Category Archives: Politics & Government

Political and current affairs discussion regarding politics and government.

GOP Needs To Open The Tent

Add another state to the list open to Gay Marriage as a federal judge struck down Wisconsin’s ban today. When the outcome is what really matters I shouldn’t care how, but I do.

I generally like Scott Walker’s policies but I am not happy many in the Republican mainstream are too scared to open the big tent to the LGBT community. I recognize a lot of his political strength comes from some socially conservative areas but I don’t care, you have to lead.

Right now a battle is waging in the Texas GOP after they denied a booth at their convention to the Log Cabin Republicans. Some friends within the Republican Liberty Caucus are fighting that battle with them. It’s a battle for the “hearts and minds” of the GOP.

To me it’s wholly and completely inconsistent for the party that wants government out of your life, out of your home and out of your business to want it in your bedroom. It’s even worse how groups like the Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud get treated when they try to make inroads. GOProud imploded under the weight of trying to find an identity and funding. Even in a group trying to aggressively fight the battle to open up the GOP it couldn’t help fighting with itself resulting in the departure of the late Andrew Breitbart from its board.

As a libertarian Republican I know all about the fighting. When I was in the Libertarian Party I was fond of saying “no major party need be concerned to fight with us – we effectively fight and destroy ourselves all on our own”. So, perhaps, these run of court rulings will have a chilling effect on the fight because the battle appears to be over.

I’ve been a long time supporter for getting the government out of the marriage business. The government’s sole role should be in administering civil unions for everyone, gay and straight alike. It’s got no business dictating what constitutes a marriage. That is a clearly Republican position, so when are my fellow Republicans going to get it?

Hypocrisy, Hollywood be thy name.

So, a lot of Hollywood types have latched on to the whole Bloomberg “Demand A Plan” scam. Mayor Bloomberg already has some of the most onerous gun laws in the nation yet it doesn’t stop criminals from killing lots of people. Maybe the Mayor should spend more time wondering why people use the subway for murder in his fair city but I digress. Chicago’s laws are tougher where gun owners have had to sue to own or carry a gun, yet homicides exceeded 500 this year.

Who are these Hollywood folk who see fit to use their celebrity to try to convince us they know something we don’t? Let’s take a look.

Jamie Foxx

Maybe he’s looking for publicity for his new film but Jamie Foxx is right at the top of the list. The very same Jamie Foxx toting a gun on a blood spattered poster for Django Unchained the new Quentin Tarrantino film he’s starring in. It promotes those important morals, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of vengeance.” In 2007 he starred as a blackmailing gun-wielding FBI agent in The Kingdom.

Jason Bateman

The guy who brought his career back from life support on the cult hit Arrested Development. They were happy to feature a dopey security guard running around shooting mice with a gun in the episode “Not Without My Daughter”. It’s also damn funny to teach the nerdy character a lesson at the business end of a loaded shotgun carried by a probation officer in “Making A Stand“.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Another Arrested Development star, see above.

Carey Mulligan

Young new star who last year starred in that placid film Drive where an all-around bad ass Ryan Gosling has to protect her from her estranged convict husband’s friends with just a car. Well, of course, it wasn’t just a car it was pistols, shotguns and the beautiful scene where Ryan just kicks the ever loving crap out of a guy in an elevator.

Beyoncé

Come now Beyoncé, did you really think we would forget “Thug Love”? Let me remind you:

A thug is what I want
And a thug is what I need
And my friends don’t understand
How my baby laces me
A thug is what I want
And a thug is what I need
And my friends don’t understand
And I think its jealousy

I know, her thug must not use a gun.

Jeremy Renner

I’m amazed Mr. Renner has the gall to open his mouth on this topic at all. Let’s run down his IMDB hit parade shall we?

  • Hawkeye in The Avengers (I guess shooting people with bows and arrows is okay)
  • The Bourne Legacy
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
  • The Town
  • The Hurt Locker
  • The Assassination of Jesse James…
  • 28 Weeks Later
  • S.W.A.T.

It appears to me Mr. Renner has little interest in a role unless he’s using a gun or other weapon to mow down a bunch of people in it.

Amy Poehler

Seems most of the cast on Arrested Development took time to put down their guns and join in this “PSA”.

Jessica Alba

Double duty packing heat for Robert Rodriguez in Sin City and Machete not to mention her big break starring in one of my faves, Dark Angel where she was a gun-toting wunderkind. She even brandished one of those evil “machine guns” with a “high capacity clip”, an HK MP5. She’s going back for more as well, the Machete sequel is in post-production and she’s filming the Sin City sequel. Lock and load Jes!

Rashida Jones

PR_870_01
No ear protection, check. Person in close proximity also with no ear protection, check. Closed eyes, check. Proper elevation, check. Well done Rashida!

Rashida got her hunt on for some great laughs on Parks and Recreation when the whole gang hit the woods and Rashida was happy to mishandle and break various safety precautions with a Remington shotgun. But hey, it was just in good fun wasn’t it?

Aziz Ansari

Yep, Aziz was in that episode of Parks and Recreation as well, he had a Mossberg shotgun to greet visitors at his cabin door.

John Legend

As if his lyrics weren’t criminal enough he was happy to hook up with Talib Kewli for a little ditty called “Around My Way”, take a sample:

No place like home when the cops ask you about your neighbors
Beat on you, threaten to incarcerate you
Till you spill your guts like you a Garcia Vega
We roll blunts not the papers
Cop the greatest take it coast to coast
L.A. to Chicago like Smooth Operators
Cop the Dro and cop the blacks
Cop the four, cock it back
Drop the flow, rock a hat on top a stocking cap

Roll the blunts and cock one back John, priceless.

Nick Offerman

Another Parks and Recreation cast member who apparently can’t remember what he puts to film. His character has a claymore (not the sword, the explosive device) and a sawed off shotty on his desk. For fun and games he likes to wield a revolver around the office with his finger on the trigger.

John Slattery

30Rock_1894_01
John Slattery, OB Magnum.

Now we come to two points of disappointment for me for I am a huge Mad Men fan. I thought John was clean until I checked out an appearance he made on 30 Rock. Um…yeah.

Jon Hamm

It should be no surprise that he who portrays Don Draper is the cleanest of the lot. Yes, he wielded some guns in The Town but nothing that glorified them as he was “the law”. He’s also carried portraying a soldier in We Were Soldiers (a personal favorite) as well as Mad Men.

Selena Gomez

Does dating Biebs count?

Jennifer Aniston

Badly handled a revolver on 30 Rock and a shotgun in The Bounty Hunter. No, I didn’t even know about that movie until I started working on this.

Conan O’Brien

Another disappointment but like Jon Hamm he’s also clean.

Chris Rock

I saved the best for last because when I saw him come up in this I could not believe my eyes. Chris Rock? Really Chris? Are you kidding me? If you know Chris Rock you know why, for the rest of you perhaps you have heard of one of Chris’ most famous routines known as, and I quote, “Black People vs Niggas”. Check it out on You Tube if you haven’t already.

So, after exploring some issues concerning propagators of the thug life shall we say, Chris drops some knowledge with the line, “What, you think I’ve got three guns in my house ’cause the media is outside?” So, apparently Chris thinks we need to do something about the guns “as a human being” but I guess he’ll be keeping his three?

There were more folks in this video but the point has been made – Hollywood doesn’t just live in hypocrisy, it takes hypocrisy to the bank. When someone like Jeremy Renner, who would be flipping burgers if it wasn’t for the “gun culture” propagated by his films, has the gall to tell me I need to demand a plan from politicians things have gone far enough alright.

These folks are the ones putting the guns in your living room every day goofing with them and killing lots of bad guys with them. After all, guns are funny as hell right? Meanwhile mine and those of respectable gun owners are locked, secured and out of sight.

Whether it’s comedy or action there’s really no difference though because the money is made one way or the other and guns are things of amazement instead of dangerous tools to them. Do we need to look for ways to prevent Newtown from happening again? Absolutely. However, we don’t need lectures from those who earn their living glorifying guns to tell us what they are.

Another tragedy, another missed opportunity?

Yesterday’s horrific massacre in Newtown, CT has grabbed every bit of media time and attention throughout the social webs and stratosphere. Most of all, it’s moved your erstwhile lazy blogger to resume his blogging status because this opportunity can’t be missed.

Everyone is of heavy heart today and while I may disagree with a lot of the politicking I won’t disagree with the reaction. What happened yesterday was truly awful and only someone subhuman would not ask “what can we do to prevent this?” However what happens next is the easy route – blame the inanimate object. It’s far easier to point your finger at something that can’t point back on its own. So, there we have it, blame the gun, walk away from it all and feel better.

What’s missing is the true soul searching that needs to take place – the soul searching about mental illness and how we handle it in our society. These warnings have been there before and the circumstances have been very similar.

In 1988 Laurie Dann, a woman suffering from what we now call bipolar disorder as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder walked into a Winnetka, IL school with three handguns and opened fire. Fortunately she only took one child’s life before taking her own hours later.

In 1999 Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris staged a savage attack on Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. Klebold was a depressed and easily manipulated child who had been taking mental health medications for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Harris was an undiagnosed malignant narcissist and likely suffered from paranoid personality disorder. They were both bright and had little difficulty securing a cache of weapons to bring into the school that awful day.

Earlier this year James Eagan Holmes, under psychiatric care and texting a friend about dysphoric mania days before, walked into an Aurora, CO midnight movie showing after sneaking out the back door to his car to retrieve his cache of weapons and proceeded to gun down various member of the audience.

The first similarity is, again, the guns. People wanting to just move on and get past trying to explain the inexplicable go for the gun as the easy way out. What they fail to see in all these cases, including yesterday’s, these are children of privilege and affluence. There weren’t any economic or logistical barriers to these people getting help. In fact, in all the cases except for Harris they did get help.

The barrier that was there though is a social one. It’s very hard to try to change society and so people would prefer to just continue to blame the gun because, after all, it saves them from blaming themselves. We are all responsible for this happening because of the way we treat people with mental illness – they are the dregs of society, they are to be shuffled aside and cast off and left to be dealt with by their families.

Maybe, as a father of a child on the autistic spectrum I know this pain and pressure all too well. I know the looks from across a restaurant as my son engages in a completely normal behavior (for him) of stimming. It means he’s enjoying himself and is nothing I wish to stop. When he was 8 years old the police were called to his school at the behest of a teachers aide who had put him in a hold during one of his “meltdowns”. He was beating his head against her and she insisted the police be called. The officer asked to interview my boy and I promptly let him know that was not going to happen, his interview would only compound my problem. What did happen I came to find out was he was drawing and wouldn’t stop so the aide yanked the pencil away from him thus inducing the meltdown.

This is the way we deal with mental illness in society – we stare, we force to make it stop, we call the police to lock it away. Dann’s parents were accused of refusing to admit she had any kind of problem yet they went to great lengths including enrolling her in a special program at the University of Wisconsin. Harris and Klebold’s parents have been demonized as those who ignored the problem and in Kelbold’s case tried to “medicate it away“.

I was a lucky man, people who understand mental disability set up New Connections Academy in Palatine not far from where I lived.  I was able to end a lifetime of poor educational assignments and put my son in an environment of care for the disabled. These are people who understand and know how to use behavior therapy to treat these disabilities. My ex and I had to be persistent parents to make that happen though and refusing to accept “good enough” as an answer for our son. That’s a hard fight though, especially with society staring down its nose at you.

So while people damn Adam Lanza to hell, blame a mother dead at her own son’s hand and cry for more gun control I will sit and wait. I’ll wait for the story to be told like it was in the fantastic book Columbine by Dave Cullen. I’ll wait for people to answer questions posed by Lt. Col. (Ret.) Dave Grossman’s campaign to attack the real enemy of denial. Once the roar is over maybe we will take some time to look at ourselves and the stigma we so stridently affix to mental illness because do we really need more Columbines and Sandy Hooks to understand?

Photo Courtesy of infomatique via Flickr.

And the band played on…..except in Round Lake

A hundred years ago, according to accounts, the band on board RMS Titanic played until its members were taken below with the ship. The event inspired the phrase “and the band played on.” That same phrase was taken for the title of a groundbreaking book about the AIDS epidemic and how it was ignored  for so long. Now, it appears, after being ignored for so long the marching band at Round Lake High School won’t be playing on. Its existence is in jeopardy due to a decision to go to a single teacher at RLHS for band, choir and music.

My fellow RLHS alumni know the history and stature of our band well. We have seen a host of renowned educators take the baton at RLHS and inspire generations of students to be musicians. I myself picked up a trombone and then a baritone and then a tuba for RLHS and took that to the USC Trojan Marching Band where the band is the center of school spirit and adulation. Friends from there are professional musicians now and some still work for the band.

Over the past several years, sadly some on my watch, the band has been gradually suffocated. When myself and many others were in Round Lake there were two band teachers and a choir teacher at Magee Middle School and two band teachers and a choir teacher at RLHS. There was a Fine Arts director because, as was properly seen then, band programs do not begin at RLHS, they end there. The program begins in the elementary schools and the elementaries have been almost put out of the band business. I implored two CEOs and several more administrators privately and in public meetings to put decisions about music and band especially on the district level and not on the school level. It is a DISTRICT WIDE program and needs to be approached that way. Sadly that’s never come to be and the fate of each band, choir or music teacher in Round Lake Area Schools has been at the whim of their principal. The scheduling conflicts, the time band staff is needed in other buildings, the lack of any coordination, cohesion or leadership in the music program is because of this faulty approach to running it at the building level.

RLHS Marching Band in better days, 1987-1988

The death spiral started when Magee was reopened and renovated. Scheduling conflicts between buildings were used as a reason to no longer bus elementary students to participate in bands at the middle schools as was the way before (somehow for decades that was accomplished, suddenly now there are “scheduling” problems”). It was an integral part of the program and by introducing a learning musician to a group of players with more experience, they saw what they could achieve as a band. No more and has been that way for some time now.

When the students have nothing to do in band for 5th grade it’s not difficult to imagine, they drop out of band. Bored with being stuck in an elementary band where a teacher doesn’t even regularly have an opportunity to rehearse the student quickly loses interest and drops out. Before where every band teacher led the recruitment drive in school assemblies with impassioned pleas about the importance of music they mesmerized a gym full of 4th graders. No more, they can’t get the time away from their own buildings.

So where our band was some 75 members strong for marching season it has gradually dwindled. It had almost bottomed out in the mid-90s with the scathing cuts. It had nicely rebounded with a small but dedicated band in competition and in the past few years as a show band. Their drum line got some separate instruction and I can assert is better than any drum line we ever had. Now, 2012 with one of the healthiest fund balances in the state, numerous administrators making six figures, a whole new influx of new midlevel assistant, deputy and director administrators and new positions that never existed before it’s been decided RLHS can get by with a combination band and choir teacher. After all, with all the trailers in the parking lot we need the band room for study hall (aka a place to put the kids when we don’t have classes for them).

I have held off writing this blog since I became aware of the news, I can’t sit here silent and watch 50 years of RLHS history go out with a whimper. While the RLHS Marching Band may find some way to still exist it can’t exist as it has been before. With a single teacher how can there be a meaningful band camp? How can a single teacher possibly do all the rehearsals for marching band, jazz band and pep bands outside of normal school hours? The Pep Band, a famous tradition at RLHS complete with Pep Season attire and filling a quarter of the stands with band members has been dead and buried for some time, victim of a single band teacher for a decade. Now there’s not even that.

Perhaps the plan is to take the new uniforms the band members and parents themselves strove so hard to get funded a few years ago and put that new throng of administration to work. For six figures I would think they should easily be able to put in the time. Maybe then they would learn something themselves and realize that if band and art and music and electives are all taken away, what is the point of learning then? What good do math or language do if they are not used for the betterment of us all? Those are the things that keep us alive, the things that make us human, what’s the use of living if you can’t be a human?

A hundred years ago thousands of people met their death and thousands more lived to tell the tale of the band that played on. The band that knew how important music was to life and how it was of comfort when one was facing death. It’s sad to me to think that future products of Round Lake will not have the opportunity to realize what a difference band can make, because it was starved out by administrators, a school board and increasingly a community that didn’t care.

For my part in not doing more, I apologize to all the band kids in Round Lake. I chose to pick my battles and not fight all the time, I was trying to push for things like fixing the roof that was leaking on band equipment and carpet that had been there since I was a student. I was wrong to not fight for you earlier and harder and I’m sorry. Don’t give up, make band what you know it can be and don’t let any administrative decision get you down.


The band I played in after RLHS. Hopefully the RLHS Marching Band won’t be relegated to rising from the dead.

Guy’s 2012 GOP Primary Endorsements

It’s election day here in Illinois tomorrow and although my 2010 endorsements were pretty much the kiss of death, I’m doing them again! No matter who you are for, Republican, Democrat, Independent, get out and vote tomorrow! Primaries are where it is at and many people just don’t show up. They matter!!  If you’re in Lake County you can go to the County Clerk’s website for information on where your polling place is.

My final word, before I cut to the chase, is there are a lot of great candidates this year. I have folks pitted against each other in a few races that I really like. I could take the easy way out and not tell anybody but then again, I’ve never shied away from telling people how I feel. So, for what it’s worth, and I apologize to those I am endorsing, it may be the kiss of death!

President of the United States of America

I’m not a happy Republican this year. I came out early for Gary Johnson and unfortunately he couldn’t get the media attention he deserved and he decided to pack it in as the funds were dwindling. He has since gone over to the Libertarian Party to run for their nomination, he should win that quite easily.

At this point the vote has boiled down to two choices, you’re either with Mitt Romney or you are against him. I don’t like the collection of against hims so I am endorsing Mitt Romney for president. I have numerous qualms with him but he has the best chance to defeat the President and the array of choices aligned against him is not favorable:

Ron Paul – For whatever reason, he decided to run again. He has zero chance against Obama. Lost opportunity for Gary Johnson or Rand Paul to pick up the torch but it is what it is. I can’t bring myself to vote for Ron Paul, sorry (latest round of anti-Semitism from a Paul supporter did me in).

Newt Gingrich – Newt’s a smart guy, I admire many of his positions but he has made some really bone headed moves this election. It seems a part of his character to make them. I danced on the edge of switching to him when Johnson dropped out, can’t do it though as he seems willing to say whatever he needs to in order to get elected.

Rick Santorum – If there is one candidate, above all others (including President Obama) who advocates for the government to infiltrate and control as much of your life as possible it is Rick Santorum. If he manages to win the nomination, I am leaving the party, period. I will not be embarrassed by him and, given a choice, I would vote for President Obama over him in a head to head vote. Santorum symbolizes everything that is wrong with the GOP and none of what it should be about. He’s an embarrassment, if he wins the LP candidate, whoever it is, gets my vote.

Illinois 10th Congressional District

The Democratic gerrymandering of Illinois now finds me in the 10th District. Robert Dold is running unopposed.

Illinois 31st Legislative District (Senator)

The Democratic gerrymandering leaves me in Suzi Schmidt’s district over Dan Duffy whom I heartily campaigned for four years ago. This was a definite disappointment to me as Dan has done a great job and I was proud to have him as my “rogue” Senator.

This has left me in the unenviable spot of having three people I genuinely like running against each other for the seat. After a thorough and honest review of them all and a lot of thought I have decided to endorse Lennie Jarratt. I think Lennie is solid in his beliefs, unique and thoughtful and stands up for what he believes in. I think we could use a lot more people like that in Springfield and ultimately that’s what led me to Lennie in what was a very tough call for me.

Illinois 62nd Representative District

Democratic gerrymandering now finds me in Sandy Cole’s 62nd District, she is running unopposed.

Lake County Circuit Court Clerk

The campaign I have worked on the most this year (although in a diminished capacity), this is a no brainer for Gerald T. Dietz. Jerry is a RLHS alumnus, has a great platform of change he wants to bring to the clerk’s office and, most of all, a great guy. We need more people from Round Lake at the county level, this is an easy endorsement for me.

Lake County Coroner

Steve Newton has worked too long and too hard for me not to give him this endorsement. He decided a long time ago he was running and he has the experience needed to fix a coroner’s office that has been plagued by scandal and mismanagement. We really need a coroner that will return the compassion and professionalism to the office that Barbara Richardson was known for, Steve Newton is that man and is heartily endorsed.

Lake County Recorder

Sometimes it’s all about who goes to functions and works for votes and who doesn’t. Bob Bednar has and gets my vote.

Lake County State’s Attorney

Think this one has been a bit nasty and competitive? I do and so does my mailbox. To me one of these candidates has consistently tried to stay above the fray and on message about who he is and what he is about, that candidate is Bryan Winter and gets my endorsement.

Lake County Board District 16

Another tough one for me with two people that I like. After a lot of thought and consideration though I am endorsing Michael Carbone. Michael has spent the past several years on the Grayslake Elementary school board, that experience will serve him well on county board. I would encourage Rene Hernandez to keep at it though, this was a tough call for me but I have to go with Michael and his experience as a board member.

Thanks to Theresa Thompson for feature photo.

Tollway Vote Shows Impotence of Lake County Pols

Not only did Lake County get shafted by the Illinois Tollway Authority yesterday, it got shafted twice.

First, there has been no movement on the extension of Route 53. Bill Morris of Grayslake was the only Tollway director to try to speak on behalf of Lake County when he said “there are people that live north of Chicago.” Apparently not according to the Tollway Authority. The Route 53 extension falls right within the purview of the Tollway Authority, while it is making improvements to link up the Elgin-O’Hare expressway (currently freeway) and a bypass around O’Hare it kicks the Route 53 can down the road again.

As if that weren’t enough, the Waukegan Toll Plaza is included in the tolls being hiked, it will go up to $1.40. This will mean the current bad situation with Wisconsin commuters bypassing the Waukegan Toll. Currently they will use side streets and Highway 41 to get around the toll. One only need sit at one of the truck stops on Russell Road and watch the Wisconsin plates go by every morning. How many more will there be now that the till had increased?

All in all this sorry situation shows the Lake County contingent of politicians is in an obvious decline. This isn’t to say we don’t have many hard working politicians but when Lake County Board Chairman David Stohlman and Libertyville Village President Terry Weppler endorse a plan that completely leaves out Lake County what other conclusion can be drawn?

This plan does nothing to solve traffic problems in Lake County, it only increases the burden on Lake County taxpayers and it only increases the traffic on Lake County roads. Do you hear that sound? It’s Adeline Geo-Karis rolling over in her grave.

TrafficAttributionShare Alike Photo: “Traffic” by Kim Scarborough Some rights reserved

Why I Won’t Roll Over For Ron Paul

One of the agonizing things for those of us in the “liberty” movement has been our tendency to eat our own. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the race for president in 2012. Normally I am clamoring for order and asking that we not eat our own. This time, I can’t abide that, I’m fed up.

I was hoping that Ron Paul was not going to run this year, that he would realize he had done all he could and would pass the torch to someone else. Gary Johnson came out and said he was running and I was hoping that would be good enough for Paul. Johnson is an attractive candidate — former governor, successful businessman, thoughtful and well spoken, impeccable libertarian credentials (better than Paul’s). Surely Paul would see this and realize he need not run. Of course, I was wrong.

Once that took place the teeth gnashing started and the thrashing in liberty circles started and it has become a full-on Paul versus Johnson war. I’m fairly certain that neither candidate wanted this to happen, yet it has. The problem is the “Paulistas” as I call them: rabid and zealous Paul devotees who hold him with messianic zeal. They are easy to spot:

  1. Nearly always refer to him as “Dr. Paul” (funny, I never heard them utter “Dr. Frist” but I digress…).
  2. Every other sentence refers to either the latest Ron Paul poll or is encouraging participation in a poll.
  3. If you are a Democrat they will sell you Paul’s stands on drugs, war and social issues while concealing Paul’s vote on DOMA.
  4. If you are a Republican they will sell you Paul’s stands on the Fed, taxes, balanced budget amendment while concealing his request for earmarks despite Speaker Boehner’s ban on them.
  5. If you are a member of the Tea Party they will tell you how the Tea Party was all because of Ron Paul and you should support him automatically (and stop your corporatist shilling for the Koch Brothers).
  6. If you are a Libertarian they will tell you how Dr. Paul is the only one with a chance to win.
  7. If you are a libertarian Republican they will gut and fillet you if you don’t support Ron Paul.

I’ve had it with the Paulistas and I can’t stand by any more. Any time I have thought about giving up on Johnson and supporting Paul there’s a mass of sneering Paulistas reminding me why I can’t be affiliated with them. That, and the fact Ron Paul is not electable.

First, any debate involving Ron Paul and Barack Obama would be over the first time the President got to speak. He would ignore whatever question was asked and say, “Let me read you a bit of a Ron Paul newsletter“. As you know, the President is black and is our first black president. The sight of our first black president reciting things like “if you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be” would turn the stomach of any American. The Paulistas call it the “newsletter hoax” or the newsletters “have been debunked” but they cannot get around the fact that racist diatribes appeared in these newsletters with Paul’s name on the top. Whether he wrote them or not (I doubt he did) is irrelevant, if he can’t watch a newsletter how can he watch the United States?

That is just the opening round. Ron Paul is protected by a cloak of obscurity right now. Few people take him seriously and his opponents see him as little more than a nuisance. Therefore no political espionage efforts are undertaken against him, why waste money on someone that has no chance? The second he became a real threat that cloak would be yanked from him and Ron Paul would be out there warts and all. An Axelrod led team would easily have Paul labeled an anti-semite  and point out donations he’s accepted from less than desirable groups.

My honest opinion is this is all bunk, none of it is true about Paul. I question why he makes sure to single out Israel but I think it’s a strategy to get the most attention. I also wonder why he doesn’t pay closer attention to donations but he has a laissez faire attitude about it, he got the cash and will spread his message with it, end of story.

But it doesn’t really matter what I believe, it’s what the people will believe. When presented with these facts and having little to discredit them outside of venom-spewing screaming Paulistas it will be a rather bleak moment for Paul. It will never happen though. I respect what Ron Paul has accomplished, most of the time I believe he has the right position. While the Paulistas are the backbone of his organization I refuse to abide them. Ron Paul is not a messiah, not by a long shot, and he’s certainly not the only choice and the only candidate for liberty.

On Wisconsin – Nothing Simple

Photo by vaxomaticCC BY 2.0

Things have boiled down to a nasty gurgling simmer in Wisconsin since the fracas over Governor Scott Walker’s plan to require public workers to contribute more to their healthcare and retirement. Union protestors claim they are willing to deal but they refuse to deal on losing their rights to collective bargaining. In the meantime the Democratic members of the Senate have skipped town for the friendly confines of Illinois to shut the government down. Things may be simmering, but they’re ready to boil over.

We’ve had protest groups and counter-protest groups. We’ve had polls that seem to favor Walker and others that seem to favor the unions. We have allegations of plutocracy, autocracy and the obligatory reference to Nazis. I could write on all this ad nauseam but I thought I would spend some time talking about what I know most about — working with a public employee union.

As you may know I spent several years on the Round Lake Area Schools Board of Education, the last three of them as its president. I stayed out of union negotiations for the most part. Why? For much of my tenure I am the son of one of the members of the bargaining unit in Round Lake, the Education Association of Round Lake (EARL), a local of the Illinois Education Association (IEA) the biggest teacher’s union in Illinois.

Without going into a whole lot of detail into that experience (that would be a very long post) suffice it to say I have participated in collective bargaining negotiations, grievances, stayed up until the wee hours of the morning negotiating with the association and fielding hundreds of phone calls related to union matters. I’m not a lawyer but I consider myself well experienced in this area and familiar with the process.

I respect the core tenets of unions and what they stand for — protecting the rights of workers and ensuring that everyone receives fair treatment.  The problem is when you deal with things as a collective you soon run into difficulty dealing with the individual and on more levels than one.

Governor Walker has a budget deficit looming and his state spends a lot of money on two things in particular — public employees and entitlements (Medicaid, welfare, social programs).  Wisconsin is not different from any other state in this regard. Most of what the state spends on education does not go directly into education – it goes to the local school districts in the form of state aid. School districts receive federal money (usually for special programs for at risk students), state money (general state aid and categorical grants – money earmarked for specific programs if the district complies) and local money (property taxes).

If you broke down the figures most districts receive little to no federal money, it mainly goes to poorer districts or districts with a large population of kids with special needs. All of them though rely on state and local money . The biggest expenditure the local school district makes? Overwhelmingly (to the tune of 70-85% in many cases) salary and benefits for its employees, mostly teachers. So, this is how the different levels work and how it is broken.

Governor Walker wants to balance his budget, he needs to cut spending by a billion from somewhere. For the purposes of this exercise let’s say he wants to take it all in education. Does Governor Walker now go to the state teachers unions (most states have two) and get their approval? He could, but it would be as meaningless as any state union assurance now they will take the deal on reduced benefits. They don’t negotiate the contracts, the local teachers unions do!

So Governor Walker puts together a plan and tells the state Board of Education to reduce spending by $1 bil. The state board comes up with the formula in elimination of categoricals (very common here in Illinois) and then reduction in general state aid.  Or, maybe a state aid payment or two, or four gets skipped.  Now imagine you are the local school district — your boss came to you and said that work you did last week on that special project?  Sorry, not paying for it, it was very nice work but we have to cut expenses. Also, “I need to dip into your pay a bit, I’m not going to pay you this week, I might pay you again in two weeks but I’m not sure yet, I’ll let you know.” That’s reality here in Illinois and I doubt it’s much different in Wisconsin.

What would you do? You would cut back your expenses right? Well imagine for a moment if you went to cut your biggest expense then, let’s say it’s your mortgage. Do you think you could get a reduction in your mortgage? Maybe eliminate some of the things you built into the loan or you could sell your house and live in a smaller one though, right? Maybe sell and rent a smaller place? Not if you’re a school district. No, see you collectively bargained a contract with these folks a year or so ago and not only can you not do anything to change that you said you were going to give them a raise next year and they want it. They are also going to enforce the class size provision that we bargained for. Some locals will see the district is in trouble and negotiate, this has been happening in Illinois and to the credit of those locals, others won’t. It’s up to the local to decide how they wish to balance reduced benefits for their members versus loss of members in the form of layoffs.

So what is left for the local school district to do? Cut administrators and lay off the teachers you can. Maybe the union will bargain with you on how many of its members it will let go without too much of a fuss. Only bad teachers would be let go right? Nope, can’t do that, because a union is about seniority.  No, you can’t lay off Mrs. Smith who has been mailing it in for the past decade trying to get enough years in to retire early. You need to lay off Mrs. Jones who is a new and enthusiastic teacher getting great results in her classroom. She’s only been here two years though and doesn’t have the protection of tenure.

This, my friends, is a glimpse into how things are done year after year in a school district. It doesn’t make unions all bad – it makes them misguided by tradition. It doesn’t make all school districts right, many of them planned recklessly. At the end of the day though the money comes from somewhere, not a magic tree or pot of gold over the rainbow. The taxpayers have been taking a haircut for the past few years and it’s coming time for the public employees’ turn in the chair.

The system is unsustainable as it is constituted so call me a little crazy for secretly hoping Wisconsin will become a disaster. A little revolution every now and then is good, no?  Maybe then we can talk about what the real problem is.

Facebook – Any Size You Want

Photo by Ray-Franco Bouly

I’ve had a wave of friends over the past few months that have had a case of Facebook emo rage.  Emo rage is defined if you follow that link for those non-gamer nerds of you who follow my (neglected) blog.  To be honest, I understand the frustration but I have to tell you — you brought it on yourself.

To me, Facebook is a wondrous invention and Mark Zuckerberg is a visionary for having brought it to us.  I can’t list the number of folks I thought were lost to me forever that I have found.  A few of the things that will never be the same because of Facebook:

Reunions

I actually enjoyed my 20-year reunion as I had caught up with most of my friends on Facebook and could spend time having a good time instead of spending time “catching up”.

Work Relationships

Work is a big part of your life, I spent over a decade of my life at one company.  Through the power of Facebook I’ve been able to catch up with a lot of my old friends that, before Facebook, I probably would have never seen or talked to again and that would be a shame.

Family

Recently I’ve been able to catch up with a lot of family that, for one reason or the other, lost track of each other.  Facebook has been a great way to catch up, start trading family trees or what have you.

Lost Friends

Bob's Band 20 Year Reunion
Thirtysomethings brought back to high school.

Life is a journey that can take us down many roads and many paths.  At different stages you create new relationships for yourself and some stay while some fall by the wayside.  Some things should be abandoned so you can move on.  However, others should be there when you need them and want them to be.  I’ve caught up with friends who moved across the country after high school and we just didn’t stay in regular touch, now we can whenever we would like.  A group of guys that hadn’t played together in 20 years got together and played for all their classmates because of Facebook.  Without it I doubt the crazy idea of “we should have a band reunion at the reunion” would have ever flown.

How Do You Want It?

Best of all, Facebook puts you in control of how you want to use it.  If you find yourself getting overburdened with drama then take a break, don’t log in for a while.  Or, perhaps, you need to change your Facebook experience.  Because it is so new I think all of us have a tendency to fully indulge, friend everyone who asks and make all these connections that we didn’t before.  It’s like the funny video with the guy from high school you didn’t even like now at your door.  You can friend him or you can tell him no by just not accepting the request.

Is there a chance people are going to see you as rude if you don’t accept their friend request?  Perhaps.  If someone brought it up I would simply say “because of privacy reasons I keep my Facebook friends list to only my closest friends, I hope you can understand.”  Who wouldn’t accept that?  If they wouldn’t do you really care what they thin anyway?

I’m sorry if I sound like a commercial for Facebook, I don’t mean to be.  I just see so many people who are getting chewed up by the teething period of social networking.  This is completely new stuff, we have not been here before and it’s going to take us a while to figure it out.  Me, personally, I believe anyone can find whatever they want about me without much work so I share a lot on Facebook.  I also do it because I am socially inept and Facebook is like training wheels for me.

What my message is that you can make your Facebook experience whatever you wish it to be.  You can cut it down and keep it exclusive or you can open it up, or you can find somewhere in-between, it’s up to you.  Maybe you make that guy earn a few dates before you friend him on Facebook or maybe you do it right away, it’s up to you.   Maybe you care what your Aunt Tilly says about that political article you posted or maybe you could care less and don’t let anyone comment on what you post.  It’s all up to you so get into your privacy settings and decide for yourself.

Education Change You Can Believe In From Obama, Duncan

I’m floored. I can’t believe this education proposal has come out of this administration. I had figured the President was in the back pocket of the NEA and AFT given the tremendous sums they gave to his election but he proved me wrong today. In this case I have no problem being proven wrong — bravo President Obama and bravo Secretary Arne Duncan.

Now this is just a proposal at this point so while I am giddy as all get-out about it I’m still not holding my breath. He can champion this all he would like but he still has to turn to Congress to get this done. I’m hopeful there is support in Congress for this and I’m hopeful Republicans are leading the charge because this is a transformation of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NLCB) and takes important steps to fix what is wrong with it while still insisting on accountability.

First we need to talk about what is broken with NCLB and that is ever increasing standards that can’t possibly be met. Standardized tests are based on percentiles so if you require schools to place within a certain percentile you are creating a glass ceiling — there will be a point where you can’t improve and if everyone improves someone still has to be at the bottom. This is the fundamental flaw of NCLB — it punishes districts even if they are making improvements.

While the administration has put out what it is calling a “blueprint” and not legislation, and I’ve been unable to find any outline yet what Duncan and Obama are saying is highly encouraging. According to the USA Today:

  1. Raise the current standards by 2014.
  2. Scrap the 2014 reading and math requirements and replace them with “college readiness” requirements by 2020.
  3. Use subjects other than reading and math in their ratings.
  4. “Value-added” indicators for teachers and schools.
  5. Use indicators other than just test scores in assessing teachers.

These are all great changes to NCLB. The only one I am leery of the teachers unions getting their hands on is the subjective assessments. They could twist this into a means of keeping teachers who are not up to par by subjective means. That needs to be discouraged. The rest of these are great improvements on NCLB that open up the restrictions and bring reality to eduction — it’s not all reading and math.

What they added next though was the real kicker. For schools that are struggling, down in the bottom 5% they would have to take one of the following actions in order to maintain federal funding:

  1. Shut the school down.
  2. Bring in an outside company to manage the school as a charter school.
  3. Fire the entire staff and rehire no more than 50% of them.
  4. Fire the principal and bring in a new one with a transformation plan.

Wow. That’s about all I can say about that, wow. This is absolutely, without a doubt, EXACTLY what is needed to put teeth in NCLB. Right now a struggling school will only get worse; most of the parents will have nowhere else to go, that school will lose federal funds and with less funding it will only get worse. That’s broken. This puts the teeth in NCLB and frees school districts to make the kind of changes they would need to transform a failing school.

You can guarantee the teachers unions will be fighting these provisions tooth and nail in Congress. “Let me be clear” here for a moment if I can steal one of the President’s lines, I have a message for teachers. I have nothing against the rank and file teacher doing everything he or she can to educate our kids. It’s a tough and often thankless job. You get to deal with a slew of parents who just don’t care. However, there’s no legislation on the planet that is going to make them care. This is all that can be done.

The prescription from NCLB right now just gets in the way of a teacher being able to be a teacher. A slew of requirements are put on them, the district office is in their classroom, creating some new set of guidelines for them to follow or the like. Teachers aren’t allowed to innovate and educate. You need to tell your leadership right now that the President’s plan will let you innovate and educate again and stand on your own.

Your leadership is about to barrage you with a mountain of scare tactics and try to get you behind opposition to this plan. You need to stand up to your leadership and tell them no. Have you seen the headlines over the past few weeks? In Illinois we have a complete disaster on our hands and districts are cutting staff left and right. This is what your leadership has gotten you with their hold on power and their refusal to innovate. Many a good teacher is being fired so many a bad teacher that’s been doing it forever can keep his or her job. That’s not right and you need to stand up for it as not right.

I’m sure you can easily count the bad teachers in your building right now. The ones who don’t care, the ones who “phone it in”, the ones you are constantly covering for. Admit it, you know they are there. Are you prepared to lose your job for them? That’s what your leadership will be asking you to do. Under this proposal YOU will be responsible for YOUR own results. If you are doing all that you can it will be seen and measured and you won’t be held responsible for your failing peers. This plan is a plan for good teachers and good teachers should stand up to their national leaders and get behind it.

I’m hopeful this plan can be put into place and it stays as it is outlined. You can rest assured I will be watching it as it comes out, but this is a great start and the first reason for hope and change I’ve seen out of President Obama.  Well done.