Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Education Today: What awaits an optimistic grandchild?

I recently searched my text files for matieral I had collected on C.S. Lewis' "The Abolition of Man." I found it in "April, 2012." While there I came across a piece I had written reflecting my hopes for my grand-daughter's educational progress as she was abou to enter high school. I post it now since she will return to us next month to finish her final year and then, perhaps, college. I have made two minor modifications, both marked off by brackets.

Has American leadership failed once too often? A 2005 Harris Poll indicates it wasn't that high to begin with. Figures revealed that Americans distrust government by a 57%-22% margin, distrust the political parties by 77%-8%, and distrust Congress by 56%-22%. The ongoing Real Clear Politics website shows congressional distrust leading by a 60%-30% margin. Nevertheless we are being asked to believe that these same groups are on the threshold of solving our energy crisis, our health care crisis, and our financial crisis...within six months.

The press (distrusted by 62%-22%) paints a picture of a handful of legislative Neanderthals attempting to cripple legislation which, if passed, would usher in a new era of prosperity, unprecedented good health, and permanent energy security. Unfortunately, I look to history for guidance and it indicates that the wag who suggested that the last "big-scale" government triumph was World War II (a military venture) is correct. All the other biggies (all social ventures) from Social Security to Medicare/Medicaid, the FDIC, Amtrak, the post office, and  prescription drug legislation, are notable for two characteristics: first, each has gone broke or is in the process of doing so and, two, those politicians who supported their passage were easily re-elected. 

I'm confident our current federal representatives, like their predecessors, will successfully bungle them all. I would hope, though, that Education, being a state and local issue, we might fare better as local representative must face their neighbors regularly and can't hide behind a phone-in Town Hall meeting.

Historically, Tennessee education has been a key issue for a whole string of governors. It has been suggested that Governor [now Senator] Alexander was appointed Secretary of Education largely on the "success" of his Better Schools Program; Governor McWherter was widely lauded for the Tennessee Education Improvement Act and the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS). 

A year ago Governor Bredesen came forward with the Tennessee Diploma Project (TDP), a program "designed to challenge students and better prepare them for college and the workforce." Then former Senator Frist introduced SCORE, the "State Collaborative on Reforming Education...[which] will focus on jumpstarting reforms that will help Tennessee schools, teachers, and students meet this bar."

Despite the fulsome praise given these programs, educational achievement levels remain discouragingly unimpressive. They're certainly at a level that leaves our graduates at a significant disadvantage when competing against the best this country and others will produce.

While we might hope that new thinking will lead to new approaches, an overview of the current batch indicate they all contain elements first put forward in the 1983 landmark study "A Nation at Risk." That report put forward 38 solid recommendations - none were adopted. Twenty-five years later many are being reconsidered, although in modified form. 

To date almost every major study, blue ribbon report, or idle thought has been put forward by members of either the education or political establishments. Not surprisingly, many of the notables from the political sphere continue to shield their children from the public education system. Interestingly, their private-school educated offspring often follow them into political office (e.g, the Kennedys, Bushes, Dodds, Bayhs, Byrds, Udalls, Romneys, Gores, Sununus).

It would appear our leaders are certain as to what they wish their children to be exposed to educationally. By extension, we must assume our public schools do not provide it - although much in the various curricula would not exist without an approval by them or their staff.  Am I upset about this situation? You bet...and with adequate reason. 

No less an individual than Bill Gates, whose foundation has poured over $2 billion into the public education system has said "It surprises me that more parents are not upset about the education their own kids are receiving....Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way....These tended to be the schools that did not take radical steps...We had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school." 

In the spirit of Gates, then, I speak as an adult with a grand-daughter in the system, Here's what a high school graduate wishes for her:

First, I want her to learn that her real education begins after she's finished with school. Ideally, she will learn how to learn - how to gauge a problem, develop a solution, and attempt to implement it. And, of greater importance, proceed to another solution if the first fails. 

This leads naturally to the second, which is to learn that failure is an essential part of growth; in fact, it's an every day event that must be dealt with. I expect her to get D's and F's if that's what she deserves; praise ought to be used sparingly and for unusually high performance. 

I want her to discover that learning through reading is greater than that achieved by watching and listening. Reading is an "active" pursuit, one that fully engages the mind. Watching videos or listening to recordings are passive and far less effective since it's easy to get distracted and miss the message. Lectures, regardless of the skill of the presenter, can be very effective only with superior note-taking - an art form that must also be learned.

I want her to learn that there is greater satisfaction in accomplishing a minor skill than in daydreaming of performing impractical ones; that knitting an Afghan is a towering achievement that makes creating a spreadsheet appear a pedestrian endeavor. That building a tree house is a monument that mocks the transience of a Power Point presentation.

I want her to learn that no virtue is more highly prized than trustworthiness. We are where we are because we were betrayed by  governmental and business interests in whom we had placed an inordinate amount of trust. If we had only heeded the answers provided to the Harris poll we might have avoided some of this. Unfortunately, despite our better instincts, we want to believe in our major institutions; they are, after all, the ones that "have made us great." 

Yet even the most cursory study of our history would reveal that we have been proven fools time and time again. Leave it to a Russian, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, once imprisoned for speaking out to give appropriate advice regarding politicians: "Don't believe them, don't fear them, don't ask anything of them." But governments and businesses can come back with different names and faces and, once again, ask for and receive our trust. With an individual, though, once trust is lost, it's usually lost forever.

For that reason I also want her to learn that guilt can be a healthy emotion. There's nothing pathological in a conscience telling the individual that she knowingly acted inappropriately and that, if possible, apologies must be given and amends made. This is especially important in this time when cheating has become so big and so prevalent, that success is gauged by the what degree to which it is limited; no one seriously believes it can be stamped out. The reason it can't be eliminated borders on the obscene - no guilt is attached to indulging in it. 

Some studies find that as many as 80% of high-achieving high schoolers and 75% of college students admit to cheating. More telling is why they cheat. As they move from grade to grade they gradually discover that despite previous high marks, they are ill-prepared for the bigger challenges. So, many feel it's necessary to cheat and do so - with no remorse (and why not, they might argue, the system has "cheated" them by awarding promotion despite substandard work). 

Their comeuppance occurs in the commercial world where cheating and substandard work are grounds for dismissal. This point shouldn't be interpreted as a blanket indictment of the teaching profession. In a report issued by Arthur Levine, a well regarded writer on education, he comments that "Teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world,...There is no standard approach to where and how teachers should be prepared...A majority of teacher education alumni [61 percent] reported that schools of education did not prepare graduates well to cope with the realities of today's classrooms..."

I want her to be required to state her views, with substantiating documentation, on a variety of issues appropriate to her age level. And I want those views challenged if they merit challenge, and support if they merit support. But, under no circumstances, should her right to state them be prohibited.

I want her to learn that each learning discipline has its own rules and procedures. For instance, natural science is one thing, and political science quite another. Politics operates on consensus: 50% plus one will generally carry the day. Victors frequently claim (speciously) that they were on the "right" side. Science is based on evidence gained through experimentation which is falsifiable - that is, the experiment can be repeated over and over by other scientists in other locales with identical results. Even then it isn't proven or "right." As Einstein observed: "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." (As a matter of interest, neither Darwinism nor Creationism are falsifiable…both persist on faith.)

I want her to learn perspective by studying the order in which things are prioritized. She can do this by being taught how to observe what her friends and acquaintances believe is important; what her parents, teachers, ministers, and other elders believe. If, for instance, she sees that over half of the teaching staff, and learns that more than half of the school budget is expended on non-core pursuits, then perhaps the publicly proclaimed core is not the real core.

I want her, through an examination of history, to appreciate that she lives in very unusual times. For thousands of years humans, regardless of their country, lived hand-to-mouth existences. Abundance was a rarity, thrift was a necessity, and old age was fifty. Children then, as now, were regarded as precious - except that "then" their value was measured by the amount and quality of the labor they could provide. 

Each was expected to contribute more than they consumed (profit); failing that (loss), their hours were extended or their food portions cut. For about four generations, though, we have experienced an explosion of wealth; even the poorest among Americans today live much better than 99% the people who populated this country in 1909. As a result of this abundance, in many households children are treated as perfect little beings of high value, extreme fragility, and modest expectations. When does this obsessive sheltering end? According to some Human Resource departments, it has reached the point where parents are calling the employers of their adult children demanding that they be treated with more respect. Apparently it was a successful tactic during their school years.

Once she grasps the importance of history and where we stand in relation to prior events of similar magnitude and duration, I want her to ask the obvious question: Can these boom years continue unabated? If the answer isn't a clear "yes" and there's no [biblical] Joseph stocking the silos with surplus, then it's time to learn to live with less, maybe much less. If things do become so economically severe that the toys and/or activities she uses to amuse herself become unavailable or too expensive, she will have to rely on imagination and creativity -  a life of the mind -  to create a fulfilling and meaningful existence. 

This can be accomplished cheaply through reading and contemplation. However, if we she's unaccustomed to challenging her intellectual faculties, she's in for some hard times. In "The Rhythm of Life" Matthew Kelly writes, "In the silence, we see at one time the person we are and the person we are capable of becoming... It is precisely for this reason that we fill our lives with noise, to distract ourselves from the challenge to change." If anyone doubts this I ask them to consider the recent riot at our local jail was triggered by the removal of radios from prisoners' cells.

I want her to realize that what "is" is not necessarily what "ought" to be. And that if "what is" can be changed for the better then change ought to be pursued; if it can't then it must be recognized and endured. But to attempt change for change's sake is an empty and, perhaps, dangerous gesture. Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas usually have bad consequences. However, one must be solidly grounded by a stringent moral code before presuming to tell others that they are in error - which is why the Platonic ideal is to see things as they are and to simply accept them. 

One current "bad" idea is the contention that positive change naturally follows additional education. While this may be applicable to some, a recent study of employers' hiring practices revealed that "...two-thirds reported rejecting applicants because of a lack of 'basic employability skills,' such as reliable attendance and punctuality." All the schooling in the world will not improve the employability of an individual who, when given the choice, chooses the deer stand over the job site.

There are just a few more specific things I would like her to have learned by the time her schooling is completed. I'll limit my reading list to two. The first would be a short piece of commentary written in 1914 by Elbert Hubbard called "Message to Garcia." It should be read once a year - by just about everybody. The second is a short Robert Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken." 

In the field of general education I believe there are some concepts and individuals which/who receive little or no attention, but which/who can be enlightening. Among them are: the Stockdale Paradox, the Law of Diminishing Returns, the Lorenz Attractor, the Pythagorean Theorem, Pascal's Wager, Moral Hazard, the Invisible Hand, Maslow's Theory Z, Occam's Razor, Kant's Categorical Imperative, the Code of Hammurabi, Wagner's Law, the Rule of Three, and, finally, the Trivium and Quadrivium. Individuals worth knowing include Wat Tyler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rose Wilder Lane, Daniel Shays, Horatio Bunce, G.K. Chesterton, Jonas Salk, Emily Dickinson, Eric Hoffer, Richard Feynman, John Taylor Gatto, and Albert Jay Nock.

Finally, there is an area of education I don't want her exposed to without prior consultation. It is in the realm of contemporary values. If the mandarins of education and their legislative princes feel the Christian values we try to instill in her should not be taught, I can accept that. However, should the administration decide to promote a set of values contrary to those already prohibited, we are going to have major problems. 

Let's not be genteel about this. Our children are in the public education system because the law demands it. The law further demands we pay for it through our property taxes. However, we are not entirely powerless and will demand (vehemently if necessary) that her "captivity" not include an indoctrination that includes alien concepts and theories. If any one set of values is deemed repugnant and prohibited, then all sets of values must be prohibited. To do otherwise, amounts to a tacit endorsement of those values no matter how benign the stated intention. 

We are asked to trust that our children are receiving the best the state has to offer and that recent results indicate improved performance. However, history reveals that past promises of a similar nature have fallen short. Additionally, the Cato Institute reports that in some states authorities have been known for "...setting standards as low as they can, defining proficiency as loosely as possible, and administering easy tests, thereby avoiding the law's penalties to the greatest extent possible while still claiming success." 

I don't know how high Tennessee has set the bar but if it's too low, the impact will still be felt 50 years from now. Can we really afford to tinker with a mediocre system hoping for marginal improvements? Or is it time to make radical changes, concentrating on the core, eliminating much of the extracurricular fluff, and make schoolwork hard work? I vote for the road less taken.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dump Congress…let Hannity, Matthews, Madow, and O'Reilly look for productive work

It's likely that most have heard of the Ten Commandments; it's unlikely that most have heard of the Ten Thousand Commandments. The former, at one time, were used a guideposts to living a "moral" life. (I place quote marks around moral since morality, like so many quaint customs, is no longer seen as relevant to modernity). The latter is the title of a report issued every year and which tracks Congressional action (sic) and compares it to the issuance of "rules and regs" by a host of federal agencies.

For the most recent year Congress managed to enact 72 pieces of legislation. Federal agencies, lead by the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Interior, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency slipped through 3,659 new rules. Total annual agency "rules and reg" cost to taxpayers: $1,863 trillion - to give that number some perspective, individual income taxes for the same period totaled $1.234 trillion.

(As an interesting aside, I checked through the different agencies and their rule making activity - right there at the bottom was the "Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board" with one (1) reg enacted.)

In addition to the enacted rules and regs, there are an additional 2,500 "proposed" regs awaiting a final go-ahead. There are also over 24,000 "public notices" regarding many of our daily concerns. Among these are issues of health care, education, energy production, finance, land and resource management, etc. It is imperative to understand that all these issues, as well as those under agency rules and regs, are written and implemented by groups of nameless, faceless, and unelected individuals  - many of whom have agendas of their own, many others who are otherwise unemployable relatives of known vote-gernerators.

These duties were originally deemed responsibilities of the Congress - yet Congress has a chosen to cede its legislative authority to these agencies (There is little use in appealing to the Constitutional relevance anymore, as it is being re-intepreted under a "living document" penumbra. As a result, it can mean one thing to a "wise Latina", and something quite different to an Irish dipsomaniac, or an Albanian dwarf, or a left-handed pole vaulter.)

Nevertheless, it is very apparent that, measured by productivity, our Congress is home to a bunch of shameless underachievers. However, that legislation which they do manage to enact is so horrendously written, so lengthy, and so sweeping, that no member that I am aware of ever read (or understood) the complete text of the Homeland Security Act or the Affordable Care Act. Complete texts of each bill (both of which ran to thousands of pages) were available to our congress people only hours before they voted and passed them.

(There are groups actively seeking to make it mandatory to provide ample time for all bills be read before being voted upon. Apparently, it's considered impractical.)

A final observation: members of the legal profession dominate in both houses, yet it's impossible to find a lawyer who won't insist that you MUST carefully read any legal document BEFORE signing it. Yet these clowns merrily ignore their own cautions and saddle us with legalisms that, to this day, remain undisclosed.

Congress ought to be disbanded. Members of both houses have shown their loyalty is to the party  leadership, and not to their constituencies. They leave the really repulsive rule making and regulation writing to legions of non-descript paper-shufflers, thereby immunizing themselves from charges of bad government.

Congress doesn't work because its members don't. 535 additions to the unemployment roles will go all but unnoticed, except by the madmen and women who populate the networks and make public discourse so ugly and incomprehensible.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Barry and Kerry ignore history

There seems to be a remarkable degree of complacency over the recently negotiated "agreement" with the Iranians over their nuclear capability (or lack of it). Barry posits that "…I'm keeping all options on the table but if I can do it diplomatically, that's how we should do it. And…that, for sure, is the preference of the American people."

Speaking as one of those "American people," baloney.

My opposition isn't based on the current Iranian regime or its leadership. Rather, the history of negotiated settlements with Muslim leaders, especially when they've been the weaker party, has been one of total failure. These failures can be attributed to "taqiyya", a negotiating stance taken by Muslims which allows them to lie to "infidels" to protect themselves.

Allied with taqiyya principle is that of kitman, a tactic which allows Muslim negotiators to engage in un-Muslim behavior as a ruse to fool the infidels. This may involve the consumption of alcohol or the eating of pork - one who so indulges, comforts himself that he remains "mentally" committed to the tenets of his beliefs which, because it is done in the spirit of advancing Islam, absolves him of the transgression.

As Abu Bakr, himself a military leader, put it: "If I take an oath to do something and later on I find something else better than the first one, then I do what is better and make expiation for my oath." (Bukhari 78:618)

Nor do these mental and moral gymnastics end there. The most prominent tactic is that of the hudna or "treaty of convenience." It originated with Muhammed himself when he negotiated a 10-year treaty with Mecca (the Treaty of Hudaibiya). Within two years, Muslim forces broke the treaty and overran Mecca. They claimed that the attack was legitimate as an ally of Mecca attacked an ally of theirs. However, once the treaty had been established, the caravans once again began moving in great numbers… Muslim forces "waylaid every caravan from Mecca (for since the truce, traffic with Syria had again sprung up) and spared the life of no one.”

The precedent was set and duplicity in negotiations has become part and parcel of Islamic treaty making and breaking. (Doesn't anyone ever notice the frequent Mid-East "cease fires" that occur - only to be followed up some time later by "surprise" attacks by Islamic forces or rockets? Cease fires are nothing more than periods of re-armament and propagandizing.

Muslim scholar, Bassam Tibi explains: "In this sense Muslims believe that expansion through war is not aggression but a fulfillment of the Koranic command to spread Islam as a way to peace. The resort to force to disseminate Islam is not war (harb), a word that is used only to describe the use of force by non-Muslims."

A further refinement of taqiyya is the "we were attacked" justification. As many things Muslim, an attack can come in a variety of guises. Cartoons featuring Muhammed, the banning of the burqah, or supporting Israel are just a few of the actions that have prompted retaliation.

As Bat Ye'or notes in her must-read "Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis", it was almost fifty years ago that French scholar Charles-Emmanuel Defourcq "explained that according to the juridicial concept of jihad, war was the normal state of relations between Muslims and Christians. All…treaties between them were called 'truce treaties.' (6th edition, pg. 33)"

Under these conditions there has not, is not, and will not be a lasting peace with Islam. Those who indulge in the effort are wasting their time and affording the opposition an opportunity to improve their position - until such a time when they once again feel they have an upper hand, and hostilities WILL break out.

And I believe we've had enough of this "religion of peace" baloney (or globaloney) that's swept the world (or at least the political and journalistic portions). Following is a partial listing of Islamic peace initiative in JUST the middle portion of the 8th century:

635: Battle of Bridge, Battle of Buwaib, Conquest of Damascus, Battle of Fahl.
636: Battle of Yarmuk, Battle of al-Qādisiyyah, Conquest of Madain.
637: Conquest of Syria, Conquest of Jerusalem, Battle of Jalula.
638: Conquest of Jazirah.
639: Conquest of Khuzistan. Advance into Egypt. Plague of Emmaus.
640: Battle of Babylon in Egypt.
641: Battle of Nihawand; Conquest of Alexandria in Egypt.
642: Conquest of Egypt.
643: Conquest of Azarbaijan and Tabaristan (Mazandaran).
644: Conquest of Fars, Kerman, Sistan, Mekran and Kharan. Assassination of Umar. Uthman ibn Affan becomes the caliph.
646: Campaigns in Khurasan, Armenia and Asia Minor.
647: Campaigns in North Africa. Conquest of the island of Cyprus.
648: Campaigns against the Byzantines.
659: Conquest of Egypt by Muawiyah I.
660: Ali recaptures Hijaz and Yemen from Muawiyah. Muawiyah I declares himself as the caliph at Damascus.
670: Advance in North Africa. Uqba bin Nafe founds the town of Kairouan in Tunisia.[4] Conquest of Kabul.
672: Capture of the island of Rhodes. Campaigns in Khurasan.
674: The Muslims cross the Oxus. Bukhara becomes a vassal state.
711: Conquest of Spain by Tariq ibn Ziyad and of Transoxiana by Qutayba ibn Muslim.
712: Conquest of Sindh by Muhammad ibn Qasim
717: Beginning of the Second Arab siege of Constantinople. Death of Sulayman. Umar II becomes Umayyad Caliph. Pact of Umar.
718: End of the Second Arab siege of Constantinople.
721: First Turgesh invasion into Transoxiana
725: The Muslims occupy Nîmes in France.
732: The Battle of Tours in France.
742: The Muslim rule restored in Qairawan.
746: Battle of Rupar Thutha, Kufa and Mosul occupied by Marwan II.
751: In the Battle of Talas, the Abbasid armies defeat Tang Dynasty of China.
759: Abbasid conquest of Tabaristan.

Check out each of the following centuries and discover for yourself just how peaceful Muhammed's descendants have been.

Barry and Kerry (the former in trouble, the latter out of his depth) needed some "good news" and a pause to catch their collective breath. The good news just isn't that good (especially as there is Democrat grumbling over the agreement) and although a pause is much more enjoyable in Hawaii, the rest of the world (unlike our Congress) doesn't just doze off while Barry putts around the islands.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Make way for single pay - Pt. 2

On October 23 I suggested that Obamacare was a ruse to lead us to Fearless Leader's ultimate dream: Single Payer Medical Coverage. The Daily Beast chimes in:

"Could anger at the Obamacare rollout make Americans more receptive to a kind of Medicare-for-all system? That's what activists are hoping – and they're plotting a state-by-state fight. As the rollout of Obamacare clunks forward, activists who opposed the law from the beginning say it is time to seize the moment, to tear down the current healthcare edifice and start anew, especially now as frustration with the law's implementation is reaching a peak.

"On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the American Health Security Act, which would require each state to set up a single-payer healthcare system and would undo the exchanges that have plagued Obamacare. Meanwhile, various state-led efforts are under way that advocates hope will sweep the country statehouse by statehouse, as soon as lawmakers see the advantage of a single-payer system."

The article goes on to suggest that the possibility "is gradually becoming more mainstream among the Democratic establishment…"

Meanwhile, as more and more individuals discover what their actual cost will be, and as more and more Millennials refuse to buy in, Barry's soon to be off on a 17-day vacation in Hawaii…the First Family reimburses the government for what the airfare would cost - you pay for the rest.

Last year (2012) similar trips and other expenses charged to the tax-payer by the Obamas logged in at $1.4 BILLION.

For a guy who doesn't know what the hell his subordinates are doing, he does know how to live and spend lavishly.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gravity: another plotless light show

I make a habit of avoiding movies, even on Senior Citizen day. Most are too expensive, too long, too visual, and too short of the one component that makes a good movie: a good story.

Let's be real about this. Space Odyssey, another sic-fi space adventure, at least offered a more interesting character than George Clooney in HAL, the computer. It also had a plot that, at various stages, suggested a creation story, an evolutionary theory, and a man vs. machine confrontation. The film does feature Sandra Bullock, though, who performance is the movie's only highlight.  Gravity is just another disaster film, piling one unlikely adversity upon another upon another: BUT they occur in zero gravity, with the Earth as its backdrop, and (drum roll) in 3-D!!!

Totally Awesome, Dude!!!

Screenwriter,  Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) adopted this story from a screenplay his son had written a number of years earlier. However, the script was hardly a script - it was more an outline of events (colossally tragic events) all to be shot (if possible) in lengthy"single takes." Which, more than anything else, explains the raves Bullock is receiving - she survived an endurance test and maintained her character - what little we know of that character.

As an early reviewer put It: "This character needs someone with some serious acting chops…This draft of Gravity – whichever draft it is – is pretty average. Despite that, I still think this is one of the microscopic sampling of subpar screenplays that can actually make a great film."

And: "While I know this is going to play out much more excitingly on screen, on paper it’s like watching Groundhog Day…" Another reviewer really nailed it: "The other criticism at this point, which goes along with the thin characterization of Ryan, is that the action is repetitive and unleavened by any humor. But if the technological ambition that is rumored for the film turns out to be true, this could still be a showstopper."

And so it has turned out to be: a real showstopper. But so, too, was Space Odyssey. While it also relied on some fairly advanced (for that time) special effects, the storyline came from Arthur Clarke, a very proficient creator of science fiction that featured plot, substance, and well-defined characters you cared about (or hated). Gravity, on the other hand, is a movie remarkable only for its technological achievements and selection of Sandra Bullock (rather than Scarlett Johansson). There are Oscars for those categories: "Special Effects" and Best Actress.

Best Movie? Hardly.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All hail the party of the downtrodden

Several years ago I was looking through my grand-daughter's fifth grade history book. At the time her class was covering the New Deal and I thought it would be instructive to see how it was covered. Like most modern histories it was overwhelmingly laudatory over FDR's policies and there long-term benefits. As the narrative proceeded it mentioned that things hadn't changed remarkably in the initial years but by 1937 "things were looking better."

I turned the page, expecting to find a continuation of the topic. Instead there was a new chapter entitled "World War II." My grand-daughter and any other young person whose knowledge of American History ended with the fifth grade, would most likely spend the rest of their lives convinced that the New Deal was a roaring success. Only a few of the inquisitive would have gone on and learned that many of the programs were failures, others ruled unconstitutional, and still others remain on the books like vampire bats with an eternal meal.

When Barry was elected in 2008, it wasn't unusual to see a headline or column bruiting the idea of a "new" New Deal, as if this is just what the nation needed. My history education was significantly different. Not only were several semesters of American History required but many of those who taught it were sold-out advocates of FDR. Our junior year teacher, Ray Baker, went beyond advocacy and approached worship.

However, at that time, a fairly well educated high school junior, if he was paying attention, quickly discerned that the teaching had ended and the indoctrination had begun. A group of us made it our mission to go beyond our equally biased text book and do some independent research. Sure enough, there were some chinks in the great man's armor and we quickly brought them to Mr. Baker's attention.

I'll credit Baker with this: he didn't shut us up but engaged us in spirited debate. This does not happened today - the modern student who decides to engage his professor/teacher is very likely to pay a heavy penalty. It's very sad, but the modern university professor is rarely open to debate - many I would wager have had little exposure to the "other side."

As a result, the image of FDR remains much as his earlier biographers pictured him: a wealthy nobleman who stepped down from his Hyde Park Olympus to minister to the masses. Interestingly enough, we have another paragon who has descended from a different Hyde Park, making an attempt to save the nation from its baser instincts.

Trumpeting the battle cry of his party, "equality for everyone," Barry is attempting to build another social Utopia, counting on his supporters to recall the glory days of FDR and his progressive fore bearers. Which is enough for me to do a reconstruction of that period and that party and the many blessings it and they have brought upon us.

First, let's go back to pre-Civil War days to see how the party developed it's enduring love affair with the downtrodden. In 1846, a first-term, Democrat representative, David Wilmot , proposed that no funds be approved for war against Mexico without the express understanding that any new territory gained, would be slave-free. The resolution sped through the House with support from all sides, but once it hit the Senate, the southern contingent, with enough votes to successfully filibuster it, prevailed. Guess the party of those Senators.

Our next historical stop will be in the Progressive era, the time we chose to elect a full professor to the presidency. Woodrow Wilson, as governor of New Jersey established his "progressive" credentials by signing a bill which made it mandatory to sterilize criminals and the mentally retarded. Elected to the top spot and with the support of W.E.B. Du Bois, Wilson was sworn in on March 4, 1913. A little over a month later, at the suggestion of Post Master General Albert S. Burleson, a Texan, that the railway mail service be segregated.

Comforting himself with the thought that he had made “no promises in particular to Negroes, except to do them justice…”, Wilson did away with merit appointments for civil service jobs, required all applicants to provide a photo, and, for the next 35 years, those African-Americans fortunate enough to get a postal job, worked in the back room. (April 11, 2013, was the centenary of this moment but I don't recall a celebration…strange.)

Going further, Wilson saw that “the old political formulas do not fit the present problems: they read now like documents taken out of a forgotten age.” Going even further than today's moderns, Wilson asked for “permission — in an era in which ‘development,’ ‘evolution,’ is the scientific word — to interpret the Constitution according to Darwinian principle.”

Although that was never accomplished we did get the Fed, the income tax, Prohibition, and the 17th amendment…more accomplishments that no one celebrates. Guess the party of Woodrow Wilson.

Now we approach that most pivotal time: the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the wizard FDR. 
The picture one gets is similar to that of grade school or high school history text books. They paint a rosy picture of the era, its accomplishments, and its enduring quest to elevate the "common man." But to get a more balanced appraisal of the era, it's essential to avoid the hagiographers and search out a real historian. Ira Katznelson fits the bill with two books: "When Affirmative Action Was White" and  “Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.”

Katznelson's labors are not attempts to diminish FDR but to accurately frame the conditions that drove the legislation that came out of his administrations. Putting it briefly and bluntly, successful legislation needed the support of Senators from the South…in 17 states segregation was still legal and these 34 Senators were able to block any legislation. Guess which party these Senators represented.

Some examples of what legislation was passed and is still considered remarkable are the labor laws of the New Deal and Fair Deal. Millions of workers secured minimum wages, maximum hours, Social Security, and the right to join industrial as well as craft unions. African Americans, on the other hand, missed out as the southern contingent saw to it that farm workers and household workers were denied these protections - of course, a substantial number were African American (In the spirit of equity, I have to point out that a majority of eligible white southern voters, the poor share-cropper and field worker, were also denied Social Security and the ballot as many could not pony up the poll tax.) .

(This "minor" withholding also initially cost working African-Americans [and impoverished whites] years and years of lost contributions to Social Security, as neither employee or employer were required to set money aside. In the longer run, with ever-increasing payouts, the losses were, and are, truly significant.)

Later even the GI Bill, despite the universal eligibility for the benefits offered, was written to make it possible to deny benefits to blacks. This was accomplished by allowing benefit approval to be administered locally - without national oversight. As a result, these benefits, including home loans (fully guaranteed by the federal government) were also refused to people of color. The education benefits of the GI Bill also wound up being dead letters as the segregation in higher education continued.

Even with the vote for GI's, the south prevailed. The 1944 Soldier Voting Act was to give every troop   a say in the upcoming election. However, with Senator James Eastland and Rep. John Rankin of Mississippi writing the bill, it stipulated that absentee votes be counted only in states where the governor and state legislatures approved the use of the federal ballot. Guess which states didn't approve. Name the party of their Senators.

What Katznelson saw as “a notable, even extraordinary, attainment,” was despite contrary developments in Italy, Germany, and Russia, the U.S. kept a strong legislature - although, at various times, both FDR and Truman attempted "to shift authority from the legislative branch to the executive." This may seem an unnecessary exaggeration, but upon assuming office,  George Kennan, who would later do much to shape American policy toward Russia and the Cold War, came to the conclusion that the U.S. would be more successful as an "authoritarian state." Walter Lippman, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper columnist and one-time adviser to Woodrow Wilson, informed FDR prior to assuming office that “you may have no alternative but to assume dictatorial powers.”

The next great period of dominant liberalism occurred in the '60s - years still viewed by many as the truly great years of the "American experiment." While the years 1932-1952 saw an unbroken string of one-party majorities in both houses and in the White House, Eisenhower brought in change. He waged no wars, built a substantial highway system, sent troops into Little Rock to enforce integration, and selected Earl Warren to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court ("the biggest fool mistake I ever made.") It was a selection that would usher in a new wave of liberal intellectuals anxious to put their theories into practice.

JFK appeared to be the dream of the left: young, handsome, articulate, a war hero, a great speaker, and a Harvard grad. However, he quickly found himself, and his armed forces, involved in Berlin, Cuba, and Cuba again (during his 2-1/2 years in office I was asked to visit my Draft Board on three separate occasions - he might be your hero, he's not mine). On the civil rights front he dithered; on one of the days immediately preceding his assassination, the Chicago Tribune ran a front page cartoon showing Kennedy, as a football player, being called for two penalties; the white referee flagged him for "pushing," the black referee flagged him for "holding."

The LBJ years were fantastic for the left as they once again gave the nation two houses overwhelmingly dominated by one party. However, civil rights remained a real stumbling block for much the same reason it had been for FDR: southern Senators were still a power to be reckoned with, but with a little less clout than before. Nevertheless, the inter-party debates and personalities demonstrated the party's views on integration.

Here are a few quotes from the era - all from members of the same party:
“Today the Negro story and the American story fuse and blend . . . the two currents will finally mingle and rush as one great stream across the uncertain and the marvelous years of the America that is yet to come” as “the American Negro [claims] his freedom to enter the mainstream of American life.” - Name the president and his party

"I'll have those n*ggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years."
- Name the president and his party

"I am a former Kleagle [recruiter] of the Ku Klux Klan in Raleigh County . . . The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia. It is necessary that the order be promoted immediately and in every state in the union."
- Name the Senator and his party

"President Truman's civil rights program "is a farce and a sham--an effort to set up a police state in the guise of liberty. I am opposed to that program. I have voted against the so-called poll tax repeal bill ... I have voted against the so-called anti-lynching bill." -
Name the Senate Majority Leader, later President, and his party

"I did not lie awake at night worrying about the problems of Negroes."
- Name the one-time Senator, Attorney General, and assassinated Presidential candidate and his party

"Everybody likes to go to Geneva. I used to do it for the Law of the Sea conferences and you'd find these potentates from down in Africa, you know, rather than eating each other, they'd just come up and get a good square meal in Geneva."
- Name the South Carolina Senator, later 1984 candidate for nomination for President, and his party

"I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia [Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a former Ku Klux Klan recruiter] that he would have been a great senator at any moment . . . He would have been right during the great conflict of civil war in this nation."
- Name the Connecticut Senator who, along with Barney Frank, authored a major piece of financial legislation, and his party

LBJ, of course, had his problems, too. Not the least of which was Viet Nam, the draft, the Gulf of Tonkin, the guns-and-butter agenda, Medicare, Viet Nam, Bobby Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, Viet Nam, Bobby Kennedy.

But his major initiative was the Voting Rights Act of 1964. The Bill passed and it has been considered a grand piece of legislation, mad possible only through a one-party super-majority. Or was it?

Let's look at the voting record for that Bill:

House bill (FOR-AGAINST):
Southern Democrats: 7-87 (7–93%)
Southern Republicans: 0-10 (0–100%)
Northern Democrats: 145-9 (94–6%)
Northern Republicans: 138-24  (85–15%)

Senate bill (FOR-AGAINST):
Southern Democrats: 1-20 (5–95%)
Southern Republicans: 0-1 (0–100%)
Northern Democrats: 45-1 (98–2%)
Northern Republicans: 27-5 (84–16%)

Conclusion: if the Northern Republicans had been as bigoted as popularly characterized, they could have successfully filibustered it, as their southern predecessors did.

Interesting Note: One year prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Bill, the Senate also passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963. which prohibited wage differentials based on sex. Howard Smith of Virginia chaired the House Rules Committee and hated the Civil Rights Bill. In an effort to get it defeated he added an amendment prohibiting sex discrimination. Later another representative observed that "Smith didn't give a damn about women's rights...he was trying to knock off votes either then or down the line because there was always a hard core of men who didn't favor women's rights."

We are now experiencing another incarnation of the dissatisfied liberal left. Once again, with super-majorities in both houses, they pushed through a piece of legislation which at the time, and now, is still opposed by a majority of Americans - a majority that's growing bigger daily as the real details of the bill act become apparent.

The current President is heavily supported by voters of color who have been sold the line that his party has been the one that has delivered. Despite a history of double-dealing and double-crossing, the party insists these groups "owe" him their support - they have been taught a history much like the one my grand-daughter experienced. Along with other smaller groups who for various social and financial reasons, have adopted the cloak of victimhood, and signed on to his great quest, there is a good chance my grand-children and yours will be saddled with another over-sized mandate which will not be effective or affordable.

But the votes, as usual, are being purchased with food stamps, housing allowances, welfare checks, disability allowances. Additional votes are being sought through a new immigration bill which will present newcomers with many of features enumerated above as well as a ballot and eligibility for Social Security payments. And as these goodies become more available, we are witnessing the undeniable emergence of a young, white (largely male) underclass, not too anxious to work or do much more than "kick-back." Many are into drugs, many still live with Mom and Pop, and many are, at best, semi-literate.

None of this bodes well for the country or its would-be leaders. Once the grasshoppers triumph over the ants, the leeches will assume power and we will, at long last, all be equal.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Make way for single pay

In retrospect, it may well be viewed as one of the cleverest legislative coups in U.S. history. From his earliest days, Barry has pitched the single-payer program as the ideal "solution" to the health care problem. Unfortunately (for him), it was a non-starter - far too many examples of that approach failing wherever it's been instituted.

However, a similar program, masquerading as a "compromise" between single payer and what is currently in place, had a chance - a slim one that would require a House majority and a Senate composed of at least 60 party-line Democrats. And it all came together with Minnesota's strange recount which ushered in the lamentable Al Franken.

From Day One, the proposal variously known as the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, or Justice Roberts' Rule of Disorder, never achieved majority approval among the American populace. Today it is losing even more public support. Why? Look at the following Barry quotes:

“If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.”

“For people with insurance, the only impact of the health-care law is that their insurance is stronger, better, and more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else.”

“If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is the amount of money you will spend on premiums. That will be less.”

“I want to be very clear: I will not sign on to any health plan that adds to our deficits over the next decade.”

“Health care reform will cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.”

But don't expect an apology...

Guys who find inspiration in the words of Saul Alinsky and who pal around with Jeremiah Wright, Billy Ayers and Bernie Dohrn don't apologize.

But they do plan. And if one wanted a Single-Payer plan but realized it wasn't achievable, why not push a compliant Congress into passing a piece of legislation that had similar characteristics. Then, once done, and clearing the Supremes, get your in-house gremlins to cobble together one of the lengthiest, most mind-boggling set of regulations possible - running some 22,000 pages.

Then, to top it off, give the regs (through a no-bid contract) to a Canadian subsidiary of an American outfit which already has a history of incompetence. Overpay them by hundreds of millions of dollars (enough to carry them through until the next government project), then delay giving that company all the regs until very late in the game and, guess what? You have a monumental screw-up...one so bad that even several among your brain-dead majority (but not Dick Durbin!) begins asking questions. Despite Hollywood intellectuals like Robert Redford and Chris Noth playing the always-convneient race card, support continues to dwindle and change becomes unavoidable

So a new program, one that's a reasonable facsimile, must be put in place - after all, a "majority" voted for "change." And it will be saved in the form of a "substitute" Affordable Care Act. It will look remarkably like a Single-Payer plan. It will pass through both houses as the Democrats maintain their majority in the Senate (with plenty of support from the Bobby Corker wing of the GOP). The GOP may well keep the House, but the party, lacking a Pamela Harriman, will remain incapable of taking advantage of the Dem's perpetual vulnerability. Only the remaining Tea Partiers will keep the faith (but the Supreme Court will most likely rule they "lack standing."

And Barry, once out of office, will undoubtedly leverage his success into headman at the UN or, dare I say it, chief of the New World Order. One thing is for sure - he will not go away. He will prove to be such an egregious interventionist, that Jimmy Carter and Billy Clinton will appear to be shy and retiring elder statesman.

(Of course, my predictions for Barry's future are growing a little dimmer every day as he has managed to tick-off the leaders of China, France, Germany, Russia, Brazil, and many others. But, who knows, he might be their man, sent here to deliver that "Arch Duke of Austria moment" when the whole world is thrown into disorder and the Four Horsemen of the Central Banks take charge.)