Thursday, February 24, 2011

A little less action and a little more conversation

This country has a unique ability to distract itself from real issues.

The battles between unions and state governments make for great theater, but are they actually accomplishing anything meaningful?

Each side seems so intent on protecting their respective turfs that neither seems to be looking at the bigger picture. How do we make sure people can earn a decent living in a way that is sustainable over the long term?

By making the discussion about unions vs employers or unions vs the government, you effectively exclude most of the nation from the debate. Fact is, only about 7 percent of private sector employees are in unions and about 35 percent of public employees.

So, for most of us, unions are irrelevant.

And before anyone goes off on the old 'unions created the middle class' speech, let me just say that I understand that. And I appreciate it. But it has absolutely nothing to do with our current situation.

The world we face now is drastically different than the one that saw unions make such great strides for America. So let's stop dwelling on the past and focus on the best way to protect workers in the future.

How do we deal with the increasing globalization of our economy? How do we make sure teachers, cops and firemen are paid well without bankrupting states and cities? How do we keep workers safe? How can we increase and improve training opportunities? How can we reward those that do a good job and weed out those who slack off?

Some may say unions are the only answer. But I think we can do better. It's time to get a little more creative and come up with some alternate ideas. More inclusive ideas. Ideas that make sense for the world we live in today and can evolve into the future.

Unfortunately, our politicians have too much at stake in this game. And I'm not sure either one gives two shits about the average American worker.

Republicans want unions to die a fast, painful death. Which makes sense when your largest donors are corporations that think the world would probably be a better place if we could just revert back to slave labor.

Democrats are no better, kissing so much union ass they probably think the sky is white and hairy. But I guess that's the price you pay when you view the AFL-CIO and the SEIU as your campaign organization's ATM machine.

As for the American worker? He's stuck with stagnant wages, diminishing benefits and little to no job security. It's going to take more than angry posturing to put things back on the right track. It will only get better when we see real leadership emerge, with bold thinking and a genuine concern for our fellow citizens.

This may take a while.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Get the hell off of Michelle Obama's well-muscled back

Okay, I think the cat's out of the bag. I could believe that the Republicans genuinely disagreed with the Democrats on issues like taxes, healthcare and guns. But now, they don't like the idea of making our kids healthier? Seriously?

Michelle Obama has been working on campaign called "Let's Move" for the past year. Pretty simple really. It encourages children to be more active and eat better foods. Who wouldn't be on board with that idea?

Well, apparently, the Republicans think exercise and a healthy diet are code words for "communist plot." Their chief lunatic, Sarah Palin suggested that the government "was trying to dictate was citizens eat" and thought they should just "leave us alone and get off our back."

And Palin's witch-faced protege, Michele Bachmann, has cried that this initiative is leading us towards a "nanny state."

Um, okay. I never realized that a suggestion to eat a few carrots could be construed as a government takeover of the food system, but when you're sole purpose in life is to criticize anything Obama-related, you must see things a bit differently.

So I guess it's not altogether shocking that the king fatty himself, Rush Limbaugh decided to open up the hot air machine he calls a mouth the other day and spit out this gem: "The problem is, and dare I say this, it doesn't look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice. (She) does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you."

Oh Rush, do you have to make it so fucking easy?

First off there are approximately 20 women in the world who look like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. And that's because they actually are Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. So I think we probably shouldn't be holding that up as the standard for a healthy body.

Secondly, a guy who gets a muffin top around his neckline is in no position to be calling anyone out of shape. Why don't you put down the bottle of Oxies and hop on a treadmill before popping off?

I obviously don't know the first lady personally but she seems like a pretty good role model for kids from what I can tell. And it's pretty apparent she works hard to keep herself in good shape as well. It may shock Rush that a 47 year old woman with 2 kids does not look like Brooklyn Decker, but most of us can see she takes her fitness pretty seriously.

When you think about it, it's amazing she can find the any time at all to workout and eat right. I would think developing a communist plot to control Americans would eat up most of her day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who grades the teachers?

As the teachers' union and the new governor battle it out in Wisconsin, one critical question seems to be getting ignored. How do we know if someone is actually a good teacher?

Currently, it seems there are basically two ways to evaluate a teacher's performance.

One, you can ask the students. While this may be a great way to judge who is the coolest, nicest, prettiest, funniest, meanest or most boring teacher, I'm not sure it provides much useful insight.

The second option is to see how students perform after spending time in a teacher's classroom. The popular method for quantifying student performance seems to be standardized testing. Okay, great. Now we've got a simple, objective method to grade our educators, right?

Not so fast.

First off, these tests seem pretty narrowly focused on math, English and science. This tends to make schools ignore important subjects like art, music and social studies. Secondly, if you tell a teacher to make sure her kids do well on a test, she will prepare them well for that test. But make no mistake, this is not the same thing as actually being a good teacher. Passing a test and learning are two very different things. Learning comes through experience. Passing a test typically involves cramming a shitload of information into your brain and hoping most of it craps out onto the page on test day.

So where does that leave us?

Well, we can certainly argue about the value of unions in the teaching world. There have clearly been instances where the teachers' union has seemed very slow to adopt meaningful reforms. But do people honestly think that the governors who are cutting education budgets are doing so with the intent to improve education? I don't think so. Wisconsin's Governor Walker essentially dug his own budget hole with tax cuts and pet projects and then turned around and decided to put the blame on teachers.

Do not think for one minute that he has any interest in improving the lives of Wisconsin's children. His move is a purely political one, funded by wealthy business interests, to break unions, plain and simple.

So who is left caring about the kids?

You'd like to think it's the individual teachers. And for the most part, I believe they do care. But at the end of the day, a job is a job and everyone needs to look out for their own interests as well. Sure, you may get into teaching to make a difference, but you still need to put food on the table and make car payments. So as objective as we'd like our teachers to be, they may be distracted by their own self preservation instincts.

Which leads us to the real problem. One that is much bigger than union rights or state budget concerns.

Are we ensuring that kids actually learn what they need to learn? And are our schools even set up in a way that promotes learning?

If you were to create an educational system from scratch, would it look anything like what we have today? Our system was built for an industrial economy that doesn't really exist anymore. Is cramming 30 kids in a room with a single teacher the best way to prepare kids for life in 2020 or 2030? I doubt it.

Budget battles will come and go. But they should never be the battleground for actual education reforms. Let's figure out a common sense way to make sure teachers get paid well without bankrupting states. This really shouldn't be that difficult.

But once that's solved, let's move on the bigger challenge. How do we actually teach?

Anyone have any ideas?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Republicans? How about Me-publicans?

I've decided to start a petition. I hereby propose, that from this day forward, the Republican Party shall be officially known as the Mepublican Party.

"Me" as in I only care about how government policy affects me.

"Me" as in I believe tax money should always be used to benefit me.

"Me" as in welfare is good for me (especially if I'm a corporation), just not anyone else.

"Me" as in abortion should be outlawed, because I'm an old man and it doesn't affect me.

"Me" as in I should be able to poison the environment, as long is it means more money for me.

"Me" as in I should be able to abuse workers and drive wages down, because it means more profits for me.

"Me" as in I am perfectly happy spending shitloads of money on wars and defense, because you know who's not getting killed over there? Me!

Any time a policy even hints at improving society as a whole, the Mepublicans start chanting socialism. Personally, I don't really give a fuck what you call it, I just call it doing the right thing. A little concern for our fellow citizens seems like a pretty good idea to me. We've got about 300 million folks sharing this chunk of land, perhaps we could give the tiniest of shits what happens to them.

But from healthcare to the environment to improving our roads and bridges, it always seems like the right lands firmly on the side of 'what's in it for me?'

Which is why it's not surprising that almost all of the states that receive a disproportionate amount of federal money compared to how much they pay in taxes, are red states. Sure they claim to hate all that "wasteful spending", but meanwhile, they're dancing around in big fat piles of federally tainted money sucking on the government's ample teat like it's an overstuffed crack pipe.

Oh, and by the way, you know who's paying for all that crack? Places like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California and Washington D.C. That's right, the home of the federal government is the place that actually gets the least return from it.

It's the most elaborate income-redistribution scheme ever created. And the Mepublican states are reaping the rewards.

So next time some conservative starts popping off about how we need to start tightening our belts and reigning in spending, tell them you agree. Then open your hand and tell them they can start by giving you your hard-earned money back.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Poll position

Politicians love polls because they tell them what to do. 80% of people hate cigarettes? Let's write as many laws as we can to crack down on smoking. 63% of Americans hate Mexicans? Let's kick 'em all out then! 59% of Americans think evolution is a myth? Let's start teaching creationism in schools!

This is how virtually all government decisions are made these days. Our duly elected cowards sit around waiting for us to tell them what to do.

But that's not how it's supposed to work.

We're supposed to elect people because we trust their judgement. We believe they will ultimately do what is right for our city, our state or our country.

It's called representative democracy. And it happens to be the system our founding fathers wrote into the constitution. Wikipedia has a great definition:

"The representatives form an independent ruling body (for an election period) charged with the responsibility of acting in the people's interest, but not as their proxy representatives not necessarily always according to their wishes, but with enough authority to exercise swift and resolute initiative in the face of changing circumstances."

Not only does our system allow elected officials to make decisions that go against the public's wishes, it actually encourages it. It was designed to protect against the "tyranny of the majority", whereby the masses use the strength of their numbers to push an agenda that is either unlawful or ill advised.

So when some politician trots out a poll that says most Americans don't like the healthcare plan, I say who the fuck cares? Our constitution says that you don't have to like it.

Let's face it, nobody likes change. Nobody likes being told what to do. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't address our problems.

It's like when you hear about parents who won't make their children do something because the kids say they won't like it. Who gives a shit? Kids need to learn that the world doesn't revolve around them.

And so do our fellow citizens. Not every new program or policy is intended to make us happy. Some things need to be done for the good of the country. And some of those things are difficult. It takes a politician with some balls to actually recognize this and push things forward even when everyone's crying about it.

So next time you see one of our elected officials claiming he's acting according to the American people's wishes, take a minute to send him a quick note.

And tell him to stop doing what everyone wants and start doing his fucking job.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The blame game

A reporter in Egypt was sexually assaulted the other day. It is a truly sad story and my heart goes out to her and her family as they try to recover.

But apparently, a number of people have seen this awful crime as a chance trot out their neanderthal views on rape, race, religion and believe it or not, hair color.

One quote: "In a rush of frenzied excitement, some Egyptian protesters apparently consummated their newfound independence by sexually assaulting the blonde reporter."

Another: "How fitting that she was "liberated" by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the "liberation."

And another: "So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows."

The worst part of it all is that I'm not surprised.

Our country has made progress in many areas throughout it's history, but our views on rape seem to resist the forces of evolution.

There's always a rush to blame the victim. In the demented world of some people, any quality a woman possesses is an open invitation to be attacked. She's too hot. She's too ugly. She's too prudish. She's too promiscuous. She's too dumb. She's too smart. She's white. She's black. She's skinny. She's fat.

No, douchebags, she's a human being who just went through a horrific experience. How about digging deep into that black pit you call a soul and dragging out a little compassion?

And how about focusing on the criminal? How about blaming him (or them) for being a sadistic fuck who takes pleasure in robbing women of their dignity? Why do we still insist on making excuses for rapists, assuming they must have been pushed to some sort of limit that left them no choice but to attack an innocent woman?

Between the response to the incident in Egypt and the push to redefine rape here in the US, it seems we're actually walking backwards on this issue.

So I'll try to lay it out simply for those who are a bit slow on the uptake.

Any time a woman gets raped, it is a terrible, criminal act. All blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the attacker. The victim should receive only our compassion.

That's it. Not too complicated, huh? It's so simple, even a neanderthal can do it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Will the real morality please stand up?

Okay. The religious right has had their fun. They've had their day in the sun, professing to be the moral compass for our entire nation.

It's time to call bullshit.

South Dakota is now considering a law that would essentially make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions. It may also make it okay to kill anyone who is supporting a woman choosing to have an abortion, including her own family.

Sorry, I don't care who your God is or what you think he says, but any asshole who calls for the murder of their fellow human beings doesn't get to tell anyone what is and isn't moral.

It's time for reasonable people to take back morality. It's time to define what is right based on common sense and reason. Belief in God should not be a prerequisite. Belief in humanity should be.

This country needs a new movement, with new leaders, who will fight to define a new, more sane approach to doing the right thing. And fight against those hate-filled hypocrites who've held a morality monopoly for far too long.

I wish our president would take the lead on this. But with half the country calling him a Muslim and the other half wondering if he's the devil, I can't see him doing anything to ruffle the feathers of the cuckoo branch of Christianity.

But he should. Because more than ever, this country needs real leadership. Real courage. Real vision. If Obama were to take on the religious right and stand up for real American values like compassion, reason and community he could go down as one of the greatest presidents our country has ever seen.

He has the brains and I believe he has the heart. But I just don't know if he has the balls.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Everything's free!

In a surprising move today, President Obama has made official the Bush policy of not paying for anything.

His new 2012 budget proposes about $3.7 trillion in government spending, supported by about $2.6 million in revenues. That's $1.1 million in free stuff!

When asked, an unnamed Obama official said "I don't know why we didn't think of this earlier, it's a no-brainer, really. Everybody loves free shit!"

No-brainer indeed. How much brains does it take to say 'screw you' to arcane accounting notions like paying for what you need?

Another staffer was equally excited. "I noticed Bush adding new programs and starting new wars all throughout his presidency while lowering taxes at the same time, but I never put two and two together. Turns out you don't have to!"

It's a good thing our schools do such a shitty job at teaching math or else people might raise a few eyebrows at this new approach. But when I tried to elicit some outrage from my fellow citizens, the most animated response was a dismissive "Who needs math? Video games calculate your points for you!"

To make sure Obama doesn't get all the credit for ushering in this new era of magical bookkeeping, Republicans are all over the interwebs promising to cut taxes even further while offering to cut mostly non-essential programs like student loans and home-heating assistance for the poor.

When pressed to explain why social security, Medicare and defense were pretty much ignored by both parties, a prominent political consultant retorted "what part of 'we don't have to pay for shit' don't you understand?"

Slow on the uptake, I pressed further, suggesting that a simple rollback of all the Bush era tax cuts would pretty much give us the revenue needed to cover all this stuff. Met with a blank stare and a whiff of disappointment, I finally moved on.

So, let's celebrate, people! Happy days are here again. Throw a big party. Put it on the credit card. America's buying!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tough luck

Man, you won't believe the crap I've had to deal with this past week. Just the other day, I was on the phone with a customer service rep and my call dropped. Fuck! That's 5 minutes I'll never get back.

And the other day, I was at the store and got stuck behind some douche with like 200 items. Cock! I had to wait almost 7 minutes before I could proceed.

And get this, just this morning I was walking to the train station when a stiff breeze made it feel like 5 degrees for almost 8 seconds. Holy shitballs that's cold!

All of this misery got me thinking how lucky people are in places like Egypt. They are so wrapped up in this whole revolution thing, they don't have time to care about shit like dropped calls. Hell, most of the people don't even have cell phones!

And what about people in Mexico? With their ongoing drug wars? How do you give a shit about supermarket lines when you're worried about what might be lurking around the next corner? That's gotta make life pretty simple, no?

All over the world, people are dealing with war, famine, civil unrest and more. How great would it be if we had stuff like that to distract us here in America? You can bet we wouldn't be worried about the cold weather if we had to constantly wonder whether scud missiles were about to drop from the sky.

Sometimes I dream about dropping all of my worries and moving to one of these exotic, far-away locales.

But then I'd have to deal with the hassle of going through airport security.

Fuck that shit.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Remember when?

Remember when America was a hotbed for entrepreneurs? A place where taxes were low and the government just got out of the way and let business blossom? A place where a good idea and a hammer was all you needed to rise out of poverty and into the land of riches?

No? Well, that makes sense, considering that America never existed. Despite what Glenn Beck and others may have told you.

The right used to romanticize the good old days from a cultural standpoint. "Leave it to Beaver" was the model for their Utopian vision of a more perfect America. Of course, all it took was a few history books and a decent memory to debunk that myth. The 50s were hardly as 'keen' as the republicans like to think—filled with racism, sexism and a whole bunch of other 'isms'.

Now, republicans like to hearken back to that by-gone era of unbridled capitalism, when every new subdivision was an incubator for small businesses, filled with would-be Edisons developing the next big idea.

Except that era never happened either.

You see, if you look back at our country's most prosperous time, post WWII, what you'll find is a breed of capitalism so foreign to today's republicans (and most democrats) they might actually call it, heaven forbid, socialism! AHHHHHHH!

Now I know, most of you probably here the word socialism and think of the Stalin or the devil, but that's just because the right has done such a good job of painting government as the enemy, lying in wait to steal your unborn babies and kill your aging grandparents (or is it kill the babies and steal the grandparents? I never remember).

But if you really want to get a good sense of how socialism can actually work well, take a look at America in the late 40s and throughout the 50s.

Fresh off our victory on two fronts, our federal government created a program called the GI Bill. This provided returning soldiers with free college and a number of other benefits.

Our tax rates were also off the charts, pulling in up to 90% of income at the highest brackets.

And their was a grand bargain struck between businesses and labor to create a middle class of Americans that had never existed before. Companies (relying on heavy government subsidies) provided steady employment with good pay and benefits in return for the hard work and consistent buying power of their employees. It was a genius idea that led to an unprecedented period of prosperity. But the whole thing kinda reeks of socialism, no?

Today, we see politicians claiming they want to bring back the middle class. But they seem to have forgotten how it came about in the first place. Now, we can argue about the details, but slashing taxes for the rich and shipping jobs overseas seems a bit misguided to say the least.

But here's the real problem. Business doesn't care anymore. As Robert Kuttner points out in this excellent piece on HuffPost, today's businesses don't need the American worker. They don't need their labor and they don't need their purchasing power. They can get all of that overseas. All they want is lower taxes so they can fatten their paychecks and share the wealth with their rich investors.

So who is left to make sure Americans can earn an honest living? That's right folks, it's your good old friend, the government again.

The natural evolution of the economy is drawing more and more resources away from the U.S. It's a simple fact. But that doesn't mean we have to accept a continued decline in our standard of living. There is plenty of work to be done right here on our own soil. Our roads, bridges and mass transit systems are crumbling. Our airports are outdated and ill-equipped for the 21st century. Our buildings are highly energy inefficient. The list goes on.

But without government support, that list will remain unfinished forever. And without more jobs, our country will continue its devolution into a land of a few haves and a whole bunch of have-nots. It's bound to make people pretty cranky over time. Mix in our love of guns and our penchant for violence and things could get ugly.

Now if only the democrats could grow a pair and make their case to the American people that their way is the best way out of this mess. If not, they're likely to be the ones caught in the crossfire.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Baby it's cold outside, global warming must be a hoax

Okay, who can tell me the difference between New York and Earth? C'mon, show of hands now. Aha! I knew you could do it.

Too bad this schmuck can't.

Bill O'Reilly has a 'call into Al Gore' to help him understand how New York can be going through a snowy winter at the same time we are experiencing global warming. Hmmm, let's ponder this for a nanosecond. Last time I checked, New York accounted for about .025% of the earth's total square mileage. Now, I'm not a math major, but I have to imagine that it would take an exceptional drop in temperature in New York to even make a dent in the average global number.

But from where Bill O'Reilly stands, we are clearly in the middle of an ice age.

Now, unlike most of his compatriots over at Fox, I actually believe that Bill has a bit of gray matter floating around in that fat skull of his. So I have to think he's either being disingenuous with the whole "holy shit it's snowing, there's no global warming" bit or he's recently been hit in the head.

I also think he must have an awfully short memory. Because, by his same logic, we were in the midst of severe global warming just last summer in New York. Remember that Billy? It was about 92 degrees for 3 straight months from June through August.

But guess what? As much as I wish that little bit of info would actually prove the existence of global warming and shut these idiots up once and for all, it proves absolutely nothing.

Because the other thing that climate change deniers just don't seem to grasp is the difference between 'weather' and 'climate'. We can experience a cold spell and still be in the midst of a warming period. Too put it simply is weather is what's happening right now, while climate is what's been happening for years.

I have to wonder if climate change deniers freak out every time the weather changes. "It's been raining for two days straight, holy shit, it's gonna rain forever!" "Oh wait, now it's been sunny for week! Guess we live in a land of eternal sunshine!" "Hey! It's foggy, why is the world covered in fog now?"

Now, I would love to point and laugh at these dimwits all day, but unfortunately there are enough people who think like them to bring down the whole process of addressing climate change. How can we fix something if people don't even believe it's real?

It's gotten so bad that President Obama didn't even mention global warming in his State of the Union speech. Which is understandable, given how divisive the issue is. But it's also completely unacceptable.

Because if the leader of the world's 2nd largest polluter, a man who actually believes in climate change, can't muster up the guts to speak about it, we're fucked.

But hey, my thermometer says it's only 26 degrees outside! So we've clearly got a long way to go before the planet really gets cooked.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How Mubarak is like Pauly Shore

For you kids out there, Pauly Shore was a 'star' on MTV for a few years back in the late 80s and early 90s. He wasn't particularly funny or talented, but he managed to build a nice little career for himself. He even made a few movies, including the classic and somewhat successful Encino Man.

But that wasn't enough for him. He went on to make the movie Class Act, which was most definitely not a success. Lesson learned, right? The people had spoken. Time to get out of the game.

Nope. He hung around, spitting out another half dozen or so movies over the next few years, each likely worse than the next (I haven't been able to find anyone who has actually seen one of them).

Because he hung around, he ended up a joke (more than he was from the start), destined to play out the rest of his life making lame cameo appearances and occasional stints on VH1 'remember when' type shows.

And that's kind of what Mubarak is doing right now, on a much grander and more violent scale. We tolerated you for some time. You weren't a standout by any means, but you served a purpose.

But c'mon dude, the people have spoken, quite clearly. The jig is up (and gone!). What are you trying to prove by hanging around at this point? Are you trying to be a dick? If so, it's working.

Sure, you've said you don't plan to run again in September. But why wait? In Pauly Shore terms, that's about 5 movies too long. Just get the hell out now while the getting is relatively good.

The more you allow this to drag out, the more the responsibility for the violence falls on your shoulders. You don't need to go out like that. Don't be a Pauly Shore or a Brett Favre.

Be a real man.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Keep the life preservers on the boat

It's time for poor people to stop abusing the welfare system to get their fat checks and government cheese. Why don't they just get a job and stop sucking at our overly generous federal teat?

Everyone knows that the government should only be offering benefits to those who already have stuff. Got a farm? We'll pay you to run it. Got oil? We'll pay you to drill for more. Got a factory in India? We'll pay you to build 5 more.

Got a kid and nowhere to live? Screw you. And your little rug rat too.

You see, it's so much harder being a middle or upper middle class person in America. So we need to make sure those folks are well taken care of. Sure, most of those people have easier access to credit, better health insurance and safer neighborhoods. But fuck, they earned all of it through hard work.

Usually the hard work of their parents. But hard work nonetheless. It's not easy growing up on the hardscrabble streets of a mostly white American suburb. Have you seen Breakfast Club? Detention? On a Saturday? Fuck that's harsh.

So, it's only fair that those who own homes get a huge tax deduction. And those IRA contributions and capital gains should get favorable tax treatment as well, obviously. To the victors come the spoils, as they say.

But man, when some city dweller starts crying because they can't feed their baby and can't afford rent, that really sticks in my craw. You made your bed, now lie in it. Oh, that's right, you don't have a bed. Whatever, you get the point.

Think you deserve a better chance at the American Dream? Well, you should have thought of that before you decided not to be born in a better area with more opportunity. You should have thought of that before you chose to go to an underperforming elementary school. You should have thought of that before you surrounded yourself with adults who didn't have connections at good colleges and top companies.

And now, some of you want a handout? Some of you want to take advantage of the system and manipulate it to your advantage? Wow, you've got some nerve. Everyone knows that type of behavior is best left to the people who really need help.

Like bankers and car companies.