Monday, August 16, 2010

The drive back to school

I believe it'd been 76 days since I'd driven the roads through Horsepen and on across Gary 14 Mountain, down through Skygusty to the spot at the golf course near Blackwolf where I can turn right and drive to Anawalt or turn left and head toward Welch. I wondered as I left for work today what it would be like.

I was surprised a little. It seemed the road rose to meet me - as though I'd never stopped making the drive.

I was pleased to find that parts of the road to Horsepen have been repaved. That made for a much smother drive. I saw a wild turkey as I started up the road into the strip mine on the slopes of Gary 14. The road seemed unchained, but some of the mountainsides had been moved around.

On the whole, it was a nice drive. It's a road I enjoy. Maybe sometime soon I'll see a bear on the mountain...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dennis Taylor: Who Should Shape Technology in WV?

Today was the closing of the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference. And whatever your preconceived ideas about the state (and about Appalachia in general) you should understand that West Virginia ranks at the top of the heap on any meaningful measure of the use of technology in schools.

Dennis Taylor was the conference's closing speaker. His speech was entitled, “Through the Looking Glass: A Decade of Technology Lessons.” Head of a Charleston law practice, Taylor has a long list of impressive credentials and experience with education policy and technology in West Virginia. So I expected something visionary. I was disappointed.

Don't get me wrong. Taylor's speech was thought provoking. But I developed the impression early on that Taylor wasn't actually talking to me - that he was talking over my head to (or at) policy makers. A decade ago I was working in another state and hadn't given much thought to teaching in West Virginia. As I looked around the room I had to guess that a quarter of the audience was in high school a decade ago and perhaps half the people listening hadn't gotten their first teaching job yet. Taylor talked about past events in the state's technology history as though they were common knowledge to the people listening. They weren't to me, and I doubt I was alone in that.

A couple of things about the tone of Taylor's speech bothered me. I've already pointed out that I didn't feel like he was there to speak to the audience in front of him. Taylor obviously felt like he was dealing with serious issues that could devastate West Virginia's economy and education system if handled incorrectly. I don't question that analysis because, well, he's right. But his approach was to use Alice in Wonderland as a reference point or allegory for the current situation. As someone not completely familiar with the issues, I thought that was distracting and that it reduced audience’s perception of the seriousness of the issues.

I was uncomfortable with the way that Taylor used the term politician as though it was a derogatory term. He tried to sound like a populist and got a round of applause for saying that technology decisions should be left to the educators and not made by politicians. My problem with that is this: many of the "politicians" in the state legislature are educators (or at least used to be), and I thought they did a damn good job when faced over the last few months with a demand from the Governor to make significant changes to the state's education laws in a big hurry so that we could chase after Race to the Top funding. I'm not honestly convinced that the people at the Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Department of Education have much more claim to the title of educator than do members of the legislature or of the Governor's office who deal with education law and policy. I'm an educator because I teach kids. The bureaucrats at state agencies who haven't turned in any lesson plans in the last decade aren't much closer to being actual educators than a member of the House of Delegates who serves on the Education Committee.

Taylor wants bureaucrats to make the technology decisions, and for us to think of bureaucrats as educators. After years of state control my county, and after watching the WVDE push for education reform issues in the legislature that I lobbied against, I find it difficult to stand up and clap when someone advocates more power for the bureaucracies.

Dennis Taylor made me think. I like it when someone does that. I'll read his blog now. But today's speech left me feeling a little used, and perhaps patronized. The issues he brought up are of great importance. I worry that many of the real educators in the room may have been sucked into his conclusions about how the issues should be resolved…

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sean Tuohy: Christmas Everyday

Just finished listening to Sean Tuohy, opening speaker for the WV Statewide Technology Conference. Good speaker.

Tuohy and his family are the subject of the movie The Blind Side, and his message was simple: give cheerfully. Christmas (according to Tuohy) is the best time of year because people do just that - they give cheerfully. And if we could just learn to do that constantly, we'd have Christmas everyday...

Tuohy was both enjoyable and inspirational. That's a good combination at the start of a tech conference.

The End of Summer

Summer always seems fleeting, and this year it actually is a little shorter than in years past. In many ways it was typical: we spent some time at the beach, visited Gatlinburg, mowed the grass, took the dog to the park, planted tomatoes and watched them grow, went to see the in-laws...

As a teacher, I suppose I measure summer differently than most people. But maybe not. The concept of summer is shaped by your local school calendar in most of America. I think most of us listen to the local meteorologist announce the coming of the summer solstice (June 20th or 21st) and think of it as trivia. Weather trivia. By that time summer's two weeks old.

And by the time the weather person gets around to talking about the autumn equinox (September 22nd or 23rd) marking an official end to summer, I'm already up to my neck in lesson plans and content standards, and I'm starting to wonder whether we'll have any snow days before Christmas.

Today I'm in Charleston at the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference. I'll be here until Thursday. Friday starts a four-day weekend, then it's off to my county's teacher academy for four days. And even though we will almost all have been at those training sessions, August 16th is considered the first teacher "work" day.

When I got in my car and left home for Charleston, summer ended...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dinner at Donnie's Place

Our favorite restaurant is closed for the week. Cheryl and I usually eat at Big Daddy's (a nice little diner about a quarter mile from our house) twice a week. But every July they close for a week. So we decided to try Donnie's Place in town.

I said on Facebook that Donnie's was an interesting experience. We haven't been there in three or four years. The menu has changed (no more alligator). The name has changed. But it's the same owner, the same basic atmosphere...

Tonight was a Karaoke contest that was slated to start around eight. We didn't know that. Donnie's is a seat-yourself place. Just about every table had a "reserved" sign on it. We found one table. It was five til seven. The waitress was there in about three minutes with our menus.

As far as I could tell there was only one waitress. She was nice enough. She was very busy...

I ordered the special (a 12 ounce NY strip), Cheryl got the seafood plate. We had our drinks and salads in just under five minutes. Iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, shredded cheese. There was also bread and butter.

We ate our salad, talked, waited, watched the place fill up with people, and waited a little more. It took our food just over 40 minutes to arrive. My stake was good. The seafood was okay.

We decided that although the food was okay, people don;t go there primarily for the food. We left just as Karaoke was about to start. $33.50 plus a tip...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A bad year for birds...

Over the past several years we've had the pleasure of watching families of birds get raised in two different cedar bird houses in our yard. Last year our Eastern Bluebirds raised a brood and them lay a second clutch of eggs. It was the first year they’ve laid two clutches. We left for a week at the beach, expecting to find newborns when we returned. We found the eggs gone, instead...

Why do bird's eggs disappear? We suspected a young boy in the neighborhood, but we didn't know for sure. And we forgot about it. This year the bluebirds moved back into the their house and the tree swallows moved into the other house.

The bluebird laid eggs. The eggs disappeared. There'd been a hard frost. We though maybe the eggs froze. More eggs appeared. They also disappeared. It was a puzzle.

The tree swallows had more luck. They hatched babies. Then we got up one morning and the house door was open and little pieces of the nest were scattered across the back yard. A raccoon, perhaps. Or maybe a cat. I can fix that for next year by putting a bungee cord around the house to hold the door shut.

Today I think I figured out where my eggs went. We can home from a trip to town and looked out the back door to see a five-foot snake with its head in the house.

Snakes don't generally bother me a great deal. I'd just as soon let one get away as kill it. That one was different. But unfortunately I couldn't get across the yard quick enough. It escaped into the high weeds that border the yard.

So now I have this winter to decide how to keep snakes out of my bird houses...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Complications of Blogging

I'm preparing at the moment for a conference coming up in Charleston, WV. I somehow managed to get myself invited to present two workshops (concurrent sessions) at the annual West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference. The conference is the first week of August. I get to talk about blogging for two 50-minute sessions. Then a couple of days later I get to speak to a room full of geeks about Twitter.

Ironically, I've neglected my own personal blog over the past couple of months. There are reasons for that...

I wrote a post back in April for this blog. May was a busy month. June was a busy month. Now it's July. But being busy doesn't excuse a blogger from writing. If anything, it's suppose to mean he creates more content. Blogging is based in life experience, after all.

A lot has happened in the last three months. The last month of school was hectic. We have a new kitchen. I've done a lot of writing other places. We spent a week at the beach and a few days in Gatlinburg.

At the point in time that blogging becomes a source of income it starts to get hard to blog for free on your own personal blog. Much of this blog has been about politics in the past. I'm not particularly enthused with local politics at the moment. That makes it harder to write about.

Blogging is supposed to be personal. That creates problems when you can't really talk about the personal issues that affect you most at the moment. The last couple of months have forced that dilemma on me, as well.

I will share this personal tidbit. Every summer a small game of musical chairs takes place in the school system where I work. I turned in a bid sheet for a job working in Title I. I suspect that someone already in Title I will get the job - not because they're already in Title I, but because they have more seniority than I do. And at that point I'll bid on their job.

And I'll try and pick things up this week. Maybe I'll come up with a few pictures of the new kitchen. And perhaps I can talk about how our bird houses did this year...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Christian Nation?

Is America a Christian nation?

ABC News has a story about Sarah Palin's statement that America is a Christian nation. In her words, God has shed his grace on this country. And the idea that a national leader could say that America isn't a Christian nation? Well, Sarah Palin thinks that's "mind boggling."

I can't resist saying (quite sincerely) that I'm not sure how much mind Sarah Palin has to boggle. It might not be a difficult task.

Of course America is a Christian nation. Most of its citizens think of themselves as Christians - about 78% according to the Pew Research Center. Pew includes Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and a few other little groups in their numbers that I don't really think of a Christian. But still, three out of four America's are Christians.

And I think of myself as a Christian.

Sarah Palin (among others) would like you to think that as a US Senator, Barack Obama told the 2006 Call to Renewal conference that America is not a Christian country. Here's what he actually said:
Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

You can see the whole speech here.

I think the idea that America is a Christian country is undeniable. Did the Founding Fathers intend for us to have a Christian government? That's a different issue. I've written before about the exchange between Jefferson and Franklin in the preparation of the Declaration of Independence. But there's plenty of other evidence that the Founding Fathers didn't intend for us to have a religious government. It was to be part of our freedom that, as individual citizens, we get to maintain the country's status as a Christian nation by our private, personal behavior and beliefs - without the help of government.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fun with Comments...

I received a comment recently about my post, Reading the Mount Vernon Statement: Today's Conservatives Want You To Think They're George Washington's Cousins.... The comment was anonymous, and it was just a short piece of sarcastic dribble. So I rejected it in accordance with my policy on moderating comments. But after thinking about it, I decided the comment provided me at least a few talking points. Here is the comment:
Bravo, Comrade! Bravo!

WE, you know, the 'collective' need to just keep thinking this way!!!!

You're a CLASS ACT! Keep right on with your message; your (sic) right on target!!

Bravo, Bravo, Bravo
It's a nice succinct comment that employs one of the most common strategies conservatives use: if you can't argue with it (or if doing the working involved in making a real argument requires too much effort) just make fun of it instead.

I wrote 1300 or so words - US political history, analysis of the Mount Vernon Statement, and opinion. The commenter (who can't be bothered to identify himself or herself) doesn't contest a single point of history as I presented it. All they have to offer is sarcasm - and a little bad grammar (the your should be "you're").

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reading the Mount Vernon Statement: Today's Conservatives Want You To Think They're George Washington's Cousins...

I recently read through a document called The Mount Vernon Statement - Constitutional Conservatism: A Statement for the 21st Century (you can read it here). The MVS was signed back in February by 80 conservative leaders on the estate of President George Washington.

Depending on which bloggers and commentators you follow, it was either “sheer brilliance” or “a steaming pile of excrement.” Some saw it as a unifying document for the various strands of conservatism; to others it was so vague as to be meaningless – a rehashing of traditional conservative platitudes in a somewhat more libertarian vocabulary.

Mount Vernon, Va
Image Courtesy of Laura Padgett

As I read through it, the first thing that struck me was simple. Why did they have to use Constitutional as an adjective instead of a noun? Why isn’t the sub-title simply “Constitutionalism: A Statement for the 21st Century?” I suppose the answer to that question is that the MV Statement is written by conservatives for conservatives, and they can’t just leave the “C:” word out. But it’s really not about constitutional conservatism (which some would argue is an oxymoron), it’s about conservative constitutionalism – and the conservatives bring their own slant to the Constitution, their own exegesis and hermeneutics.

At the heart of the MV Statement is this proclamation of five “first principles” for conservatives:
A Constitutional conservatism based on first principles provides the framework for a consistent and meaningful policy agenda.
  • It applies the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.
  • It honors the central place of individual liberty in American politics and life.
  • It encourages free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and economic reforms grounded in market solutions.
  • It supports America’s national interest in advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that end.
  • It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.
While libertarians were represented among the 80 conservatives present at the signing, many libertarian bloggers have complained that the first three principles are contradictory to the last two. They claim that you sacrifice individual liberty when you emphasize community and religion. They feel that any role for America as the world’s policeman simple goes beyond the powers expressed (or even implied) in the Constitution.

Outside the libertarian fold, many see the statement as somewhat cynical. The signing was attended by 80 Bush-era politicos – people who really do believe in individual liberty (except for habeas corpus and the right to privacy) and in limited government (meaning that they can limit taxes and limit regulation on business, but expand the military and the government’s role in social policy to their hearts’ content). They claim that personal liberty is under attack, that the government is tossing aside the Constitution and simply doing as it pleases – yet they cite not a single example. It’s hard to believe they expect to be taken seriously. And their document may be a simple effort to put a saddle on the tea party and see how far they can ride it.

I tend to agree that the Mount Vernon Statement is vague. The five-point foundation for the document is almost ecumenical.
  • Who among us doesn’t believe in limited government? We simply disagree as to where those limits are. In the blithering hyperbole of today’s political environment, people yell “socialism!” because they’ve never lived somewhere where you can’t legally buy a beer or kiss your wife in public, where women can’t drive (at any age) or where there’s an internal security act that allows for your indefinite detention without charge or trial, or where the government can tell you how many kids to have (and make it stick).
  • What politically active American doesn’t believe in individual liberty (as he perceives it)? We can disagree on how that applies to gun laws or to our right to choose a life partner, but we all believe in it.
  • We all believe in capitalism and entrepreneurship; we simply disagree about how much it should be taxed and regulated.
  • Freedom from tyranny for starving children in Asia or Africa pulls at the emotions of most Americans (though we may not agree as to what to do about it).
  • We all love our families, our communities, and our religion (though we may disagree as to exactly how government should go about protecting those things).
The statement could easily unify most Americans if the word conservative was deleted in a few places.

Jefferson Statue, at the Jefferson Memorial
Image Courtesy of chadh
Perhaps the most disingenuous (though dangerous) aspect of the new conservative push is its effort to rewrite history. I once watched a preacher in Georgia hold up his King James Bible and called out: “Brothers and Sisters, if the King James Version was good enough for Paul and Silas, then it’s good enough for me!” Scattered amens… Who needs newer, more modern translations, right? Of course, Paul and Silas had both been dead for over 1500 years when James I got his popular Bible translated. But many in the congregation seemed unaware of that.

Today’s modern conservatives take a similar approach to rewriting history. They hope you're unaware of history. They want to pose as having historic ties of some kind to the “republicans” of early US history – like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. But these men were members of a political party that called itself the Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson saw the small time farmer (not banks and commerce) as central to American life. And when the Democratic-Republicans broke up in the 1820’s, the modern Democratic Party was born - and its first candidate, Andrew Jackson, became President. Other factions of the defunct Democratic-Republicans founded the short-lived National Republican Party, and later the Whigs. And when the Whigs fell apart as a political party (another 30 years down the road), some (including Abraham Lincoln) joined a new party that had been founded in 1854 – the Republican Party of today.

The modern conservatives we have now would like to shape that Republican Party, but they themselves have been around with their unique mix of beliefs only since the 1950’s – since William F Buckley, Jr. of the National Review and Robert W Welch, Jr. of the John Birch Society. Their claim to have ties with the Founding Fathers is fabricated and their presentation of early American figures (like Jefferson) as “Republicans” of today is at best misleading.

Alexander Hamilton
Image Courtesy of Cliff1066
Part of the irony is that today’s modern conservatives have more in common with the Federalists – Jefferson’s political opposition – because of their focus on commerce and banking. They seem to know that, and they express admiration for Alexander Hamilton (founder of the Federalist Party). Yet it was Hamilton who tried to minimize the power and role of states in the new union by having the federal government pay off state debts from the Revolutionary War. Hamilton was the most powerful voice of early American history in favor of a strong, active central government. He came just short of calling for the abolition of the states and thought the Bill of Rights was unnecessary. His Federalist Papers paved the way for courts to interpret the Constitution so that federal powers could be seen as implied when they weren’t explicitly spelled out.

William F. Buckley
Image Courtesy of The Gifted Photographer
The reason modern conservative keep referring back to the Sharon Statement of 1960 as a model for their new Mount Vernon Statement is simple: their history doesn’t actually go much farther back than that. They just want you to think it does. If they rub their statues of Thomas Jefferson against their shirts often enough, perhaps people will begin to think they really are related…

Take your pick: When today's conservatives say they are the political heirs of the Founding Fathers, they are either being deceitful or they are deluded.

And that sound you hear? It’s George Washington turning over in his grave. Having dedicated his life to change and formed a new nation (along with a new model for nation-states) more or less from scratch, it’s hard to make him out to be much of a conservative. And having lived and died without affiliation to any political party, it’s hard to see him as the approving voice for the sort of partisan bickering today’s conservatives seem to thrive on.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

From Winter to Summer (and Back Again)

Just a few short weeks after our most recent snowfall (a couple of inches back in mid-March) it was in the mid-80's for a couple of days this week. It looked this morning like some of the apple trees are starting to blossom. And the grass will have to be mowed earlier in the year than usual. But now a cold front has come through and the mercury has fallen back down into the 40's for a day or two. We'll see what else April has in store for us...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What to Call Tea Ba… ah, er… Tea People

It was pointed out to the recently that Tea Party Activists don’t appreciate the term “Tea Baggers.” I hadn’t really thought about the terminology much myself. I knew there was some reference to an obscure sexual preference, and I saw it discussed once in an out take from Sex in the City. I don’t really want to discuss it here. Go look for it on Wikipedia or something if you really want to know…

I put the whole thing in the same category as the iPad joke on Mad TV (see the video). Steve Job’s iPad is a few weeks old. The Mad TV clip is three years old. Maybe Jobs wishes there were more women in the room when the iPad was named. But no one’s going to change the name now. And iPad has become such a powerful brand name in such a short period of time that no one really thinks of any feminine products when you talk about the iPad now.

Where did the term Tea Bagger come from? There’s a picture out there in cyberspace from one of the early Tea Party events: a kid holding a sign that says "Tea Bag the Liberal Dems Before They Tea Bag You." What do you call people who “tea bag” people? Duh. Tea Baggers.

And the term stuck. I think some prominent figures in the movement used that term early on, but I can’t find the video. I could be wrong about that…

The movement has been around since February of 2008. And it’s made it into a few dictionaries. According the New Oxford American Dictionary, a Tea Bagger is "a person who protests President Obama’s tax policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations known as ‘Tea Party’ protests (in allusion to the Boston Tea Party of 1773)." The word was a finalist in 2009 in that dictionary's contest for "word of the year."

So the term Tea Bagger is probably here to stay. Tea People need to get used to it, and accept the fact that almost no one is thinking of some kind of sexual activity when they use the term (unless a Tea Bagger decides to remind everyone of that old – and now secondary – meaning for the term).

Is it a friendly term? That’s a different question. Obviously, any time you call an individual or a group by a name they don’t really like, that’s not a positive term. And to be perfectly honest, when I use the term Tea Bagger it’s not because of my profound respect for Sarah Palin’s intellectual abilities, or because I support the agenda of the Tea Party in general. I admit, Tea Bagger is a vaguely derisive term. And that’s okay on a blog. Blogs are supposed to have an agenda. Blogs are editorial in nature. I don’t like the Tea Party. You should be able to tell that when you read what I have to say.

That makes the term Tea Bagger inappropriate in a straight new context. So what term do you use on page one of a paper? I’ve seen Tea Partiers and Tea Partyers; I’m not sure who will settle the spelling dispute… Tea Party Activists? That probably also works. I actually like that better.

I occasionally write other places where my political opinion isn’t supposed to impact the content. So I use that term there. When you see the term “Tea Party Activists” in my writing you’ll know I’m trying to appear objective about the movement.

So if I use the term "tea bagger" from time to time, I have the dictionary definition mentioned above in mind, and it's not some weak attempt at a double entendre. I won't make too much of an effort to appear objective (by confining myself to terms like "tea party activists") very often. That would be hypocritical of me…

Monday, March 22, 2010

Morgan Griffith Running in the Ninth District

I recently submitted the following letter to the editor to a number of local and regional papers...

Dear Editor:

Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), the current Majority Leader for the Virginia House of Delegates, has decided to run for Congress. And he wants to represent us here in the Ninth District, even though he’s never actually lived in the Ninth District. I guess after getting little Willie Morefield elected out here with their money, Republicans from the Eastern part of the Commonwealth think they can just start sending us their candidates! Well, as a resident of the Ninth District, I resent it.

Why does Morgan Griffith believe the people of the Ninth are incapable of representing themselves? The Census hasn’t even been taken yet and state GOP leaders are already preparing to redraw our lines to fit their political needs. They can’t find a resident Republican in the Ninth District to run for Congress here, so they’ll import someone.

Morgan Griffith is a city boy who will serve the region poorly. He has little insight into our needs or our values. We don’t need his hypocrisy out here; Griffith is one of those GOP ideologues who likes to talk about how much he hates the stimulus and then show up at ribbon cuttings for projects funded with stimulus money. His home town of Salem has benefited more from Stimulus money than any place in Virginia outside Richmond. He’s gotten $1287 per person in Stimulus dollars for the people he represents there.

We don't need a political opportunist from outside the Ninth District to represent us in Congress. If Griffith wants to run for Congress, let him run in the Sixth District, where he lives. We don't want a stranger representing us.

Greg Cruey
Adria, Virginia
Since submitting the letter, I've realized that the US Constitution allows any resident of Virginia to represent the Ninth District - regardless of where they reside in the state. Griffith doesn't need redistricting to redraw the Ninth around his house, after all.

Boucher's Vote on HR 3940 (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act)

HR 3940 (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) was passed by the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 219 in favor to 212 against. My Congressman, Rick Boucher, voted against the bill. I'm told that he waited until after the bill had its required 216 "yes" votes (and had passed) before he cast his "no" vote.

Boucher published a statement on the reasons for his vote. Takes some time to read ther, here.

I understand Boucher's complaints about cuts to Medicare funding. I'm sure there are a number of people in Congress who are now looking around and thinking that it would be nice to find ways to restore those losses within the budget process. There will be time to do that; maybe it will happen. As the economy continues recovery, Federal revenue will increase. Budgeting is an ongoing process...

Did the original Senate Bill include some distasteful deals? Yes. But it was also clear that the reconciliation package would remove those.

It is disingenuous and problematic for Rick to say that he is voting against the bill (HR 3590) because it doesn't include meaningful tort reform or relieve the disparity in Medicare funding between urban areas and rural areas. It is disingenuous because we certainly wouldn't get either of those things if the bill hadn't passed. It is problematic because Rick will probably be provided with many more opportunities now to vote against other bills because they don't contain those things. In fact, if he continues to use those criteria he may never vote in favor of another bill for the remainder of his time in Congress.

I was asked repeatedly by one of Rick's people if I'd be unhappy with a "no" vote from him if the bill passed anyway. Wonder what Rick would have done if it hadn't passed without his vote - 215 to 215 with his vote left to cast...?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is President Obama a Socialist?

Business Week (we all know what a liberal rag that is) ran a story last year that I recently stumbled upon and thought was both entertaining and informative. It asked the question: Is President Obama a Socialist?

The simple answer is no. And, judging from the article, no is also the complicated answer, the short answer, and the long answer. It’s the reasonable answer.

Let’s define Socialism. Socialism is an economic and political theory that advocates state ownership of major industries as a tool for distributing wealth more evenly in a society.

While Rush Limbaugh and others like him on the Far Right get political mileage out of implying that President Obama is a Socialist, the real Socialists of the world beg to differ, according to the Business Week article.
They say if the Obama Administration were establishing a true socialist state, we'd have at least a $15-an-hour minimum wage (instead of the current $6.55 federal minimum) and 30-hour workweeks. Every American would be guaranteed employment and health-care coverage. Oh, and homeless people would be occupying vacant office buildings in cities and vacant McMansions in the suburbs.
Business Week talked to Frank Llewellyn, national director of the New York-based Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the largest U.S. Socialist party, and to Frances Fox Piven, a professor of political science at City University of New York (CUNY) and an honorary chair of the DSA. They also talked to a representative of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in Chicago and the Socialist Party USA in New York. In their view, President Obama is not trying to take over private sector industry and turn it into something run by the state to benefit the masses. Instead, he is “scrambling to rescue and preserve capitalism.”

How influential are these Socialist political groups? The Socialist Party USA has 1,500 members. The much larger DSA has a whopping 7,000 members. By comparison, Wikipedia says there are about 55 million registered Republicans and 72 million registered Democrats in the US. The Coffee Party has 172,000 fans on Facebook and the Tea Party Patriots page has 115,000.
On Mar. 6 (2009) a New York Times reporter asked Obama whether his domestic policies indicated the President is a socialist. Obama laughed, replying "the answer would be no." In a later telephone call to the paper, Obama said enormous taxpayer sums had been injected into the financial system before his election. "The fact that we've had to take these extraordinary measures and intervene is not an indication of my ideological preference, but an indication of the degree to which lax regulation and extravagant risk-taking has precipitated a crisis," Obama told the newspaper.
While the bailouts of 2009 may have given the federal government an ownership stake in a few industries, the Obama Administration never tried to take over the decision making process in at any major company. At worst, the administration may have stepped in and voiced an opinion on some management practices (particular those tied to executive compensation).

Of course, bank regulators come in and take over banks that are insolvent. Is that Socialism? We haven’t thought so in the past. And bankruptcy courts usually tell businesses how they can structure a plan to pay off their debts. Is that Socialism? Again, we haven’t thought so in the past.

It’s tempting to say that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t actually know what a Socialist is. But that’s obviously not true. He may be a Far Right ideology, but Rush is smart. He knows what a Socialist is. He knows Obama is not one. And Rush would like to expand the definition of Socialism to change that – at least in the public mind.

In the words that one prominent politician used recently, the idea that President Obama is a Socialist – well, that’s “barkings from the nether reaches of Glennbeckistan…”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Moderating Comments

I received a comment recently. It was anonymous. It said, basically, that I'm too much of an egomaniac to approve comments on my blog if they disagree with me. Of course, I've approved plenty of comments from people who disagree with me. Examples exist here, here, and here.

I've neglected this blog recently. I maintain about 20 blogs (it varies from week to week) and most of them pay me to write. This one doesn't pay me. It's my personal blog.

This one is also getting spammed. I had 148 comments when I decided to moderate the anonymous comment I discussed above (I rejected it). Most were in Chinese. Many advertized cheap drugs. Some wanted me to look at pictures of someone's girlfriend. I'm not going to unmoderate my comments.

My rules are simple. First, it's my blog and I approve comments because I see fit to approve them. Second, I generally don't approve comments that are abusive. Third, I don't approve comments that are both negative and anonymous. If you want to disagree with me on my own blog, get a Google ID.