Archive for February, 2005

The Squeeze on the Less-Thans Continues

Monday, February 28th, 2005

This week the Senate will again consider the same legislation that banks and credit card company campaign contributors have been pushing for 6 years. Some contend the increasing numbers of bankruptcy filings are the fault of “deadbeat” consumers. Critics say skyrocketing medical bills and predatory lending practices are forcing hard-working families into endless debt.

A number of amendments have been proposed, to exempt those suffering from medical hardship or extended military deployment from the restrictive means tests in the revived bill, to include provisions to hold corporate insiders accountable who steal from retirement pensions, and to raise the minimum wage so that all can have a living wage. Where do you stand on these questions? We have a new multiple option form where you can vote on all at once.
http://www.usalone.com/bankruptcy.htm

Our Dear “Friends”

Monday, February 28th, 2005

International > U.S. Accuses Saudi Arabia of Human Rights Abuses” href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/28/international/28cnd-rights.html”>The New York Times > International > U.S. Accuses Saudi Arabia of Human Rights Abuses

The State Department issued an annual human rights report today that criticized not only countries that have been found chronically deficient, like North Korea, Syria and Iran, but some close American allies in the Middle East.
The report said that the Saudi record of abuses in 2004 “far exceeds the advances”; that Egypt’s rights record was poor, and that Jordan had “many problems.”

Vote Barry Gardner

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

An old friend of SoonerThought’s is running for OKC City Council. We heartily endorse him.

From our friends in Oklahoma City:

Tuesday is a very important day in Oklahoma City. Four of our eight city council members will be elected on Tuesday. Turnout for municipal elections are normally quite low. Four years ago only 5% of the eligible voters in Ward 7 went to the polls to let their voice be heard. This is hard to believe because the decisions made by the City Council affect so much of our daily lives–street maintenance, parks & recreation, public transportation, traffic control, sanitation, and public safety. Currently-and until 2010–the Council will have key input in the successful implementation and completion of the Maps for Kids projects.

If you live in Oklahoma City Ward 3, 4, 7, or 8; I encourage you to take the time to vote on Tuesday. We need leaders who are not only committed to the continued growth of our city, but committed to serving the concerns of all Oklahoma City residents as well.

If you live in the cities surrounding Oklahoma City, you are also impacted by the decisions made by the Oklahoma City Council. You can have a voice in the Oklahoma City elections by forwarding this message to your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who do reside in Oklahoma City. If you live outside the Greater Oklahoma City area, your help is also needed. Please forward this message or contact the people you know in Oklahoma City and remind them to vote on Tuesday, March 1st.

I am currently a campaign volunteer for my friend and colleague, Barry Gardner. Barry is running for the City Council in Ward 7. He would very much appreciate your support on Tuesday, March 1st. Barry has worked for Southwestern Bell for over 30 years; the past 11 years he has served as the President of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 6016. He has the experience and leadership ability to represent the residents of Ward 7 and the City of Oklahoma City well. Barry graduated from Douglass High School (Oklahoma City) in 1968. He is a Vietnam Era veteran and has a pre-law degree. He has the people skills and the know-how to get the job done. He has represented the interests of Southwestern Bell employees well for the past 11 years. Now is the time for him to use his abilities to negotiate, network, and lead for the betterment of our community. His concerns are your concerns:

Economic Development Job Security for Municipal Employees
Street Maintenance Public Transportation Improvements
Maps For Kids Park and Recreation Improvements
Historic Preservation
Elect Barry Gardner - City Councilman Ward 7.
The key to winning on Tuesday is voter turnout. Please vote on Tuesday. Please contact others and remind them to vote. If you know of someone in Ward 7 that needs a ride to the polls on Tuesday, please call 424-3118.

If you live in Ward 3, 4, or 8 and would like additional information concerning the candidates, please feel free to call me.

Thanks,
Jana Lewis Harkins, CPA
(405) 523-1861 Office
(405) 752-4735 Home
(405) 659-1325 Cellular

A High School Teacher’s Caveat

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

Guest Editorial by R. Lynn Green

The nation’s governors have been meeting at the National Education Summit to hear alarming accounts of the state of American high schools. “We can’t keep
explaining to our nation’s parents or business leaders or college faculties why these kids can’t do the work,” said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner who was chiefly responsible for the summit taking place.

The governors attending heard report after report on how high schools fail their students (as opposed to the usual vice versa experienced by their teachers).
The facts they site include the fact that out 100 ninth-graders beginning high school, only 68 graduate on time and only 18 make it through college on time.
Once in college, one in four students at four-year universities must take at least one remedial course.

The governors heard Microsoft chairman Bill Gates claim, “America’s high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I don’t just mean that they’re broken,
flawed or under-funded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools — even when they’re working as designed —cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.” Gates and others called for tougher courses for students and to have their graduation requirements match the expectations of colleges and the business
community.

As a high school English teacher, I believe that I speak for the vast majority of my colleagues when I say that we will take whatever educational policy
comes to us and work to the best of our abilities to make it succeed, just as we have always done. However, allow me to add a caveat to all the heated
rhetoric from those who by and large have never spent a single year in an American high school as an administrator, teacher or janitor for that matter. Be
sure that you pick our educational policy ruts carefully for us because not only will we be in them for a long journey; we need to be certain we like our destination.

First, let’s look at the claim by Bill Gates, a college dropout, that every student needs to be prepared for college. America is just about the only industrialized country where the mantra “all students need to go to college” is repeated so often that we don’t even question its validity. I remember when the high school where I teach did a student exchange with a group of teachers and students from Germany. During one of our faculty meetings, the German high school teachers gave us an overview of their high school system. First, unlike America, the school system is run by the German federal government, something that would raise howls of protest from American conservatives.

Then, in Germany, there are three different types of high schools: Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium. Each one educates its students to the level of their ability. The Hauptschule is the lowest level of education. It lasts from the 5th grade up to the 9th grade and after the 9th grade they achieve the lowest certificate of education. In the Realschule there are those who learn faster and they are taught until the 10th grade.

Gymnasium is for the college bound and includes a 13th grade. All the teachers visiting us were Gymnasium teachers. All of their students were potentially
college bound and therefore their standards matched the ones that Gates and the governors call for. One can easily see why. One teacher told me personally, “I could not imagine teaching in a school where you have so many different levels of intelligence as you have in your classrooms.” The German system of education matches those in other European countries as well as those in Pacific Rim countries like Taiwan and Japan.

We do it differently in America. Sure, we could maintain standards simply by teaching only students willing to meet those standards as do the Germans. However, this would go against our American democratic education traditions that require every child to be educated on an equal basis regardless of aptitude or ability. In America, we want to have all children to have a college prep education despite the fact that not every child wants or even ought to go to college.

Yes, we need engineers, business executives, doctors, teachers and lawyers (well, maybe not), but we also need plumbers, electricians, builders, contractors and other skilled workers. And who was it that decided
that we need to fill all empty desks in our colleges other than college administrators who may have to face the fact that we continue to build and maintain more colleges than we actually need? Is it any wonder that we have high school students taking remedial courses when colleges will admit nearly anyone who walks through their doors with sufficient available financial resources?

Not long ago, achieving a high school diploma was as far as one could reasonably expect in this country. College was for the very few. Then along came the GI Bill which brought in a different kind of collegiate and helped to fuel the boom of the 50’s both by educating a new generation of Americans and, not coincidently, keeping them out of the job market till it could absorb them. Then came the 60’s with its Pell Grants and National Student Defense Loans (both now woefully inadequate) which paid for Baby Boomers’ college expenses. All of these helped to create a beast which high school teachers are called on increasingly to feed.

Of course, jobs once available to drop outs have been shipped to third world job
markets, but this is not the fault of our high schools, only the corporations whose heads call us “failures.”

America needs to decide what kind of education system it wants, but we teachers ask them to remember that we didn’t create the beast, we merely are given the responsibility of tending it in its cage.

Mr. Green is a professional educator and political activist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

MSNBC - The win-at-all-costs president

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

MSNBC - The win-at-all-costs president

Social Security Plan Draws Public Ire of Seniors

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

Santorum’s silly little road show is a flop. Could it be that pocketbook issues like Social Security are all that people really will get out and fight for?

EXCERPT:

“We’ve yet to find one where there was an enthusiastic reception,” said John Rother, the group’s policy director. “The most positive reception people are getting is lots of questions, and there’s significant skepticism. This is proving to be a tough sell, and our polling suggests that the more people know, the harder the sell.”

Mr. Grassley acknowledged that the Social Security plan stood in stark contrast to the last major piece of social welfare legislation that moved through his committee: a bill overhauling Medicare and creating a prescription drug benefit. “A good share of both parties felt that something needed to be done on Medicare,” he said, “and so there was impetus in both parties to at least look at it.” But on Social Security, he said, “there’s too much of a feeling that it’s better to wait a while before you do something.”

Democrats, many of whom held their own constituent meetings, were practically giddy at the Republicans’ dilemma.

“The reviews are in: Santorum’s Social Security roadshow was a bust,” crowed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Friday, in a headline that topped a list of excerpts from news accounts.

“They have run into a real hornet’s nest,” said Brendan Daly, spokesman for Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader. Mr. Daly said Democrats planned events for next week to keep the focus on Social Security.

The fallout from the recess might deepen the division between the parties on Capitol Hill. Democrats have insisted that they will be united in their opposition to the Bush plan, and on Friday, Senator Jon Corzine, the New Jersey Democrat who is running for governor of that state, said he expected that feeling to intensify.

“I can’t imagine that people are going to come back more fearful that there is sort of a drumbeat of support for the private account concept,” Mr. Corzine said. He held three constituent meetings devoted to Social Security, he said, including two featuring representatives of AARP.

“It is clearly something that seniors are rejecting in very, very large numbers,” Mr. Corzine said, “and increasingly it feels to me that even folks moving down the age spectrum are turning against it.”

At least one Republican, Representative Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, said she would urge colleagues to “be really cautious about what we do.” Ms. Capito, whose district includes a substantial population of older people and who has not taken a position on private accounts, said the response from constituents was “probably more negative than positive.”

Liberal Coalition–Worth A Look

Saturday, February 26th, 2005

SoonerThought is a longstanding member of the Liberal Coailition. Check it out.

Wal Mart Crushes Another Union Attempt

Friday, February 25th, 2005

Colo. Wal-Mart Workers Nix Unionization
By JON SARCHE
Associated Press Writer

Workers at a Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express voted 17-1 against union representation Friday, rejecting efforts to establish what would have been the first union inside any Wal-Mart store in the United States.

A union spokesman who announced the outcome said the group will ask to have the results thrown out, saying no union member was allowed to observe the election and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. added employees to the unit to dilute the strength of the union supporters.

Wal-Mart had objected to even holding the vote, saying the Tire & Lube Express was not a stand-alone operation but only a department of the larger store.

Cuckoo, Cuckoo!

Friday, February 25th, 2005

National > Kansas Prosecutor Demands Files on Late-Term Abortion Patients” href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/25/national/25kansas.html?ex=1109998800&en=2b45f58a1359d70d&ei=5070″>The New York Times > National > Kansas Prosecutor Demands Files on Late-Term Abortion Patients

/archives/date/2005/02/25kline.jpg

Cuckoo Kline

Attorney General Phill Kline, a Republican who has made fighting abortion a staple of his two years in the post, is demanding the complete medical files of scores of women and girls who had late-term abortions, saying on Thursday that he needs the information to prosecute criminal cases.

GOP JERK CANCELS KIDS

Friday, February 25th, 2005

Greetings Fellow Democrats:

Last Tuesday, the Future Farmers of America students from Northwest Classen
High School visited the state capitol at the behest of Gov. Brad Henry. The
students had been invited several months ago to make a brief presentation to
the Legislature of some of the parlimentary skills they have learned as a part
of their involvement in FFA competition. However, only a week before their
presentation, Rep. Lance Cargill, R-Chandler, called their faculty sponsor and
abruptly cancelled their invitation indicating that the House leadership
considered such presentations a waste of the legislature’s time.
/archives/date/2005/02/cargill.jpg The Jerk

The students, who had been practicing their program for months, were bitterly
disappointed. When word got out about this, Rep. Cargill’s office was
inundated by outraged calls, and Gov. Henry’s office invited the students to
visit the capitol as a guest of the governor. While the students did not get a
chance perform their program, they were introduced to the legislature from the
gallery by Rep. Sally Kern, R-OKC who also taught at NWC. One student reported that Rep. Lance Cargill “got up and left” when Rep. Kern did her introduction.

The students, though disappointed that they could not display the fruits of
their hard work, were thrilled by their visit to our state capitol. I would
urge that you write the governor’s office to let him know how much you
appreciate his actions on behalf of these fine students who represent the
future of our state and are preparing for their place in it through their
involvement in Future Farmers of America.
(more…)

Krugman: Kansas on My Mind

Friday, February 25th, 2005

Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Kansas on My Mind” href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/25/opinion/25krugman.html?th”>The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Kansas on My Mind

By PAUL KRUGMAN

Call it “What’s the Matter With Kansas - The Cartoon Version.”

The slime campaign has begun against AARP, which opposes Social Security privatization. There’s no hard evidence that the people involved - some of them also responsible for the “Swift Boat” election smear - are taking orders from the White House. So you’re free to believe that this is an independent venture. You’re also free to believe in the tooth fairy.

Their first foray - an ad accusing the seniors’ organization of being against the troops and for gay marriage - was notably inept. But they’ll be back, and it’s important to understand what they’re up to.

The answer lies in “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” Thomas Frank’s meditation on how right-wingers, whose economic policies harm working Americans, nonetheless get so many of those working Americans to vote for them.

People like myself - members of what one scornful Bush aide called the “reality-based community” - tend to attribute the right’s electoral victories to its success at spreading policy disinformation. And the campaign against Social Security certainly involves a lot of disinformation, both about how the current system works and about the consequences of privatization.

But if that were all there is to it, Social Security should be safe, because this particular disinformation campaign isn’t going at all well. In fact, there’s a sense of wonderment among defenders of Social Security about the other side’s lack of preparation. The Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation have spent decades campaigning for privatization. Yet they weren’t ready to answer even the most obvious questions about how it would work - like how benefits could be maintained for older Americans without a dangerous increase in debt.

Privatizers are even having a hard time pretending that they want to strengthen Social Security, not dismantle it. At one of Senator Rick Santorum’s recent town-hall meetings promoting privatization, college Republicans began chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Social Security’s got to go.”

But before the anti-privatization forces assume that winning the rational arguments is enough, they need to read Mr. Frank.

The message of Mr. Frank’s book is that the right has been able to win elections, despite the fact that its economic policies hurt workers, by portraying itself as the defender of mainstream values against a malevolent cultural elite. The right “mobilizes voters with explosive social issues, summoning public outrage … which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends.”

In Mr. Frank’s view, this is a confidence trick: politicians like Mr. Santorum trumpet their defense of traditional values, but their true loyalty is to elitist economic policies. “Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. … Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization.” But it keeps working.

And this week we saw Mr. Frank’s thesis acted out so crudely that it was as if someone had deliberately staged it. The right wants to dismantle Social Security, a successful program that is a pillar of stability for working Americans. AARP stands in the way. So without a moment’s hesitation, the usual suspects declared that this organization of staid seniors is actually an anti-soldier, pro-gay-marriage leftist front.

It’s tempting to dismiss this as an exceptional case in which right-wingers, unable to come up with a real cultural grievance to exploit, fabricated one out of thin air. But such fabrications are the rule, not the exception.

For example, for much of December viewers of Fox News were treated to a series of ominous warnings about “Christmas under siege” - the plot by secular humanists to take Christ out of America’s favorite holiday. The evidence for such a plot consisted largely of occasions when someone in an official capacity said, “Happy holidays,” instead of, “Merry Christmas.”

So it doesn’t matter that Social Security is a pro-family program that was created by and for America’s greatest generation - and that it is especially crucial in poor but conservative states like Alabama and Arkansas, where it’s the only thing keeping a majority of seniors above the poverty line. Right-wingers will still find ways to claim that anyone who opposes privatization supports terrorists and hates family values.

Their first attack may have missed the mark, but it’s the shape of smears to come.

E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com

UFOs

Thursday, February 24th, 2005

ABC News: The UFO Phenomenon — Seeing Is Believing

I admit it–I have an open mind about this subject. Perhaps if our government had been more open on this subject historically I wouldn’t, but I am interested in Peter Jennings’ program.