Posts Tagged Tea Party

If you blame teachers because some kids can’t read then you are a dunce.

Conservative criticisms of Wisconsin school teachers based upon state reading scores are  completely off base and only help to underscore the growing Republican indifference to anyone other than the privileged classes.

Even though Wisconsin is above the national norm, when only 34% of students are reading at  or above the level of proficiency, there is some cause for alarm. But the worry should not be over whether the teachers are doing their jobs.  On the contrary, the numbers point out that, when all factors are taken into consideration,  the teachers are doing the best they can with who and what they have to work with and under adverse circumstances that are the result of many in our nation’s upper classes ignoring the plight of the poor.

In my home state, Maryland, our scores are not that much different from Wisconsin’s.  But there is a huge disparity among the school districts.  I happen to be ‘fortunate’ enough to live in Howard County, one of the top 5 wealthiest counties in the United States.  (Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m just a chauffeur and live above the master’s garage.)  Our eighth grade students typically score in the 90th percentile.

But in Baltimore City and certain other urban areas, the students score much, much lower. Same state curriculum guidelines, same teacher pool (Baltimore actually offers higher salaries because they find it is a pretty tough teaching gig) and the same teacher unions. Different demographics, different environments, different levels of crime and safety, different class sizes, different family structures.  Different scores.

So, it’s not necessarily about instruction, it’s about social and economic inequality. It’s about school districts where many of the students come from broken, dysfunctional and impoverished homes and others are recent immigrants that have difficulties speaking English versus schools where the students drive  Accuras and BMWs  and have wealthy parent who help them with homework and maybe even pay for tutors. Which kids do you think would likely score higher?  Which teachers have the tougher job?  Which kids are more likely be successful in this world and have children of their own with similar promise?

Not that these scores are altogether that accurate nor is standardized testing the right way to go, but scores across the country have gone up. Every state has some version of the High School Assessments, which every Maryland student is required to pass to graduate.  Wisconsin has a very similar set of assessments.  I’ve taken a few of these sample tests,  and though I’m no dunce, I found them  very challenging

I’ll bet that most of these critical Tea Party folks, especially Beck, Limbaugh and Palin, would have a hard time passing these tests, if they could at all.  Though they might  be able to handle the Wisconsin eighth grade reading test OK,  I wonder if they could earn a ‘proficient’ on the highs school version. From what I’ve seen and heard, reading is not high on their list of priorities.


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Laying off teachers won’t solve our fiscal problems but legalizing drugs just might

If the Tea Party conservatives are really as serious about cutting spending,  streamlining government and protecting individual liberties as they claim to, then they should stop wasting their time tilting at windmills like civil service unions and take on the real Big Government elephant in the room: the Federal War on Drugs.

Let’s face it. The War on Drugs has failed miserably and,  as we see with the earlier alcohol Prohibition, likely  doomed to failure from the start.  It is outrageously expensive. It has contributed to a burgeoning organized crime industry.  It is immoral and hypocritical. As of March 3rd, 2011, 2:25 EST close to 7 billion 200 million dollars has already been spent on drug prohibition this year alone.

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

This week President Obama promised to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

If you are skeptical then you might consider that the source of the above information is not NORML but Fox News, a group that is not known for their  ‘liberal’ tendencies.  But drug prohibition was never really  part of a conservative agenda, with just as many on the left bound up with misguided, well-intentioned, yet hypocritical and myopic ideals.  Conversely, there have been visionaries on both the Right and the Left ( like Bill Buckley and Kurt Schmoke) who have joined forces to inject some sanity into our nation’s drub debate.  In the same Fox story of  May 13th,   2010, the previous drug czar, John P. Walters, didn’t agree:

Walters insists society would be far worse today if there had been no War on Drugs. Drug abuse peaked nationally in 1979 and, despite fluctuations, remains below those levels, he says. Judging the drug war is complicated: Records indicate marijuana and prescription drug abuse are climbing, while cocaine use is way down. Seizures are up, but so is availability.

“To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous,” Walters said. “It destroys everything we’ve done. It’s saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It’s saying all these people’s work is misguided.”

Yes. Misguided but well-intentioned. Anyway, the figures speak for themselves.

It is only March 2nd yet already 293,628 people are incarcerated for drug related offenses in this country. Of those 151,513 were for cannabis. (Every 30 seconds an American is arrested for possession of pot).  On average, since 1995, U.S. prisons have grown 10,000 more inmates a year for drug related offenses.  And the U.S. appetite for drugs continues to grow.  So why continue to press this ‘war’?

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, sitting down with the AP at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, paused for a moment at the question.“Look,” she says, starting slowly. “This is something that is worth fighting for because drug addiction is about fighting for somebody’s life, a young child’s life, a teenager’s life, their ability to be a successful and productive adult.

“If you think about it in those terms, that they are fighting for lives — and in Mexico they are literally fighting for lives as well from the violence standpoint — you realize the stakes are too high to let go.”

Which is how so many Americans think about this problem: emotionally. But Napolitano is very, very wrong ( and as head of  Homeland Security realizes that if drug prohibitions were lifted most of the current financing for anti-American terrorism would dry up). Anyone at any time can buy illegal drugs, in spite of all the forces fighting this “War”.  The real cost of this boondoggle are in the lives destroyed by over zealous prosecution and incarceration, the property of innocents seized, the opportunities lost because of the money being allocated for this losing campaign and the incalculable number of violent deaths. The trials of the addicted are, with all due respect, trivial in comparison to the wholesale suffering that this drug prohibition is responsible for. As for drugs’ debilitating effects, apparently you can smoke dope and snort cocaine and still make it to the White House.

What do they call something that you keep doing and doing and doing, each time expecting a different outcome? Madness?  Meanwhile, we continue to look for ways to cut government spending, while all along it’s right up our nose.

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Palin is to Reagan as Liberace is to Rachmaninoff

Nauseating, ain’t it? Whether you liked Reagan or not (and I did) comparing him to Palin is like comparing Rachmaninoff or Vladimir Horowitz to Liberace.  No, on second thought that’s not fair. Liberace, although just as tacky, cheesy and exploitative as Palin,  could still play the piano very well.  Anyway, someone who was pretty close to the Gipper summed up the differences pretty well:

” Sarah Palin is a soap opera, basically. She’s doing mostly what she does to make money and keep her name in the news. She is not a serious candidate for president and never has been.”

“Sarah Palin has nothing in common with my father, a two-term governor of the largest state in the union, a man who had been in public life for decades, someone who had written, thought and spoke for decades about foreign-policy issues, domestic policy issues, and on and on and on.”

(I’ll bet he’s not the only Reagan that might be annoyed with Sarah.)


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Alack, those intolerants!

Over on Facebook I’ve been engaged in another round of a continuing argument that a friend and I have been having over the years. He charges that my criticisms of those I call intolerant are hypocritical, because, in essence, this is just another form of intolerance.  To be intolerant of intolerance, he says,  is a type of circular reasoning.

He’s not the first one to say this about me, or anyone of a number of people outspoken against intolerance.  On the face of it,  this argument sounds logical but to me it seems  so obviously incorrect.  This accusation must be the one based on circular reasoning.  To be intolerant of intolerance just seems to make sense, like having nothing to fear but fear itself.  But I have never really been able to come up with a solid rebuttal.

Until now. It really boils down to a simple matter of semantics.  We are not talking about the same thing here.  According to no less an authority than Merriam Webster, “tolerance” has multiple, subtle yet significant, meanings.

Definition of INTOLERANT

1 :
unable or unwilling to endure
a : unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression especially in religious matters
b : unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights : bigoted

This clears things up.  I am doing my best to be the first definition as it encounters both elements of the second.

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Citing blood libel isn’t the issue with Palin, it’s her contradictions

The real problem with Sarah Palin’s video is not her use of the phrase “blood libel”. True, it may have been insensitive to many Jews, but it is quite possible that she never considered that angle.  Some suggest that she is  in unaware of the phrase’s anti-Semitic overtones  and  she is only repeating what has been said before  by other politicians, on both the Left and the Right, in other circumstances.  Maybe. But being a self-professed Evangelical, Palin is likely very aware of the Biblical roots of the phrase.

In the 27th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the angry crowd calls for the crucifixion of Jesus:

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

As Christianity became more Roman and less Jewish, this phrase was used to justify the persecution of those Jews who would not convert to the Jesus faith.  Christians throughout history, and many to this day, believe that the Jews have been cursed by God for the killing of Jesus (conveniently forgetting that Jesus was Jewish and his executioners were Roman).  Palin obviously sees this as an unjust charge, just as unjust as  the liberal charge that Tea Party rhetoric is responsible for the murders in Tuscon.  So in that respect the phrase is appropriate and correct, if perhaps politically unwise, especially when you remember that Representative Giffords’ is Jewish.  (Probably not many in the mainstream media are conversant with scriptures and were not immediately aware of the phrase’s origins.)

The big problem I found (aside from the bad timing of this video’s release and its narcissistic thrust) is that its main premise is contradictory. Palin defends Tea Party rhetoric, saying that people are responsible for their own actions. Words are just words and those that use them cannot be blamed for the violent behavior of others. But then she accuses her liberal critics of exactly that, by inciting “hatred and violence” with their criticisms of the Right:

“…within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own, they begin and end with the criminals who commit them.

There are those who claim that political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow got more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those calm days when political figures literally settled their difference with duelling pistols?”

Just because American demagogues  have historically resorted to hyperbole and attacks upon the character of their opponents,  to the point that they ended up in fisticuffs, riots and duels, does not mean that we should continue the tradition into the 21st century. Palin, Beck and the Tea Partiers need to remember something important:  that was then and this is now. Historical wrongs, no matter how many of them, do not justify present ones.

But anyway, what’s the verdict here, Sarah? Do words have the power to incite violence and hatred? And if so, then what kinds of words would do that best?

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George Washington’s advice to the Tea Party: Tone down the rhetoric

A little over 214 years ago, President George Washington announced to the American people that he would not seek a third term, one he was sure to win.  He did so by publishing a letter in independent newspapers under the title of “The Address of General Washington To The People of The United States on his declining of the Presidency of the United States”.  The primary intent of this letter was to give the young nation advice on how to conduct its affairs now that it would no longer be under the firm, guiding hand of Washington.  In it, he put forth some very clear notions on how political adversaries  should conduct themselves. It is ironic that,  for a people who claim a sacred succession of principles from our Founding Fathers, his advice is not being heeded.  What follows are those passages that address this issue (emphasis mine).

“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

President George Washington,September 19, 1796,

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You say you want a revolution? You can count me out.

No, you can’t blame the recent tragedy in Tuscon on Sarah Palin.  Or Glenn Beck.   Politicians who use heated rhetoric during their campaigns are not responsible for the actions of one sadly deranged young man.  Roger Ailes over at Fox News did not pull the trigger nor did he put the gun in Jared Loughner’s hand.

It is absolutely  true, that since our country’s beginnings, and not long after the Revolution was over, politicians have been smearing each other.  George Washington refused to have anything to do with his former friend, Thomas Jefferson, after Jefferson engaged in a campaign questioning the President’s intentions and his mental faculties.

What is different about today’s political speech is that there has never been such an abundance of language that invokes violent revolution, at least not since the Civil War.  In fact,  a lot of the talk coming out of the Tea Party not only expresses the ideals and actions of the early American rebels, it is often openly sympathetic with the Southern secessionists of the 1860s.

I think the comparisons are valid.  Long before civil war broke out, all the way back before the Constitutional convention in 1787 ( yet after the Revolution was over)  the language of rebellion was not uncommon in the halls of Congress.  Well before the shelling of Fort Sumter crazed ideologues, of which John Brown was the most notorious, took violent action against the government.  Brown was not a secessionist, though, he was an abolitionist.  The cause of abolition was undoubtedly noble, yet it did not sanction  Brown to take violent action against the U.S. government.

The Tea Party and friends are certainly entitled to criticize their opponents in the government as passionately as they would like.  They should even be encouraged to do so.  A lively and spirited public debate is essential to democracy.  And, of course,  all Americans need to understand that polemical language should not be taken too literally,  But, when such a large, concerted body of people hailing from the mainstream of America consistently use the language of revolution, consistently (and incorrectly) compare themselves to the colonial revolutionaries who founded our country, and consistently label their adversaries in the sitting government as traitors and murderous despots, then it only stands to reason that some of their less inhibited followers may decide to take matters into their own hands.

No matter how much we may be dissatisfied with the direction our country is headed, we are not under the thumb of a distant monarch.  WE have elected our government, our elected representatives are taxing us. No dictator is denying us our freedoms.  No one in the United States government is remotely analogous to Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin.  Our President is not an illegal alien Muslim infiltrator who’s plan is to create an American version of the Hitler Youth,  in order to confiscate our guns and seize control of our government.  There are no concentration camps being secretly built by FEMA, there is no secret Bilderbeger conspiracy for one world government  that extends back to Woodrow Wilson.  And so on and so on.

Remember the Boston Massacre of 1770?  Well, British soldiers were not to blame for that event (only 5 Americans were killed, by the way, out of a mob of at least 300).  It was the large, angry mob made up of normally peaceful citizens,  who advanced upon the few frightened soldiers that essentially pulled the triggers on their British muskets.  Today we blame the British for this “massacre” when the true culprits, no matter how noble their cause, were those myopic “patriots”, most not even on the scene,  who riled up the people with their incendiary rhetoric.   Patriots who would later  cry  “Give me liberty or give me death”.  Strong language for their time. Totally inappropriate for ours.

This kind of revolutionary  language today is sadly paranoid and needs to be self-regulated by the Right, before another sad, paranoid American decides that he or she is a 21st century  Minuteman.

You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know you can count me out

-the Beatles

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