Friday, September 5, 2008

My Answer for Joe Porter of Champaign Illinois (The Change Obama Wants)

Dear Joe,

I read with interest your letter about the upcoming presidential election. (I reprinted it below; and I hope you don’t mind that I brushed up your grammar and punctuation a little.) Like you, I am in my mid-40’s – a born-again Christian, a husband, father, and homeowner. I am not a veteran; I wanted to join the military, but a medical problem kept me out. But I know the military well, since my father is a retired Army officer. And while I don’t actually own a small business, I do contract work in addition to my day job.

I don’t consider myself to be a liberal or a conservative, although for the last few years I have been involved in my county’s local Democratic Party. Party membership involves signing a pledge about how I’ll vote: I don’t have to vote for the Democrat, but I promised not to vote against the Democrat. The Republicans here do the same thing. I signed that pledge knowing that I could always simply quit the party if I needed to vote for the Republican; so far my conscious hasn’t made me do that – so, like you, I’ve been able to simply vote my conscience. I feel like we have a lot in common…

I understand why you don’t believe in two Americas. According to the Census Bureau, the 185,000 people who live in Champaign have a median household income of almost $40,000 a year. I live in Tazewell County, Va. (median household income about $30,500 a year) and I work in neighboring McDowell County, WV (median household income only about $19,500 a year). Where you live, 91% of country residents graduated high school and 38% graduate college. In the county where I work as an elementary school teacher (I work with children with disabilities), only about half the people graduated from high school and just 5% finished college.

Eleven percent of the population where you live in Champaign has some sort of disability, according to the Census Bureau. With coal mining being a leading occupation here, and with the environmental and nutritional issues that come with life in a poor, rural mining community, over 40% of the people in the county where I work have some kind of medical condition that results in disability, according to the Census Bureau. Champaign has such a high income and education level compared to here and such a healthy population, it’s easy to see why you don’t understand the idea that there are two Americas. You’ve lived a sheltered life. When it’s 20 miles to the nearest Wal-mart or McDonalds and your family is too poor to have its own car, it’s harder to believe that you can be whatever you want to be. It’s nice to know that you believe the government should help the legitimately downtrodden.

Like you, I’m concerned about the future of our great nation. Like you, most folks I know choose not to be involved in politics – unless you count attending school board meetings when the county decides to close their school, or going to public hearings about a project to get county water piped in to a new area.

You said that we were in the unique position in this country of electing out leaders. I’m not sure what you mean by that. If we could talk, I could give you a long list of other real democracies on earth where people elect their leaders. Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand come to mind right away. But I think there are at least a one or two dozen more. America is a great country. I got to live a few other places while my father was in the Army. And I spent some time overseas working for a Christian missions organization. So I’ve seen other places and I understand just HOW GREAT America is. But it’s not unique in being a democracy.

Like you, I don’t agree completely with any political candidate (or even with my wife) all the time. Like you, I look at the big picture and think about credentials and about character.

You began to lose me when you started to talk about change. There are two candidates in this election: John McCain and Barack Obama. Both of them say they want Change. I listened to both of their speeches on television when they accepted their party’s nominations, Barack Obama talked about change, and I thought he was pretty clear about what he meant by that. John McCain talked about change, too; but it wasn’t all that clear to me what HE meant by it. (I was especially disappointed that John McCain couldn’t even bring himself to mention the name of our Republican president, George W. Bush, who has brought our country to the point where both candidates today seem to think we need some change.)

You said (and I’m quoting you here) “Quite frankly, I don't believe that vague proclamations of change hold any promise for me.” I agree. And I guess that’s my biggest concern – that John McCain hasn’t told us yet what changes he wants to make. He talks in the broadest possible generalizations about putting America first, about energy, about being a prisoner of war, and about how mean the media is to him. In contrast to that, Barack Obama has put forth some pretty specific policy ideas that I guess you’ve missed.

Before we go much further, I wanted to thank you for your willingness in your letter to overlook Senator Obama’s genealogy, upbringing, and religious background. Even though his mother is white, I know there are lots of people who can’t get past the fact that he looks Black; I’m glad you're not one of them. He’s denied being a Muslim (would that be so horrible?) and I have pictures of him eating a hotdog and drinking a beer (real Muslims don’t do either of those things); but I know there are a few ignorant people out there who still think he’s a Muslim because his father was. My father was a Mason, but I don’t even really know what that means. I’m glad you’re willing to set that aside and not remind us of it. Between having a Black father from another country, growing up with a single Mom, and being exposed as a child to Islam, the bigots out there will have a field day with America’s more stupid voters. I appreciate you not bringing any of that up.

Let me tell you about the change that, as I understand it, Senator Obama wants.

1. He wants people to have health insurance that they can afford (even if they are only 23 and haven’t graduated college yet – like my oldest daughter) and can take with them if they change jobs. These days many people don’t have that.

2. Senator Obama wants to cut taxes for people who make less than $250,000 a year. Under the Republicans we have moved back to having a huge difference between what the richest Americans make and what the average American makes. President Bush cut taxes for the richest Americas in the hopes that those people would be nice to you and me and create jobs for us. After eight years I think it’s safe to say that THAT hasn’t worked. Senator Obama wants the rich to pay more of their fair share in taxes. John McCain thinks that idea sounds reckless and that it will be bad for America, but the Wall Street Journal disagreed in an editorial on August 14. The WSJ said “The Obama plan would dramatically simplify taxes by consolidating existing credits, eliminating the need for millions of senior citizens to file tax forms, and enabling as many as 40 million middle-class filers to do their own taxes in less than five minutes and not have to hire an accountant.” What did they think of McCain’s plan? This is what they said: “The McCain plan would lead to deficits the like of which we have never seen in this country. It would take money from the middle class and from future generations so that the wealthy can live better today.” Remember, this is the Wall Street Journal, not some group of liberal hacks at the NY Times.

3. Senator Obama wants to get us out of the expensive political mess in Iraq. American soldiers are dying and it’s not clear why anymore. The Iraqis don’t seem to want to solve their own problems. They have a budget surplus while we’re paying their security bills. But John McCain doesn’t seem to want to change the way we deal with Iraq.

4. Barack Obama wants to make a bigger commitment to education – especially when it comes to our youngest children – and to fix the problems of No Child Left Behind. John McCain doesn’t.

5. Barack Obama wants to work to stop global warming. John McCain picked a vice-presidential candidate who doesn’t believe in global warming.

Of course, there are other issues. But those are some of the major ones. They are areas were we need change, areas where Obama has detailed policy statements about how we should bring about change and where McCain doesn’t.

But the real issue for you seems to be more simple. You seem to think that John McCain is more qualified to be president because he is, well, older (for starters) and he’s had a harder life. I know McCain is a war hero and I respect that. But I don’t think being beaten by people who speak a different language than yours somehow gives you the qualifications to be president. We’ve had lots of presidents who were Commander-in-Chief even though they’d never been in the military before being elected. That’s what makes us different from places like Thailand and Venezuela, where the military gets involved in government on a pretty regular basis.

I don’t think anyone (including McCain) is ever really qualified to be president. The job is too important and our country too great. It’s not like there’s a course you can take – Presidential Readiness 101. Barack Obama has been serving people through his involvement in politics for a couple of decades now. John McCain has been at it a little longer because, well, he’s older. Both want change. I’ve heard them both say it. McCain hasn’t really told us what that change would look like and how our country would be different from the mess that eight years of government by his political party has left us with. Obama has told us what that difference would be like.

While I’ve sent this out as an email in the hopes that it will reach you, you can also find it on my web page at If you still really don’t understand the change that Barack Obama wants, go to my web page and leave me your phone number. I’ll call you (if you really exist) and try to explain it more clearly.

Your friend,

Greg Cruey

PS Thanks again for not bringing up the stuff about race and religion and just looking honestly at the issues involved. I really appreciated that.

Joe Porter's Letter:

Dear Friends:

My name is Joe Porter. I live in Champaign, Illinois. I'm 46 years old, a born-again Christian, a husband, a father, a small business owner, a veteran, and a homeowner. I don't consider myself to be either conservative or liberal, and I vote for the person, not Republican or Democrat.

I don't believe there are "two” Americas but that every person in this country can be whomever and whatever they want to be if they'll just work to get there - and nowhere else on earth can they find such opportunities. I believe our government should help those who are legitimately downtrodden, and should always put the interests of America first.

The purpose of this message is that I'm concerned about the future of this great nation. I'm worried that the silent majority of honest, hard-working, tax-paying people in this country have been passive for too long. Most folks I know choose not to involve themselves in politics. They go about their daily lives, paying their bills, raising their kids, and doing what they can to maintain the good life. They
vote and consider doing so to be a sacred trust. They shake their heads at the political pundits and so-called "news", thinking that what they hear is always spun by whoever is reporting it. They can't understand how elected officials can regularly violate the public trust with pork barrel spending. They don't want government handouts. They want the government to protect them, not raise their taxes for more government programs.

We are in the unique position in this country of electing our leaders. It's a privilege to do so. I've never found a candidate in any election with whom I agreed on everything. I'll wager that most of us don't even agree with our families or spouses 100% of the time. So when I step into that voting booth, I always try to look at the big picture and cast my vote for the man or woman who is best qualified for the job. I've hired a lot of people in my lifetime, and essentially that's what an election is - a hiring process. Who has the credentials? Whom do I want working for me? Whom can I trust to do the job right?

I'm concerned that a growing number of voters in this country simply don't get it. They are caught up in a fervor they can't explain, and are calling it "change".

”Change what?,” I ask.

”Well, we're going to change America,” they say.

”In what way?,” I query.

”We want someone new and fresh in the White House,” they exclaim.

”So, someone who's not a politician?,” I press.

”Uh, well, no, we just want a lot of stuff changed, so we're voting for Obama,” they state.

”So the current system, the system of freedom and democracy that has enabled a man to grow up in this great country, get a fine education, raise incredible amounts of money and dominate the news and win his party's nomination for the White House – that system's all wrong?”

”No, no, that 20 part of the system's okay - we just need a lot of change.”

And so it goes. "Change we can believe in." Quite frankly, I don't believe that vague proclamations of change hold any promise for me. In recent months, I've been asking virtually everyone I encounter how they're voting. I live in Illinois, so
most folks tell me they're voting for Barack Obama. But no one can really tell me why - only that he's going to change a lot of stuff. Change, change, change. I have yet to find one single person who can tell me distinctly and convincingly why this man is qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful nation on earth other than the fact that he claims he's going to implement a lot of change.

We've all seen the emails about Obama's genealogy, his upbringing, his Muslim background, and his church affiliations. Let's ignore this for a moment. Put it all aside. Then ask yourself, what qualifies this man to be my president? That he's a
brilliant orator and talks about change? CHANGE WHAT?

Friends, I'll be forthright with you - I believe the American voters who are supporting Barack Obama don't have a clue what they're doing, as evidenced by the fact that not one of them - NOT ONE of them I've spoken to can spell out his
qualifications. Not even the most liberal media can explain why he should be elected. Political experience? Negligible. Foreign relations? Non-existent. Achievements? Name one. Someone who wants to unite the country? If you haven't read his wife's thesis from Princeton, look it up on the web. This is who's lining up to be our next First Lady?

The only thing I can glean from Obama's constant harping about change is that we're in for a lot of new taxes. For me, the choice is clear. I've looked carefully
at the two leading applicants for the job, and I've made my choice.

Here's a question - where were you five and a half years ago? Around Christmas, 2002. You've had five or six birthdays in that time. My son has grown from a sixth grade child to a high school graduate. Five and a half years is a good chunk of time. About 2,000 days. 2,000 nights of sleep. 6, 000 meals, give or take. John McCain spent that amount of time, from 1967 to 1973,in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp. When offered early release, he refused it. He considered this offer to be a public relations stunt by his captors, and insisted that those held longer than he should be released first. Did you get that part? He was offered his freedom, and he turned it down. A regimen of beatings and torture began.
Do you possess such strength of character? Locked in a filthy cell in a foreign country, would you turn down your own freedom in favor of your fellow man? I submit that's a quality of character that is rarely found, and for me, this singular act defines John McCain.

Unlike several presidential candidates in recent years whose military service is questionable or non-existent, you will not find anyone to denigrate the integrity and moral courage of this man. A graduate of Annapolis , during his Naval service he received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Distinguished
Flying Cross. His own son is now serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq. Barack Obama is fond of saying "We honor John McCain's service...BUT...", which to me is condescending and offensive - because what I hear is, "Let's forget this man's sacrifice for his country and his proven leadership abilities, and talk some more about change."

I don't agree with John McCain on everything - but I am utterly convinced that he is qualified to be our next President, and I trust him to do what's right. I know in my heart that he has the best interests of our country in mind. He doesn't simply
want to be President - he wants to lead America , and there's a huge difference.

Factually, there is simply no comparison between the two candidates. A man of questionable background and motives who prattles on about change can't hold a candle to a man who has devoted his life in public service to this nation, retiring from the Navy in 1981 and elected to the Senate in 1982.

Perhaps Obama's supporters are taking a stance between old and new. Maybe they don't care about McCain's service or his strength of character, or his unblemished qualifications to be President. Maybe "likeability" is a higher priority for them than trust". Being a prisoner of war is not what qualifies John McCain to be President of the United States of America - but his demonstrated
leadership certainly DOES.

Dear friends, it is time for us to stand . It is time for thinking Americans to say, "Enough." It is time for people of all parties to stop following the party line. It is time for anyone who wants to keep America first, who wants the right man leading their nation, to start a dialogue with all their friends and neighbors and ask who they're voting for, and why. There's a lot of evil in this world. That should be readily apparent to all of us by now. And when faced with that evil as we are now, I want a man who knows the cost of war on his troops and on his citizens. I want a man who puts my family's interests before any foreign country.

I want a President who's qualified to lead.

Fact Checking the GOP Convention on Palin

I know it's mean (and probably somehow sexist, since she's a woman) of me to talk trash about John McCain's vice-presidential pick, but I cam across ann Associated Press article that ran a few fact checks on Palin - things said by her, things said about her. I thought I'd pass them on.

The truth about Palin...
  1. PALIN: "I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending ... and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. I told the Congress 'thanks but no thanks' for that Bridge to Nowhere."

    THE FACTS: As mayor of Wasilla (pop. 9780), not only did Palin hired
    Palin hire a lobbyist, she traveled to Washington herself each year in support of legislative (pork barrel?) earmarks for the town. She got $27 million Wasilla - about $2,761 in federal money per town resident. In Sarah Palin's two years as governor, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special (pork barrel?) federal spending - about $1120 per Alaska resident and by far the largest per-capita request in the nation. NOTE: While Palin points out she rejected plans to build a $398 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport, that opposition came only after the plan was ridiculed nationally as a "bridge to nowhere." She was for it before she was against it (is that flip-flopping?)

  2. PALIN: "The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes, raise payroll taxes, raise investment income taxes, raise the death tax, raise business taxes, and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars."

    THE FACTS: The Tax Policy Center, a think tank run jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, concluded that Obama's plan would increase after-tax income for middle-income taxpayers by about 5 percent by 2012, or nearly $2,200 annually. McCain's plan, which cuts taxes across all income levels, would raise after tax-income for middle-income taxpayers by 3 percent, the center concluded.

    Obama, according tot he Associated Press article, would provide $80 billion in tax breaks, mainly for poor workers and the elderly, including tripling the Earned Income Tax Credit for minimum-wage workers and higher credits for larger families.

    He also would raise income taxes, capital gains and dividend taxes on the wealthiest. He would raise payroll taxes on taxpayers with incomes above $250,000, and he would raise corporate taxes. Small businesses that make more than $250,000 a year would see taxes rise.

  3. MCCAIN: "She's been governor of our largest state, in charge of 20 percent of America's energy supply ... She's responsible for 20 percent of the nation's energy supply. I'm entertained by the comparison and I hope we can keep making that comparison that running a political campaign is somehow comparable to being the executive of the largest state in America," he said in an interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson.

    THE FACTS: Well, while Alaska is the biggest state measured in acres of land, it is the smaller than almost every other state when you measure size by population. Only Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota have fewer people than Alaska. Forth Worth, Tx., Memphis, Tn., and Charlotte, NC all have bigger populations than Alaska. And while Alaska might have a lot of oil underneath it, as governor, Sarah Palin's only real authority over that oil was her ability to tax it. She did this, crossing party lines and working with Democrats in Alaska to tax the oil companies there (much to the annoyance of Alaska's GOP).

  4. MCCAIN: "She's the commander of the Alaska National Guard. ... She has been in charge, and she has had national security as one of her primary responsibilities," he said on ABC.

    THE FACTS: That's almost laughable. While governors are in charge of their state guard units, that authority ends whenever those units are called to actual military service. Like any governor, Sarah Palin is in charge of the Alaska National Guard as long as it's not actually doing anything military. When guard units are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they assume those duties under "federal status," which means they report to the Defense Department, not their governors. Alaska has one of the smallest of state guards in America.

  5. FORMER ARKANSAS GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: Huk said that Palin "got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States."

    THE FACTS: That's the biggest lie of the GOP convention (and from a preacher!). Palin got 616 votes in the 1996 mayor's election, and got 909 in her 1999 re-election race. Biden dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses, but he still got 76,165 votes in 23 states and the District of Columbia where he was on the ballot during the 2008 presidential primaries.

  6. FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOV. MITT ROMNEY: "We need change, all right — change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington — throw out the big-government liberals, and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin."

    THE FACTS: Romney seems confused. George W. Bush, a conservative Republican, has been president for nearly eight years. And until last year, Republicans controlled Congress. Only since January 2007 have Democrats been in charge of the House and Senate - and that, by a slim margin.

Oh, and by the way... Palin never actually sold that jet on eBay. It got taken off eBay and eventually sold by other means, for a loss...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Not Far from the RNC: Ron Paul Lives

I once called Ron Paul the scariest candidate for president this go 'round.

As the Republican National Convention takes place in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, former GOP candidate Ron Paul is also having his day in the sun - not far away.

The Texas Congressman has drawn between ten thousand and twenty thousand supporters to St. Paul for his own convention, in competition with the RNC show in town. I can’t embed either of these videos here, but there are two interesting clips of Paul this week available - one from The Caucus and one from TIME.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sarah Palin: I Should Write About Other Stuff...

Life has gotten busy with the start of the school year. I have students again. And on top of that, I am a graduate student again. There's so much more I should be writing about. Rather than actually write about here, I'll confine myself to this list of links on Sarah Palin:

There's so much more. I'll leave you with this...

James Carville, Michelle Bachmann and Stephanie Miller on Larry King Live, talking about Palin's qualifications:

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Visiting the Archives at The Reading Teacher Listserv: Hugo's Still There...

I stopped participating in the reading teacher’s listserv some time back, but I still browse it from time to time to see what interesting topics have come up. I saw a couple of threads earlier this month and, well, the listserv is still sometimes not that nice a place…

Both threads (subject lines: “really illiterate adults” and “under-estimating failing learners”) started with a posts from Val Yule, though the larger discussion seems to tie back to a post that (predictably) mentions dyslexia in an adult. In the first thread she said that she had met people “whose problems are too great to be able to learn.” Val’s post, taken in context, is innocent and well meaning. She’s talking about the use of distance education tools to help illiterate adult.

But Val commits an egregious error of philosophy and assumptions. Any standard school vision statement in America is likely to include an acknowledgement that all people can learn. It’s an underlying assumption of public education and a cornerstone of disabilities rights. I don’t know that she meant it, but she said it pretty clearly: some people can’t learn.

meTwenty-nine hours later there was only one reply to Val’s post and no one had mentioned the gaffe on her part.

Enter Marshall Eubanks. Marshall’s only previous post was when I decided to leave the list (June 2, 2008). And it was not complimentary toward the list. Here he expressed a simple idea, I thought: he asked how the list could tolerate someone suggesting that there were people who can’t learn. “This talk is tolerated here .... I am simply amazed…. How can anyone make the statement …and be taken seriously as an educator? Shame on you and shame on anyone that tolerates this statement.

It took nine minutes for Hugo Kerr to post a response: “This needs a more adult explanation.” Hugo ignores Marshall’s complaint completely, is sarcastic out of one side of his mouth (suggesting that Marshall might not be capable of making a more developed argument on the issue), and demands respect from Marshall out of the other side of his mouth.

A few hours later Beth Forrester posts in the same vein as Hugo. She’d Googled Marshall and wonders if he is this or that particular Marshall – posting his employment information to the list. “We know who you are.” That tactic was used on me, too. I can’t remember who it was that offered to get hold of officials in my school district and have my blog posts about the list taken down for me.

In the second thread Val talks about the limits that, in her view, some learners have: “However, there are different ceilings for what different people can achieve, just as there are in athletic skills, so it is important to help people to learn what they can without stressing them to go too far too fast.

And Marshall replies… “My, my, my .... genetically deficient people/populations that should simply be ‘trained’ to survive. Hitler made this determination in Germany and murdered millions. Shame on you Valerie .... shame!

In an email that is a thread unto itself, Val speaks directly to Marshall. She is civil and professional, and explains how some of her own personal handicaps have brought her to her views. As I see it, Marshall’s concern about her statements are reasonable (and expressed in a manner that is clear enough not to need further expansion). At the same time, Val’s remarks are open to some level of interpretation and don’t necessarily make her the Nazi sympathizer that Marshall first thought.

Val made a statement. Marshall expressed his shock at its implications. Val clarified it in a very professional manner.

And there was Hugo. Hugo said that Marshall’s comments were “at the very least not helpful!” Hugo is wounded, he says, over Marshall taking the list to task. And what does Hugo want? He wants Marshall to “make proper argument?” Well, of course that’s what Hugo wants…

About a day after Marshall’s original post in the thread I first mentioned, Hugo replied to Beth (the “We Know Who You Are” Post) and suggested that they should “give up” on Marshall coming back for the fight. “Having spewed his bile all about he has now gone to ground. We should wash the bile off as best we can and hope the smell fades over time.” Hugo's prose sounds almost Biblical - Ezekiel or one of the minor prophets, perhaps. But the truth is that Marshall's points were concise and important. And while Val addressed them professionally, Hugo sought to make it personal on behalf of the list without ever conceding that the ideas involved (all people can learn, we don't believe in eugenics anymore) had some significance. And Hugo thinks Marshall is childish...

LOL. And they called the moderator on me! I wonder where Julie Coiro is. I would have hoped that these sorts of threats and belittling would have been addressed privately back in June. Oh well.

Anyone can read posts to this listserv at the listserv's searchable archives.