Sunday, August 07, 2005


Saturday, August 06, 2005

My grandson was in first grade this year in the Hazelwood School District, and I am so impressed. He knew the alphabet when the year started, but that's all. A few times last summer, I tried to get him to connect certain sounds with particular letters, without much success. Now he can read, he can sound out unfamiliar words--a sea change in one year. Hazelwood is not a rich district with small class sizes, but Josh's teacher did her job.
At the Wednesday meetup, Peter Campbell spoke about the hidden agenda of No Child Left Behind, with its recipe for dismantling public schools in favor of schools managed by private, for profit companies. The means for accomplishing this goal is a requirement of the law called "Adequate Yearly Progress". It requires that every school, even high performing ones, improve test scores each year. By 2014 all schools must have 100 percent of their students passing the reading and math tests. As the Valley Girls have it, "AS IF!"
When I was still teaching, we had a new hot-shot superintendent one year who set forth high sounding goals for the district. She wasted a few hundred thousand dollars printing it all up on laminated paper for every teacher. In five years, we were going to see that 100 percent of our students were successful. I forget now what the definition of "successful" was in that piece of malarkey. No matter. The supe was gone in four years, off to peddle her silliness somewhere else. When year five rolled around, a few of us pulled out our laminated folders and had a good laugh.
Unfortunately, Adequate Yearly Progress is law in this country, and failing to meet the goals has consequences--for all schools but especially for poorly performing ones. Instead of helping schools in low socio-economic areas by giving them additional money to reduce class sizes and by providing adequate social services so that children are more likely to come to school prepared to learn, this law punishes such districts for the inevitable failure.
The consequences are severe. If any school, high performing or low, remains on the "needs improvement" list, it must stretch already overburdened funds in the following ways:
After two years: the school must pay for a transfer if any parent requests it
After three years: the school must pay for tutors
After four years: the school day and the school year are lengthened
After five years: teachers are fired and the school is taken over by a private, for profit company
Several unintended but nevertheless predictable problems result from the plan. First, many districts, worried about meeting the goals, are teaching students how to do well on multiple choice tests instead of spending time reading books and are cutting social studies, art, music and foreign language to concentrate on preparing for the test. (Only math and reading are tested now. Science will be added later.) Second, since the states are receiving inadequate federal funds to pay for writing and giving the tests, school funds are stretched even thinner. And finally, not surprisingly, many states are dumbing down the tests out of pure self defense.
Perhaps even Superintendent Kowal, wherever she is, disapproves of this bureacratic nightmare. At least her plan was relatively harmless and easy to ignore. This one, with its insidious aim of undermining public schools, has the potential to deep-six public education.

Friday, August 05, 2005

December before last, about six busloads of activists got plenty of local news cameras trained on them by protesting in front of a Wal-Mart on a freezing winter day. Next Wednesday, Wake-Up Wal-Mart is organizing another demonstration, this time in front of the Ferguson Wal-Mart on West Florissant. This one is more important because it is part of a nationwide campaign to open people's eyes about how much the "cheap" store really costs them. Local labor leaders hope to convince the national campaign to focus particularly on St. Louis, and a good turnout next week would make the national leaders take notice.
There will be a press conference at Commons Lane Elementary at 2:00 where several people, including state legislators (Maria Chappelle-Nadal among them), will speak. Feel free to attend. Then at 3:00 the Big Event. I hope some of you will attend. Here's the letter the local office sent out:
Where is it that you can find unremitting labor violations, flagrant disregard for wage laws and Cheetos for the everyday low price of $2.49?
That’s right, Wal-Mart. Wake-Up Wal-Mart
Next Wednesday, August 10th, we’re taking this corporate criminal to task. Did you also know that Wal-Mart, the world’s largest corporation, has been sued for denial of worker’s comp. and unemployment benefits, wage theft, malicious prosecution, retaliatory tactics, and discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race, religion and physical handicap?
This is just the tip of the iceberg, too. Wake-Up Wal-Mart
Did you know that on average, each American teacher spends $500-600 out of their own pockets for classroom expenses? Did you know that taxpayers are being fleeced? Wal Mart also gets huge Property Tax kickbacks that negatively impact the budgets of School Districts all over Missouri and America. That's money that should go to teacher salaries or school supplies.
So what to do? What we do best, and that is get active. Wake Up Wal-Mart has announced a national day of action as the beginning of a back to school campaign that encourages teachers and parents against buying school necessities at Wal-Mart.
The AFT, the NEA, and Change for Missouri will be on hand to make sure that St. Louis becomes the focus of media attention, possibly on a national level.
We are asking one and all to join in a mass demonstration in front of the Wal-Mart on West Florissant, August 10th at 2:30 pm. You can Mapquest directions from this address:
Wal-Mart Store #1265
10741 West Florissant
Ferguson, MO 63135
If you don’t like the fact that your tax dollars pay to subsidize Wal-Mart's expansion and profit margin, then come show your support. Participation will be the key to our success, hitting them right where it counts--their pocketbook.
If you want to RSVP or have any questions, please contact one of us:
Christine Brooks
Joe Bruemmer
Cell: 314-910-0122

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Beth Maskow thought you'd like to read this excerpt from "How to Turn Your Red State Blue", published in In These Times last March:
Last fall, I spent seven weeks in the suburbs of Madison, Wis.,
canvassing undecided voters for John Kerry. Driving back one day from a long session pounding the pavement, our car passed two young Mormon missionaries on bicycles. They were dressed in their standard garb: grim but oddly stylish black suits, white shirts, skinny ties and backpacks, all of which were getting soaked in the rain as they struggled up a hill, standing on their pedals for extra leverage. "Now that," said a fellow organizer sitting in the backseat, "is canvassing."
Going door to door was hard enough. My pulse would quicken at each door, and after three hours tromping through numbing subdivisions I invariably got the urge to fill in numbers on my walk sheet, grab a soda and wait for the carpool to pick me up. And all we wanted was three minutes of someone's time to ask a few questions, give a short pitch and hand out some literature. A missionary who approaches a stranger's door is seeking nothing less than a complete reconstitution of that person's worldview. One imagines a lot of door slamming, unpleasant words and icy stares.
And yet the improbable fact about missionary activity is that it works, regardless of the faith's specific dogma. Mormons are the fastest-growing church in the country. Evangelical protestant congregations make up 58 percent of all new churches in the United States. Globally, Islam continues to reach into new and unfamiliar lands, experiencing explosive growth in China. Religions that actively proselytize - Pentecostals, Mormons, Muslims - grow, almost without exception.
There's a corollary to this in politics. Yale political scientists Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber have found in numerous studies of voter contact that face-to-face canvassing is far and away the most effective means of persuasion: Roughly one out of every 15 voters approached at the door will add their vote to your tally.
In a speech accepting his new position as chair of the Democratic
National Committee, Howard Dean stressed the importance of reaching out to unbelievers through retail politics. "People will vote for Democratic candidates in Texas, and Utah, and West Virginia," he said, "if we knock on their door, introduce ourselves and tell them what we believe."
Five months after the election, progressives' efforts have largely shifted away from people's doorsteps, toward saving Social Security, opposing reactionary judicial appointees and reining in the administration's foreign policy. But I can't stop thinking about those Mormons on their bicycles. What are progressives doing to win conversions to our faith?
Where are our young people on bikes approaching unfamiliar doors? How are we preaching the good news?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Political discourse is practically impossible, considering how quickly people on either side of the discussion just lose it. So Saturday night's conversation with our daughter-in-law's dad was fascinating. After dinner at Kim's birthday party, Connie and I started talking politics with Jim. A former union man and staunch Democrat, he has switched allegiances. He's a born again, good ole boy from Texas who follows the right wing line to the last jot and tittle. What made the talk so interesting is that he's skilled at holding his own in a debate, and he doesn't lose his temper. The same could be said for us, though my husband is calmer and more articulate. So the talk was ... spirited. But civil.
Now Jim doesn't mince words. Islam is a religion born in the pits of hell, he told us. So is Catholicism. And Connie and I, as unbelievers, are demonic. But he makes these observations in such an agreeable, matter-of-fact tone that I don't much mind being demonic.
We tried to make the point that Christ emphasized loving thy neighbor and caring for the poor and that today's evangelicals vote for politicians who enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Connie used the example of the rich young ruler who came to Christ asking what he had to do to be saved. Christ told him to sell all that he had and follow him. The rich young ruler went away saddened because he was unwillingly to give up his wealth. Jim pointed out that the rich young man had told Christ he had always followed all the commandments from his youth on, so when Christ ordered him to give up his wealth, He was pointing out the young man's hypocrisy in that he had NOT followed all the commandments because he coveted wealth. And besides, Jim said, Christ's main goal was to bring people to salvation. You can talk about the Sermon on the Mount if you want to, but in the end, it's not good works that count but salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Good argument. Well, Jim is a former seminarian; he ought to be able to defend his position. Still, the accusation that today's evangelicals ignore the poor rolled right off his back.
As for Bush's lies about WMD, those weapons are probably hidden in Syria. Wilson's report on Niger is immaterial because his own wife sent him there. Downing Street memos are "questionable" according to Fox. And gay marriage is an "abomination." Very few things, he said, are termed "abominations" in the Old Testament. We couldn't remember whether eating shellfish was also an "abomination". Moral: Don't argue pollutics with a former seminarian without first reviewing your own material. By the way, eating shellfish IS an abomination. And working on the Sabbath will get a person stoned.
Never mind. Even had we been perfectly prepared, we wouldn't have swayed Jim, and, of course, he couldn't have turned us into Republicans. So why did we bother? Because conversation is a starting place. Jim was once a Democrat, so there's hope, however faint. But even that isn't a reason. We came away wishing we had argued less and listened more. Of course, listening to an intelligent man spouting Fox News and Sean Hannity and pitying us for our misguided ideas gave the conversation a surreal feeling. (My word, he really believes that? That's what everybody tells me the right wingers believe, but, dadgumit, they actually do. He's saying these things with a straight face and a pure heart. Is he the kind of person who approved of burning demonic heretics like me at the stake in 1545?)
Nevertheless, if we had listened more, we stood a chance of having a "conversation" instead of a debate.
Or maybe we should have skipped the whole thing. All we definitely succeeded in doing was clearing the rest of the family out of the kitchen.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I knew two things as soon as I looked at the Post-Dispatch the morning after John Roberts was nominated.
First, I knew that Bush had found a stealth extremist for the Court. All that prose about Roberts's fine manners and his good heart told me that he wasn't going to be criticized as an extremist. Yet the delight with which the far right welcomed him told me that he was one. Not that I was ever in doubt as to the sort of nominee we'd get. Bush's evangelical base has been clamoring for the "right kind" of judge, and he will not deny them.
The second thing I realized was that a filibuster was not in the picture. Not unless the Dems manage to dig up some fairly filthy dirt. One of the fourteen senators who crafted the filibuster compromise--was it McCain?--said that Roberts would not qualify under the "extraordinary circumstances" clause that would allow a Supreme Court nomination filibuster. And none of the Democrats was openly disagreeing with him about that.
Perhaps if we had feistier Democratic senators than we do, much feistier, our party could successfully educate the public about the aims of the Federalist Society (see Sunday's blog). But we have Biden, Clinton and Kerry. Barbara Boxer can't do it alone. She tried after the electoral fraud surfaced and found out how lonely the rest of her party can leave her.
At least the Dems are hanging in there by insisting on seeing the records of Roberts's public service. And they ought to use Republican intransigence about producing them to wonder very loudly what the G.O.P. is hiding. And who knows, maybe they can uncover that fairly filthy dirt. There's time. At this point in the confirmation proceedings, Scalia looked like a shoo-in and no one imagined a challenge to Bork.
But if we're not that fortunate, the best the Democrats can do is warn the public what kind of judge they're about to get and say I told you so in the years to come. Above all, they must stick together and just vote no. It would be disastrous if ten or fifteen of them strayed off the reservation for the sake of some under the table quid pro quo. That kind of behavior would damage the party's credibility and make it that much harder to challenge Rehnquist's replacement.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Brad Blog has the amusing story (with photographic evidence) of Bush's latest insult to the press. As he walked away from reporters last week, he raised a finger. When Scott McClellan was questioned about whether it was a "finger of hostility", he said he wouldn't dignify such a ridiculous question with an answer. But the reporter persisted. (Has the White House press corps become emboldened by the experience of asking aggressive questions about Karl Rove?) McClellan answered:
I was there with him, and I'm just not going to -- I'm not going to dignify that with a response. I mean, I haven't seen the video that you're talking about, but I know the way the President acts. And if someone is misportraying it, that's unfortunate.

The next day, a White House spokesman said that: "Bush was definitely giving the thumbs up sign with regards to the upcoming CAFTA vote (Central American Free Trade Agreement)."
Below is the photo and to the right of that is a picture of Bush when he was governor of Texas. Judge for yourself for yourself whether it's a thumbs up or a finger of hostility. Oh and, by the way, is there anything this White House won't lie about?