Month: March 2010

What are Words Worth?

Let’s start this post with a little something from my junior year of high school, or in the case of some of my former students, the year you were born:

Goodbye Rush!

On what would normally be a day where I’d be out frolicking in the sunshine, sipping an Arnold Palmer (a combination of lemonade and iced tea) and trying to get the lovely and talented Ollie Clay (otherwise known as Mom) out on her deck to enjoy the sunshine, I instead found myself inside typing on my computer and watching television.

Why? Because today was Goodbye Rush Limbaugh Day and I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.

Now what made today a day where those of us who are tired of being forced to listen to drug addicted blowhards who have to order their women through a catalog dance a jig?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Today was the day that moved America one tiny step closer to no longer being the only industrialized nation that doesn’t provide health care to all of it’s citizens. The House of Representatives voted 219-212 to pass health care reform.

While the bill wasn’t my favorite because it creates far too much new business for insurance companies, didn’t include a public option (or better yet, single payer insurance) and is about as anti-choice as possible due to Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, his fellow anti-choice Democrats, and the executive order they extracted from President Obama that disallows women who want to use their federal assistance to buy insurance that may include abortion coverage, I still had to support it because it was a start toward making health care more of a right and less of a privilege for Americans like myself who are (a)freelance writers and (b)diabetics.

I spent most of the day on my Facebook page listening to both sides of this debate. I even invented a drinking game based on the number of times that we heard certain phrases while watching the debate on C-Span. So if you heard “death panels”, “socialism”, “1700 new IRS agents”, “federally funded abortions” or any of the other oft repeated terms that the Republicans used during the debate, you were to take a drink. Since they got repeated a lot, my suggestion was that you played this particular game with non-alcoholic beverages.

What struck me about the day-long (and I’m not kidding, it took all day) debate was the tone that it took. It was closer to the UK’s Commons Question Time than it was to a normal day at the House of Representatives. You had people shouting, interrupting, and even calling folks names. I should have made a bet on whether or not someone would shout out something rude during the debate, because someone ended up shouting “baby killer” at Congressman Stupak.

(Considering what he forced Obama into to get his vote on the bill, I’d say that the screamer was far from accurate.)

By the time that the vote actually happened, I had conservative Facebook “friends” telling me that the United States was headed for ruin while my liberal “friends” were damn near turning cartwheels.

Now what does this have to do with helping Rush Limbaugh pack his stuff so that he can take his sorry ass to Central America?

You see, Rush Limbaugh knew that the Democrats had the votes to pass health care reform. This knowledge so incensed Mr. Limbaugh that he threatened on his radio show to move to Costa Rica should health care reform pass. Don’t believe me? Here he is saying it:

Well, dude. They passed it. By this time next week, it should be all nice and signed into law.

So now it’s your move.

Do we help you search for a property or have you or one of your mail order brides got that covered?

And do you know that Costa Rica, the nation that you want to run to so that you can get away from all of that nasty health care reform, has had national health care since, well, forever?

That’s the part that’s been cracking me up the most about the whole health care debate. Everyone that’s against it has one thing in common: they all have health care. Folks yelling “Keep your hands off my Medicaid” have Medicaid to work with. Folks with insurance plans from their jobs have health insurance to work with. Folks who are on their parent’s insurance have that safety net to fall into.

In other words, the hypocrisy has flowed like a mighty stream on this one.

So since the only thing that seems to bind health care opponents together is the need to make sure that they have what they need while the rest of us don’t, I’m glad that these folks are being made to grieve the loss of their built-in inequity.

But back to Limbaugh. He said he was gonna leave if health care reform was passed and I’d like for him to be a man of his word on this one.

So here’s what I propose…

Since he seems to love the sound of his own voice, my suggestion is that everyone take the time to give him a call and ask one question: When ya leavin’?

I’m serious. Rush Limbaugh needs to know that we all heard him say he was leaving and that we care enough to give him the best of all possible going away parties.

So here’s Rush’s number: 800-282-2882. Call him between noon and 3 and ask him “When ya leavin’?” Tell him we’ll even hold a bake sale for him if it helps.

Bye Rush! Won’t miss your sorry ass!

The Politics of Dancing

This is the time of year where if you want me to come and hang out with you, it had better be at a sports bar and you might want to plan to be there all day.

As the picture above would indicate, it is March Madness time, or for those of you who don’t follow college basketball, it is time for the NCAA Men’s (and Women’s) Basketball Championships. The group pictured above are the champions of the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Owls of Temple University.

(Did I sound like CBS commentator Greg Gumbel when I said that or what?)

Like millions of folks, I’ll be seated in front of my television set for most of this weekend looking at the bountiful cornucopia of basketball that will be dancing in front of me during the men’s and women’s tournaments. I love college basketball because it’s something that even if you aren’t a real rah-rah kind of person when it comes to your alma mater, you can really get into.

Now I know that some of you are looking at this and saying “While I can understand that she’s happy that her alma mater, Temple, got into the tournament, there’s nothing political about NCAA Basketball, so why is she writing about it?”

Because, surprise, there are politics involved.

For one thing, there are going to be millions and millions of dollars made on the concessions, tickets, television rights, and everything else connected to this tournament.

The colleges involved, in fact the entire NCAA, will be getting the kinds of cash that most non-profits would kill for. I’m pretty sure that Temple will get the kind of ducats that will help them build the new library, or at least keep tuition costs from flying even further through the roof. Coaches Fran Dunphy and Tanya Cardoza may even get raises for their hard work.

But what will the men and women who will actually be playing these games get from the hard work they put in to make March Madness the tournament it is?

If you said not a damned thing, you’re absolutely right. Sure they get a basketball scholarship to their various colleges, but when you compare it to the millions and millions of dollars made on the tournament, it’s less than a drop in the bucket.

But you know what really, really makes me scratch my head when it comes to this stuff? No one thinks that these athletes should be paid, yet because of NCAA rules, they can’t get summer jobs (or any jobs) either.

So what do they do for money? Leave college early, in most cases without a degree. All this does is put these kids one blown knee away from oblivion.

Someone in the NCAA needs to ask themselves what they’d want done if they were in this situation. Either let them work or give them a few bucks of the tournament money so they can actually utilize that college scholarship you gave them to get a degree. You shouldn’t be able to have it both ways.

But now that we’ve talked about money, let’s talk about who actually gets into the round of 65 that is the NCAA Tournament. According to the folks at CBS Sports, the so-called “power” conferences took up the bulk of the 65 slots, while the so-called “mid-majors” got a few crumbs.

And those mid-majors had to win their conference tournaments to get in, while schools like Syracuse, Villanova, Maryland and Minnesota were able to get in based on their membership in the Big East, Atlantic Coast, and Big Ten Conferences. To make it so bad, Temple, who had a really good year and won their conference in both the regular season and the tournament, ended up a five-seed, when they had a better record and strength of schedule than some of the folks who got two or three seeds.

If that ain’t political, you tell me what is.

While I’d love to see the NCAA treat folks like Temple, who plays one of the most brutal out of conference schedules I’ve ever seen because it regularly includes folks like Kansas, Duke and Villanova, a little better, I know it’s not going to happen. The big conferences rule the day.

But while the Temple men, and other mid-major basketball conference men’s teams get absolutely no love, it could be worse.

They could be women’s collegiate basketball players.

I love watching women’s basketball. It’s a better game than the men’s game because it’s not all about showy dunks, flashy passes and other stuff that doesn’t really add to the game.

Yet unless you’re looking for it, you won’t see the women’s game. It’s as if the NCAA views it as an afterthought, which it probably does because the only reason it exists is because Title IX, the rule that makes colleges provide equitable collegiate sporting experiences for both men and women, still exists.

Not that folks aren’t trying every day to get rid of it. Because colleges have decided to implement Title IX by getting rid of things like wrestling, men’s gymnastics and men’s swimming, men’s advocacy groups have invested loads of money and time in getting Title IX repealed.

(Granted, they could get enough money for everyone’s sporting programs if they would just make college football programs remember where they’re located, but no one wants to talk about that. Could you imagine how many women’s sports programs a few million from the Penn State football program could fund? The football program probably wouldn’t even miss it!)

So while I intend on fully enjoying Temple, Ohio State (another place where I went to college) and Kentucky (the alma mater of most of my cousins)as they make their way through the tournament, I’m going to do so with the knowledge that these kids deserve more than they’re getting.

My hope is that one of these years they actually get it.

A Good Texas Education

Before he became the first African American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall brought Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka Kansas before that body. As Chief Counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Marshall successfully argued this school desegregation case and others that paved the way for African Americans to fully realize their rights as American citizens.

Before Barack Obama rode the motto to the White House, Cesar Chavez led the members of what would become the United Farm Workers Union to say “Yes, we can!” (or “Si, se puede!”)as they fought to organize and improve working conditions for farm workers in California. Chavez and his movement pioneered some of the tactics used by those who fight for social justice today such as boycotts.

In addition to being one of America’s founding fathers, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson inspired revolutionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries to fight for freedom in other countries. He also fought for freedom of religion (or freedom from religion) in this country.

Now why do I bring up the accomplishments of these three people?

Because if you live in Texas, you’ll have to teach this stuff to your kids yourself.

On Friday, the Texas Board of Education voted 10-5 to require the state’s history textbooks to have a more conservative slant, meaning the following will be part of what you learn about history in Texas:

*There was never such a thing as the separation of church and state.

*”Capitalism” is being replaced by “free-market system” in all books that talk about economics because “free-market system” is warmer and fuzzier because we all know that “capitalism” is great!

*Sen. Joseph McCarthy was right. There were communists in all branches of government so he had a right to bring people before Congress, accuse them of stuff, and cause folks to rat out their neighbors.

*The Japanese Internment wasn’t racist because we locked up Germans during World War II as well.

*While the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was the face of the Civil Rights Movement, those violent Black Panthers were there, too. Besides, King and the other African Americans who marched for their rights weren’t the main people responsible for the advancements in civil rights. They wouldn’t have been able to do anything without the votes of those kind, white Republicans in Congress.

(Wow. Somewhere Hillary Clinton is smiling. Her argument during the 2008 Presidential Campaign has now become a part of someone’s curriculum!)

*The students will be taught about the Republican resurgence, the Moral Majority, the Contract With America, and the National Rifle Association.

These are just the highlights. Other bits include the “unintended consequences” of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Great Society programs, Title IX, and Affirmative Action, a unit on teenage suicide that includes a discussion on “the personal responsibility for life choices” and more of the writings of John Calvin, William Blackistone, and St. Thomas Aquinas because they, unlike Jefferson, believe that there is no separation between church and state.

Now here’s the funny part of all of this. Teachers, actual teachers, approved these revisions.

(If you’re paying attention President Obama, the next time that you want to fire some teachers, might I recommend these guys?)

Now under normal circumstances, I’d just laugh this off and say, “Well, if Texas wants to perpetrate its own special brand of miseducation, it’s more than welcome to it.”

But when you consider that textbook publishers tailor their textbooks to places like Texas because of the volume of kids they educate, it could have an impact on states where, I don’t know, people want their kids to learn all of America’s history, not just the parts that make us look good.

Besides, unless all of the kids in Texas wind up at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, they’re going to learn all of the truths the folks on the Texas Board of Education are trying to keep from them in college. The complaints about this that these kids will surely register will most likely bring David Horowitz and his “we believe in free thought unless it’s thought we don’t like” crusaders to their various campuses.

My Significant Other and I heard about this decision on NPR while going out to brunch today and it inspired the kind of profanity laden tirade that could only come from a true educator. He believes that kids are only truly educated if that education is all-inclusive.

As someone who’s trying to be an educator herself, I can’t say as though I disagree with him.

The rules are supposed to come up for a final vote in May. Because the board will probably still be dominated by conservatives, they’re probably going to pass.

One of my Best Buds has a granddaughter who lives in Texas. She’s a really bright kid who has, fortunately, been taught a lot of the stuff that’s going to be banned from history education in Texas from her grandmother.

But if my friend wants to make sure that her head doesn’t end up totally twisted, she might want to bring her, and her other grandkids, to Pennsylvania. We may not be perfect, but you can learn about Thomas Jefferson here.

America the Aspirational

For the last five months, I’ve been unemployed.

If you’re a journalist, being unemployed, especially lately, isn’t something that’s foreign to you. It’s kind of par for the course, especially as the business contracts. But it’s still not anyone’s idea of fun. You make a lot less money with unemployment compensation than you do from a job and most of the time you find yourself without health insurance, something that as a diabetic is pretty important to me.

But while I’m technically unemployed, I’m still working pretty hard. I’m in graduate school so I have papers to write, research to do, and I’m also freelance writing, trying to learn new things and looking for a job. I’m not just sitting around eating bon-bons and watching television.

However to hear former Congressman Tom Delay tell it, I’m a welfare queen.

According to the “Dancing with the Stars” alum, collecting unemployment encourages laziness and because of this, unemployment compensation should be shortened. No extensions should be granted because extensions just allow these lazy asses to continue to sit on their butts and collect a check.

Spoken like someone who has lived in subsidized housing for a chunk of their life and made a living off of my tax dollars.

(What, you didn’t know that the White House was public housing and that Congressmen get the equivalent of a Section 8 check to help them maintain a home? Where have you been?)

The thing that pisses me off regarding Delay’s sermonizing is that it doesn’t take one very important thing into consideration: people aren’t hiring. Congress can pass as many jobs bills with as many tax cuts for businesses that hire new workers as it wants, but unless the economy improves enough to make businesses want to take advantage of these tax breaks, they’re meaningless.

Delay also doesn’t take into consideration the fact that folks are trying to do anything they can to bring money home for their families. Hell, I took the damned Census exam and have even applied for a job at Wawa.

But his attitude doesn’t surprise me. I mean hey, when you were among the group that put us in the economic mess in which we find ourselves, you’re going to spend a little time in Denialville when your handiwork and it’s consequences rear their ugly heads.

However, the main reason why Delay’s attitude doesn’t surprise me is because he’s bought into the lie that is America.

As the title of this post suggests, America, I believe, is aspirational. That means that just about everyone in this country aspires to be something other than who they are at the moment.

Part of this belief in the aspirational properties of America is the belief that if you simply work hard, do what your told, and follow the rules, you too can be ____________ (rich, famous, respected, or all of the above). Don’t believe me? Ask yourself why magazines like “People” and television shows like TMZ are so popular.

While that’s a nice theory in which to believe, it would require a lot of changes in this country for it to be actually true.

For one thing, the playing field that is America would have to be truly level. Now before my white, male readers view this as an attack on them, let me explain. When I say the field would have to be level, I’m talking about class. If you’re a rich white dude, you’ve got resources that poor white dudes don’t. Those resources can put you on the right track, even if you’re as dumb as a box of rocks.

(Insert George W. Bush joke here.)

However, if you’re poor, a person of color or a woman, the playing field that is America has some landmines for your ass. Between having to negotiate a possibly substandard school system, not having the resources you need to accomplish what you want to pull off, and being held back by either your class, race or gender (let’s just put that out there), you’re faced with having to work twice as hard to get half as far.

But while we recognize the unfairness of it all, we bust our behinds nonetheless because like all Americans, we too are aspirants. We read the same magazines and watch the same television shows. We want the Glamorous Life. Who wouldn’t?

However, some of us need a little help as we make our way up the aspirational ladder and that’s what things like unemployment and welfare represent.

It’s too bad that folks like Tom Delay would rather see folks starve while trying to reach their higher ground.

My Old Kentucky Fool and Other Tales of Political Chickanery

Were it not for the Army giving my parents the good fortune of being transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey shortly before my birth, I would have been born in Kentucky, the state that continues to send the man on your left, Jim Bunning, to Congress.

My entire family was born and raised there. Many of them still live there. Some of them have been ravaged by the economy in Kentucky. Heck, one of my cousins works two jobs to keep her head above water.

It is because of these relatives that I’m kind pissed off at the Distinguished Gentleman from Kentucky. Bunning decided to have an attack of Fiscal Conservatism and until today held up a bill that would extend unemployment benefits and health care assistance for most of this week. As his reason he cited concerns about what the $10 billion bill would do to the deficit.

(There are always two things that I find hilarious when Republicans say stuff like this: one, that they never got these attacks of fiscal conservatism when President George W. Bush asked for $87 million a shot to fight the War in Iraq off the books and two, that they can say this crap with a straight face!)

After getting a lot of constituent reaction (including some from folks who thought he was doing the right thing believe it or not), Bunning decided to let the unemployment extension bill come to the floor for a vote.

On behalf of all of the unemployed folks who lost their health care subsidy, their unemployment benefits, and all of the other things this money was used for thanks to your actions, I say thanks a lot….dickhead.

The next time that you decide to have one of your concussion flashbacks from the fastball that you obviously took to the head when you were pitching for the Phillies Sen. Bunning, do us all a favor and take an extra Aleve. I’m so glad that this clown is retiring after this year!

While Bunning and his craziness stood out because of who it impacted, he wasn’t the only person playing the nut role this week. Nuts and other bad political actors were hanging out all over the place.

For example, I have to put the person who wants to slap Ronald Reagan’s visage on the $50 on this week’s Nut List.

Congressman Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, has proposed putting Ronnie Raygun on the $50. Citing a need to give this generation a dollar bill with one of their “heroes” on it, he’s suggesting that Ulysses S. Grant should step aside. Thirteen other Republicans agree with him on this.


While I wouldn’t mind having Ronald Reagan’s face on a roll of toilet paper, having his mug on a $50 bill, something he made damned sure that most of us couldn’t get our hands on during his eight-year reign of terror, is more than a little disingenuous.

First of all, we still haven’t quite recovered from the “let business go nuts” fiscal policies that led to the deficit mess that Bill Clinton had to clean up as president. Secondly, any so-called human who allows thousands of people to die from a disease that he feels can be ignored because of who has it doesn’t deserve a tribute of any kind, much less his face on our currency.

But considering the fact that Republicans still think that this B-Movie actor practically walked on fucking water, I’m not surprised they’re looking for another way to remind us that many of us bought Reagan’s Morning in America bullshit. I guess they believe that we haven’t been screwed over enough yet.

Lest anyone believe that my Nut List only has room for Republicans, I end this post with Congressman Charles Rangel. Until yesterday, Rangel had one of the most powerful positions in Congress, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

However, he obviously didn’t learn the Adam Clayton Powell lesson and got busted accepting corporately financed travel. Now he’s under an ethic investigation and the Republicans are dancing in the streets, mostly because they see his departure as helping the Bush tax cuts inch one step closer to permanent.

If you’re making the kind of money that you make as a Congressman, I think that you should be able to buy your own plane tickets, especially if you’re a powerful Democrat with Republicans circling you like sharks.

What pisses me off the most about this is that Rangel was sloppy. Now is not the time to be sloppy in Congress, Charlie. You’ve been there long enough to know that.

Stay tuned for more Nuts. I’m sure they’ll be some.

School Daze

In our capitalist society, money talks, and a lot of money practically screams.

Thanks to a pot of money that’s been put on the table by the Obama Administration, a lot of teachers in a lot of school districts are about to find out just how loud money can be, and it’ll be at the cost of their jobs.

On Monday, the school board in Central Falls, Rhode Island voted to fire all 93 of the teachers, principals, school psychologists, and other staff from the town’s lone high school because the school hasn’t met the standards set by the No Child Left Behind law.

The district decided to make this move so that they could have a shot at some of the $900 million in federal School Turnaround Grant money that the Obama Administration hopes to make available if the proposal gets through Congress.

To get this money, school districts have to agree to do one of the following things: fire the principal and at least half of the staff of a failing school; reopen the school as a charter school; or close the offending school and send the students in that school to one of the district’s better performing schools.

Guess we know which avenue the folks in Central Falls chose to take.

Now President Obama has managed to get himself in trouble with the American Federation of Teachers because he, and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have applauded the move. The AFT says that while it’s convenient to blame the teachers, moves like this are an easy fix, not a long term solution.

When I heard this story on NPR’s Morning Edition yesterday, it woke me up because I kinda saw it coming.

You see, before I became your Mad Political Scientist, I was an education reporter and a teacher. It was the latter experience that kinda led to the former.

Educational policy has always interested me for two reasons: Without an education, you can’t really do anything. It’s the cornerstone for anything you might want to try be it journalism, cooking or even digging ditches.

But the second reason that I became interested in educational policy was because of how high the stakes have become. Real Estate agents market listings based on school districts and just about every politician I’ve ever met has given me the first line from the song “The Greatest Love of All”, which is “I believe the children are our future.”

(Unless the subject is paying for education. then the tune quickly changes to Public Enemy’s “I Can’t Do Nothin’ For Ya, Man.” We’ll get to that later in this post.)

In the middle of my time as an education reporter, folks started talking about serious education reform. I started having to cover things like Charter School hearings, educational standard announcements, and other things that spelled “reform” in some way or another.

But the busiest time in any education reporter’s life is when the state test scores come out. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, every state had to come up with a set of educational standards and a corresponding test to measure whether or not students were meeting them.

If your students pass the tests, you’re fine. Your school and in most cases your district get some nice bonus money. If not, you get hit with all kinds of sanctions including some of the ones mentioned earlier in this post.

While I can appreciate the trend toward making school districts and the folks contained within them accountable for what students learn, blaming the educators and the educators alone is the equivalent of putting a band aid on a gaping wound: you haven’t solved the problem and someone’s probably going to bleed to death.

I say this for two reasons: One, while politicians have no problem paying for flashy fixes like the School Turnaround Grants, they seem to have a problem giving school districts the money they need to keep things from getting to this point in the first place.

When it comes to funding, school districts are always treated like poor relations. They’re made to beg for the money they need to make sure that our kids are educated, even if these kids are dealing with stuff like poverty, homelessness, trying to figure out a new language and a life in a new country, or a developmental disability while trying to get this education. Yet, if they don’t do the job up to the standard that these tests say they should, it’s penalty time. And don’t even get me started on the whole unfunded mandate thing.

And two, the one group that seems to escape accountability in this equation is the one group that should perhaps be the most accountable of all: the parents. When I was teaching, I had kids who were in really bad shape academically and I wanted to talk with their parents about ways to solve the problem.

If I were to trip over these parents, I still wouldn’t know who the hell they were. But hey, if their kid fails English, it’s because I didn’t know how to teach, not because they weren’t helping me make sure their kid learned.

And while No Child Left Behind has created a nation of kids that can jam on a standardized test, these kids aren’t real big on independent thinking. I remember giving a test in one of my journalism classes and expecting the students to give a certain answer to a question. Because I expected them to come up with the answer themselves and not rely on a prompt for it, I had kids complain to me when I took points off.

(This is one of the dirty little secrets of some of these reforms: they scare all of the creativity out of teachers and encourage them to teach to the test, not to what these kids are going to need later.)

See this kind of stuff enough, you become as cynical as I was when I left education reporting.

So while another round of educational consultants, private educational management companies, universities, and others stand to make a killing on this latest round of “reforms”, a lot of teachers, and most importantly kids, stand to lose.

It’ll be interesting how the whole Central Falls situation shakes out. My guess is that the words “breach of contract” are going to come up. I’ll keep you posted.