Saturday, November 10, 2007

The President, Big Business, and the Price of Gas

I wrote recently in another place about how the President really is to blame for the price of oil to some extent. How can I say that? In case you don't want to read the long version, I'll sum it up here:

  • Petroleum is sold in U.S. Dollars. When a Russian business buys oil from a Nigerian exporter, the deal is priced in U.S. Dollars. When Australians buy oil from Indonesia, the deal is prices in U.S. Dollars. OPEC sells oil in U.S. dollars.
  • The U.S. Dollar has weakened considerably against other currencies in the past few years. The euro, British pound, and Canadian dollar, for example all cost more now than they did a few years ago. The U.S. dollar is worth less than it used to be.
  • Oil is more expensive in America because OPEC wants to keep getting the same amount of euros and pounds for a barrel of oil that it did last year and the year before. The only way they can do that is charge more for it, in U.S. Dollars.
  • The reason the U.S. Dollar is weak is that President Bush has made policy decisions that make it weak.

You don't believe me...

There are a couple of things to consider. Let me start by saying that I understand that being President probably isn't easy. There are hard decisions. I'll accept that.

meFour and a half years ago President Bush decided to invade Iraq. I don't mind saying that I think he misled Congress to get their consent to go to war - and that that was probably a crime. The projections at the time were rosy: it would be over in six months and we'd be welcomed as liberators. Iraqis would be so happy with us that they would pay for the invasion with their own oil. Fifty some odd months later those projects seem laughable. Iraqi oil hasn't help the U.S. pay off this fiasco. And President Bush has paid for the war instead by selling huge amounts of Treasury bills to other countries; he's borrowed money to fight a war while cutting taxes and increasing spending at home. Ronald Reagan's deficit meets Lyndon Johnson's unpopular war...

One result of that borrowing has been a weaker dollar.

How could it have been different? Most countries, when they go to war, institute an austerity program of some sort and raise taxes. If back in March of 2004 (a year into this war and at a time when the October 2003 budget was being formed) President Bush had suggested an austerity program to Congress and led it by making cuts to his own programs, would he still be President? That was an election year. If President Bush had repealed part of his tax cuts to pay for the war, would he still be President? I suspect the answer to both questions is "no." But political self-preservation is not an honorable motive for public policy decisions.

While the relationship between the price oil and the strength of the Dollar has received a lot of attention in the press, there is another effect that a weaker Dollar has - one that isn't getting quite as much press. A weaker Dollar is good for export industries in America and bad for imports. Boeing jets are cheaper in France now, and they French may buy more of them. BMW's are more expensive in the U.S. now, and many Americans may decide to buy a Lincoln or a Cadillac, instead.

A weak dollar is good for America's big businesses. And in it not inconceivable that the Bush administrations Dollar policy has been designed to help big business.

Remember that when the price of gas goes to $5 a gallon at the pump - probably just before the 2008 election...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Out, damn'd Spot! out, I say!

Okay, I capitalized the "s" in "spot." The original quote is from Shakespeare's Macbeth...

Robert "Spot" Steele lost his bid to keep his school board seat in Tazewell County's Northern District today by a vote of 615 to 483. He carried two of the 11 precincts in the district.

Spot wanted to be on our Board of Supervisors (which most states call the "County Commission"). He tried to gain the Democratic nomination for supervisor through the caucus process, but didn't seem to understand the rules very well. He showed up at the caucus and stood at the front entrance to the facility to shake hands and campaign - closer than election law allows to the entrance. He passed out flyers saying that a non-profit organization he helps run would provide groceries for anyone who came to vote. And questions remain about the voter registration drive his campaign for supervisor ran.

Spot is under investigation by a special prosecutor for violating Virginia election laws and, I believe, by the IRS for actions that could cost his non-profit its tax exempt status.

Spot's eight years as a school board member was an embarrassing time for the district. Hopefully the new board member, David R. Woodard, will do better.

Congratulations Mr. Woodard.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fun day tomorrow....

The monitoring team comes tomorrow. They're supposed to arrive at 9am and be gone by noon or so. The rumor is that they will be looking at how well we've implemented the response to intervention approach and the three tier model. But since one of the three team members is director of compliance and monitoring for special education for the state's department of education, they may look at other issues.

We're not being singled out. Every school in the county is getting a visit. Just the same, everyone at our school is a little stressed out...

Being sick doesn't help. I'm on day six of a run of antibiotics and I think I've almost defeated whatever evil microbe took up residence in my lungs and sinuses. One or two other teachers are quite that lucky yet.

I've spent part of the night studying questions the team might ask and answers I'm suppose to give. Most are either technical answers involve data any reasonable person would have to look up or fairly obvious, simple questions any teacher ought to know the answer to (for their school).

The weather will make tomorrow just a little more trying. It seems like just three weeks ago we were all wondering if summer would ever end. Now the third cold wave in a row is coming through and temperatures have dropped enough that we may see a little snow. Snow or no snow, we will likely see a day of clouds and moisture. We need the rain, so I shouldn't complain.

My twice-per-year dental appointment was today. I left an hour early from work and got my teeth cleaned. No cavities; and Dr. Francisco says my gums and teeth are nice and healthy. I killed two birds with one stone by getting my flu shot on the way to the dentist.

I should go to bed early. My second favorite pro football team, the Steelers, is on tonight. Perhaps I'll have a shot first and watch a few minutes of the game. I’ll have to try and remember tomorrow that if I feel stressed I should try and think about how happy Heinz Ward always looks…

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

Among the less talked about disabilities encountered in education today is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD. The fact that it is not a topic of conversation doesn't mean that it is uncommon.

Outside a medical setting the technical definitions often get blurred in conversation and literature, but it is important to make a few distinctions. FASD is a broad term that covers almost any physical, behavioral, or educational problem that is thought to be the result of exposure to alcohol in the womb. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, on the other hand, is a more specific and profound term. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) must include: at least three facial abnormalities; growth deficits for both height and weight; and central nervous system abnormalities. Some other terms (and acronyms) get used occasionally, as well:

  • Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
  • Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
  • Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE)

Since FASD is the broadest of the terms and covers basically anyone who suffers from a problem related to prenatal alcohol exposure, I'll use that term. But readers should be aware that the term FAS and FASD are used almost interchangeable much of the time.

FAS is a tragic problem in light of its preventable nature. A group called Better Endings New Beginnings has some relatively up to date U.S. statistics on FASD available. About four million babies are born in the U.S. each year. About one out of a hundred (40,000) have FASD. Of these, about one in five could be medically diagnosed as having FAS. That's 8,000 babies born each year with FAS. That means that about 100,000 children with FASD between the ages of five and 18 are in school are in school today.

Learners with FASD tend to have one or more of the following obstacles to effective learning:

  • They are easily distracted
  • They are easily frustrated
  • The lack some motor skills
  • They have a poor attention span
  • They lack of organizational skills
  • They have difficulty with concrete thinking skills
  • They do not related well with their peers

The National Organization for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, NOFAS, has some excellent suggestions available online for instructional strategies to use when working with FASD students. They range from simple ideas like preferential seating to assisting with social behaviors and modifying curriculum.

There is also an excellent listserv for FASD available at It is archived at the address above and there are instructions as to how to subscribe to it there. The archive is searchable - making it a valuable Internet resource on the subject since the listserv is now ten years old. And the listserv has the advantage of being active and somewhat international. And because of the long history of the listserv it has a feel of community. People share personal information and views that, while sometimes creating discussion threads that are off topic (and heated), result in a very useful Internet experience for people who want to follow FASD issues and events.