Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Common Core Standards and the Right Wing

Right wing reaction to the Common Core State Standards for K-12 education is an almost instinctive rejection of anything aimed to the "common good." Perhaps this "reject instinct" hearkens back to the Cold War, where communism, which sounds like "common" and shares etymology tracing back to the Old French "comun."

In various social media exchanges, one of the things I have been instructed on is the notion that "parents should be trusted with decisions regarding their children, not bureaucrats." As a parent myself, with what most people would consider a reasonable level of education, I certainly want to be trusted with decisions regarding my children. But if pressed, I would not be able to come up with a list of skills and knowledge in math a 5th grader should be expected to understand and demonstrate, compared to the skills and knowledge that child should have learned in 4th grade. I suspect that, when pressed on the issue, most parents would be equally clueless on the matter.

But that is exactly what the Common Core State Standards establish - a list of expected skills and knowledge students should master at each grade level in the specific areas of mathematics and English language arts. For example, one of the specific standards for grades 11-12 states:

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

Similarly, here is one of the specific standards for high school math:   Distinguish between situations that can be modeled with linear functions and with exponential functions.

Now, apparently these types of standards are somehow controversial, yet the basis for controversy is unclear. In my mind, these sound like perfectly normal and acceptable expectations for an 11th or 12th grade public high school student.

And while these standards seem perfectly reasonable and appropriate, I would be hard pressed as a parent to develop such standards or proficiency targets for my children or anyone else's children, and I challenge any other parent who is not a professional educator to do the same.

REF: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. Common Core State Standards2010

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Letter to my Legislators

To: Sen. Jim Davis (R-Macon) and Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood)

Gentlemen: Care to comment on yesterday's report in the Raleigh News & Observer that one Joe Hauck was paid $228,000 over 8 months as a consultant to DHHS Secretary Alana Wos?

DHHS Spokesman Ricky Diaz defended the consulting contract in a statement. This is the same Ricky Diaz who, at 24 years of age and with absolutely zero public health policy experience, enjoys a taxpayer-funded salary of $85,000, including a $23,000 raise after a few months on the job.

What kind of racket is DHHS running? Is this agency's budget being used as a slush fund to reward campaign aides and big-money contributors?  Meanwhile, working class North Carolina residents, school teachers, firefighters, police, state troopers, and others are being told to sit down, shut up, and be thankful you have a job at any wage. Hospitals are closing down, teachers are paying for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, and the courts are bogging down in a backlog of cases.

This came after the Governor and his business executive Budget Director "found" $10 million in a blatant attempt to pander to teachers. Isn't the Budget Director the state's model of the ideal businessman - selling cheap imported goods to low wage workers who can't afford anything else? How does a competent business executive "find" $10 million after months of budget negotiations and legislative action?

Who's in charge? Who's minding the store? Who's allowing these shenanigans? Someone's obviously doing a heckuva job.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Response to Syria

I've given much thought to, and read as much as i could about, Syria's use of chemical weapons against its own people and President Obama's proposal to respond. I don't claim to understand all the intelligence, don't pretend to know our military capabilities to attack appropriate targets, and certainly don't have a crystal ball to see which of many possible responses might yield the best possible outcome. Despite the failures of intelligence and our administration's use of the intelligence in the run-up to our invasion/occupation of Iraq, I trust that our intelligence agents and analysts, acting in good faith today, have given our Commander-in-Chief and the chain of command the best intelligence, and our civilian and military leadership have presented those estimates in good faith to the appropriate parties in Congress.

Now we can only trust that our elected Senators and Members of Congress come to this issue with the same good faith and professionalism that the intelligence community, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the White House have demonstrated. Each one of our elected legislators must answer for him or herself one simple, yet profound question. Would I send my son or my daughter, my niece or my nephew, my next-door-neighbor's child, into battle as a pilot, as a sailor, as a Marine, against the Syrian regime?

On that question rests all the preliminaries, all the intelligence, all the nuances of international law, all the ramifications of moral obligation. To ignore that question is to stoop to the lowest form of political gamesmanship, to abrogate one's duty as the Constitutional declarer of war, and to abandon any pretense to humanity.

I don't know how I would answer the key question, and I don't presume to suggest how anyone else, including our Senators and Representatives, should answer the question. But I pray they will search their consciences as they consider this matter.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

NRA Must be Backpedaling This Week

Three unrelated news stories this week, two of them national and one here in Haywood County, NC, must have the NRA and its 2nd clause of the 2nd amendment crowd reeling a bit.

First, the local story. Seems 58-year old Dan Crawford, owner of Crawford's Pawn Shop in the Dellwood area of Haywood County, took some shots at his son, Jason, and Jason's girlfriend on Wednesday, August 21. The elder Crawford has been charged with attempted murder. I know this family, but I don't know whether Crawford's Pawn Shop sells firearms or whether the owner is a federally licensed firearms dealer, although internet listings call the shop "Crawford's Pawn and Guns."

In national news, there was the cold-blooded murder in Oklahoma of Australian college baseball player Christopher Young by 3 teenagers who were bored. In addition to vigorously prosecuting these three criminals, I hope that authorities vigorously pursue those who allowed these three to get their hands on a firearm.

Finally, there was the shooting at McNair Elementary School in suburban Atlanta. Because of the heroic actions of Antoinette Tuff, the school's bookkeeper, the shooter was taken into custody and no one was injured.

These three stories blow huge holes in the NRA narrative. First, the NRA and other pro-gun groups suggest that those who sell firearms, especially licensed firearms dealers, are implicitly trustworthy. Secondly, the NRA applauds and celebrates the proliferation of firearms, resisting any attempt to place restrictions on gun sales or transfers, allowing guns to end up in the hands of criminals. Finally, America's new heroine Ms. Tuff  silenced the myth perpetrated by Wayne LaPierre after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

State Farm and ALEC

I have been a policyholder with State Farm for auto, life, and homeowners insurance since the day I started driving. My parents were State Farm policyholders. Even when I was in the Navy, and could have had a better deal with USAA or other companies, I stuck with State Farm because of reasonable rates and good service. I have never had an issue with a claim or other matter with State Farm agents over the years.

Recently I learned that State Farm is a corporate sponsor of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). I sent an email to my local agent expressing concern. He passed that up the chain, and forwarded me the following response:

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a nonpartisan forum of conservative state legislators and private enterprise interests who work together to develop model state legislation for a variety of subject matters. The organization has a commitment to limited government and free markets. More than 400 companies participate in ALEC. As a state-based regulated enterprise, State Farm began participating in ALEC many years ago to effectively ensure our voice was heard on insurance-related legislative issues with the potential to affect the interests of our policyholders.
State Farm customers, agents and employees come from all walks of life and represent diverse political views. We "participate" in many organizations representing varied viewpoints – to hear, firsthand, what legislation or regulation may be on the horizon, and then – to have our viewpoint heard. The organizations in which we participate run the gamut of the political spectrum. We participate, but do not support all of the positions or policies adopted by these organizations.
  • State Farm’s participation in ALEC is focused on insurance and related matters. We have had no involvement in other ALEC matters, including the development of model laws like “Stand Your Ground.”
  • It is our understanding the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force that worked on the "Stand Your Ground" Act disbanded some time ago.
  • We are told the organization's legislators are focusing on the core mission of economic and job development and free market support – a decision State Farm supports.

Note in the above response all the non-specific weasel-like language in the above. The disclaimer that "We have had no involvement in other ALEC matters" is bullshit, as financial support for ALEC is de facto support for the ALEC agenda in its entirety. Phrases like "it is our understanding" and "we are told" are State Farm's attempt to deflect attention from ALEC's real agenda.

I have given my State Farm agent (an independent contractor as all State Farm agents are) a chance to convince the parent company to disassociate from ALEC before I pursue other insurance options.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Moral Monday Asheville

This afternoon I'll be joining family, friends, and what promises to be several thousand North Carolinians at Pack Square in downtown Asheville for Mountain Moral Monday. There we will be exercising our rights to speech and peaceable assembly, protesting against the actions over the past few months by the Republican-held North Carolina General Assembly and the Governor, Pat McCrory.

As with those who gathered in Philadelphia in the sweltering heat of summer in 1776, our list of grievances is long. H. Brandt Ayers, publisher of the Anniston Star in Alabama, and a part-time North Carolina resident, summed things up quite nicely in his recent column.

In a column in the Raleigh News & Observer, Chapel Hill resident William Gargan wrote: "It's not low taxes or state incentives that lure high-paying jobs to a location. It's the talent pool." Yet our radical republican legislature and governor are insistent on pursuing a "Lord, help the rich, the poor can still beg" approach to economic development.

And the Democracy North Carolina has published a quick and handy two-page summary of what many observers have called the most aggressive voter suppression legislation in the nation.

So I will be there, making sure the radical republicans in Raleigh know that there are those of us who believe in the decades-long history of business-friendly, moderately progressive government in the Tar Heel state.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Questioning another's faith

Every day on the internet, good friends end up as mortal enemies over what starts out as an innocent post, or comment. I regret that I have too often initiated or escalated or otherwise supported these verbal jousts that turn into battles that drive wedges between people. Whether it's the relative anonymity, or the freedom we feel online that we don't feel in person or even on the phone, it is sad that such bitterness can erupt out of what start out to be innocent exchanges.

These estrangements are particularly evident when the subject of faith comes up. We all seem to have very strong, even entrenched positions on religion. And far too often, I am guilty of letting what I know to be true to my faith to get in the way of what Jesus described as the Christian faith: to love God and to love each other.

Scripture gives us plenty of warnings against being too sure of ourselves, or too certain of the accuracy or correctness of our religious beliefs. "Don't be quick to judge, or you will be judged yourself....Take the log out of your own eye before you worry about the speck in your neighbor's eye... Don't practice your piety in public...." All these admonitions remind us that the "foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of humans."

So how do we speak the truth to each other in love, and avoid the kind of animosities that can overwhelm our relationships and our own spirit? Well, two passages in particular seem to jump out at me whenever I find myself becoming insistent or stubborn.  First, Paul writes to the church in Philippi a warning to "work out your own salvation in fear and trembling." That tells me that I don't have it all figured out, so I shouldn't be too certain in what I tell someone else. I'd better be working on that log in my own eye, because it's going to take a lot of work.  And the second passage is the entire 13th Chapter of 1 Corinthians - the love chapter.  "Love does not insist on its own we see through a glass darkly...." I can't insist on my own way, because I don't see clearly, and don't know even part of the truth, let alone the wisdom of God.

So to my friends, I apologize for being arrogant and stubborn in my political and religious beliefs. I pray for your forgiveness.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Economy Not in Crisis?

Driving in to Asheville this morning listening to Morning Joe on Sirius/XM, I almost lost control of the car when one of the guests made the remark that the economy is not in crisis.  Apparently, there are those, like Mr. Scarborough himself, who are either satisfied with or oblivious to 8% unemployment in America.

Well, there is a different world view. Many watching at home or listening on the radio have a different world view - the teachers in NC who have not seen a raise in 5 years, or have lost their jobs to sweeping budget cuts; the autoworkers in Detroit who have made concession after concession in pay and benefits in order to just have a job; the construction worker just about anywhere who, because of slow demand for housing and commercial construction, may have worked only 30 weeks last year.  That world view may even be shared by those in the Morning Joe studio out of the view of the camera lens, working hard behind the scenes to make Joe and his panelists look good, even if they can't make those whose images we see on the screen make sense.

During this morning's discussion, there was lots of talk about "confidence," about "certainty" from Washington, about "spurring business investment," and more supply-side nonsense.  While the panel bemoaned the drop in wages for men since 1973, and the overall drop in household income over the last 3+ decades, they didn't seem to connect that with supply-side tax policies that are the obvious causes of wage stagnation among the working class.  They didn't relate stagnant working class wages with skyrocketing executive compensation, or a tax code that values wealth over work and which allows the ownership class to get away with classifying much of their compensation as "unearned," or union-busting policies that favor the wealthy and treat labor as just another cost line item to be minimized at all costs.

This morning's panel didn't seem to realize that wage stagnation and 8% unemployment stifle demand for goods and services, and that businesses hire workers to meet demand for goods and services.  They seem to think that businesses will somehow, out of the goodness of their hearts, start "investing" once there is some kind of "long-term" deal to "save" Social Security and Medicare.

We've had long-term "deals" before: does anyone remember Gramm-Rudman-Hollings?  That was done away with 5 years after it was enacted.  And remember PAYGO, which was gutted the minute Republicans decided that tax cuts didn't need to be paid for?  Both were "long-term" deals intended to put our country on a sound fiscal path.  The nature of Congressional long-term deals is that they are only binding until the next Congress or the one after that decides to break them.

But this morning's panel didn't seem to pay much mind to 8% unemployment, oblivious to the fact that as long as unemployment remains at depression levels, we are not going to solve the "fiscal crisis."  And they apparently don't understand that putting people to work means creating demand for goods and services.  Corporations, sitting on record profits, don't have any incentive to hire given slack demand.  They are perfectly happy to keep their money in their mattresses, since inflation is near zero and interest rates are as well.

So it is left to the Federal government to be the customer of last resort, buying and paying for roads, bridges, schools, broadband access, wind farms, solar water heating for schools, electric vehicle infrastructure, regional high speed rail, metropolitan mass transit, teachers, firefighters, police, first responders, universal electronic medical records, energy efficiency, and a host of other infrastructure projects.  A huge round of true stimulus spending is needed, not watered down with tax cuts as ARRA was.  That will jump-start the economy, putting people to work, creating more and more demand for other consumer goods and services.  Then the Federal Reserve OMC can perform its inflation control function normally, tax revenues will increase, and then we can start attacking deficit spending.

But please, anyone who says that the economy is not in crisis, with 8% unemployment, must be called out as myopic at best, and cruel at worst.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Second Amendment

In the ongoing debate over gun laws and the epidemic of gun violence in America, many make the point that the 2nd amendment is some representation of the idea that "the people" have the right to engage in armed insurrection against the government.  They point to writings of Jefferson and others who seem to advance such an argument.  Yet a reading of the Constitution in its entirety does not support such a notion.

The 2nd amendment clearly defines the right of the people to keep and bear arms in the context of a well-regulated militia.  That militia is described in great detail in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives the Congress significant control over the militia.

First, the Constitution gives the Congress the authority to provide for "arming, training, and disciplining" the militia.  The implications of this authority are clear.  The Congress can under any reasonable interpretation specify the types of arms, establish training requirements including training in safe and proper use of such arms, and provide for sanctions against those who violate the arming and training rules.

The States are given specific limited authority to appoint officers for the militia, and to execute the training of the militia "according to the discipline prescribed by Congress."  Again, the Congress is given substantial authority for the arming, training, and discipline of the militia, providing for compatibility in arms and doctrine when various state militia are called up for joint operations.

In Article 2, the President serves as Commander-in-Chief of the militia "when called into actual service of the United States."  This gives the President broad authority over the militia, not differentiating between the military and the militia.

Most importantly, why does the militia exist?  That question is clearly answered in Article 1 Section 8, giving the Congress the authority to call forth the militia to "enforce the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions."  Furthermore, Article 4 gives the Congress or the President significant power to protect the states against invasion or domestic violence.

Under the weight of all this evidence, it is simply misguided to suggest that the Framers had any intention of encouraging in any way, shape, or form, any kind of "armed insurrection."  It is time today to put such notions to rest, to call those out who make such arguments as either misguided ideologues or dangerous to our nation.  Don't let them continue to pervert the Constitution!