old “but.” This baby has got back.

Want a look at that “but”? Well, one way, is to consider our weight problem. There are actually a lot of overweight folks in this country. Poor eating habits are part of it. A lack of exercise is part of it. Whatever the causes, there are at least an equal number of potential solutions. The State of Georgia is in the midst of an advertising campaign with a divided focus, part education and part embarrassment. The First Lady is leading up attempts to improve the quality of school lunches. Higher insurance premiums are in play. In some countries they even build in more serious penalties for overweight people.

Opponents to these policies, who maybe not so surprisingly include the folks that make and profit off of not so nutritious food, invariably talk of individual choice. They talk of the rights of people to profit off of their ingeniously packaged fat and sugar and of the rights of people to kill themselves by eating it. OK, they don’t talk about it like that, but they do talk about American values, the Founding Fathers, and the threatening specter of big government. They do, but they shouldn’t be allowed to. Here is the problem.

First of all, no one signed the Declaration of Independence thinking they were fighting for our rights to eat Big Macs and Twinkies. Thomas Jefferson also didn’t think ketchup was a vegetable. And so what if they did … Thomas Jefferson had slaves cooking his food.

Second, are folks really free to choose the foods they want? Don’t the big food companies and their lobbying groups pressure the government to change food recommendations to suit their needs? Aren’t fatty foods marketed and sold? Are we going to say that kids who are given crap food at school have chosen it? And shouldn’t free choice be tied to full information? Do people have full information when they make food choices? Do they know all the long term consequences? Do they even really know what is in what they eat? They do have potential access to more information than they ever have had before, but is a small and silent label enough. Plus, wasn’t it the big bad Government that forced the inclusion of those labels?

Third, what about the rest of us? Have we freely chosen to pay the costs of other folk’s heart disease? I don’t think I did, but maybe I missed that vote.

Fourth, why are we pretending that freedom, liberty, and equal opportunity are things that grow on trees? People didn’t have these things before they came together in societies and created Governments. That’s why they set up Governments. They realized that there were some things they could not achieve on their own and a lot that they couldn’t protect once they achieved it. They realized that people impacted one another, and they wanted to be able to control the severity of that impact. When you eat fatty food and don’t exercise, and then die of heart disease at 58 after a long hospitalization, you impact other people. Some of them are people you know, but many of them are people you don’t know. The same is true of smoking cigarettes, urinating in public, running a fracking operation, or loaning money to folks to buy a house that they can’t afford. The idea that we should all be free to do these things even if they harm our fellow Americans is stupid, and frankly anti-American. Unchecked freedom was proven long long ago to be nothing worth desiring, not too long before the myth of the unfettered free market was blown apart. Revisiting these notions, rather through honest deregulation or neutering regulatory agencies so that the EPA lawyers have to do their copying themselves at Kinkos, is dumb and dangerous … kind of like calling Ketchup a vegetable.

It is time those of us with some sense stop tolerating these notions. And it’s not enough to react defensively. We have to go on the offensive against anyone that speaks this nonsense out loud. They should be regarded in the same way as we regard neo-Nazis and KKK members. If you don’t think so, read the Jungle by Upton Sinclair or Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams. Learn about what is being done to our drinking water and our retirement funds. See what is happening in inner city schools. It is time for us to read what comes after the “but.” It is time for us to scream it. It is time for us to live it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Terrorists Terrorists Everywhere

Rick Perry thinks that Turkey is led by Islamic terrorists. Rick Santorum would tell Iran to meet our demands regarding their nuclear program or find themselves at war with us. Ron Paul would pull the troops back from everywhere, and let the world do its thing. Gingrich thinks the Palestinians are an “invented people,” and, like many of his fellow candidates, wants to more clearly take the side of Israel against the Muslims. He also calls himself a “cheap hawk,” which sounds just like how I would ideally like to describe my President, and changes positions (as he did on whether or not to intervene in Libya) as it is politically expedient to do so. In 2005 Mitt Romney called former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami a terrorist, and said it was inappropriate that he was being hosted at MIT on September 11th. Lately he has accused President Obama of appeasement, and has promised a stronger and, I suppose, more belligerent foreign policy shorn of any of the troubling nuance Obama has seen fit to include. The bottom line is that all of the Republicans have foreign policy views that are too removed from reality, too driven by dogma and ideology, too tied to appealing to fear and anger, and ultimately too inherently dangerous. Paul goes in the opposite direction from his rivals, but closed-mindedly pulling out is as dangerous as rushing around the world with guns drawn, ears plugged, and brain on snooze. President Obama has brought us a foreign policy driven by pragmatism and respect for other cultures. He has approached the world not as a place of good and evil, but as a place filled with folks looking after their own interests, interests which can be dangerous and need to be countered but can also be compatible with ours. He has also acknowledged that the United States is not always perfect and is not promised anything. It would be a real shame to return to a place filled with terrorists trying to destroy the greatest nation in the world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Girl's Legos

Lego Friends ( http://friends.lego.com/en-us/Default.aspx )are Legos made for girls. They are pink and purple and can be used to build things like a cafĂ©, a beauty shop, a puppy house, a splash pool, and a ‘cool’ convertible. The ‘friends’ themselves are all slender girls, mostly clad in mini-skirts. The message, apparently, is that girls only like pink and purple and will only want Legos if they are pink and purple and connected to naturally feminine things like puppies and beaches and nails. The idea of showing girls playing with Legos alongside boys was apparently a non-starter. Forget about telling girls, from day one, that there is more out there for them to be interested in than Cinderella … or that pink and purple aren’t genetically predetermined to be girl’s colors any more than dolls and puppies are predetermined to be girl’s toys.

My daughter plays princess. She also plays with matchbox cars and Tonka trucks. So does her brother. It hasn’t just happened though. It has taken a deliberate effort. I have purposely played dress up with my son and cars with my daughter. My daughter has her own train set and my son has his own doll and doll stroller. When he wanted to be a princess for Halloween, his mother and I were totally down. I was actually a little disappointed when he decided he wanted to be a pirate instead, and questioned him several times to make sure he was sure about this change of heart.

Of course, not everyone in their lives has been so deliberate. She didn’t get a tool bench, although she loves playing with it. He didn’t get princess dresses, although he wears them. He also didn’t get Dora slippers, but they didn’t fit her and he liked them right away. Recently, we went to a friend’s house for dinner. Their two girls and my daughter played dress up. My son didn’t, because he was told by the older daughter that it was a girls’ activity. To be honest, we haven’t even been as consistent as I would have liked. When we gave our son our bedroom, there was no consideration that it would stay purple, even though he said he wanted it too. It is now blue and white, and strewn with cars and trucks and trains.

Now, none of this is malicious, including the marketing of pink Legos. But it is insidious. It does paint girls into a pink and purple corner … and boys into a red and blue one. It is also completely created. If we are at the place where girls can only be enticed to use cool building toys if they are pink and purple and used to make nail salons, we are in a bad place and it is a bad place we have made. That, of course, is what the uproar ought to be about. The discussion ought not to be whether the folks that make and market Legos are sexist, but whether the way most of us raise our children is.

Of teachers, strikes, and the kids in Neshaminy

Many folks appear to view the teacher’s strike in the Neshaminy School District as a direct attack upon children. The teacher’s action is somehow inflicting grievous harm on their children. I don’t see it.

First of all, I acknowledge that the strike can be a major inconvenience. It hasn’t been as bad for our family, because I am home with the kids. If no one is home during the day, then it can be a pain and an extra expense to arrange care for younger children. It is, however, only two weeks. It isn’t the end of the world.

Second, the children aren’t being irreparably damaged. It is two weeks. No one is going to miss out on a Supreme Court Clerkship because of it. It also presents a great teaching moment, even for the youngest of kids. All this talk of scarring kids and having them lose respect for their teachers is, at best, emotional exaggeration. If your kids feel that way, it’s because you talked about it that way and probably talked about it that way a lot.

Third, many of those that are screaming the loudest about the drain on their children are the ones that bring their kids to outdoor rallies. They are the ones that get on-line and bring out the nasty personal comments. They are the ones who scream obscenities and boo and hiss at the school board meetings. Obviously, they are concerned about setting a good example.

We all need to bring the rhetoric down a notch or ten. The teacher’s are striking for two weeks because they feel that they have to in order to get movement towards a new contract. They may be wrong. Their demands may be out of line. There is not, however, anything wrong with the notion that they can make demands. There is also nothing sinister or terroristic about the use of the option of striking to make their point. They certainly aren’t bringing great harm down upon the children. It’s way past time to throw away the hyperbole and for rational minds to emerge. If you are really concerned about your children that is what you should be focused on.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Whole Story

When I read stories to my kids, I don’t like to skip pages. I don’t like to skip words. It doesn’t matter how late it is. I tell the whole story, or I don’t tell it at all. It annoys my wife to no end. If I’m willing to annoy my wife to be complete when it comes to bedtime stories, then you know how I feel when it comes to political stories. If you sell yourself as the ideal candidate for President based on your business leadership experience, then I also feel entitled to hear about everything you did when you led that business. If you want to shrink ‘big’ government, I want to know about what you’re shrinking. I also want to know a lot more about why ‘big’ government is a problem. I want the whole story. It’s why I don’t watch Fox news. That and I also want the truth. Now the best part is today it’s not that hard to fill in the story and ascertain more of the truth, all on your own. I think it would be worth it if it was a pain. It’s not, so the question is why doesn’t everyone? You don’t have to read all of Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present if you don’t want to. I would, but it is quite long and I won’t get mad at you if you don’t. You should, however, try to find out more about what is going on in Iran and whether pushing for war is really a good thing. If you don’t, and you vote for someone who says they would go to war in Iran, then I will be a little upset.

Of Elephants and Freedom

A large number of elephants

Tired from a long march through a dry land

Separate

One group happens upon a lonely watering hole

One group happens upon a watering hole that is crowded with animals

Including hungry lions

The last group comes to a dried up watering hole

Do they all have the freedom to drink

What if the first group had a GPS

What If they had purchased the GPS with money passed down from daddy

What daddy had purchased the watering hole

What if the crowded watering hole was polluted

By fracking

Carried out by the ‘lucky’ ‘hard working’ elephants from the first group

After they entered into a deal with the lions to lower regulatory standards

What then

What now

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It's the teachers fault

One sign caught my eye right away at the Neshaminy pep rally … er School Board meeting. It was the one that said “student achievement first – raises later.” It caught my eye because makes a connection that many folks, mistakenly, make. Many of the speakers at the meeting talked about the ridiculousness of teacher demands in light of student achievement, school rankings, and other measures of academic success. The idea is that if the teachers were doing a good job, one worthy of being fairly compensated for, the schools would be excellent. In the Neshaminy School District the idea is that if teachers were doing their jobs Neshaminy would be as good as Council Rock. The problem with this logic is that teachers are not solely responsible for student outcomes. Administration matters. Parents matter. Students matter. Money matters. Let’s face facts, Council Rock has more going for it than just excellent teachers. To hold the teachers accountable for aggregate student outcomes and to tie compensation to them is one of those notions that sounds good until you really think about it. That, of course, is the whole problem with the contract impasse in the Neshaminy School District. People haven't spent enough time really thinking about it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Neshaminy School Board Meeting January 10, 2012 - A Pep Rally and a Disgrace

Tonight I attended a school board meeting … I think. The Neshaminy School Board was there in the flesh, so I guess it was a school board meeting. It just felt a lot more like a pep rally … or maybe even the game itself, since both sides where there. It really was pure high school, in terms of atmosphere at least. The maturity level felt more like middle school. Everyone had signs. Some of the signs had pictures of pigs on them. Before the meeting started, the two sides were chanting at one another. The teachers and their supporters principal chant was “negotiate.” The other side chanted “teach our kids.” When the board entered, they entered to cheers and a standing ovation. Someone had gone around before they came out instructing folks to stand and cheer. The board president actually had his name chanted, as if he was an athlete headed out to the field … or a warrior in the Coliseum primed for battle. From this mess, for some reason we launched right into the Pledge of Allegiance without any warning at all. It took longer for the teachers to quiet down, so someone sitting near me yelled “teachers are a disgrace.” Someone else yelled, “go back to work slackers.” Once a few preliminaries were dispensed with, we started in on an hour of public comments. After each person spoke, one side or the other clapped, sometimes standing and hollering. When the teachers spoke, the folks around me muttered under their breath and occasionally shouted out things like “I don’t think so,” “agitator,” “she’s a bitch,” “delusional,” and “terrorist.” One teacher was ridiculed for living at home with her parents. Anyone who said they lived outside the district, even though they teach in it, received a dismissive moan. One student spoke in support of teachers, and folks around me questioned whether he had written the speech himself. There were lots of jeers and boos. The speakers themselves occasionally stayed on the issues. They also did things like accuse the teachers of “targeting innocents,” “taking advantage of the defenseless,” committing “reprehensible acts against children,” and seeking “affluence” and making “exotic” demands. People talked about the last strike 30 years ago, the laying off of Catholic teachers, and losing their own homes as if these things were pertinent to the issue of the teacher’s contract. By and large, the comments were light on substance and high on drama, catch phrases, and raw meat for the faithful. The whole thing was a disgrace. People accused teachers of setting a bad example for their children by striking and then behaved like idiots. The venom and personal attacks seemed to come thickest from those supporting the board, those who say that they “love” their school board and cheered for them like they were teen idols. I have nothing to say about the specifics of the dispute. I’m also not saying that anyone, including the teachers, came away looking very good. What I am saying is that the insults, ad hominem attacks, and irrelevancies have to go. Stop cheering for your side to win. Realize that teachers have a right to seek to better their position. Recognize that momentary constraints are real. See that this is about more than money. Listen. Talk facts. Act like adults. Shut down the pep rallies and solve the problem.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Christian America

America is not a Christian country. Yes, the founding fathers were Christian. They also wrote about and/or wrote into the Constitution those troublesome notions of freedom of religion and the separation of Church and state. And, they lived a few hundred years ago and are now dead. Mostly dead are the people who did not found the country but did adopt “In God we trust” as the official motto of the United States and wrote God into the pledge of allegiance. Not dead are the thirty or so percent of folks living here now who aren’t Christian. Christians living here now are also not dead, and are becoming increasingly vocal, strident, intolerant, and … well … un-Christian. They are still American though, even if they don’t always extend that recognition to all of the rest of us. What makes them American isn’t their religion. It’s their birth in this country. That’s it. What makes this country America is us, the folks that were born here. I know it is circular reasoning, but it is also true. America is only a beacon of freedom if we make it one. It is only a country where people have equality of opportunity if we make it one. It is only a country ruled by religious law if we make it one. If we are intolerant, bigoted, and greedy … so is America. So, right now, America is not a Christian country. If we are lucky and work hard, we can keep it that way.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Neshaminy is at war

Want to know what one of the main problems is in the stalled negotiations between the teachers and the school board in the Neshaminy School District? Take a look here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Neshaminy-Info/343185782342. This is the facebook site of a former member of the school board. William O'Connor is only recently a former member, however. The site isn’t recent. The site has long been a place for folks to come together and vent about the impasse and mostly about the teachers union. So, a member of the school board, the body that is supposed to be operating the school district in the best interest of the community and employees (this includes teachers) has been running a facebook page (and blog: http://neshaminyinfo.blogspot.com/ ) that targets the teachers. What these sites really do is serves as a place for people to get together and get worked up. The way that they talk, it as if O’Connor and his main followers (there is a dedicated following that posts quite often) are engaged in a war with the teachers union. Many of the comments are insults (in the wake of this week’s strike announcement there were many personal attacks on Union leadership). Many are downright nasty, even if they aren’t personal insults. It does not sound like talk aimed at compromise or cooperation. It sounds like war. It is extremely unfortunate that a segment of the community feels as if it is at war with the teacher’s union, as if teacher’s are the enemy. Actually, it is this attitude that should be the enemy. The teachers and the board disagree about the way in which teachers should be compensated and the role they should play in decision making. Neither side is trying to hurt children. Teachers are still Americans. They are still just ordinary working people, even though they teach our children. They are still entitled to seek compensation they feel is fair. There is no reason that the focus shouldn’t be on the differences between the two sides and how to bridge them, rather than on who is wrong and how best to get the teachers. What we can do as a community is tell the folks who are making a war out of this that we disagree with them, and we want them to stop. That’s what I think, anyway. Take a look at the sites. Take a look at some of the comments I have pasted in below. See what you think. See if you think that what is important is insulting Louise Boyd; talking about what happened in the last strike in 1981 (this has no bearing on the issues now); venting about what went wrong in individual’s experiences in high school, many of which haven’t been in high school in quite some time; linking the teachers union to socialists and the President; trying to isolate the Teachers Union as completely separate from the teacher; insulting teachers; calling for teachers to be kept out of the school bathrooms when they are striking; calling for all teachers to be fired; answering arguments with insults; and attacking the timing of the announcement (yes Catholic schools were closed at the same time, but the timing of the strike is governed by state regulations and a million other considerations, and anyway what does the fact that Catholic schools are closing have to do with the merits of the plans submitted by the school board and the teachers union?). I don’t think this is constructive. I think we are in the midst of a battle. People are clearly taking sides. You don’t have to look at the posts here, just look at the signs on peoples lawns. I think it is a big problem. I think it is past time that we started acting like adults who are trying to solve a problem.

Here is a sampling of recent comments on the Neshaminy Info facebook page:

Support for the board should only grow with this cowardly act.

“Boyd is irrational and not above terrorizing this community and using our kids as pawns to reach their selfish objectives.

“Folks FB is giving you all a front row seat to watching the inner workings of a teachers union, union bosses and groupthink. FB lets you go peak in the NFT window and see how they operate and how manipulated they are....it is fascinating to watch....

I wouldn't negotiate with terrorists, Rebecca. It sends the message that they will get what they want by acting out.

My BS detector just went off.”

“No negotiations while the nft is hurting our children

“the cause of the strike is purely a vindictive nft ploy

“Stay strong everyone! I say let's vote on getting rid of everyone and replace. The NFT wouldn't go for that because they know they would be out on the streets!

“Let me rephrase Andy by no one contacting the board I mean no one that counts like taxpayers and parents. Teachers and their relatives are well,irrelevant to us now that they walked out! Actually the board does not represent your concerns so why email them anyway?

“Please show up at the next Neshaminy School Board meeting, express your feelings about the strike or anything else, and support your 9 volunteer, honest, transparent and dedicated Board Directors. They stand unanimously together For The Kids!

“I would NEVER take a job that forced me into a union. I totally agree that the kids are used as pawns. That's a disgrace.

“You all are not striking against or picketing a business. You are affecting younger children who were getting ready for fluency testing … by being part of the strike they have aligned themselves against our children.

“Let them strick nobody really cares. Teachers are so Stupid they are not qualified to teach by their actions. Remember actions speak louder than words.

“Where can we get the I support neshaminy board signs?

“Only a person ignorant of facts would post that residents who have been gouged for 20 years are jealous of NFTers.
Jeff people in the private sector can no longer afford our benefits and the cry babies benefits. Simple as that.”

Don't n"F"t with my kids!

Just saw LB on TV. she looks so purrrrrdy!!!!

WE all know Louise did this today because she didn't want attention drawn away from her.... maybe they should add a forced retirement ammendment .. like when you become an idiot, you lose your job.

“I would fire all the teachers.

Fire them all. Start over

Friday, January 6, 2012

Neshaminy Teachers' Strike

The Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT) is on strike, or at least will be by Monday January 9th. The NFT leadership asserts that after the last meeting in December with the School Board, they became convinced that the Board was unwilling to compromise at all and that their only real course of action was to strike.

I have great sympathy for the teachers. Teachers have a very difficult job and are generally undervalued. Teachers, like public employees in general, are everywhere under fire. Their pensions and benefits, historically seen as part of a bargain meant to satisfy professionals who in many cases have advanced degrees to take lower paying and lower prestige jobs, are now being taken away … a move somehow justified as necessary in the wake of a financial crisis that had nothing to do with pensions. The teachers in Neshaminy have been teaching without a contract for a number of years now. They have been also been attacked by a group of people who traffic in innuendo and insults, have linked them to everything from socialism to treason to a willful desire to harm children, and have created a poisonous atmosphere in which a community has been pushed to take sides.

All that being said, I think the strike is a mistake. I think the strike is a mistake for several reasons. First, it risks alienating even more parents. Parents want their kids to be in school. Many parents were already upset about the Union’s policy of teaching to the contract (essentially not doing anything that wasn’t explicitly in the contract), something they did last year and are still doing this year, albeit in a relaxed form. Many were put off by the timing of pickets this year as well. I personally thought that the presence of picketing teachers at kindergarten orientation was inappropriate at best. So, the community is not at its most receptive moment. Second, the economic situation makes folks less likely to be receptive to the teachers’ position. That might not be logical or fair, but it is what it is and the teachers’ union should take it into account. Third, no action takes place against a blank slate. This strike takes place in a community that is sharply divided and in the midst of a dialogue that has been marked by illogic and nastiness. I have a hard time believing that this will do anything to change the situation. The school board’s immediate reaction was to suspend negotiations, and the comment boards are full of nasty rhetoric aimed at teachers and their union. I have to admit I don’t know that the teachers have a lot of alternatives and maybe they think that the arbitration that kicks in at the end of the strike will put them in a stronger position or even help resolve the whole thing … but I still wonder whether this might have been a good time to think a little harder about all of this or think more outside the box. Maybe they could have taken their case more directly to the parents, or mounted a more positive public relations campaign. I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s clear that the strike that is set to start on January 9th is going to end well for the teachers.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ... The Simple Story

Sometimes things are much simpler than they appear to be … this is an example.

Here is the situation … Congress, controlled by the Democrats at the time, set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.(CFPB) It was an attempt to institutionalize protection for consumers in the wake of the financial crisis. The Senate, driven by the Republican minority, has refused to confirm a director making it impossible for the CFPB to start operating. They have been demanding structural changes to the CFPB before they would even consider approving any nominee the President presents. The President scrapped his initial choice to try to find one that was more palatable. The Republicans in the Senate have also claimed to be in session even when they weren’t to dissuade the President from using his power to make appointments while Congress is not in session. The President finally made the appointment when the Senate was not in session but claiming to be.

Here is the truth of the situation … The Republicans in Congress have by and large refused to business with the President in an attempt to cause him to fail to be able to perform his job and thus be unlikely to be able to win reelection. There also seems to be an interest in pursuing an agenda aimed at closing down large parts of the government and when possible eliminating or rendering largely ceremonial a large swath of regulations on the economy and businesses operating within it. The President has now, finally, decided to circumvent Congress in order to get things done (things which, by the way, have as often as not upset his supposed intellectual elitist soul mates in the more liberal wings of the Democratic Party). So, in essence: the Republicans have been using parlor tricks to try to force the watering down of this attempt to protect consumers, and the President has now used parlor tricks to get around the Republican’s parlor tricks

Here is what needs to happen: we need to elect folk who are willing to work across party lines to solve problems through compromise.

Memo To the Middle Class ( A Poem)

Moo

Too

You

Few

And do it on cue

Then shoo

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Christ is in Christmas ... but so are some other things too, and that is OK with me.

I’m going to be honest. There is enough Christ in Christmas for me. I don’t need any more. Now, I understand that Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ. But I also understand that it’s more than that now. It’s a bit much that Christmas decorations start showing up in stores before Halloween, but I like the idea of gussying up my house. The inflatable Santa’s riding motorcycles might be a step too far, but I like the old school plastic Santas and reindeer. I like the lights. I like the cookies. I like mistletoe and egg nog. I like the Frosty movie narrated by Jimmy Durante. I love the gifts … and I love watching my kids open them while wearing festive pajamas. I absolutely adore watching my kids pace as they wait for Santa to ride by our house on a fire truck. I know Jesus is big part of the whole thing. But that’s not all it is. Over the years the celebration of the birth of Jesus has become an excuse to step out of the routine, connect with family, share with friends and family and even strangers, and make our lives just a little bit magical. There isn’t anything wrong with that. In fact, we may need those things more than we need Jesus. Christ is still in Christmas. I’m not saying we should take him out. I just think we need to put more value on everything else that is in there with him.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Working Around Congress

Obama has been criticized by several Republican Presidential candidates for indicating that he might go around Congress to press his agenda. So, the Republicans in the House of Representatives refuse to work with the President, making it clear that their main goal is to make sure he is driven out of office, and then Republicans criticize Obama for not engaging with Congress. Does this make sense? Let me ask that in a different way … does this make sense to anyone not running for office as a Republican? Let me ask it in yet a different way … does this approach on the part of the Republican Party make sense for the rest of us … for those of us who don’t think of themselves as a conservative or a Republican first and foremost in front of any other allegiance? I think the answer is no. I think we need to have people in Congress who are willing to work to solve problems, maybe even compromise, with people who aren’t in their party and might not agree with them on every issue. I think we have to have people representing us whose allegiance is to us. I think anyone who doesn’t have that approach is who we should be criticizing.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Merry Christmas, God Bless America

Christmas is a Christian holiday, not an American holiday. All Americans aren’t Christians. These are facts worth remembering when discussing the proper place of nativity scenes and the place Christmas should have in public schools. This doesn’t mean that a Christmas carol should never be sung on public property, but it does mean that you can’t equate singing Silent Night to singing the National Anthem. It also means that unease with the recognition of Christmas in public spaces and by public officials is not un-American. Neither is religious tolerance … or tolerance of any kind for that matter. If you want to argue that there should be a Christmas tree on the lawn in front of city hall, or that it an elected official should never say Happy Holidays in place of Merry Christmas, go right ahead … but don’t wrap yourself in the American flag when you do it. Just say why you feel that way, preferably relying on logic and reason, and leave it at that. As Americans, we really shouldn’t allow anything else.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Occupy 2012

The New Year is here. Maybe it will be the year that the occupation really begins. It certainly is time to do more than gather in a park. It is time to gather in our democracy. It is time to occupy voting booths. It is time to camp out in the e-mail accounts of congressman and the comment spaces after articles on news websites. It is time to get in the way of business as usual on radio shows and in city hall. It is time to gather at school board meetings and hearings of state and local environmental agencies. It is way past time to sit down and get out the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and a history book or two and start sharing some truth … we are overdue for some serious fact checking. It is time that every part of our democracy was occupied … with logic, reason, and a focus on solving problems through cooperation and compromise. It is time. It is past time. It is 2012, what are we waiting for?