Politics: Politics AFTER the elections

Looming elections mean the media—and many others—scrutinize the motives of every political move. What voters does this influence? Why this week and not next?

This year events after the election deserve the same scrutiny.

Nov. 11 a Boise judge voided the state’s $60 million contract to provide broadband to public schools saying it should have been awarded to the lowest qualified bidder. Instead, it had been awarded to the highest campaign donor.

During the 2013 legislative session, Gov. Otter repeatedly reassured legislators and voters that the court would find the contract valid, and the Feds would come up with their 75% of contract costs. Well, he was wrong, and now Idaho taxpayers may be on the hook for a budget-breaking $45 million.

Would Idahoans have voted differently if the court had ruled earlier? Will they recall Otter if the bills do come due? Were such worries behind the after-election media attention to Lt. Gov. Brad Little’s qualifications?

And, with the election over, seven Republican states are discussing Medicaid expansion. A life-saving and budget-saving issue too hot for them before elections is finally getting serious discussion. May Idaho Republicans follow suit.

Also on the national front, gas prices dropped dramatically after the November elections. Causes for the glut in crude have been building for years: America uses 10% less gas today than it did 10 years ago while producing 70% more than when Obama took office. Yet prices rose $0.40 from December to May and dropped little for weeks after that. Now, suddenly, they are dropping a dime or more a week. Were the cuts delayed as payback for the billions oil companies receive from their minions in Congress each year?

Few seem to doubt that Obama purposely waited until after the election to announce a change in immigration policy allowing work permits for parents of U.S.-born children who have been in the U.S. since 2010. It was sure to anger many voters, and the chief benefactors can’t vote.

On Dec. 10 the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a chilling report on the C.I.A.’s use of torture. It revealed that torture was not only more widely used than the C.I.A. admitted, but also provided no new information of value. The report also revealed failures in oversight of the program and confusion about who knew what when. An October release might have significantly increased Democratic turnout at the polls.

Last week’s Senate confirmation of Vivek Murthy as surgeon general of the United States caused hardly a ripple. For a year Senators kowtowed to the National Rifle Association, which objected to Murthy’s views on gun control. But, once all the votes had been cast and all the donations spent, the doctor’s appointment sailed through.

Finally, we saw a $1.1 trillion government funding bill pass with hardly a mention of cuts in benefits and taxes. Republicans did insist on funding the National Security Agency only until February so they can pressure Obama to back down on immigration policy. (Issuing of work permits isn’t expected to start for six months.)

Definitely, many Democrats are angry about non-related provisions added at the last minute. The worst, written by Wall Street lobbyists, guarantees that taxpayers will again cover bank losses from gambling on derivatives—not investments but gambles on the rise and fall of investments.

Most Democrats, however, accepted this major step back from reforms passed during Obama’s early years, as the cost of getting a new budget without Republicans forcing a government shutdown.

Amazing what gets done when the leadership quits worrying about those pesky voters.

Education: About Charter schools and Teach for America

While Teach for America has been Idaho’s biggest educational issue this month, a Washington State court delivered a bombshell by declaring charter schools against their state constitution, one with wording very much like Idaho’s.

December 12th, Judge Jean Rietschel of the Superior Court for King County ruled the use of state funds for charter schools violated the constitutional provision requiring that state education revenues be “exclusively applied to the support of common schools.”

Sneaky little word, “common.” One might think that, with state-funded charter schools in 42 states, they could be regarded as “common.” Not so. According to the judge, the traditional meaning of “common schools” is open to all and governed by an elected board.

Of course, appeals are certain, but, as education pundit Diane Ravitch points out, charter schools have used the claim that they are private corporations to fend off lawsuits by employees and, in one California case, to avoid prosecution for misuse of public funds.

This ruling has to be unsettling to the directors and employees of Idaho’s nearly 50 charter schools as well as their 16,000+ students. An uncertain future can only hurt the search for financing for start-up costs and buildings.

Like many educators, I have mixed feelings about charter schools. Some things are good—choice, small, parental involvement, expanded curriculum. Meridian’s technical and medical charter school graduates have marketable skills few others their age have.

The negatives, however, cannot be ignored. Charter schools take not only funding away from public schools, but also many student role models and involved parents. Charter school student bodies tend to be homogenous, depriving their students of exposure to the cultural diversity of our society.

Public schools have been melting pots where a doctor’s kid might be partnered with a homeless one, an Anglo with a Hispanic, an academically-minded student with a so-so-one. Students usually learn to respect and value persons with other backgrounds and skills and to reject stereotypes about “all” members of a culture.

How can our melting pot work when kids only meet students selected for being like them?

We need to address this challenge because it is likely that any court rulings will change the relationship between elected school boards and charter school governance rather than eliminate the charter school.

Now, about Idaho’s problem with Teach for America.

The argument that our teacher shortage justifies hiring teachers with little training rankles. The state of Idaho created our teacher shortage by heavy-handed anti-teacher measures. During the downturn we made heavier cuts in teacher numbers than any other state, cuts which forced teachers to carry heavier work loads and heavier guilt for the kids they couldn’t reach. Our state government followed that up with insults to their professionalism and attacks on their rights. This teacher “shortage” was artificially and purposely created.

Ironically, TFA attracts college graduates into teaching by pointing out the professional skills that teaching requires. Their website implies that teaching for two years will give you the leadership ability to conquer the world. Certainly a different view than our legislature’s, which seems to be that teachers are natural malingerers who must be hounded and controlled.

According to the TFA website, their training enables new college graduates to raise students’ expectations, plan backward from student goals to classroom activities, adapt their efforts for maximum student learning, and work continuously to maximize student learning.

In five weeks.

It brings to mind the story of a man who asked a golf pro how much he’d charge to teach him golf that afternoon. The pro said $5,000.

The man protested that was outrageous. “You teach 12 sessions for only $900!”

“Twelve sessions,” the pro said, “doesn’t require a miracle.”

Police: Don’t bash protestors

When I was fresh out of college and an intern in Washington, D.C., I shared an apartment in a new, upscale complex smack in the middle of a Black neighborhood about a mile from the Capitol.

During one of my first walks to work, a group of Black teens was gathered on a street corner.  I debated whether to cross the busy street midblock to avoid them, to skirt around the group’s edge, or simply to plow my way through.

Before they noticed me though, a police car pulled to the curb and a cop leaned out.  “Hey, Chuck, haven’t seen ya for a while.  Where ya been keeping yourself?”

The teens gathered around the car, and I passed unnoticed.

To me, that is the epitome of good neighborhood policing.

And here in the Treasure Valley we take it for granted a lot.

A school resource officer chats with kids on a playground.

An officer checks up on a woman who’s attempted suicide.

A teen with sagging black pants and a dangling belt excitedly anticipates a coming boxing match in Spokane.

An Hispanic grandmother reports abuse, and an Hispanic cop shows up to talk to the family.

And sheriff deputies celebrate their eighth year wearing cameras while the Illinois legislature debates whether to ban recording of police actions.

Okay, an aging white lady doesn’t see everything, but I feel I can say that our police have good training and pro-active leadership.

Perhaps dangers elsewhere excuse poor behavior from cops, but I don’t think so.

I once told a seventh grade class that there was a good reason that one teacher control 25 of them.  I watched the kids bristle and then added, “Every one of you knows it is for your own good.”  They nodded, reluctantly, but they knew.  Someone had to be in charge, and it might as well be the oldster with training and experience.

That is as true for policing as teaching.  I’m not happy that an elementary school in Meridian has a lower speed limit than the one I pass daily.   And I’m certainly not happy that speeding fines are outrageously high.

I know, however, that I benefit from having traffic regulations enforced.  So I respect the enforcer.

When people don’t see that police actions benefit themselves and their neighborhood, things are different.

You can call Michael Brown a thug and list six things he did wrong, but a good cop would not have let matters escalate to killing.  And I can’t imagine a policeman here leaving a body to lie in the street for four hours.  It’s as though Officer Wilson wanted to advertise what happens to people who cross him.

Michael Brown was walking in the street.  Eric Garner had a history of selling loose cigarettes. Akai Gurley was walking downstairs with his girlfriend. John Crawford was carrying an air gun in a Walmart.   Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in the park.

They shouldn’t have been killed, particularly 12-year-old Tamir.  That spindly kid could have been grabbed, tackled, maced, tasered, etc.  He should not have died.

It’s not just that police are killing people.  Or even that police are killing Blacks.  It’s the fact that community members are losing their lives over minor actions, several not even crimes.    People cease to see the police as protecting them and begin worrying who the next victim will be.

So, when you see athletes wearing protest t-shirts or demonstrators marching in the streets, don’t think that they are attacking law enforcement.  They are demonstrating for policing like you and I take for granted.

Politics: Obama One of Many

“But my firm belief that [the President] is a dedicated conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy is based on…detailed evidence so extensive and so palpable [as] to put this conviction beyond any reasonable doubt…There is only one possible word to describe his purposes and his actions. That word is treason.”

[The President] “criticized the Supreme Court’s legal reasoning during a State of the Union address, which many considered a dangerous precedent as it appeared to place political pressure on the court, violating the Constitution’s separation of powers.”

One cannot forget [the President’s] “passion for partisan persecution, his lack of concern for basic civil liberties, and a self-righteousness that becomes at times out-and-out ruthlessness.”

Without doubt, [the President] is “a fascist dictator.”

[The President’s] “failed approach to foreign policy has…put America in a perilous position in the world…Whether it’s the Middle East, Iran or North Korea, [his] track record…is nothing to brag about…”

Did you grasp that the quotes above are about different presidents? Only the second one—the President exerting political pressure on the Supreme Court—is about President Obama.

The “agent of the Communist conspiracy” was Dwight D. Eisenhower.  On-line references cite `the interstate highway system, tax rates up to 90% on personal income, and the entire 1976 Republican platform as evidence that Ike was a Communist.  I remember, however, a pamphlet claiming that Eisenhower had been groomed since childhood to be the first Communist president.  His advancement to five-star general and leader of the Allied Forces had been orchestrated by Russia and partially repaid by his refusal, despite direct orders, to send American troops into Berlin ahead of the Russian Army.

The president accused of “partisan persecution” and failure to respect “basic civil liberties” was Thomas Jefferson.  Theodore Roosevelt believed Jefferson guilty of “cowardly infamy” for failing to prevent the British capture of Washington, D.C., of “torturous intrigues” against George Washington, and of being a “slippery demagogue.”  Jefferson’s contemporary critics used far worse language in accusing him of having a Negro slave as mistress.

The “fascist dictator” was Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Okay, the quote was too brief to give a strong clue—especially since FDR is more frequently accused of being a socialist.  (Fascists are pro-corporate and socialists, pro-state.)

And the president who put is in a perilous position in the Middle East was Jimmy Carter, who actually managed to get Egypt and Israel to sign a peace accord before the fiasco in Iran.

Every president faces harsh criticism.  The first political joke I ever heard was, “The three most hated men in U.S. history are the one that shot Lincoln and the two who missed Truman.”

Lincoln himself faced harsh criticism for conduct of the war and for freeing slaves in rebelling territories.  (The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued without even advance notice to Congress.)  His successor Andrew Johnson was impeached for treating the surrendered Southern states too well.

Bill Clinton was accused of the murder of Vince Foster, illegal firing of White House Travel personnel, and political abuse of FBI files, before being impeached for lying about his conduct with Monica Lewinski.

And one can find copies of the 1963 wanted poster accusing John F. Kennedy of treason on the Internet. Among other things, JFK was accused of supporting anti-Christian decisions by the Supreme Court, sending Federal troops into a sovereign state, and “turning the sovereignty of the United States over to the communist-controlled United Nations.”

So pardon me if I don’t take right-wing rhetoric as evidence that Barrack Obama is the worst president ever and deserving of impeachment or criminal charges.  “Those who don’t learn history are condemned to repeat it.”

Politics: Note What Republicans Do

                I don’t care about your facts.  I can hate the President if I want.  I hated the last one, and, I’ll probably hate the next one, too.”

                “Obama is such a liar.  You know the hospital in Kenya where he claims he was born wasn’t even built yet?”

                “We don’t need government health care.  People should show some personal responsibility.  Medicare?  That’s different.  I worked for my Medicare.” 

                “My father didn’t vote.  My grandfather didn’t vote.  And you have some NERVE asking me to vote.”

                “Man isn’t causing global warming. Do you have any idea how much pollution is thrown out by volcanoes?”

                “The NRA endorsed the Governor and I listen to the NRA.  I’d die for my guns.”

                “Watch FOX news?  I don’t listen to any news.  I don’t read papers either.  I know to vote Republican without that stuff.”

I’ve heard a lot of scary nonsense working booths and knocking on doors during the last decade, but I’ve kept my faith in the American voter.

When the Republican leadership raged because Obamacare requires everyone to be insured, I trusted voters to realize this was a necessary tradeoff if insurance companies are to cover pre-existing conditions.

When the Republican House voted over 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I trusted voters to realize this was a costly publicity stunt to distract from real problems.

When the Congressional Republicans in five House Committees spent months investigating four American deaths in Benghazi, I trusted most voters knew what the investigation eventually found: early information had been inaccurate, but no one had acted irresponsibly.  I even expected voters to be angry that Republicans had cut funding for embassy security.

And when Republican candidates answered every accusation of incompetence and corruption by calling their opponents Obama liberals, I trusted voters to recognize the diversion—and resent–the insult to their intelligence.

Then came the election of 2014 where voters trickled to the polls to vote to weaken social security, public education, worker’s pay and protections, and the rights of women and minorities.

Some Democratic friends are saying we must work harder, present a vision, and be less negative.  One, however, voiced our fear.  “I thought it was enough that we were at the bottom, but now I don’t think people are going to wake up until the bottom falls out.”

Nothing will change until people see the Republican leadership for what it is.

They don’t want to see good-paying jobs available.

They don’t want to see affordable healthcare.

They don’t want to see a good public roads and bridges.

They don’t want to see America with great schools and teachers.

They don’t even want to stop Hispanics from sneaking across our borders.

And they certainly don’t want Americans free from fear.

How do I know this?

Because of what they do.   They know their policies have brought suffering to Americans, yet they show no interest in examining them, much less changing them.

No, they are pleased with their results and are moving full steam ahead.

If the American people don’t fight now, we’ll see a return of the 1920s—where workers saw wages declining from $5 to $4 then $3 a week while a boss could spend $1800 a month on his mistress; where the workplace death rate was ten times today’s rate; and where air, water, and soil pollution was uncontrolled.

Republicans are tightening their hold on America.  Democrats–their most serious challengers—now control the legislatures of only six states.  Moreover, more and more national Democratic leaders are being co-opted.

We fight now or we fight later—or, like those of ancient Rome, we settle for bread and circuses.