Month: August 2006

A Morrow for this Generation

Bush and his cronies Rove, Cheney and Rumsfield are on the campaign trail. Of course, the new claim that we face ” a new kind of fascism” is absurdly inaccurate on many levels, but probably played well at one of Rove’s focus groups. Rumsfield Monday and Bush today have chosen to speak at the last forum where they are guaranteed to find a receptive audience, the American Legion in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I am afraid that I had given up hope that television news commentators would have the courage to respond with a commentary that defends the American right to dissent and to disagree with those in power. Then, I listened to Keith Olbermann’s response to Rumsfield’s American Legion speech. Here is an excerpt- but please, if you have not heard the complete commentary, go to Crooks and Liars to watch it.

That about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this: This is a Democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely. And as such, all voices count – not just his.

Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience – about Osama Bin Laden’s plans five years ago – about Saddam Hussein’s weapons four years ago- about Hurricane Katrina’s impact one year ago – we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their omniscience as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact, plus ego.

But, to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to flu vaccine shortages, to the entire “Fog of Fear” which continues to envelope this nation – he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies, have – inadvertently or intentionally – profited and benefited, both personally, and politically. And yet he can stand up in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for theEmporer’s New Clothes.

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused… the United States of America?


Update on the Map Flap

The flap about Eric Hamlin, the Colorado World Geography Teacher who was placed on administrative leave when his Principal demanded he take down flags of China, Mexico and the United Nations, has now progressed through the predicable (but depressing) stages that result in a good teacher leaving the classroom. Read my previous post, or this article in the Denver Post for the details on the situation.

The villains in this tragedy are easy to identify. Foremost are the divisive state legislators in Colorado who passed the foolish amendment to a 1971 law that prohibits the display of foreign flags on public property. Next in line is Carmody Middle School principal, John Schalk, who, fearful of criticism from right-wing critics, put Hamlin on paid leave Wednesday after the teacher refused three orders to take the flags out of his classroom.

Then there are the Jefferson County School District officials who at first supported Schalk’s decision and then, after the situation received national attention and they were inundated with critical e-mails and phone calls, came up with what they called a “win-win” solution. Hamlin could come back and keep the flags up for six weeks, then exchange them with other flags from his collection of more than 50. The district said he could keep his next set of flags, 25 of them from Middle Eastern nations, up for 12 weeks.

Of course, the original villain, former state representative Carl Miller, couldn’t resist wading in with the following observation:

the school was right to put Hamlin on leave and should not have let him return so soon. Miller, a Democrat from Leadville, disagreed with Jefferson County Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, who said the outcome was a “win-win situation.” “The only win-win I see is that Mr. Hamlin wins, China wins, Mexico wins and the United Nations wins,” he said.

Today, the teacher, Eric Hamlin, proved himself to be the only rational actor in the tragedy by deciding that he was going to leave teachng.

The overwhelming local and national attention brought to the school in Jefferson County has polarized parents, said Eric Hamlin, a seventh-grade teacher who was to return to his classroom today.”I have already told them that I won’t go back to Carmody because I want Carmody to move on,” Hamlin said. “The school community feels a little bit torn apart … There are some parents that strongly support the stance that I took. “But there are certainly a portion that are opposed to that,” Hamlin said. “That could stir things up.”

Who are the real victims of this drama? As usual, the kids at Carmody Middle School who won’t be able to learn geography from Mr, Hamlin.

Teacher Showing National Flags Placed on Administrative Leave in Denver

Denver World Geography teacher, Eric Hamlin (Denver Post/John Leyba)

This story from the Denver Post is one more outrageous example of why excellent teachers are leaving the classroom.

A seventh-grade geography teacher who refused to remove Chinese, Mexican and United Nations flags from his classroom was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday by Jefferson County officials who were concerned that the display violates the law. District officials said state law forbids the display of foreign flags unless they are temporary and related to the curriculum. Carmody Middle School principal John Schalk looked at the curriculum for Eric Hamlin’s world geography class “and there was nothing … related to any of these countries,” said Lynn Setzer, district spokeswoman. She said Schalk asked the teacher three times to remove the flags and warned there would be consequences, but Hamlin refused.

Hamlin, in his first year at Carmody, said he regularly displays flags from different countries, rotating them out based on countries being studied. He said that the first six weeks of school are devoted to discussing the “fundamentals of geography” and that the flags were randomly selected.

District officials are citing Colorado Revised Statute 18-11- 205. It says: “Any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies or institutions upon any state, county, municipal or other public building or adjacent grounds within this state commits a class 1 petty offense.” It says an exception to that law is “the display of any flag … that is part of a temporary display of any instructional or historical materials not permanently affixed or attached to any part of the buildings … .”

My first thoughts were, “Hmm.. the Principal thinks the United Nations is a country and that a curriculum in World Geography could be effective without every mentioning China and Mexico.” But, of course, the real question is “How could the school district possibly believe that Hamlin’s flag display did not meet the exception to the law?” The exception does not say that the temporary display has to be directly related to a curriculum at all. A clue as to the administration’s over-reaction can be found in a speculation Hamlin made that was buried in the last paragraph of the article:

He said he believes school officials are being extra cautious because of a controversy at Denver’s North High School when a Mexican flag was hung by a social studies teacher and people complained.

This is a phenomena that has reached epidemic proportions in America’s public schools. Fearing complaints that might result in expensive lawsuits, School administrators refuse to defend teachers from politically motivated attacks. The result has been devastating to a central goal of the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), to attract and keep the best possible teachers in the classroom.

Events like the one in Denver have played an increasingly important part in motivating good teachers to leave the field. Numerous studies have shown that half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years. Of course, low wages and family issues contribute to teacher attrition in general, but new studies have shown that there has been a dramatic increase in attrition among the best educated and most experienced teachers. Among the most important factors that lead to the “best and the brightest” leaving are: lack of administrative support; narrow, scripted curriculum; lack of teacher autonomy and decision-making; portrayal of teachers in the mass media, and community attitudes.

All of this makes perfect sense. The more competent, capable and professional a teacher is the less likely they will put up with demeaning demands like those made on Eric Hamlin. In any profession there is a direct connection between the esteem and status that profession has in society and the professional commitment and morale among the members of that profession. Teaching is no exception.

Boise Taxpayers and Cheney’s Visit

It wasn’t just the Republican faithful who shelled out money when Cheney made his brief stop in Boise. According to an article in today’s Statesman, it cost Boise taxpayers $4500 for the police protection necessary to insure Cheney’s safety.

Boise taxpayers paid about $4,500 for the ramped up police protection required by Vice President Dick Cheney’s short visit last week, Boise Police Department spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said today.The money paid for around 92 hours of overtime for officers called in to help secure Cheney’s safety. Most of the security was done by officers already on duty.

He was in town for a $125-a-ticket fundraiser for Republican 1st Congressional District candidate Bill Sali.The Boise police plan for special events like this one every year, and the money comes out of that budget, Hightower said. The tally was in response to media inquiries, not to bill the Sali campaign or the Idaho Republican Party.

Hightower said the department was asked for the help by the U.S. Secret Service, and that the two agencies have a good working relationship that allows for mutual aid. The department doesn’t ask why dignitaries like Cheney are coming to town — it simply acts to protect the visitors as well as the community from the added safety concerns that come with such a visit, she said.

Mayor Bieter signs Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement

050328usmayors.jpgLast Wednesday, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter joined 279 other mayors throughout the nation in signing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The agreement resulted from Seattle Mayor Gregory Nickels’ 2005 challenge to mayors across the country to join Seattle in taking local action to reduce pollution that contributes to global warming.

The goals that Bieter has set for the city of Boise are:

• Try to reduce greenhouse gases by 7 percent by 2012 from 1990 levels.

• Urge the state and federal governments to meet a similar goal.

• Advocate a federal emissions-trading program aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, so-called because such emissions build in the atmosphere and create a greenhouse effect that scientists say is warming the global climate.

Bieter will ask the council to authorize an emissions inventory for city operations and the entire community, to adopt an emission-reduction target and an action plan to meet it.

As anyone who has suffered through Boise inversions can attest, this is excellent news. It is, of course, a modest beginning. We don’t have to look farther than our neighbor to the west, Portland, Oregon, to see where we could be if we had made emission reduction a high priority a decade ago. As Nicholas Kristof pointed out in an article last year in the New York Times, “In 1993, Portland became the first local government in the United States to adopt a strategy to deal with climate change. The latest data show the results: Greenhouse gas emissions last year in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, dropped below the level of 1990, and per capita emissions were down 13 percent.” Here is hoping that Mayor Bieter adopts some of the extremely effective strategies piloted by Portland. Better late than never.

Republicans Desert the Idiot Ship

bushidiotscarborough0806.jpg Republican rats seem to be deserting the “Idiot” ship lately. Former Republican Congressman and conservative talk show host Joe Scarborough is asking the question whose answer is obvious- Is Bush an Idiot?

Here at home, not a single Idaho House Republican showed up for Cheney’s shakedown fundraiser for Bill Sali yesterday. Dan Popkey has an article in the Idaho Statesman that explains what many Republicans were doing instead of listening to Cheney. We all remember Republican Speaker of the House, Bruce Newcomb’s famous statement about Sali, “That idiot is just an idiot.”

As Chris points out at Liberal Idaho, the real idiots are those who paid to hear Cheney speak at The Grove.

You just got to love it. I wonder who many Idaho Republicans shelled out the bucks to hear Vice President Cheney dish out a canned speech. You hear that Idaho Republicans? You got scammed. You heard the same speech that Cheney has given on every other campaign stop he’s made this summer.

That’s right. You shelled out big bucks to see the same speech that the VP has given elsewhere, you (or Sali) are not even important enough for the VP to have his intern speech writer give you a custom speech. Nupe. Not you Idaho, you have always proudly just bent over and taken it like a good little state. No love, no hug afterward and certainly no rose left on your pillow.

Same canned goods. Same canned GOP crap.

Federal Judge Orders Halt to NSA Wiretaps

According to a news release this morning from Reuters News Agency:

A federal judge in Detroit on Thursday ordered the Bush administration to halt the National Security Agency’s program of domestic eavesdropping, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor said the controversial practice of warrantless wiretapping known as the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” violated free speech rights, protections against unreasonable searches and the constitutional check on the power of the presidency.

The ruling marked a setback for the Bush administration, which had asked for the lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union to be thrown out, arguing that any court action on the case would jeopardize secrets in an ongoing war on terrorism.

The ruling resulted from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult for them to do their jobs. They believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets of the program, which involves secretly taping conversations between people in the U.S. and people in other countries.

Taylor minced no words in her 43 page opinion, stating that, “Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution.” The Administration will undoubtedly appeal the ruling, asking for a stay of the injunction.

Crying Wolf

25087989cryingwolfcopy.jpg has a couple of excellent articles exposing the blatant way in which the Bush Administration has used the fear generated by potenitial terrorist attacks for political gain.

As Molly Ivins puts it:

We have nothing to fear but fear itself, especially since fear is now being fomented and manipulated for political purposes by a bunch of shameless hacks. Who is trying to make you afraid and why? This Karl Rove tactic is getting quite threadbare, in fact, and so much so that it is getting dangerously close to comedy.

The administration has put itself in the position of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. If, God forbid, a serious terrorist conspiracy is uncovered, there will be a tendency to dismiss it in a backlash to these over-hyped “plots.”

In the same posting, Robert Scheer points out that the tactic used in the latest bomb plot involving bringing liquid explosives on board passenger planes has been known for over a decade.

Government-induced hysteria thrives on public ignorance, which is why President Bush is so confident of turning the British bomb plot to his partisan purposes. Otherwise, how could he dare claim that his policies have made the nation safer?Consider, first off, that the attack envisioned — smuggling liquid-explosive ingredients onto 10 passenger planes — was outlined in chapter five of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission Report as a plot first exposed a decade ago.

Are these warnings of terrorist plots authentic or bogus? Keith Olbermann has a brilliant spot where he identified 10 separate warning by the Bush Administration of “imminent attacks” that turned out to be wrong or misleading. In each case the warnings came immediately after a news event that was potentially harmful politically for the administration. Coincidence or an attempt to distract the public from embarrasing news? Watch the Olbermann segment on Crooks and Liars and “you be the judge.”

Listening but not Hearing

ken_robinson.jpg This week at the National Governors Association Annual Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina the final session focused on education, creativity and innovation. C-Span televised the keynote by Sir Ken Robinson and I made sure to watch as he is one educational reformer with a message worth hearing.

Sir Ken Robinson, now a senior advisor to the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, was knighted in 2003 for his commitment to creativity and education. For four years he was director of The Arts in Schools Project, a major initiative to improve teaching of the arts in his native land, and in 1998 he was appointed by the government to chair the National Advisory Committee on Creative & Cultural Education, the largest-ever inquiry into the importance of creativity in education and the economy. Since joining the Getty Trust, he has written a wonderful book on creativity, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, and crossed the country speaking to a variety of audiences. He is a fantastic speaker, humorous, but with a tremendous grasp of his subject. Although a video of his speech to the governors is available here, I would recommend watching a similar speech given at a TED conference this July. The content of the speech is pretty much the same, but the TED video is much more watchable. If fact, you can download it, which is preperable to streaming.

In his speech, Robinson made a number of important points about education and creativity. He pointed out that the current curriculum is based on an antiquated hierarchical “factory model” with mathematics and language at the top, then science and humanities. Relegated to the marginalized status of “electives” are art, music and dance. Thanks to the demands of No Child Left Behind, the arts are not just marginalized, they are being eliminated from the school curriculum at an alarming rate. Robinson makes the very persuasive argument that this hierarchy might have made sense in an industrial economy, but, in today’s economy, creativity is as fundamental as literacy and numeracy. He attacked the high stakes standardized testing mania that results in a “one size fits all” educational system.

The Governors listened, laughed at the jokes and applauded at the appropriate times during the speech, but, at the end of the day, supported an initiative “Innovation America” that focused exclusively on math, science, technology and engineering.

Idaho College Presidents are Critical of Risch’s Tax Plan

Although the Presidents of Idaho’s six institutions of Higher Education didn’t officially reject Risch’s plan to cut property taxes, they were unaminous in their criticism. According to an article in the Idaho Statesman:

Gov. Jim Risch’s proposed property tax cut could hurt higher education, cost students more money to attend Idaho colleges and harm the state’s economy, Idaho’s college presidents said today.

University of Idaho President Tim White called the tax plan “the elephant in the room” whose unintended consequences could be to raise college tuition or cut services at Idaho’s public universities.

Risch has proposed removing $250 million from property taxes that go to Idaho’s K-12 schools and replacing it with a one-cent sales tax increase and $50 million from the state’s $200 million surplus.But the seven presidents of Idaho’s two-year and four-year colleges said the legislature would likely feel pressure to use some of that sales tax increase to fund other rising costs, such as Medicaid and corrections, in future years. That could set up intense competition betwee n higher education and public education for resources which could become increasingly scarce.

“I’ve never seen a situation like this where higher education won out,” said Bob Kustra, BSU president. “Higher education shouldn’t be put in a position of it getting what is left over.”

If higher ed revenue drops or doesn’t keep pace with rising costs, colleges would have two choices, White said: reduce services or raise tuitions and fees. Either choice could hurt affordability and quality of higher ed that could in turn negatively impact the state’s economy, White said.