Tagged: Politics

Factory Farming and Moral Evolution

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Understanding the problem but managing to disassociate ourselves from even thinking about it, much less taking action to correct the situation, I believe factory farming is something future generations will accept as inhumane and wonder at our casual cruelty in tolerating it for so long.  The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)  estimates that more than 99% of all animals used in food production each year in the U.S. are raised on factory farms under problematic conditions such as “cages and overcrowding; physical alterations (e.g.,teeth-clipping or tail-docking) performed without anesthetic; indoor confinement with poor air quality and unnatural light patterns; inability to engage in natural behaviors; breeding for fast growth or high yields of meat, milk and eggs that compromises animal welfare; neglect of sick and suffering animals, often due to high ratio of animals to workers; misuse of antibiotics to compensate for unsanitary conditions; and/or rough or abusive handling by workers.”  Many cringed at the 2014 story about how then New Jersey governor and Presidential candidate Chris Christie vetoed legislation which would have required pigs being raised for slaughter to be enclosed in crates at least big enough for them to turn around.  Despite few if any pig farms in New Jersey, Christie rejected the bill in order not to offend potential Iowa caucus Republican primary voters.  It hardly seems too much to ask that a living creature be given enough room to turn around before its unnatural (not to mention brief) life is abruptly ended so that I can have sausage with my scrambled eggs.

It’s not my intent to go off on an anti-factory farm rant or to encourage you to join the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the extreme (some would argue) animal rights group, although factory farms are pretty terrible and you could probably do much worse with your charitable time or money than PETA.  No, what strikes me as I think about this, after my cheap chicken dinner purchased already roasted from Costco, is our how paradoxical our species is in understanding what’s wrong with our behavior at the same time we take forever to change it, especially if it is inconvenient or different from what we’re used to.

There are those who claim critics don’t fully understand what factory farms are becoming and even places where the most humanely raised products can be found (although the aforementioned PETA would argue that no meat is produced humanely, and they would have lots of graphic company), but the truth is most of us won’t do much about factory farming, despite our revulsion at some of the conditions under which our food is created.  One day, when the vast majority of Earth’s residents have done away with the consumption of any meat except wild animals which have died of natural causes—“Fire up the grill, Maw! I just saw a sickly-looking possum!”—we indifferent carnivores who acted as if hamburger were born in Jewel will justifiably be viewed as primitive and ignorant (at best, with more creative pejoratives regularly used in anonymous on-line comment sections).  But what happens when we discover that plants have a rich, ancient culture and have seen our farms as concentration camps where their children are poisoned and butchered, their bodies hacked up and used for human structures, their remains ground into flour, their unborn fetuses boiled in water or baked in ovens for human consumption?  Don’t get too smug, vegans!

Changing our ethical behavior requires an evolution of morality which seems to be just as important and vital to our humanity as that which helped us to develop our bodies and brains to the point where we dominate the planet so completely we seem destined to destroy it.  Perhaps moral evolution is the only hope we have in preventing that destruction.

Any examination of the human age can’t help but find atrocity after genocide after brutality, ad nauseum—we are responsible for vast numbers of them:  From ritualistic human sacrifice by the Incans to European/American buying, selling, and using Africans as farm machinery to Nazi experiments on and extermination of Jews to tribal slaughter in Rwanda to ethnic cleansing in old Yugoslavia to the Syrian military killing thousands of its own citizens (occasionally resorting to chemically induced murder)—oh, and don’t forget about the religious persecution of Myanmar.  And that historical listing just scratches the surface of the dozens other newsworthy things we are confronted with every day, many of which present us with other moral questions: How do we guarantee children’s safety in schools if we do nothing about the prevalence of guns in the hands of anybody who wants one?  How do we ferret out and punish males who use their dominant, powerful positions to subject woman to intimidation, sexual predation, and violence?  How do we deal with equality of rights, particularly as they are applied to sexual orientation and gender identity which conflict with religious leaders who condemn these people and won’t bake them cakes?  (And by the way, how do we still grant so much power to organizations which advocate discrimination against innocent people?)  What can we do about minority rights again, but this time in reference to blacks and the predilection of white Americans to feel threatened by anyone who happens to be black, leading to dire consequences, especially when the police are involved?  How do we allow the situation where any human’s ability to access medical care is contingent on whether or not that person has the money/insurance for it?   That’s a sampling of the issues which tempt us to ignore our responsibility to do that which is right in the name of convenience or personal biases; we could add dozens more.

For example, something which is closer to the aforementioned animal cruelty issue in that it affects everyone is the environment.  There is much each and every single person could take every day to make sure we are not wasting limited resources and are creating as little pollution as possible, but billions of us are still fooling ourselves that our small acts make no difference in the grand scale of things.  Regardless of our rationalizations, there’s plenty to do:  Ban single use plastics (or at least ban them from our own homes), always bring canvas bags when shopping, and limit both car trips and our Amazon orders for all the fuel consumed and garbage those entail.  We could buy organic produce, use push/reel lawnmowers (ones without gas-powered motors), stop using fertilizers and pesticides on our gardens or lawns, and create compost heaps to recycle all our food waste (which we should striving to limit) back into the ground.  And coming full circle on our opening point, we could cut animal food products out of our diets to conserve water and other natural resources, not to mention reducing pollution, as well as eliminating the problems of factory farming and the animal cruelty which ensues.

The path to progress often seems impossible, or at least absurdly slow, especially given the obvious benefits improving our behavior would lead to.  Yet, despite our selfish reluctance and stupidity, we keep taking small steps which do advance the cause.  We begin in ignorance and unintended harm—who the hell would have figured that a chemical in aerosol cans (deodorant, hairspray and the like) would lead to the destruction of the ozone layer?  (And yeah, most of us have to be schooled on what the ozone layer is, much less on why its existence matters.)  But we then move to rationalized evil for a time after we’ve learned of the damage we’re inflicting but don’t want the hassle of changing our behavior, thus denying anything’s wrong—and wind up with a hole in the ozone.  Once we can’t pretend we’re not engaging in negative actions, however, is when things get interesting, in both horrible and ennobling ways.  There are always a few outliers who understand what’s happening more clearly and quickly than others who sound the alarm.  Ridicule and ruin often follow for these poor visionaries: The things they have proved to be harmful seem indispensable to our way of life, so we attack them: “Hair spray, gas-powered cars, hot dogs, and smart phones cannot be lived without—we need them!  You must have it completely wrong—how dare you claim my precious convenience is hurting anything!”  (Now, of course, we’ve evolved our denials even more effectively in the way we use political affiliation, religion, race, and even gender to discredit anyone calling attention to a moral wrong in our society.  How much will this new “skill” delay necessary progress is anybody’s guess—the children being separated from their parents hope we can sort this out quickly.  Enhanced moral evolution would help, especially when you consider how technologies and cleverness  have increased the pace at which human actions impact our lives, which only exacerbates the need for our figuring out the right path fast.)

Eventually—but often not before those pioneers who tried to warn us have been attacked, black-balled, ignored, persecuted, bankrupted, and/or died—we do achieve forward movement, albeit in incremental, halting stages, with regular, significant backslides, until we reach a higher moral ground and clean up our acts.  Despite how impossible it seemed thirty years ago, we’ve now had a black President.  Nobody thought it could happen fifteen years ago, but gay marriage is currently the law of the land.  Women being believed and powerful men being held to account for their crimes and indiscretions didn’t seem likely five years ago, but seemingly invincible males are now losing jobs, social standing, and even going to jail.  Those minuscule advances do lead to eventual progression, taking us out of the darkness into the light—well, at least into a patch that is a little less murky.  That we can’t recognize how much development actually occurs or what the key turning points are as we agonizingly inch forward is due to the depressing regressions we’re prone to; but if we can force ourselves to look backwards far enough on some issues, we can recognize that we’ve come a long way, that movement forward is a remarkably consistent human trait.  Our history is littered with countless horrific mistakes as we’ve already referenced, but out of those low points, we seem able to recognize the evil we have perpetuated in order to make improvements.

It doesn’t happen quickly or easily, and it is damnably difficult to recognize that good is inexorably winning out; but take a look at any recent dark period in human history and you will see that we are doing better now, at least in relation to the specific circumstances of that particular conflagration.  Treatment of and rights for minorities and women have improved in most places; pollution has decreased somewhat (or the harm we are doing has slowed down a tad); and the general quality of life has gotten better for hundreds of millions.  Sadly, there is an eternal parade of evil things happening, and human corruption will apparently always be a significant part of the equation.  Recognizing progress can never come at the expense of uncovering our rottenness, but the positive deserves our attention too.

Maybe I’m just trying to talk myself out a general sense of doom based on the awful, awful regression the United States has taken since the 2016 Presidential election and the subsequent significant back-tracking Trump has instituted in racial issues, environmental protection, corruption, women’s rights, civility, empathy, rule of law, immigration, income distribution, health care, civil rights, democracy, international alliances, and just about any progress we’ve experienced in the past fifty years.  No matter what your political leanings, there can be no denying that any movement characterized by the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is based on trying to revert to the way things were in the past, the antithesis of America’s (admittedly, not completely linear) movements over the course of its history.  You think differently?  Then contemplate the America of one hundred years ago:  Women were still fighting to gain the vote, to say nothing of being allowed to compete with men in the workforce.  Blacks were regularly being lynched in parts of the country and were severely restricted in voter participation, employment opportunities, and housing options.  Child labor laws were so permissive that 18% of American workers were under 16 years old.  Still nostalgic?  Then would you advocate refashioning present-day U.S. into what it was two hundred years ago in 1818?  If you’re hankering for a time when half the country permitted slavery, then I’d recommend you stop reading this blog immediately and never click on my essays again!  (I know—no big loss…) Through the prism of historical fact, we can see without a doubt that the wild liberals of their day—those advocating women’s rights, protection of minorities from oppression, reformation of labor laws (not to mention unionization), and abolitionists (one of the more radical groups you’ll find in America’s young life)—were 100% right in pushing this country towards what seemed like extreme positions at the time.

November will be a fascinating evaluation of Trump’s attempts to move the country in his direction (translated: backward many decades); but regardless of the outcome of this grotesque blip on humanity’s moral evolution, history suggests we will finally come to our senses, bit by bit, as we stumble our way to a brighter tomorrow.  It will be embarrassing to confess to our grandchildren that we were a party to this idiotic, repressive phase in our development, but just like those humiliating pictures from our early teenage years, we can at least be confident that it will get better.  We just don’t know how or when we’ll conquer this particular awkward stage, but if we keep slowly but surely acknowledging and fighting for that which is good, that which is just, and that which is right; even a country that was foolish enough to elect Trump will one day move forward again.  We can do better and we will.  It’s just that I—like billions and billions of factory farm animals every year—wish it wouldn’t take so long.  Who’s hungry?

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The Cleverness Conundrum

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There can be little question at this point in human history that cleverness is both our greatest gift and the worst thing that ever happened to any species.  From life-saving vaccines to nuclear weapons to symphonies to hate crimes to Doctors Without Borders to the Holocaust, we’ve been able to reach astronomic heights at the same time we’ve exposed ourselves as the “most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth” (Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels).  What makes us so infuriatingly complicated is that our ingenuity can twist just about any discovery into the opposite of that for which it was intended.  Will we ever evolve enough to be able to anticipate the negative applications of the things we want to unleash on ourselves before we suffer the consequences of something we really believed was going to help us out, to make our lives better?  Even more difficult yet necessary given our innate curiosity’s leading us ever onward in our new creations, can we figure out how to turn something we’ve dreamed up that’s harmful into something positive?  Will we ever learn?

It certainly seems unlikely at this point.  Using plants to manufacture drugs which helped alleviate pain was certainly a noble goal, but shouldn’t we have been astute enough to recognize that anything which relieved pain would be abused by those seeking escape life’s realities?  Creating an Internet platform which allows friends to share joys and pictures was a great opportunity for people to stay in touch regardless of how far apart they lived, but surely we could have reasoned that volunteering that much information about ourselves to the world would be exploited by those who only wanted to take advantage of that data for their own power and/or enrichment.  You could go on with any human creation over the years: Nothing is all good or all bad in the hands of unpredictable, wily, visionary, emotional, psychotic, logical, vengeful, peaceful, angry, loving animals like us.

Smart phones have radically changed our lives in the short time they’ve been available, and we’ve probably only scratched the surface of all the ways they will determine our futures.  And shouldn’t it frighten us how that clause—“they will determine our futures”—can be so casually dropped without many of us even noticing?  Think about that:  It won’t be up to you how your life is altered by some technological invention; to function as part of our society, you will be forced to change yourself to fit the technology, whether you like it or not.  I resisted as long as I could being beholden to my cell phone, but I lost that personal war and now readily admit that they are necessities for any person in modern society.  But I had functioned quite well, by my own standards at least, for some thirty-five years before the first smart phone (click on “IBM Simon” to read this article) happened in 1992, and was pushing forty before they were widely used in the late nineties (at the earliest), a scant twenty years ago.  That’s a quick turnaround for societal change, especially when you’re a middle-aged person before the revolution even starts.

The same happened even more quickly with social media, initially sold to us as a total positive:  You get to share with friends and family so easily and immediately that there’s no doubt Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have all made hundreds of millions happy, at least occasionally.  But think what a short time span has elapsed from that idyllic concept (“Too idealistic” is how one of Facebook’s spokespeople has been trying to spin it) to recent lapses, which may have led to a government hostile to the U.S. manipulating our most recent Presidential election just enough to swing the vote to the disaster we now endure.  On a less consequential but even more widespread level, studies have been published about how addictive checking out feeds can be, but it turns out we are actually becoming more isolated and less happy.  Everybody has at least a couple horrific anecdotes about how harmful some inadvertent posts have been to people they know.  The longer we live with this “advancement,” the less we seem to like it.  But it’s become a social requirement, with the various age levels tending to inhabit similar, but different platforms (“Facebook has become so old, Dad!”); yet all generations feel pressured to respond in certain ways to specific cues—how much hidden resentment lurks in our responses for some meme when it’s prefaced with something like, “Only my true, real friends will comment and share this…”?  From issues of national security to creating unspoken yet deep rifts between friends, the pot of gold at the end of the social media rainbow has contained abundant radioactive material as well.

The future offers wonderful and horrifying things for us too since our cleverness onslaught will continue unabated for…forever—we’re never gonna stop, and we all know it!  Looming as both possible great leaps forward and traps we will rue ever dreaming up (Can you say, “atomic power”?) are things like artificial intelligence (AI) and genetic engineering (as it becomes more easily accomplished via CRISPR developments).  Both have huge benefits and downsides, depending on how we use them.  AI robots will do everything more uniformly, more rationally, more quickly, and more cheaply than humans can, dramatically improving productivity.  Yet, as any long-time reader/watcher of science fiction could tell you, we’ve already imagined dystopian futures where machines have become our masters.  Unless you’re Neo or John Connors, I would suggest, that scenario won’t work out very well for you.  Even if the machines never become sentient and declare war on humankind, remaining our humble servants could prove harmful as well when their increasing efficiency and skill coupled with their decreasing costs lead to massive unemployment and human displacement as we struggle to adapt to a standard we are incapable of meeting due to our biological limitations.

Or is our genetic destiny capable of being altered for the better? The amazing strides we could make in preventing many inherited disabilities or diseases will make it impossible to resist the CRISPR promise to help vulnerable people, but O Brave New World  that has turned such technology into a means to create more “stable” humans in order to keep us from harming ourselves.  It’s also even easier to imagine how rich people could make use of genetic manipulation to continue and further their advantage over the masses, leading to a worsening class divide, which has already become a huge issue in developed economies throughout the world. (Of course, Sci-Fi’s already been there, too, in  Gattaca, as well as the aforementioned Huxley work.  And is it fear-mongering to worry about biological experiments going awry and creating some form of superbug which causes a pandemic, killing millions before our cleverness (?) finds some defense?

So, yeah, it’s pretty easy to envision both gloriously sunny utopias and repressive, dark hellscapes in our near futures.  The pace of that change is ratcheting up as well, impossible as that sounds, which makes it even more difficult to make carefully reasoned choices on how any new by-product of human cleverness will alter the world.  (Solar power into a solar weapon?  Nanotechnology injecting millions of tiny machines into our bodies to attack tumors or instill mind control?  Opiate-based pain relief mutating into a crisis of drug addiction and overdose deaths?  Wait, that one’s already happened.)  And you know as well as I do that some hitherto unknown idea or technology or technique or guru will soon present us with something we never would have dreamed of before it was suddenly available, leading to its rapid transformation into something we are unable to imagine living without.  (I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anything to do with Siri or Alexa.  And I’m afraid to admit I know I’m doomed to be entrapped by some other disembodied voice sooner or later.  And, sure, they know why Alexa was randomly emitting an evil laugh; she was amazonized at how easy it was to take over our world, is my theory.)  And that pattern will repeat in ever-more-rapid cycles.  What’s to become of us?

I guess the good news is that we’ve made it this far.  We’re quite adaptable, after all, and it would appear that there is little humans cannot endure, even the things we mislead ourselves into believing are advances which turn out to be drains on our psyches.  Maybe one day all those promises and guarantees will hold up; we’ll reach a perfect blend of science and humanity, of spirit and logic, of imagination and fact…And then we’ll develop a resistance to all medications because we ate hormone-treated baloney when we were six, only to become infected with some human-manipulated germ gone horribly wrong which leads to a gruesome painful death unless sufferers consume the brains of a blood relative—Zombie family apocalypse!—or (probably more likely) some idiot President will start a nuclear war to cover his collusion with Russia because his ego was bruised and the pee tapes are about to be released.  Sorry for the pessimism, but our history has shown over and over that we can screw up just about any situation, find a solution for that screw up, adapt quickly, and then discover a significant negative outcome from the solution that nobody had ever contemplated or intended initially.  We’re just that smart.

But our cleverness implies the capacity to learn, to understand, to climb higher on the rubble of our failures. Ultimately and tragically, every day we greet a new opportunity to choose differently than we did the day before.  We’ve incorporated our collective belief in progress into almost every part of our lives: education, careers, families move upward and onward as reassurances to us that we are in control, that we do know what we’re doing, despite all evidence to contrary.

Theologians and philosophers tend to see humanity’s life approaches in one of three ways:  Some of us believe humans are innately evil or flawed, despite having been created by a perfect being/entity/god.  We accept teachings which have been told to us by alleged human representatives of those perfect beings; those teachings are generally ideals we probably can’t achieve.  We accept (often grudgingly) that these judgements of moral behavior might not be the same across the various faiths humans follow, but we are certain our version is the right one; we gamble our eternal after-lives on that presumption since we believe there’s a place where those who have performed appropriately on Earth reside forever after their deaths.  But since following those teachings is very hard and maintaining a belief that our souls will live eternally is reassuring, we tend to embrace a goodly amount of daily hypocrisy so we can ignore anything we find difficult or inconvenient in the teachings, especially in wealthy countries like the U.S.  This tends to explain why so many of the most outwardly “godly” people tend to be concealing the most significant sinful behavior.  Some also prescribe a post-life place of eternal punishment for those who fail to follow or accept those teachings—and we’d like to believe the really bad hypocrites among us will go there too, but not those who were only a little bit disingenuous:  You know, people like us.

Then there are those who reject the concept of a supreme being/creator, instead following the teachings of the natural world.  Things which can be observed, tested, and replicated repeatedly become the basis of learning more about our physical surroundings and how things work.  As our depth of knowledge has grown, we have been able to find ways to manipulate, control, and exploit our world to the point where we now see ourselves as complete masters of this planet.  Unfortunately, all that knowledge and manipulation has had adverse effects on many humans as well as trillions of other creatures which share this space with us.  The faith this group has, then, is in human scientific skills to save us from the dangers many of our other scientific discoveries (Oil burns!) have wrought upon our world.  It’s hard to exaggerate the selfishness, ignorance, callousness, and greed which have led to the current state of our environment; yet, many of this philosophical clan still believe that humans are basically good and will ultimately figure out the right thing to do.  If nothing else, they have faith that the scientific method can lead us to ways out of our current challenges into better days.  (Bill Gates is one of the chief proponents of this, as only a multi-billionaire can afford to be.) Oddly enough, this non-deist approach is probably more optimistic than most religions.

Needless to say, the members of the third group see themselves as in both camps, at least some parts of each. (Which parts?  Why, the good, correct parts, of course. What a silly question!)

I’m not sure what all this says about our species nor do I have any better suggestions for how to proceed other than we should try to understand how our world is changing, even though it’s a hopeless task when things change so rapidly and in such complex ways.  We should exert as much rational thought possible on how changes in our world might impact us, both good and bad, despite the impossibility of knowing what those changes could lead to ten years from now.  We should show good judgement on how we use our time in ways that grow our souls and improve our thought, even though every other generation besides our own will consider the things we choose as pointless, stupid, and harmful.  (We, of course, will react to their choices precisely the same way.)  We should recognize a higher calling, even though we’ll never agree on exactly what god, religion, philosophy, or rules for life represent the true way.

Ultimately, then, anyone can make a strong case that the human race is doomed, that the radical changes our cleverness endlessly produces will one day inevitably lead to our destruction.  (Most religions foretell this, and even atomic scientists keep a Doomsday Clock, currently set at two minutes to midnight—midnight being when we destroy Earth.  That ain’t much time, friends.)  Until our last second, however, we can at least accept responsibility in our own lives for being moral in our actions, especially as family members and friends, toward each other.  That’s got nothing to do, by the way, with your political, religious, ethnic, or socio-economic group; I think Bowling for Soup sums up what I mean very clearly in their song, “Don’t Be a Dick.”  It’s difficult to behave in just, fair, loving ways when we are bombarded with examples of the opposite so often in the news, on the street, or in any comments section online.  It’s infuriating how poorly so many of us behave since we should be clever enough to know the difference between that which is reasonable and good as opposed to that which is irrational and abasing.  Fortunately, at least, we do regularly witness the human capacity to shift from the petty and spiteful to our better selves when devastating crises occur.  From pitching in during hurricanes, to fighting deadly contagious diseases, to saving rabbits from fires, it’s amazing how many laudable acts humans perform.  I’d like to hope that we don’t need disasters destroying our neighborhoods before we act decently, and I guardedly assume that maybe our kindness often goes unnoticed in the land of Trump and Circumstance.  I have no idea how our cosmic ledger of good deeds versus heinous crimes currently stands; it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if the next mean, thoughtless, stupid, hurtful, or grasping human act would cause a higher power to shrug in disgust before wiping us out in order to try again.

But every day, some of us odious vermin work at food pantries, give blood, and donate our efforts in Pads programs.  We clearly can’t control if or when our cleverness will cause our destruction, so we can assume we’re in for quite a few bumpy nights; however, there’s no reason why we can’t individually focus on other human traits like empathy, compassion, and generosity.  Cleverness might get most of the attention, but our world does a lot better when we don’t think too much.

Trump Is the Total Package

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It’s hard to conceive that America could ever choose someone to be our President who would be worse than Donald J. Trump.  Before you go off on your “libtard” rant about people like me, you need to understand that what makes him the worst commander in chief this country has ever had the misfortune to elect is not about the policy changes and initiatives he has pushed, or even the lasting stain his appointments will leave on our judiciary branch.  No, we’ve weathered horrible policy Presidents before, and we’ll probably have to do so again; plus, it’s too early to make evaluations on his legislative legacy after only a little over a year. Trump is superlatively egregious because of what a horrible person he is, not because of his misguided ideas.  In every aspect of what it takes to be awful, he sinks to the bottom.  Donald J. Trump fails as a human being, and that’s why it’s so vile that he has now become an American historical figure.

Before we can really get started, I’m afraid I need to explain my personal categories of character.  To me, flaws are demonstrated when someone does anything rude, offensive, and/or mean.  And those three adjectives sum up the main three groupings I have come to assign immoral people in ascending order.  Therefore, meanness is the worst trait a person can have, with offensiveness next, which leaves rudeness as the least terrible of the three.  Since all those traits are abhorrent, connotatively I need really insulting terms to use when I describe them.  So, rather than using “rude, offensive and mean,” when discussing those who commit these faux pas, I refer to them as “assholes, dicks, and bastards.”  We all have our own special terms which help us to cope with our chaotic world, and I apologize that mine are offensive to some of you (which I readily concede places me in the dick level of my own scale).  To elaborate:

An asshole is that obnoxious guy in the movie theater who keeps talking as he loudly consumes his endless popcorn/pop/candy.  He’s that fool who has to tailgate you or won’t hold the elevator door (or any door for that matter).  Most rude behavior is simply someone being inconsiderate and self-absorbed, so everybody acts like an asshole once in a while: You don’t answer the phone when you see it’s your talkative neighbor, you take the last of the leftovers even though you know somebody else was looking forward to them, or you don’t cover your mouth when you cough, even at the height of flu season.  One of the reasons that Rick Moranis was surrounded in this wonderful Spaceballs scene is that because assholes happen to all of us.

But while being an asshole is almost inevitable—at least some of the time–most of us feel bad when we realize we’ve acted that way and try to make up for it somehow.  Dicks typically don’t readily concede that they’ve done anything wrong; they seem to relish their inappropriate acts and don’t hesitate to double down despite the discomfort they cause others.  It’s one thing to slip and use a term or phrase that others might find distasteful; it’s another to rationalize away people’s difficulty as “their problem” or to dismiss their feelings with, “Sorry you don’t have a sense of humor, for God’s sake!” (Or, closer to home, claiming that you need to use sophomoric, vulgar language in order to write your essay about why Trump is so awful.) Dicks abuse their positions and cross the line into crass.  It’s not that they’re intentionally trying to anger people so much as they can’t accept that anyone else won’t cut them some slack since they rationalize their motives as “truthful humor,” or for the truly trite dick, “Just telling it like it is!”  Being dickish does seem to involve words more than anything, so a dick’s offenses might not seem worse than those of the asshole.  Intent is the key here, however, in that dicks have a pretty good idea that what they’re saying is going to piss somebody off.  That they say it anyway is why it seems worse to me than the me-centered acts of assholes, who are often unaware that anyone is upset over what they did.  There can be some intimidating tinges to how dicks interact with others, but you’ll find most of that kind of stuff in the third and worst type of person: the bastard.

Bastards really don’t care about anyone but themselves and will do whatever it takes to ensure they come out of all situations well.  The guilty conscience or trace of remorse you will find in assholes and dicks has no place in the bastard’s behavior; if he can take advantage of your weakness, he will.  These are the people who crowd the edge of anti-social behavior and woe to anyone who gets in their way.  They make heartless jokes and laugh loudly at them, they strive to make others feel bad about themselves, and they will stab even close friends in the back, given the slightest self-advancing excuse.  You can easily imagine them being cruel to pets, indifferent to elderly parents, and impatient with physically challenged.  They probably don’t have many friends, but there will always be a certain percentage of people who tolerate them out of fear.

To put all three into the same situation so you can see the differences, imagine you’ve gathered with hordes of others at some department store right before it opens on Black Friday, and everybody there has designs on the same hot item of which there is a limited supply.  Our three archetypes happen to be standing right behind a senior citizen in the crush of eager shoppers as the store opens.  The asshole would push through our hapless senior, oblivious to any damage or anger he causes; he would be truly surprised should the old person confront him for being knocked down in the initial stampede.  The dick wouldn’t do anything physically aggressive, but he would loudly make jokes to his companions about how he could easily outrun the senior, how he could toss her out of his way, or how he will out-muscle her should they both grab something at the same time, without much concern about who else heard him.  And the bastard would intentionally trip the senior in order to get past her, step on her as he went forward to ensure she couldn’t recover in time to compete with him, and then vehemently deny doing anything wrong when challenged about his actions, not completely hiding the smirk on his face as he held the coveted item.

One final note on these designations:  All three can be intensified with the addition of the modifier, “total.”  A total asshole is perpetually rude; even the sound of his voice will grate after a while.  A total dick is someone you count on to say something inappropriate in every situation, and he will cause hurt feelings regularly.  A total bastard, then, would be about the worst thing you could say about someone, and somebody to cut out of your life as much as possible.  (I also sometimes substitute “complete” for “total” to the same effect.)

All of which brings us to our conclusion:  Donald Trump (our President) is a bastard, as well as a dick and an asshole; and not surprisingly given the number of asshat, dickish, bastardly examples he accumulates almost daily, he deserves, without hesitation, the extra heft of “total” in all three categories as well.

A total asshole shoves a prime minister out of his way, yells at then hangs up on another, brags about not paying taxes, and doesn’t mind a shock-jock calling his daughter “a piece of ass.” 

As far as being a total dick, he would boast of sexual assault (of course, denying actually committing the act when his remarks come to light), insult Native Americans using, “Pocahontas,” as a pejorative, defend neo-Nazis as “very fine people,” and say/write so many racist things that the New York Times would feel the need to document all the times he denigrated blacks (to say nothing of his making “shithole” comments about Africa and Haiti.)

Actually, several of those incidents could easily be placed in the bastard category, but for sheer meanness, you only have to look at the belittling nicknames he has plastered on his enemies, his effectively calling a soldier’s widow a liar right after her husband had died, how he matter-of-factly tried to ban transgendered military personnel from service, and (it’s still hard to accept anyone could do this)  mocked a reporter’s disability in front of both television cameras and a large crowd.  (Oh, and as I was working on this, he fired his Secretary of State—who was no prize either—with a tweet.  Only a real bastard could make us feel sympathy for incompetent, nasty, and/or racist characters like Rex Tillerson, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, and [amazingly enough] Jeff Sessions!)

As far as that “total” being added all three times, it’s a given, especially when you realize that the disturbing examples documented here are just a small sampling of the huge number of his offenses:  Even if you limit your time frame to when he announced his candidacy for the Presidency (by calling Mexicans rapists) to the latest storm over the $130,000 his lawyer paid to silence a porn star’s revelations of her sexual encounter with him at the time his wife was recovering from delivering his son, you’d still have more than enough examples to earn Trump a featured place in the Asshole/Dick/Bastard Hall of Shame.

We can debate his various policies, and I would be happy to discuss with anyone how I disagree with him on most issues you could name.  I can also recognize that my dislike for his ideas on how the country should be run would lead you to conclude that my evaluation of him as a human being is biased, but his constant repulsive acts make that charge easy to refute.  For one, I believe that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were poor Presidents too, both of whom took the country in the wrong direction (way, way wrong in Reagan’s case especially) during each of their eight years in office. I would never, however, criticize their fundamental humanity or question that they were (more or less) moral, decent people.  I would be happy to meet either (Yes, I know Reagan is dead) and was not ashamed to have both represent me to other heads of state and the world.  I didn’t like them at all as Presidents, but they’re fine as humans.  (I still get misty listening to Reagan speaking about the Challenger astronauts who were killed, especially as edited into the Owl City song “Galaxies.”)

I can’t come close to that level of tolerance when it comes to Trump because there is nothing about the way he conducts himself that is appropriate or acceptable.  From his constant abuse of our mother tongue (I taught English for thirty-three years, so Trump’s vicious assaults on the conventions of our beautiful language and its grammar especially irk me), to his sleazy affairs with porn stars, to the way he ignored his wife as they came to the White House for his inauguration, to his boorish speech for the Boy Scouts, to his handshake games with other heads of state, to his lobbing paper towels at suffering Puerto Ricans, to his gloating about firing a government employee one day before the employee would have received his pension…well, I’ll stop there since you don’t have time for anything close to a comprehensive list—oh, don’t forget his childish feud with a Gold Star family. He has lied  more than any other politician in history—the only way he has made America #1 again—and never, ever apologizes or admits to mistakes.  Of course, there are many examples which can be pointed to of how other politicians have misled the public, but Trump lies about stupid, inconsequential things that serve no purpose other than to boost his ego, like crowd size at inaugurations.  Any other person in the world would have squirmed uncomfortably at the revolting sycophancy he engineered before a cabinet meeting began (I would have had to bolt from the room to save myself from dying of humiliation), but Trump seemed to revel in the false praise. I’ve never been able to watch that whole grotesque video; I probably should have put a nausea-inducing-warning label on the link—sorry about that.  Virtually every person who has gone to work for him during this administration has seen his/her own reputation sink to the depths—not only is Trump morally bankrupt, but contact with him taints and diminishes everyone else—Typhoid Trump.

I don’t need to belabor the point, but keep in mind that the chief character issues our previous President was accused of were charges of a phony birth certificate to cover up a Kenyan birth and that he was secretly a Muslim. So, two fantasy stories easily disproved were the main “scandals” of Obama’s eight years.  Petty personal feuds? Marital infidelity? Inappropriate ties to foreign governments? Publicly attacking his own Attorney General? Literally shoving people out of his way?  Notes to remind him to be empathic enough to tell grieving parents, “I hear you”?  Nope, and Obama didn’t praise a wife beater’s character, demand a military parade for his own ego, or regularly swear on TV, either.  (And don’t forget that Trump was the driving force behind the fake birth certificate nonsense, and in another dickish move, demanded copies of Obama’s college transcripts and passport.)

I know that just as I despised the policy directions the U.S. took under Bush the Second and Reagan, many of you felt the same pain based on the projects and initiatives which took place under Obama.  But if you can watch the Trump show now and somehow claim that he is as decent a human being as Barak, then you have a really warped view of what “decency” means.  I realize that I have sunk to dickish methods in characterizing this lump of orange flesh with disturbing hair, but there can be little debate on the reality that Donald Trump is a total asshole, a total dick, and worst of all, a total bastard.  Now, about his colluding with Russia, his obstructions of justice, his using his office to profit himself, his ignorance of climate change, his starting trade wars, his manipulation of the Dreamers, his shifting positions on gun control, his being accused of sexual assault and marital infidelity, his support for a candidate who stalked minors and was banned from a shopping mall, his false claims of voter fraud…Yeah, no doubt about it—he’s the worst.

Guns

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“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”  Flannery O’Connor

At first, the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, seemed like just another in the series of horrific school shootings we’ve come to dread and expect in the U.S. “Hopes and prayers” would be profusely proffered with nothing changing until the next school joins the bloody ranks of this uniquely American epidemic.  But then articulate, camera-ready high school students gained access to our national media, and suddenly the possibility of some progress on this shameful legacy became possible.

As a high school/junior high teacher for thirty-three years (1979-2012), I was certainly aware of this issue, teaching for the bulk of my career in a high school similar in many ways to the two frame high schools of this era, Columbine (1999, 13 dead) and Parkland (2018, 17 dead) with Sandy Hook elementary school (2012, 26 dead) notably in between as well as way too many others.  I worked with kids very similar to those who attend Stoneman Douglas High School—upper-middle class, mostly white, with the majority going on to college and top 25% socio-economic status for their adult lives.  These are our future lawyers, doctors, and business leaders; they are the ones who take charge of our country, but typically not for twenty-plus years into the future, so it is fascinating that the country is paying so much attention to what they have to say right now.

Let me be very clear right up front: I strongly agree with their agenda—tougher gun laws, more comprehensive background checks, raising age limits, and assault-rifle bans (if anything, I don’t believe they go far enough)—but my support comes with a few qualifications as well.  Where was all this outrage and activism when other places were being shot up?    The fifty-nine dead in Las Vegas happened just months ago; did they take to social media after that too?  Who organized the marches to change laws in memoriam of these concert-goers’ and their hundreds of family members and friends? This self-absorption—where we humans seem capable of action only after we have been personally touched by an issue—has always frustrated my sense of right/wrong.  That our personal lives have to be impacted before we see an issue’s importance and are willing to support action is hardly a new phenomenon, though.  Gay rights progressed rapidly only after so many people had come out that virtually every straight person knew and liked at least one gay person.  Until we had Will and Grace, not to mention Ellen, we were quite capable of blithely saying and doing nothing about ludicrously unfair statutes which prohibited many rights to gays.  But once we realized that Jack McFarland and Sulu might die because they couldn’t get insurance coverage on their life partners’ policy, we recognized the inherent unfairness and compassionless nature of the bigoted system which had always been in place.

That certainly seems to be the case with these students. As Trevor Noah pointed out during off-camera comments on The Daily Show, they are using the privilege they have been afforded all their lives to question the status quo, at least once they have directly experienced how that quo functions.  So we who have long been appalled by the unfettered access our country has allowed to high-tech guns need to be patient with some of the eye-rolling inducing comments these kids make in their insistent demands that things change immediately now that they have an awareness of those things’ flaws.  (The most cringe-worthy moment I’ve seen so far was when a student being interviewed on CNN along with Dan Rather complained that on the day after the shooting, he had been rejected by one of his “safety schools,” Cal State Long Beach, even though he plans to go to Harvard or Northwestern (at about the seven minute mark of the interview).  I’m very familiar with that kind of student, having taught them for many years.  These Parkland students are extremely intelligent, articulate, and exceptional but they are not as unusual as they have been portrayed by the media—any high school teacher from similar districts throughout the country would recognize the earnest, idealistic, privileged, media-ready attitudes exhibited by these teens.

I guess the main thing I want to point out here is that there have been many individuals over the years who have been trying to accomplish the goals these kids are lobbying for and who offer an expertise and knowledge which would significantly supplement the raw emotion and idealism of those who have taken up the issue only after—and primarily because—they have been personally affected by gun violence.  Of course it’s imperative that those victimized by a problem participate in the formulation of a societal consensus on what the solutions should look like; it just seems unfortunate our attention and willingness to listen requires the emotional outpourings which follow tragedies.  It’s the same psychology which leads to horrific car wreck remains being displayed on the grounds of many high schools right before senior prom to deter drunk driving or the vicarious yet safe fear and dread spike which forces most to slow down to see as much carnage as possible after highway accidents.  I understand that impulse and recognize it will always be this way, but I wish we didn’t need such negative energy to be motivated to do what seems logical, humane, and obvious.

None of which blunts in the slightest the importance of our seizing upon this moment as an opportunity to make some progress on attacking the killing machines which so many Americans have determined to be their god-granted right, regardless of the potential harm they can so easily cause when in the hands of the wrong people.  For too long, we anti-gun folks have remained an impotent minority as our country has gotten more and more extreme about firearms.  Every once in a while (like right now or after Sandy Hook), an emotional wave spurs a few more to action and there are many anti-gun organizations headed up by bereaved parents or recovering victims, but the perpetual fervor and rabid attacks from the other side always manage to interfere with and ultimately defeat any actions that might change the dangerous lack of controls we have over who can get a gun, how many guns it’s acceptable to own, and/or the types of guns/accessories readily available all over the country.  Even liberal, reasonable people seem to have given up the fight, weakly pursuing only the most minor reforms in our lax gun laws.  But with the media megaphone provided by Parkland, anti-gun advocates might be heard more loudly and forcefully when they speak.  And I hope their goals are to limit the purchase of and to get rid of as many guns as possible, especially those in the hands of private citizens.

Yeah, I’ve heard and read all the reasons why this is a horrible violation of personal rights, not to mention the Constitution, but all those reasons are at worst completely invalid and at best hardly absolute when people look at the facts.  Let’s run through a few of the pro-gun arguments and see how well they stand up to logical analysis.

The right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution.  The second amendment was created during a time when the U.S. armed forces were a rag-tag collection of volunteers, and hostile Native Americans were prevalent on our continent.  We now have the best-armed, best-trained military in the world, and its ability to protect its citizens is without peer…anywhere.  The U.S. is bordered by friendly countries, and almost all of the threats to our sovereignty are overseas in places where our enemies spend more time fighting each other than trying to invade our shores.  No foreign country poses a military threat to the continental United States, and if one did, our armed forces could destroy it in a matter of days.  Ordinary citizens do not need guns to protect themselves from invading enemies, so the Constitutional need of 1789 no longer exists.  And let’s not even broach the topic of the infallibility of our founding fathers since that 1789 document also allowed for slavery.  Times change, and the Constitution needs some updating when it comes to guns even if you accept that the second amendment is intended as some sacred rite, rather than the need of another time when foes were closer and our federal armed forces were weak.  And we’ll also skip getting into all the other amendments—to say nothing of the Constitution’s basic tenets of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—which a heavily armed citizenry threatens as well.  The Constitutional argument for loose gun restrictions doesn’t hold up well at all.

We need guns to protect ourselves should non-democratic forces take over our government.  The NSA spying Edward Snowden revealed should give everyone pause about the increasing power of our federal government.  But does anyone seriously think that with drones, tanks, access to all our personal records, 1.3 million soldiers, and a military budget that dwarfs the next seven largest countries in the world combined; buying six shotguns would keep you safe should the government suddenly turn fascist?  It’s idiotic to believe that arming your ten-year-old with a .22 rifle would prevent our government from doing what it wants should it ever go rogue.  And that’s accepting that the kinds of coups which occur in places like Thailand and Egypt are even possible here.  Our system might lead to flawed leaders (Can you say Dick Cheney and Donald Trump?), but our tradition of peaceful dissent and the electoral process make militia paranoia absurd.  We don’t need guns to protect ourselves from our government, and even if we did, our government has way too much firepower for any community organization (and certainly any individual) no matter how well armed, to overcome.

If we ban guns, the bad guys would just use other weapons.  This one’s probably my favorite of the poor reasons gun advocates trot out.  Yes, we have had dozens and dozens of mass murders committed with knives and ball-peen hammers.  It’s just idiotic; killing people with a gun is light-years easier than anything else commonly available.  Perhaps one day evil criminal geniuses will come up with death rays or killer robots, but the only places you will find ANY examples of death on a large-scale that don’t involve guns are in the pages of science-fiction novels.  Oooo, look out—here comes that bad man with his clothes line!  He’s on a strangling rampage, and we’re helpless in the face of such deadly force!  C’mon; it’s just one of those debating points that has not a shred of evidence to support it, and we should just laugh when some gun-advocate tries to use that line of “reasoning.”

We need guns to protect ourselves from the bad guys.  This is probably the most effective argument (unlike the previous reason) that gun advocates use.  There have been cases where armed citizens have fought off or even killed evil ones who tried to rob or hurt them.  But there have also been cases where the armed citizen killed or injured innocent bystanders.  My preference is that guns only be in the hands of professionals—cops, soldiers, and criminals.  Yeah, you read that right:  The bulk of law-breakers do not want to hurt anyone, but just want money or drugs (or money to get drugs), and armed law-abiding citizens simply complicate what should be a simple robbery by brandishing a hand-gun, leading to somebody’s getting shot.  Certainly, sometimes the recipient of the bullet in these shootouts is a bad guy, but just as often a good guy with a gun is racked up.  You can go on-line to try to research how often guns have been successfully used to foil crimes (as I have), but both sides of the issue use various studies and statistics to prove completely opposite conclusions.  I don’t doubt that if we abolish guns there will be tragic events where unarmed people are hurt by evil idiots with guns.  But the evidence suggests that the numbers of innocents killed by guns will go down significantly once we get rid of the plague of guns currently awash in the U.S.

And we mustn’t forget that the bulk of gun-related deaths (roughly two-thirds) come in the form of self-harm:  Suicides are simply too easy with readily available guns and a federal government which is now trying to cut or eliminate funds for helping mentally ill people. The majority of those prone to violence due to mental illnesses direct that violence on themselves.  Again, yes, some of these poor people would find other ways to act out their pain with other tools, but guns are significantly faster and more lethal than anything else.

You can’t go by other countries since they aren’t like us.  Of course they aren’t like us!  But they aren’t like each other, either, and the one common factor in England, Canada, and Australia (three countries more like us than many in that they all share a language and heritage [or a heritage imported to the country from England]) is that they have significantly fewer gun deaths every year than we do.  Australia is especially interesting in that they only changed their gun laws after a horrific 1996 mass shooting in Tasmania.  A conservative president John Howard (who was an ardent backer of George W. Bush and thus obviously no bleeding heart) pushed through a significant reduction in guns by banning all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, coupled with a government buyback.  And Australia hasn’t had any mass gun killings since, not to mention that their gun-related suicide rate has plummeted without any increase in other types of suicides at all.  The firearm-related death rates for these four countries look like this per 100,000 population:  England: 0.25; Australia: 1.06; Canada: 2.38; and the United States: 9.42.  (See this for a list of all countries where you will see that only less developed countries in South/Central America and Africa have rates higher than the U.S.  Of the “modern, developed” (rich) countries, the U.S. is definitely the gun-death capitol of the world.)

So it’s great that these young people are joining those of us who have been against guns for a long time.  That they now agree with long-time opposers is heartening, and that they are drawing significant attention to this issue is wonderful.  Like the veterans, they should understand the important implications of their support, because they can have no illusions that this will be an easy task.  But as we’ll see below, there are some positive signs we could see progress this time.

First, understand the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its five million members wield significant sway with many politicians right now, both in terms of financial backing and the ability to deliver votes. On the money front, there are a couple of ways to fight back: In the short term, find candidates and politically active groups to support and donate money to them.  It does seem that the U.S. government is for sale, and politicians have to have large sums of money to wage campaigns and conduct public relations which will keep their constituencies happy.  So we anti-gun people will have to buy our own representation exactly the same way the NRA has.  Given the poll numbers which suggest the majority of Americans are ready for reform, it should be possible to compete with the millions gun groups (especially the NRA) donate to Senate and Congressional races.  We could even take some solace in that our bought politicians are at least being paid to save lives.

Hand in hand with that, you can use purchasing power to insist that your dollars don’t go toward the support of the gun industry or its mouth-piece, the NRA.  This is an extremely effective way to exert pressure on others who donate large sums to influence politicians.  And guess what?  Two airlines, six car rental companies, and at least one bank have all eliminated special discount programs open to those with NRA membership.  Now Wal-Mart has raised gun purchase age from 18 to 21, and Dick’s Sporting Goods has discontinued sale of assault rifles (expanding a partial ban which came after Sandy Hook).  And in perhaps the most interesting development, retailer REI has decided not to reorder from some of its suppliers because their parent company manufactures assault rifles. REI does not sell guns and it bought mostly clothing from these subsidiary manufacturers, but its executives have determined that contributing to the overall revenue of a corporation which sells these kinds of weapons is no longer acceptable business practice.  It’s understandable not to trust the words of politicians, especially those of Donald Trump, but once gun manufacturers and the NRA start to feel financial pain, who knows where this could lead?

But the long-term, more important battle is to get Citizens United  overturned.  (Citizens United is a Supreme Court ruling which more or less allowed unlimited money through super-PACs and the like to corrupt the political process to the point where single-issue groups or wealthy individuals have disproportionate influence in our government.)  If you saw NRA leader, Wayne LaPierre, at this year’s conservative summit, CPAC, you heard his unbridled disdain for our law enforcement officials, schools, and mass media, all areas which have little to do with a group supposedly interested in gun safety and hunting.  But NRA campaign donations totaling millions to politicians like Senators Mark Rubio and John McCain, as well as Speaker Paul Ryan, have allowed LaPierre and his followers to dictate policy on any issues they feel impact gun sales; thus the NRA’s main solution for making our schools safer revolves around an insane plan to arm teachers, but only the ones who are as good at shooting as Jose Abreu is at hitting home runs.  Trump has been all over the place on his proposals following the Parkland shootings, but the Republican leadership has been rock solid in its opposition to doing anything, except proposals like the latter, which the NRA likes because it would lead to more gun sales.  Of course we need better gun laws in the U.S., but cutting lobbyists off at the wallet would help us to get better laws for just about everything.

I’ve already seen Facebook memes suggesting that it’s hypocritical for voters to single out politicians who accept NRA donations as bad when the drug, insurance, and other industries also use cash to influence governmental policies to the detriment of us regular folks.  So, if we more tightly restrict and limit ALL cash contributions, that won’t be a problem.  Nobody’s pet cause should be adjudicated legislatively based on how much money its patrons can pony up.  There’s simply too much money in our political system.  Maybe those Parkland teenagers should be advocating another of my causes:  Political elections which are severely restricted in both time and money spent.  In England, for example, a typical general election lasts four weeks, and candidates are prohibited from buying broadcasting time.  Contrast that with the billions of dollars wasted on TV ads in the U.S. or the Presidential campaigns which begin at least two years before the actual election—one year into our current administration and potential candidates are already gearing up for their shot in 2020. And no, that’s not just Democrats as John Kasich and Jeff Fluke are clearly making plans to challenge for the Republican nomination.

But, ultimately, voting is crucial to making any of the Parkland teens’ wishes come true.  Already, the Florida legislature has backed away from any reforms, and you can be sure Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will be loathe to allow any debate, much less bring any legislation to the floor of either the House or the Senate.  Trump has been erratic, but just as during recent immigration discussions on DACA, he doesn’t follow through on any of his controversial proposals unless his Republican cronies and special interest groups agree with him.  The only way we will change the gun culture of our society is to make our voices heard on Election Day.  So after all the protests and marches and town halls, those of us who want fewer guns in our society need to be sure to show that desire with our votes.  For me, it’s pretty simple—if a candidate is willing to accept donations from the NRA or has a high rating from the NRA, he/she will not get my vote.  And I don’t really see how any pro-gun people can criticize this approach—it’s the way they have come to control this issue despite overwhelming public sentiment in opposition.

If you’d like to make it even simpler, voting for Democrats or Independents is the easiest way to get gun laws changed.  Looking at the 2017 NRA ratings of Senators or the campaign contributions the NRA has made over the years (the top Democrat received $50,000 total for his career, compared with over eight Republicans who have been given over $1,000,000), it becomes crystal clear for whom we should vote if we want representatives who are not beholden to the NRA.  The key this year will be the suburbs of urban areas in places like Illinois, California, Texas, and New York which have traditionally supported Republican, “pro-business/anti-tax” candidates, who have fallen in line with the NRA over the years.  Congressional districts in rural Alabama or Montana are unlikely to support any changes to current gun laws, but these suburban areas—exactly the communities which have suffered the most school shootings—can make the difference in who controls the legislative branch of our government.  Coupled with a different President in 2020, reasonable changes in gun federal gun laws could be in place within three years.  No, that won’t be the weeks or months which the Parkland teenagers have demanded, but it would be a huge improvement.  It will take even more radical changes in our laws and gun culture to rid ourselves of this mass shooting epidemic completely than seem possible right now even with this optimistic schedule, but modest adjustments could go a long way to reducing their numbers.

It is depressing to contemplate that we are so divided we can’t come together on sensible procedures to prevent unstable people from easily obtaining guns, to agree that assault rifles don’t belong in homes, to ban over-sized magazines (which allow guns to fire significantly more bullets before reloading is necessary), to get rid of bump stocks (which alter guns to fire more rapidly), or to increase the age requirements for rifle purchase from 18 to 21 without significant Congressional and Senate turnover.  Let’s hope that the Parkland teenagers—and the rest of us who support their cause’s goals—recognize that no matter how logical anti-gun reasoning is or how brutally tragic future massacres are, given current political realities, nothing will change on the federal level until we have voted many of today’s leaders out of office.  And the potential for regression on a wide variety of issues will constantly be at risk as long as the Citizens United ruling is the law of the land.  We can make a difference and lower the risk our children take every time they get on the bus to head to school, but it will take a lot more than well-spoken distraught teenagers or a couple of marches.  We need to work together to make progress on this deadly scourge in our schools; the first step is to understand the importance of getting the money out of our political process and insisting that our elected representatives do what’s in our best interests, rather than what’s profitable for their biggest donors.

Hinsdale Township High School District 86: New Year, Same Problem

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As the 2017-18 school year begins, one district continues to deal with an old problem.  If you’re at all familiar with the attendance-balancing conundrum faced by Hinsdale Township High School District 86, home to Hinsdale South and Hinsdale Central High Schools, the news that the school board is planning to hire a public opinion research firm to figure out what the community believes should be done to solve the matter might have led you to some significant eye rolling.  Since I taught English for twenty-five years at South, as well as having been active in the Hinsdale High School Teachers Association (HHSTA) for most of that time, I could only shake my head at the prospect of an outside agency being hired ($52,000 is the proposed budget) to gauge (gouge?) public sentiment while soliciting input on the solutions most favored by the community.  Yet, I do understand the difficulty the board faces, which has led to this course of action.

In case you don’t know about all the drama in District 86 over attendance:  For the past several years, Central’s student population has been rapidly growing while South’s is shrinking.  On the most recent Illinois Report Card, Central had 1281 more students than South (2834 vs. 1553).  More problematic is that Central’s numbers are above what district administrators feel the building can handle, while South is roughly 400 below its capacity.  “Not much of a problem,” you might think, since it seems obvious that students could be moved from one high school to the other.  And even if the district chose not to transfer any students who had already begun attending Central, you might conclude it would make sense to shift some incoming freshmen from Central to South each year, which would gradually even out both schools’ totals.  But you would be very naive to underestimate how challenging either of those actions would really be.

You see, parents in the Central attendance adamantly do NOT want their children to go to South.  This has been proven repeatedly whenever the board has even hinted at moving students. Last year, when the board broached the topic of changing the district’s “buffer” zone (an area in the middle of the district where parents can pick which of the two high schools their children attend—almost all choose Central) so that those students would now have to attend South, hundreds of parents showed up, with the overwhelming majority protesting the possibility of not being able to send their kids to Central.  Soon thereafter, the board tabled even forming a committee to look at attendance issues, preferring to bury the matter in the overall strategic plan for the district. (For me, one particularly surreal moment occurred at that meeting when a board member apologized to Central parents for “stressing” them by considering shifting their kids to South.)   Then, this past spring, the board attempted to pass a referendum which would have funded a Central building expansion to accommodate the growing Red Devil masses, effectively increasing the imbalance with an ever-growing Central campus. But district voters soundly rejected the proposal by a three-to-one margin.

If you’d like to read a more detailed account of all this (flavored liberally, of course, with my own insights), you could check out my other essays on this topic, starting chronologically with this one  from May 2016, followed by another one in September that same year, topped off by this analysis after the referendum was voted down in April, 2017.  While I heartily recommend this journey down memory lane in its entirety (and there are others, if you’re game), the bottom line of all this doesn’t offer any solutions which won’t anger a hearty portion of one section of the district or the other.  Current Central parents will be livid if they can no longer send their kids to Central, and South folks will not be happy to see their taxes increased to add on to Central when there is more than adequate space already available in South.  There really aren’t many solutions to this problem outside of these two, which would seem to lead to disgruntled residents no matter which is selected.

But you would misjudge human creativity if you felt those two options couldn’t be finessed to make them seem more palatable, or at least hidden—it’s just that those are the only two that follow the letter of the law and spend tax dollars most reasonably.  Another couple of ideas floated over the years are even more radical or risk being horribly offensive and morally questionable.  First, some have suggested merging the two schools, which would result in one campus inhabited by freshmen and sophomores, with the other populated by juniors and seniors.  This new Hinsdale Township High School would definitely solve all the balancing problems (even though it would create others—most notably to some, the elimination of half of the district’s varsity sports programs), and there could be little question that this would offer all District 86 students equal academic opportunities.  One high school instead of two would be such a huge change for everyone, though, that it is hard to see it getting any serious consideration, or being endorsed by many on the proposed public opinion surveys.

The other, shadier idea which has been suggested would be creating an elite “school within a school” at South which would house a small, advanced group of students.  I’ve disliked this idea from the start as a somewhat cynical publicity stunt to convince Central people it was safe to journey into the wilderness they believe South to be, where their sheltered children could pursue their more advanced studies, isolated from the unwashed masses that populate the rest of the building.  The official concept District 86 has considered for this is an International Baccalaureate program, which I have nothing against and appears to be a solid, worthwhile concept.  The catch, however, is that the Advanced Placement classes already in place serve essentially the same purpose, and no one is suggesting the elimination of any A.P. classes in District 86.  Instead, this idea is a misleading way to trick parents into thinking the school-within-a-school approach would be much better than the programs already in place, an extremely shaky premise given the excellent education currently being provided at both schools.  What the I.B. proposal really facilitates is a way to segregate any Central students who might enroll in it from the general population at South.  No one will ever admit that, and I’m sure this hidden bias would be denied vehemently by all District 86 board members and administrators; but it is a bit odd that during my twenty-five years teaching high-level classes at South, nobody ever broached this idea or even hinted our honors programs were lacking.  In my opinion, the I.B. idea has surfaced as a means to balance attendance, not as something for which there is a curricular need.  That it takes several years and significant retooling to be certified as an I.B. school, however, makes this approach seem unlikely to address a problem which needs decisive action sooner rather than later.

The one tried-and-true method for solving overcrowding is for the school board to use accumulated tax money combined with issuing new bonds in order to add on to Central without subjecting these new expenditures to the referendum process.  You might be shocked that the board would be able to circumvent the normal process for new building projects (that is, seeking permission from its electorate before committing millions of tax dollars to expansion; i.e., a referendum), but this has been done repeatedly over the years.  Any and all new building in District 86 since South was constructed in the 1960s was funded this way—and that would include field houses, science lab wings, air conditioning, and annexes, to name a few, totaling over $75 million (conservatively).  That the board sought referendum approval in the spring of 2016 before proceeding with additions is actually an outlier when compared to typical District 86 operating practices:  No property tax increases for new construction have been approved through referendums in over fifty years, yet many significant building projects have been completed during that time.

So it is still possible that Central could be expanded over the decisive margin of objections evidenced through the recent referendum of District 86’s electorate.  To its credit, however, school board members are trying to involve the community in the ultimate decision, hence the proposed hiring of a public relations firm to assess community opinions.  Yes, it would seem pretty obvious what community opinion is at this point given the crushing defeat of the referendum proposal this past spring, but that defeat did not resolve the overcrowding at Central, which is only getting worse.

And it is possible, maybe, that the survey could provide helpful information on the key question that has impeded the most fiscally responsible solution to this problem:  Why are Central area residents so opposed to redistricting attendance boundaries for better balance, which would mean some students currently slated to attend Central would be moved to South?

Clearly, the answer to that pivotal question is not simple, direct, or even totally understood at a conscious level by many opposed to the change.  Without a doubt, the most significant and readily accessed reasons have to do with the quality education Central has provided over the years.  Consistently rated as one of the best high schools in America, Hinsdale Central has a proud tradition of academic and extra-curricular excellence as evidenced by the success its students have in elite colleges, their professional lives after graduation, and how often Central racks up Illinois High School Association (IHSA) sports championships.  Most people resist change, especially when that which is to be changed is regarded as exemplary.  Many residents of the Central attendance area selected their homes and paid a premium price (Oakbrook, Hinsdale, and Clarendon Hills are NOT cheap places to buy real estate) particularly because it meant their children would be able to go to Central.  To have that switched to South will not be received well, regardless of South’s own excellence.

But that’s where things start to go wrong, to get twisted, to get an ugly sheen which contains hints of racism, class snobbery, and economic bigotry.  As someone who taught for twenty-five years at South, I know how good it is, and the shrill resistance of Central residents to sending their children there often seems hurtful both to the teachers and students who go to South every day.  I’ve been over my opinion of South’s high quality several times (see the previously referenced blog entries for more on that), but the rumors and myths many Central people accept as truth about South destroys anyone’s ability to convince them of how good the school is, and most significantly to believe the opportunities afforded South students are in every way equal to those at Central.  Unfortunately, it will come as no surprise to anyone when the public opinion firm verifies what everyone already knows—South is perceived within the Central attendance area as more dangerous, less academically rigorous, and generally a huge step down from Central in preparing kids for college and providing them with an education anywhere near as good as the one Central provides.  That the top students at South go just as far as Central’s elite—although fewer in number—is disregarded; some may even believe those kids achieve despite going to South, not because of it.  Unless this public opinion firm can somehow alter those negative perceptions many Central residents have about South, nothing but confirmation of the status quo will come from the $52,000 the board is planning to spend.

Why South has such a bad reputation on the Central side of town and how that can be changed is a discussion nobody wants to have, but it’s at the heart of any solution to District 86’s attendance issues.  To some, the whole time-consuming exercise (to say nothing of the cost) of public opinion surveys does little but delay needed resolutions to the issue.  And others would argue that more time is all the board is really seeking by postponing a direct confrontation on this controversy, now that the referendum solution has failed.  As the last board did a year ago when it tabled any discussions of what to do; in hiring a public opinion company, the current board could be accused of kicking the controversy down the road another year or so.  And as has happened each time the board has avoided hard decisions, the problem hasn’t gone away, emerging later in an even more acute state.

While we can empathize with the difficult situation in which District 86 school board members find themselves, it is hard to believe that an outside public opinion research firm will be able to discover a magic solution which will make everyone happy.  Regardless, something concrete has to be done.  In an extensive demographic report created in 2015, attendance estimates were made based on “enrollment projections assuming turnover of existing housing units and family in-migration which are A. less than anticipated; B. as anticipated; or C. greater than anticipated through 2029-2030.”  And under all three scenarios, significantly more students are projected for Central until at least 2030.  Even more ominous is that last year’s attendance at both schools was closer to the high projection (C) with Central actually 37 students beyond that largest projection (2797 projected vs 2834 actual).  Eventually, the school board will have to decide if it is going to change attendance zones and send students who originally were slated to attend Central to South (and anger the parents of those students) or spend millions more than is necessary through increased taxes/bonds so that Central can be enlarged despite all the space available at South (and anger everyone else).

This day of reckoning can only be put off for so long.  Not only are Central students suffering with overly crammed facilities and decreasing course offerings, but South’s students face issues too.  Numerous faculty members have been transferred to Central, which leads to an unsettled atmosphere and fewer services (like the English Department’s Writing Lab) offered.  It’s hard not to see actions like hiring a public opinion research firm as anything more than delaying tactics which will make necessary solutions even more unpalatable to everyone later.

For more on the challenges facing public education and common sense ideas to meet them, check out my e-book, Snowflake Schools, which can be previewed here.

Staying Focused

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First off, let me state for the record that I’m reassured with how the system is moving to hold President Trump and his administration accountable for the questionable dealings which have taken place during and since his presidential campaign.  Between six Congressional committee inquiries, Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, and the FBI’s work; I believe we will eventually know what happened.  As Don Trump Jr.’s by now infamous meeting/email chain/ever-evolving stories have proven beyond any reasonable doubt, there is definitely a problem with Trump’s family/campaign and Russia.  But with all these various governmental groups looking into it, we should have the facts uncovered so that a just course of action can be taken. Or we will have enough information to pressure our leaders to do more, if there are attempts to minimize or ignore clear wrongs. (At this point, it would be foolish to believe Trump will accept factual findings which show him to be at fault.)

So maybe we who are opposed to this administration and its legislative goals should ease up a bit in our zeal to find, magnify, and exaggerate every mistake and flaw this president exhibits.  Just in the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen stories about his facial expressions during French parades, a to-do over his greeting to the French first lady, a montage of alleged hand-shaking faux pas, and complaints that he said, “Hell,” in front of boy scouts.  Now, I’m not saying those things are good or normal, but in context of everything else that’s going on, some of which is only peripherally tied to Trump, we would do better to focus on the weightier issues rather than dwelling on the merely stupid or boorish which, it would seem safe to predict, he’s going to keep on doing.

No, his comments to Brigette Marcon that she was “in such great shape,” were inappropriate and classless, but I do believe he was just doing his best (which is downright awful, I readily agree) to be pleasant.  Yes, it would have been awesome if she had responded, “Thank you. I’m sorry I can’t say the same about Melania’s spouse.”  (And that does sound much more acidic in French:  Merci.  Je suis désolé, je ne peux pas dire la même chose au sujet du conjoint de Melania.)  But compared to his plotting with Russia or his pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Accord, sexist pleasantries don’t amount to much.  These social gaffes are wonderful fodder for our satirists and late-night hosts, but our news outlets can get caught up in devoting way too much time to dissecting and analyzing things which are not nearly as important as the hatchet job Pruitt (Head of the Environmental Protection Agency) is being allowed to do on our health—this man is trying to ignore scientific evidence and research on a widely used pesticide which causes brain damage, especially in children.  Now that’s something we all need to focus on and fight.  Yes, Trump’s ignorant female body shaming (he clearly has little shame about his own) and obsession over any woman’s appearance are appalling and shocking, especially coming from someone charged with representing all of us, but I’d definitely rate having brain-damaging residue on our produce as a more serious threat, at least in the short term.

Even the Russian disaster could be something we obsess over to the point where really bad things get sneaked into law legislatively without nearly enough scrutiny.  Mitch McConnell (Senate leader) has been trying to con America for years that the ACA (Obamacare) is the worst thing ever for Americans, while at the same time pushing for an evil, cruel replacement nobody wants.  The cynicism of Paul Ryan (House Speaker) and McConnell in speaking of the damage Obamacare is wreaking while trying to price millions of Americans out of healthcare insurance AND giving the wealthy a large tax break is infuriating.  It’s especially so when you add that no debate or hearings have been held to allow everyone to be heard.  Nor have Republicans faced their constituents with any regularity in town hall meetings to gauge what the people they represent think. This secretive, devastating law still has a chance to be passed, and McConnell and Ryan won’t acknowledge their extreme duplicity, especially given how loudly they howled about the speed with which the ACA was passed. (They’ve now shifted to the position that they’re just doing the same thing the Democrats did with the ACA, which Snopes rates as a “FALSE” claim.)  I know that its passage seems unlikely right now, but remember how that was what we thought about the “mean” House version until Ryan slipped it through.  McConnell is considered even better at manipulation of arcane procedural rules (Remember how he ignored the Constitutional provisions which clearly mandated Obama be allowed to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court?), and he will continue to finagle ways to weasel something through—not because it would be better for Americans, but simply to garner a “win” on this issue.

Even one of our biggest goals—getting Trump out of office—needs to be tempered with the context in which that happens.  Until at least one of our Legislative bodies, the Senate or the House, is safely in the hands of those opposed to Trump (i.e., Democrats), a Pence Presidency could conceivably be much, much more effectively bad.  No, he wouldn’t embarrass our country with his blustering, bullying, vulgar absurdity; he would just get awful legislation passed.  Then too, some hope that the taint of Trump’s corruption will stain Pence enough to…what?  Get him out of office as well?  That unlikely scenario might seem like a positive outcome, but we should all keep in mind one of the most insightful quotes ever from Oscar Wilde:  “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”  Next in line after Pence would be the Hypocrite of the House, Paul Ryan, followed by the Senate’s President pro tempore Orrin Hatch and then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.  Outside of number six, Defense Secretary James Mattis, there’s not much to look forward to after Trump should he get booted before his term ends; number fifteen, just to show you how bad it could get, is Betsy DeVos…now, c’mon, really?

If Trump goes, then, we’d better have at least one of our Houses in order, or else we could see the country take even bigger steps backward in voting rights, environmental improvements, educational fairness, foreign relations (although nobody could be as bad as Trump in this area), and health care.   Our goal can’t simply be ABT (Anybody But Trump); instead we should be careful to make sure that this repeal and replace is more than petty sniping and grand-standing gestures without any solid alternatives mapped out…hmm, for some reason that dumb strategy sounds strangely familiar!

I am sticking with my belief that Trump will eventually resign rather than fully reveal all the shady financial dealings he’s had with Russian billionaires—who have been pillaging that poor country at an incredible rate.  His most recent “red line” comments about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and attempts to shame Attorney General Jeff Sessions into quitting show where he seems to be heading:  In replacing Sessions he could put in his own lapdog who would willingly fire Mueller, effectively slowing or even ending that group’s work.  A couple of pardons lavished on those already implicated (Flynn, Kushner, and Junior, for starters), and the whole “witch hunt” could conceivably be mostly over—without anyone ever being held responsible for collusion, obstruction of justice, and who-knows-what-else.  In that scenario, the only thing standing between a successful cover-up of wrong-doing and evasion of accountability would be the willingness of the Republican leadership to stand up to Trump and move toward impeachment.  Not many I’ve heard analyzing this situation have suggested the Republicans would ever do that, and their past lack of action supports the spineless theory.

So those opposed have to focus on things which can be verified and proved—and our media has been stellar in pushing legislators in the right direction.  But their quest for ratings and on-line hits (translated: profits) could overcome the time needed to review complex issues which require more thoughtful, thorough discussion in order to cover today’s “hot” topic.  The Russian methodology of using “cutouts” (individuals connected through more informal channels to the Kremlin) in order to test interest before initiating more serious…Sean Spicer just resigned!  Too often we all fall victim to our inner Doug (the talking dog in the movie, Up), and are incapable of focusing long enough to finish with something before the inevitable new squirrel scampers into our line of vision.  That tendency can only prolong the length of time Trump continues to wield power.

In order to get this right—not too fast or not to slow—we need thorough investigations which help the truth of how bad much of this is to sink into the public’s awareness more completely.  To my way of thinking, that would lead to everyone’s understanding just what this administration stands for and would force Republican leadership to go down with the ship or to cut ties with this mistake we Americans elected (enough of us, anyway).  And that gets back to my initial thread about not going overboard on the Trump’s stupidity, which only angers those who supported Trump last November.  For Republican leaders to be forced to do the right things, they need to know that their electorate understands the certifiable wrongs which have been committed.  Emphasis on the crudity of Trump seems unfair to his voters, which can then bleed over into their acceptance of other issues involving matters of right and wrong.  How many golfing days Trump has amassed in the past six months is certainly newsworthy given how he lambasted President Obama over that exact issue before taking office.  But it is ultimately insignificant—many would argue that any Trump day off is a safer day for America—and belaboring it just lends support to his spin doctors claiming the media and opponents manufacture bogus issues just to pick on poor Donald, who’s only doing what every President has done.

So let’s not overreact to the stupid, hypocritical, lying small things Trump does—yes, you can extrapolate from his obsession over crowd size at his inauguration that he has deep psychological issues revolving around his narcissism, if you must.  (I’d rather leave that to Trevor, Seth, Samantha, or Stephen, personally.) But make sure we resist generalizing or stereotyping just because members of our community made one poor choice in an election.  Without further defections from his supporter base, we could be subjected to the chaos of the past six months for four years!  I know many cannot forgive their fellow citizens for voting for this man, and Michelle’s “When they go low, we go high” mantra is way tougher to do in the real world rather than fighting fire with fire by lashing out in return.  With the long-term goal of keeping this country from getting screwed up too badly until we can get more reasonable people back in charge, however, we all have to try to stick to the more mundane, but much more important actions Trump and his minions did or, more importantly, are trying to sneak in.

Our mission, therefore, is to do what we can to minimize the damage this radical minority can inflict on our society and the world before the 2018 Senate and Congressional elections.  (And yes, we need to hold our state legislators to the same standards of responsible governance.  Illinois’s Rauner, Wisconsin’s Walker, Michigan’s Snyder, and New Jersey’s Christie all needing new jobs after those states’ next gubernatorial elections would be a great start, in my estimation.)  I understand that beyond making sure our voices are heard and supporting legal challenges to the most egregious outrages, there is not much we ordinary voters can do to affect that end. (That assumes that everybody will VOTE when the time comes, of course.)  But at least we can do our level best not to make things worse, and our sinking to petty complaints and blaming our neighbors for inflicting Trump upon us only pollutes the already toxic political climate even more.  Of course challenge and resistance to the Trump agenda needs to be unflagging, but ridicule and belittling that which is idiotic will do little besides moving us into that same category.  (Unless, of course, you’re as funny and talented as Randy Rainbow—then, go for it!)

I’m Still with Kathy and Bill

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For those of you unaware of the horrors perpetrated on society by comedians Kathy Griffin and Bill Maher recently, a quick review:  Griffin posted a picture of herself with what appeared to be President Trump’s severed head (the awful image can be seen here), and Maher used the “n-word” (a racial slur which rhymes with “trigger” just in case you’re…um, clueless is the best I can do, sorry) on live TV.  Immediately there was media uproar about how these two should be shunned and unemployed.  Griffin has been fired from her part-time job on CNN, and many have been vocal in calling for Maher’s Real Time on HBO to be taken off the air.  Anderson Cooper denounced Griffin, and Chance the Rapper tweeted that Maher no longer deserved to be heard.  In short, many have come out strongly not only against the sins these two committed, but also in favor of banishing them forever.

But not me.  I’ve been a fan of Maher’s for his entire fifteen-year run on Real Time and have seen many of his stand-up routines.  And based on his history of being progressive in his views (except maybe on Islam), I have no doubt that this slip of the tongue doesn’t represent anything other than a brain fart.  I know some might question my right to weigh in on the depth of his mistake, since I am not black, but I do have the right to continue to enjoy his work.  Griffin and I do not have as rich a history, but I have laughed at her jokes the few times I have seen her on TV.  Don’t let my lack of Griffin exposure fool you, though; she has had a long, very successful career, with movies, television shows, comedy tours, albums, and even a couple of books to her credit (including Emmy and Grammy awards).  Griffin’s attempt at political humor with Trump backfired severely, but to me, that doesn’t outweigh her long and steadfast support of LBGT rights over the years.  And yeah, I know it doesn’t help my case that both of these people are strident, loud atheists.  (Maher made an anti-religion movie in 2008, Religulous (a combination of “religious” and “ridiculous” in case you weren’t immediately offended), and Griffin got in trouble before for her speech upon winning an Emmy in 2007:  “Now, look, a lot of people come up here and they thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. He didn’t help me a bit. If it was up to him, Cesar Millan would be up here with that damn dog. So all I can say is suck it Jesus; this award is my God now.”

So conservatives have plenty of reasons to despise this pair:  They are the epitome of the anti-Hollywood crowd’s stereotype of the media liberal who flouts traditional Christian values and embraces such supposedly corrupting influences as atheism, gay pride, and transgender bathrooms. If it were up to these two, no baker could refuse to provide a wedding cake for two men who wanted to get married and “In God We Trust” would be removed from our currency.  If right-wing conservatives had a “Most-Wanted” list of those they wanted silenced, these two would probably make the top ten, although certainly behind Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon.  (Of course, such lists do exist, and the one I found had neither Kathy nor Bill on it, alas.  Moore and Sarandon were #2 and #7 respectively.)  But Griffin and Maher both apologized admitted they were totally in the wrong for what they did, and promised to do better in the future.  Griffin’s press conference came across as self-serving (as well as painfully awkward), and Maher did bristle a time or two when three black guests (on the next Real Time which aired after the n-bomb disaster) chastised him for the severity of his mistake.  Neither, however, tried to mitigate the error of what they’d done and both seemed to regret their poor choices.

That, coupled with their history of using some of the exposure their entertainment jobs provide them to do good helps me to stay with them.  Yes, they now have more baggage beyond times when I found Griffin mean or Maher condescending, but overall, I think it’s okay to continue to consume their work product.  I’m not going to call for their unemployment or boycott their performances.  I do understand that some people will choose to do so, but I’d prefer to hate the sin and love the sinner in this case, since I often need similar understanding myself.

My acceptance of Griffin and Maher, despite their mistakes, does help me to understand some of the loyalty Trump voters have exhibited over the past tumultuous two years.  He’s your boy, and you’re not going to dump him just because he says a few offensive, sexist, racist, ignorant, false things.  That’s really fine, I guess, as long as you don’t attack my morals, patriotism, or whatever other non-related characteristic you can come up with for not being willing to accept those things.  I could argue that he commits more such faux pas in a week than Bill or Kathy have in their careers, but let’s ignore sheer numbers of outrageous, inappropriate remarks/actions for the moment.  We’ll also disregard the different standards to which leaders of our country should be held as compared to our entertainers—Trump clearly sees himself much more the latter than the former, which is another huge problem for many of us.  But we won’t go there just now.

Instead, let’s go back to one of the main reasons I’m forgiving (if that’s the correct term for not hating on and petitioning for public execution of) Griffin and Maher: their good works.  They have consistently advocated for positive things for others when they didn’t have to; and they did so when taking stands they didn’t have to (they’re mere comedians, after all) could and did cost them fans/money.  How does Trump fare in that comparison?

Horribly, by my estimation, both before and since he’s become President.  Clearly, charity and good works had little to do with his life before politics; if there was a buck to be made—be it steaks, wine, hotels, office buildings, casinos, golf courses, or universities—he was more than happy to slap his name on the product, shill for it shamelessly, and then duck responsibility for any debts or blame when those products tanked (or in the case of his university, hurt people).  Even the limited charity work he did seemed shrouded in questionable fund usage or significant delays on promised donations.  “Giving back” would not be one of the characteristics anyone would have used to describe Trump the businessman.

As President, it’s been even worse in the short time he’s been in office.  He’s pulled back on all environmental protections or programs to improve or maintain our environment.  Poor people are always the first to suffer from environmental degradation, as those in Flint, Michigan, would be the first to tell you.  Trump’s health care proposal would deprive millions of poor people of their insurance; struggling seniors would be especially targeted under the current plan.  The travel ban?  It’s hard to imagine how the average person would benefit from that which is a direct challenge to many of the foundations of our Constitution.  Our police, federal agents, and homeland security agency have done an excellent job of protecting U.S. citizens; that some crazed individuals believe they are committing heroic acts by blowing up innocent people along with themselves has changed how our protectors have to function, and we’re all still wrestling with the best way to protect freedom at the same time we’re providing protection.  Plus, the ban will never make it through the courts intact.  Trump’s tax code revision (the scant outline of it he has provided thus far, anyway) directs the bulk of its benefits to the rich, hardly the key demographic which won the election for him, nor those who are hurting in today’s economy.  And let’s not even delve into the Russian scandals, which might include collusion and obstruction of justice.  Outside of saying how wonderfully he’s doing and forcing his cabinet members to praise him effusively, I can’t point to anything that Donald has done at all besides golf, much less acts which would benefit others.  Insult, belittle, ridicule, attack, deceive, manipulate, and betray—absolutely.  But help, advance, support, or sacrifice for?  Not that I’ve ever seen for as long as he’s been in the public eye.

So I will continue to accept Kathy Griffin and Bill Maher into my world, albeit with a heightened awareness that they are fallible humans like all of us who have to accept their own mistakes and eat crow on occasion.  Meanwhile, I’ll keep waiting for the President to concede that it was wrong to mock a reporter’s disability, attack the family of a slain American soldier, brag about sexual assault, or bash the London mayor after a terrorist attack.  (And we all know this list of Trump outrages barely scratches the surface of the total number for the last year!)  And we won’t even get into a further examination of his “Make America Great Again” agenda based on discrimination and fear.  You might not agree with me on whether or not Bill and Kathy deserve any slack (which I can completely understand), but I would be fascinated to hear how Trump supporters rationalize his mountain of sins as he continues to spout the most inane covfefe while doing nothing to benefit anyone but himself.

Going After the Poor

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Now that we’re past the embarrassing Presidential world tour where the headlines seemed most focused on Melania’s brushing off Donald’s attempts to hold her hand, the Pope’s dour facial expressions, handshake duels, bogus arms deals, and GolfCartGate, but before we all become engulfed in memos detailing Trump’s attempts to force high-ranking national security officials to ignore potentially treasonous acts; everyone needs to devote at least a little attention to the budget the White House proposed to Congress right before Trump left the country.  As the details of this recommendation become clearer, so does the Republican party’s fundamental priority, philosophy, belief, or however you’d like to label their mantra:  If you have resources, you can buy whatever you want; if you don’t, too bad.  We all need to recognize just what kind of country the Republican party envisions—at least the Republican party with Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell at its head.  While everyone is understandably distracted from this reality with Trump leading a seemingly endless parade of foolish acts and inane tweets, in one area Donald, Paul, and Mitch have been pretty consistent:  Rather than proposing anything new or trying to improve current programs, they are dedicated to the “good old days” when wealthy people had an even greater share of this country’s resources and power than they do now.  And from health care to withdrawing from the Paris climate accord to huge investments in weapons (all of which, conveniently, can be manipulated by Washington to profit friends and family), every position they stake out screws over those who don’t have very much to begin with.

Naturally, it’s no different with education.  The foundation of public schools for many years has been what is basically a socialist construct:  We all contribute so that every kid in America can learn the basics every citizen should know.  No, that’s hardly an absolute standard since every state legislature or local school board can interpret what those “basics” are in a variety of ways, but at least the cost of however that ideal comes out is shared by all.  And yes, the system of paying for education has also been significantly corrupted since it is generally financed through local funding (property taxes here in Illinois) which has created huge differences in how much any one school district spends per pupil.  But the Trump administration as led by Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos (a billionaire in her own right), is now proposing an even more dramatic shift in resources which will allow parents more “choice” over the schools that receive their tax dollars.  Many rich people already send their children to private schools at their own expense, but DeVos believes they should be able to direct any money they pay in taxes for education to whichever school they wish.  In effect, these vouchers would take money originally going to public schools and redirect it to the schools parents select (which would include private and parochial institutions), robbing public schools of crucial revenue when they can ill-afford any decreases whatsoever.

Schools would thus compete with each other to attract parents and their money, with institutions already struggling being left even further behind.  And the children whose parents don’t have the resources to get their children out of those impoverished schools?  Well, they’re just stuck with an under-funded, second-rate education forever.  This is social Darwinism at its worst with those already well-off being subsidized at the expense of the poor who stay trapped and powerless with little hope of their future being any different.  That theme plays over and over again in the proposals in Trump’s budget, which is entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness” (another ready-made lesson in irony).  Budgets for health, welfare, education, art, and social service programs are slashed with funding for some sixty-six programs ended entirely.

There are dozens of other sources which can give you more specific details on the ramifications of Trump’s budget, including many which document how directly some of Trump’s staunchest supporters—working class whites—will be hurt by his draconian spending cuts, the better to benefit the wealthy.  But it’s crucial for everyone to acknowledge exactly what’s going on here:  The gap between the haves and the have-nots in the U.S. has increased significantly in recent years, and Republicans are doing everything they can to encourage, magnify, and accelerate both the gap’s size and the pace at which it widens.

Now, many are pointing out that this budget, like the horrific health care act which came out of the House on May 4, will never be enacted as currently written, that both are “DOA” in the Senate.  And let’s all hope that is true.  But regardless, this document shows exactly how Trump and his cronies view their constituents.  Of course they hide behind the claim that they are cutting ineffective, wasteful programs, but the clear good which comes from things like Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts, or Meals on Wheels has been evident for many years.  Eliminating or reducing the government’s support for these programs in order to buy more weapons can’t be explained any other way than a preference for getting rid of things which help people so our military can obtain more things which kill them.

I understand that some Republicans would respond to my views with the argument that there are better ways to achieve the goals of the cut programs, but merely repeating that endlessly offers little solace to those who need help.  What ideas, programs, or approaches do Trump, Ryan, McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party offer as better alternatives?  It seems that they have nothing but “glittering generalities” rather than any concrete, workable solutions.  For those of you who have forgotten the propaganda techniques you learned about in high school, a glittering generality is something that sounds good, but has no substance or validity behind it.  The most glaring example of this comes from Trump as he was campaigning for the Presidency and regularly characterizing Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) as a “disaster” (it isn’t).  His alternative was that he would replace it with “something terrific.”  Now that we’ve actually seen his replacement, we know what a ridiculous scam his campaign rhetoric was, unless by “terrific” he meant “awful for anyone who isn’t already a millionaire.”  Then there are the flat-out lies he told: His terrific plan would cost less, cover everybody in the country, and make no cuts to Medicare.  The reality, though, is that the Trump plan would increase rates for low-income seniors by as much as $12,000 per year, lead to over 20,000,000 Americans losing their coverage, and include some $800 billion in Medicare cuts.  Ryan has been the cheerleader for this monstrosity, and we’ll see how McConnell handles the Senate revisions of the highly unpopular proposal in the weeks to come.

That’s not to say that the Democrats are perfect or have all the answers to the many problems which our country faces.  But no matter how you try to spin it, Democratic proposals have generally tried to improve things for those less well off—Obamacare, environmental legislation, and a host of other programs now under attack all provided benefits for the poor.  You can argue about the effectiveness, sincerity, or cost efficiency of these initiatives, of course, but there can be no denying the fundamental humanity on which the intent of the programs is based.  That is in sharp contrast to the callous indifference Republican initiatives show toward anyone who is struggling.  From immigrants to decaying urban neighborhoods to senior citizens barely scraping by on social security, the Trump/Ryan/McConnell vision for America works to shift resources away from the neediest to those already well off.

Let’s hope the brazenness and crudity of Trump’s approach will finally help everyone to recognize this key difference and vote accordingly.  Many of us are praying that the Trump administration will be short-lived, ending in impeachment (my prediction is he will resign long before the Russian investigation proves how corrupt he is so that President Pence—which sounds almost as bad to me as “President Trump”—can immediately pardon him), but wishing for an end to Trump is hardly much of a strategy to minimize the damage Republican leadership could still do.

Instead, we have to recognize that Donald is not the source of this heartless approach to governing, but merely the loudest symptom of that which has taken over the Republican Party.  As someone who spent his younger days criticizing the eight years of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, I can’t believe how wonderfully progressive his policies seem today.  Some have argued that this saint of conservatism would never be even seriously considered in today’s Republican party given that he cooperated with liberal Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, approved tax increases (his two bills passed in 1982 and 1984 together constituted the biggest tax increases ever enacted during peacetime), instituted an amnesty program for undocumented workers, and even lobbied on behalf of stricter gun regulation (all these and more can be found here).  That the Republican Party leadership has moved so far from what most Americans (and, I think, Republicans) believe is really quite shocking, and I still don’t understand how we Americans allowed them to take over.  Regardless, that needs to be changed as quickly as possible.

Although the circus surrounding Trump’s ignorance and self-absorption will continue unabated for as long as he inhabits the White House, we have to recognize that it’s not just him, that Republican leaders are supporting and enabling him every step of the way.  Regardless of what happens with His Orangeness, we have to recognize that the Republican Party is being taken to extremes by others as well.

Thus, every election from now on provides us with the opportunity to alter this tilt toward heartlessness.  We need reasonable people to run for office who, regardless of party affiliation, will represent the interests of all of us and who will oppose those who would appeal only to our fears and prejudices.  That applies to all parties:  While many current Republicans will have to answer for backing Trump/Ryan/Mitchell, I would hope that voters will be astute enough to listen to any candidate—Democrat, Republican, or Independent—to assess her/his level of opposition to our current directions. From the air we breathe to the helpless we protect, nothing about the current heads of our executive or legislative branches represents the best humanity has to offer.  We are capable of so much more, and through our actions—especially in voting—we must take steps to make sure our leaders are too.

Referendums Should Be for Teachers, Too

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On April 4, 2017, voters will be electing local governmental leaders—village officials, school board members, and the like.  Additionally, several communities will have to vote on referendums advanced by their school districts seeking additional funding.  Two of those involve districts in which I have an interest:  Hinsdale Township High School District 86 (where I worked for twenty-five years), which is seeking $76,000,000 for additional classrooms and swimming pool remodeling; and Center Cass School District 66 (which is the elementary district my two daughters attended), which needs over $12,000,000 for various repairs and safety updates.  (You can find the official referendums here–just click “Propositions.)  Yet, one aspect of funding a school district for which you will not see any new monetary requests is the single most important factor in any school’s success—its teachers.

Just to be clear with my background, I taught English for thirty-three years, retiring in 2012 after working in both a junior and senior high school as well as being active in my school districts’ unions (President, negotiator, and grievance chair).  Thus, I have an extreme bias in favor of teachers and the role they play in public education:  No matter what kinds of reforms, programs, or experts you can cite; nothing will impact a school more than the quality of its teachers.  And despite myths to the contrary, our public schools are not rife with incompetent teachers hiding behind unions or school codes in order to maintain their “cushy” positions.  Of course there are some bad teachers out there, but they are a minuscule number of the millions of dedicated public educators.  Most teachers work extremely hard to make a difference in the lives of our children.

But it has become more and more standard for school districts to downplay any and all expenses associated with maintaining their staff.  I receive several Google news alerts for a variety of public education issues which provide me with over thirty news stories from around the country every day.  But in the last five years, I have yet to see an article covering a school district, national leader, school board member, or any organization (other than those quoting teachers’ unions during contract negotiations) who will argue that school funding should be increased in order to attract and retain the best possible teachers.  The referendums shown above make absolutely no mention of needing more money for teachers—whether it be to lower class size or to gain a competitive edge when hiring the best teaching candidates—and I can’t remember hearing those in charge of our schools ever advocate for higher teacher salaries.

Instead, it’s become a standard procedure for many administrators and school board members to claim that teachers cost too much, that things like steps on a salary schedule are no longer “sustainable,” or that ”greedy” teachers are bleeding taxpayers dry.  I do understand that resources are not infinite—How many times during contract negotiations did I hear that there were “only so many slices of financial pie”!—but that line of reasoning won’t come up when discussing more funds for school expansion or repair, even when the need for more classrooms isn’t always dire, as is the case in Hinsdale 86 where shifting some students from one school to another is a money-saving option which the district has rejected.  Yet, the attacks about “easy” work schedules and “Cadillac” insurance programs arose every time I fought to improve the working conditions for teachers I knew were doing an amazing job.

The most galling argument I ever heard was during one negotiations when, frustrated by the district’s claims of poverty and refusal to agree to a reasonable salary increase, I suggested that if money were so tight, perhaps the board should seek more funding for our salaries.  The response was that requesting a referendum for salaries would be like “re-financing a mortgage to buy groceries.”  Since teachers are mere transitory expenses, the reasoning went, one should never “waste” a difficult process like promoting unpopular tax increases on raises for them.  Needless to say, my reply (that having the necessary money to eat was significantly more important than saving a percent or two on a mortgage interest rate, thus rendering their analogy idiotic) didn’t go over well.

The most essential element by a wide margin in improving and/or maintaining the quality of public education is who is in front of the classroom.  No matter what study you look at or how many factors are cited as important, all will have quality teaching near the top of the list of crucial characteristics.  Everyone knows this, but it seems we refuse to recognize the relationship between good salaries and good teachers, unlike other professions.  As all you baseball fans know, the White Sox recently traded one of the best pitchers in baseball, Chris Sale, and a key aspect of his value in the trade was everyone agreeing on how “reasonable” his contract was at only $38,000,000 for the next three years.  Yet, when it comes to the people who are responsible for teaching and looking out for our children every day, we become enraged when they earn over $100,000 a year (which would require teaching for 380 years to earn what Mr. Sale—who is a bargain by baseball standards—will earn in three years).  And I believe Chris is worth every penny; I just also happen to believe that teachers deserve a good wage too.

So as we vote this Tuesday on the referendums which are being pursued, we should keep in mind the unspoken reality that any additional money a school system receives at least indirectly might strengthen a district’s faculty.  Hinsdale 86 is an excellent example of how a failure to use referendums can create a needless money crunch when it comes to maintaining a quality staff.  My old district hasn’t passed a referendum since the 1960s, yet has spent tens of millions of dollars on new building:  The district has added many classrooms, field houses, and science labs as well as extensive remodeling projects over the years.  The money for all this was obtained through issuing bonds and spending surplus property tax revenues.  This time, at least, it is going through the appropriate channel of soliciting taxpayer approval before embarking on significant building sprees.  Unfortunately, though, the need for additional classrooms is less clear since much room exists in one of the two schools.  (You can read more about this issue here, here, and here.)  I would vote for this referendum, were I eligible to vote in Hinsdale Township, but it’s hardly a black/white choice.  My rationale would be to support the superior teachers there, not the questionable building.  The district will have major problems if this referendum fails, but the issues which failure would raise are important and should be addressed sooner or later.  Sadly, though, those most likely to feel the pinch for a rejection financially would be the teachers, come the time for a new contract.  (You can find an editorial which rejects this referendum as foolish here in the Chicago Tribune.)

In Center Cass 66, I would strongly encourage fellow residents to vote “Yes” on this tax increase (which I will also pay).  Elementary teachers unfairly earn significantly less than their secondary counterparts, and the relatively small tax increase for repairs should allow Center Cass to compensate teachers more equitably.  Of course, the teachers in the district will have to fight for their fair share, but assuming the referendum is approved, at least they won’t be competing as much with facilities expenses.  (It was also a nice touch that over Spring Break, repairs to one of the schools’ roofs ( at Prairieview Elementary), have been on display for anyone driving by on Plainfield Road, right before the voting.)

One day, perhaps, we will see a school board courageous and far-sighted enough to push a referendum because teachers are cherished and valued more highly than the thrill of construction.  There should be no question as to what is the most important resource in any school district, but we have a long way to go to acknowledge that teachers matter most and should be compensated accordingly.  Approving referendums (even as they are currently constructed) is at least one small, indirect way to show some support for teachers.

For more outlier views on what goes on in the world of public education and ways we can strengthen this institution, check out my e-book, Snowflake Schools.

NEA Wrong to Ignore DeVos

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To “Resist!” that which the Trump administration will attempt to do has become a rallying cry for all who disagree with his agenda (or the agenda of the puppet-masters who control him, depending on your view of Trump’s competence).  One of the most controversial of his appointments, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has been front and center in this spotlight, given her past history of favoring for-profit charter schools and educational vouchers which would allow parents to divert tax money from public to private/parochial schools.  So what is the best way to resist someone in charge of the federal approach to public education who will have significant influence in both funding and policy?  The two largest teacher unions—the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—have adopted different approaches, as explained in this New Republic article, but the NEA tactic is not the one which is in public education’s best interests.

No matter what happens, who’s in charge, what program’s being pushed, or which laws are proposed in Congress; kids will still keep going to schools.  Every day, they will show up, expecting to be educated (even if their attitudes occasionally suggest otherwise), and plop themselves down (eventually) into their seats as the bell rings to start the day.  And the teacher will do her all to make that educating process happen, 99.9999% of the time.  I taught for thirty-three years beginning in 1979, which is when the very first Education Secretary, Shirley M. Hufstedler appointed by President Jimmy Carter, took office.  And not once in all that time did I spend any significant time worrying about what the Secretary of Education wanted me to do.  It simply did not intrude upon my daily work life.  Sure, I was aware of what comments, for example, Arne Duncan (9th Education Secretary) or William Bennett (3rd) might make—Duncan (despite his weak record) always came across as reasonable while Bennett never failed to elicit anger—but never did I ever alter what I believed to be in the best interests of my kids because of what federal educational experts preached from Washington.  It makes me laugh that anyone would think good teachers would worry much or (God forbid!) alter their behavior because of what Betsy DeVos says.  She simply isn’t relevant to teachers’ worlds.

And that does provide some justification for the NEA’s avowed intent to shun DeVos as not worthy to meet with or talk to, as explained in the above article. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García has stated, “There will be no relationship with Betsy DeVos.”  As a past NEA member and union activist, I completely understand that reaction to the problems that DeVos brings to her position.  DeVos has been strongly opposed to teacher unions and worked against both teacher rights and interests.  But that has been true of many educational leaders at the local, state, and federal level over the years; regardless of who’s in charge, it is the job of elected union representatives to continue communication in order to push for that which is good for their members.  And the AFT, in contrast, has agreed to meet with DeVos, and its president, Randi Weingarten, has already had a brief conversation with the Education Secretary.

Don’t get me wrong:  Given the chasm which exists between how DeVos views public education compared to almost every public education teacher, it is unlikely that either García or Weingarten will be able to make progress softening or changing her positions on basic educational policy.  In the best case scenarios, it’s possible to envision a frosty, agree-to-disagree kind of relationship.  But the stakes are significant enough that the unions need to remain engaged.  Then too, they’ve got plenty of resources and opportunities to try to modify, fight, and/or protest against Republican measures.  There will be many talking points and chances to set the public straight about what DeVos is trying to do.  But one aspect of DeVos’s position trumps all these things when it comes to doing what’s best for public education and a key reason the unions need to maintain some sort of contact.

And that’s something which matters to every school in the country:  Money.  From teacher salaries (always my top priority in my role as teacher union representative) to supplies to facility maintenance, up-grading, and construction to getting quality support staff, to instituting new programs/technologies, every dollar counts.  And that’s where teachers’ unions come in.  At the local level (where I was active for most of my career), the unions negotiate contracts, file grievances, and generally advocate for the teachers whom the leaders (who are also teachers in that district) represent.  The state organizations sometimes provide assistance with local issues that might overwhelm a small union, especially things requiring legal help, but devote most of their time to working with and lobbying state legislatures.  And the national unions, like the NEA and AFT, receive members’ dues to help advance educational issues at the federal level.  In the end, the most tangible issue affecting teachers’ lives and their ability to do their jobs effectively relates to funding, to money.  And the federal government has some.

Granted, the amount of Washington dollars which end up in any one school district varies by a lot.  In the district where I worked—Hinsdale High School Township District 86—we got a very small percentage of funding from the federal government—a percent or two of the total budget. You can contrast that with the 12% Chicago Public Schools expects to receive this fiscal year.  And that difference might be one reason AFT leaders automatically show a greater willingness to work with DeVos than the NEA:  AFT locals tend to be larger, more urban, and more strapped for cash than the more suburbanized, wealthier, smaller locals which make up the bulk of the NEA’s power base.  Chicago Public Schools?  An AFT local.  Naperville Community Unit School District 204, Butler School District 53, or Community High School District 99?  All part of the NEA.  NEA’s locals are more able to shun federal money should they so decide, whereas large city school systems operate at huge deficits regularly.  Losing federal money can mean larger class sizes, school closings, and less qualified teachers.  But any loss of funding can negatively impact any school system.

And that doesn’t mean union leaders need to compromise their ideals or goals just to curry favor with DeVos in order to receive a few dollars.  The issues which matter to NEA and AFT members have to do with labor laws, governmental unfunded mandates, and collective bargaining regulations.  How those complex issues work requires that all sides maintain clear lines of communication—during my time as teacher representative, our local had to work with numerous board members and administrators who did not agree with our positions; some even actively sought our elimination.  Yet, we continued to interact, negotiate, and ultimately hammer out agreements which allowed for working relationships to exist and the shared goal of educating kids to continue.  Nobody’s expecting García and DeVos to go on joint vacations or to become besties—the teachers just need her to communicate their opinions and represent their interests, regardless of how hostile DeVos is to those views.

Refusing to engage with DeVos might play well with García’s membership and enhance her popularity among the anti-DeVos crowd (which includes most teachers), but it’s hard to see how it helps out the schools where her members work.  We have definitely entered a different political environment, and I certainly don’t want to overstate the influence DeVos will wield (I’ve actually written exactly the opposite), but grandstanding instead of doing the job you’ve been elected to do hardly seems an effective strategy.  Maybe García has some unstated plan which will make this seeming futile petulance pay off in the long run, but for now, I don’t believe giving DeVos the silent treatment will serve anyone’s best interests—except maybe Devos’s since she will have to interact with one less critic.  And this will improve the lot of NEA teachers how…?

For ideas that can improve public education, you might want to read Snowflake Schools, excerpts of which can be found here.