Friday, September 30, 2011

Obama's Turning Point

Mark it down because even though the presidential election is over 13 months away, this week will come down as one of its turning points.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Warren Buffett and Charlotte Danielson: Perfect Together

It's funny how sometimes the conventional wisdom of the day will get a sharp kick in the shins by people who actually know what they're talking about. But the conventional wisdom is a hearty sort who will then hop around on one foot spouting their blather despite evidence to the contrary.

Such as it is with money and education.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Christie Fallacy

The "Chris Christie for President" revival should show you how desperate the Republican Party is to find a slam-dunk candidate to run against President Obama in 2012. Politico is reporting that Chris Christie back in spotlight as Perry sags. The Newark Star-Ledger and are also carrying the story.

I can't say as I blame the GOP. Rick Perry's performance at the Republican debate last week showed that he doesn't have a sufficient grasp of the issues and is, well, not a good debater. Mitt Romney makes the Tea Partiers suspicious because his health care law in Massachusetts is actually saving lives, and Herman Cain, who won the Florida Straw Poll yesterday can't win the nomination. Why? Because he's not popular. Despite winning the Florida Straw Poll. Never mind. It's complicated.

The bottom line is that Christie will not run and further, will not win the nomination even if he does run. He's not socially conservative enough for Republican primary voters and he has little to offer in the way of foreign policy credentials. New Jersey's economy hasn't rebounded enough for him to run on jobs and property taxes remain high. But his greatest liability is that he isn't even that popular here in New Jersey as this poll shows:

Chris Christie's Approval Rating Hits New Low

The most striking number from this poll is Christie's standing with women: 54% disapproved of his performance while only 36% approved. You can't win a presidential election with those figures. And any tour of his YouTube videos will show a bullying, impatient man whose only concern is belittling his opponents as opposed to actually listening to their concerns. In a general election, that will not play well.

I don't expect Christie to suddenly get religion and run for president after so many firm denials, but ego is a wondrous thing and Chris Christie has a super-sized ego. Perhaps all the attempts at persuading him to run will succeed. If he does, though, he will immediately shoot to the top of the polls, then decline as people realize that he's not the candidate they thought he was.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

American Roulette

Russian Roulette was played with a gun.

American Roulette is played with dollars and can be just as lethal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ask. Tell.

That sound you heard yesterday was...almost imperceptible. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of discrimination and marginalization of gay soldiers is now history, and even the Marines are actively recruiting in neighborhoods with large gay populations. In Oklahoma. The world has changed.

Perhaps now the armed forces, and the United States as a whole, can move forward by making sure that all  citizens are treated equally based on their abilities and talents, and not on the biases and irrational hatreds harbored by fear and ignorance.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Raise My Taxes

No, I'm not talking about President Obama's proposal to raise taxes, which would bring some sense of fairness to the tax code.

I'm referring to Paul Ryan and Herman Cain saying that middle class taxes should go up because the payroll tax cut that took effect this year "isn't working."

So putting a little extra money in my pocket is a bad thing?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Times, It Is A-Short-Changin'

Democrats, that is, with apologies to Bob Dylan.

All you need to know about the latest New York Times/CBS news Poll released on Friday is on the first page of the poll document. I'll save you some time and recreate it below:

September 10-15, 2011
Total N= 1,452
Registered N=1,356
Republican N= 781
Republican Primary Voter N=747

Don't Eat

Budget cuts will literally kill people.

That's the takeaway from Joe Nocera's column in the New York Times, Killing Jobs and Making Us Sick.

We all recall the food borne outbreaks of E.coli over the past few years that included vegetables, meats and eggs. In response to that, groups across the political spectrum pushed to have a law that would tighten food inspection and punish producers who ignored health and safety guidelines. As Nocera says:

The result was a bill, the Food Safety Modernization Act, whose contours had the approval of both industry and groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It called for an overhaul of the inspection process, and applied tough new standards on food processors, food importers and foreign suppliers. The agency was required to do more foreign inspections, and use approved foreign governments or third-party auditors for importers. It had other important provisions to help prevent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses — and to track them down more quickly when they did occur. 

So far, so good, but then came the sticky issue: money.

As for paying for this overhaul, the bill included an eminently sensible mechanism: a fee on the industry. Originally set at $2,000 per food facility, it was whittled down to $500, which still would have raised an impressive $300 million. In 2009, when the bill came to a House vote, it passed with bipartisan support; even Michele Bachmann voted for it. 

In the Senate, however, with its ever-present threat of Republican filibuster, the fee never had a chance. Never mind that many of the biggest industry players supported the fee. Indeed, many in industry wanted the fee. To the Republicans, “fee” was code for “tax.” When the Senate finally passed the bill in late 2010, the fee was gone.

This is a perfect example of how right wing radical ideology hurts ordinary people. Republicans are almost begging for the food industry to fail because of lack of money for regulation that these businesses want, and that the public expects. Who in the private sector would step in to ensure the food supply was safe? The same people who produce the food? There's a recipe for failure.

My recommendation? Start the "2,000 Year Old Man Diet" tomorrow. That comes from the old Mel Brooks-Carl Reiner comedy routine where Brooks plays a two-millennium-year-old man who tells us what life was like way back at the dawn of the Common Era. What did they eat?

"Clouds, stars, rocks, cool mountain water...and a stuffed cabbage."


Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Bully Pulpit

No, not from the president. This bully pulpit is exactly what it sounds like: using religion to justify unconscionable denigration and humiliation of gay students in, of all places, formerly-progressive Minnesota.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Special Elections

Yes, they were bad news for the Democrats. This article makes it seem worse.

Let's remember that until Tuesday, the Democrats had won every single special election for the House of Representatives in 2009 and 2010, including a huge upset in a solidly Republican district in New York State. The Democratic loss this week in New York City was just as striking, but instead of panicking, as the article says outright, why don't the Democrats, and Republicans, by the way, learn from this?

People are fed up with what's going on in Washington and any incumbent or incumbent party will pay a heavy price in its next election simply because our politicians seem more concerned with scoring political points than actually working together to solve our problems. This happens all the time, but we are in an especially volatile point in our history, many people don't have jobs and more people are living in poverty than at any time in the past 50 years.

We shake our heads and wonder why lawmakers won't help us. Of course, politics has something to do with it, and supporters of each party will say that they have the answer and blame the other party for obstruction or reliance on tired old ideas. That's natural. The point is that things seem to be getting worse. In that environment, nobody wins, and honestly I don't see anyone on the horizon who can come in and lead us to where we need to go. Obama is trying to be that person, as is Romney, Perry and the other Republicans, but they are all bruised. They could rebound, or there might be someone who will come in at the last minute. I remain optimistic, but I'd like the good news to come sooner rather than later.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thinking of the Country First

It's a good thing we have the House Republicans in charge of the success or failure of president Obama's jobs program because they certainly do care about the country first and put everything else, including their political interests, second.

A Deranged Bastard?

New Jersey doesn't have a reputation for sober, reasonable politics, but even by Garden State standards, last week's eruption over what Governor Chris Christie told a small gathering of wealthy conservatives (including the infamous Koch brothers) in Colorado is outrageous.

What happened?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Can September 11 Finally Belong to the People?

For much of the past 10 years, commemorations of the September 11 attacks have been jammed through a political prism, and what's come out is not a rainbow but a muddled, hazy gray light that mixes fear, sadness and trepidation.

Today, I think we've finally found a way to get some color out of that prism. It will not be a bright light, but rather, the warmer glow of true compassion and a ray of hopeful sunshine.

The tragedy that was perpetrated on the United States became an immediate political conundrum that was unfortunately used to stoke suspicion and charges of treason in anyone who dared to oppose the measures taken by the Bush Administration in its aftermath. This included the Patriot Act and the dual invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter under the false pretense that Saddam Hussein had connections with the Al Qaeda plotters. In the presidential elections of 2004 and 2008, the right raised the specter of immediate terrorist attacks if Democrats were elected, and even went so far as trying to link Barack Hussein Obama with groups who wanted to do us harm. It was made worse by Democrats who demonized Bush as a modern day dictator who used his power beyond constitutional bounds to serve his political agenda.

The cost was great, but now I think we've turned a corner in our use of September 11 as a club with which to beat political opponents. The drawdown of troops from Iraq, the planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden have gone a long way towards tempering the partisan feelings surrounding today and I could certainly see a scenario where it will become almost a non-issue in 2012 unless, heaven forbid, we are attacked again.

September 11, like all commemorations, should belong solely to the people as a day of remembrance. We will not likely bar politics or politicians from the day completely, but with the opening of the memorial in New York and the promise of one in Pennsylvania, the day is fast approaching when we can truly focus completely on the human cost of the attacks.

Friday, September 9, 2011

No Hypocrisy Whatsoever

I guess Eric Cantor really has no shame. After a summer in which he petulantly walked out on debt ceiling negotiations with the president because Obama had the chutzpah to ask for revenue so we could actually pay for some needed programs, the Virginia Republican had this to say in a Politico story:

“I would say this, I’ve already said there are plenty of areas I think that have room for agreement. But I object to the all or nothing message that the president is delivering. That’s not how anybody operates. No two people usually agree on anything 100 percent. I know, my wife and I, married almost 22 years, don’t agree on everything 100 percent. … So my response to the president is, ‘Is he going to work with us?’”

I though about parsing Cantor's words, but really, it's not worth the time. 
What's evident is that Obama has unnerved Cantor and the Republican leadership by acting like a President who has real power and is not afraid to use it. The right wing has convinced itself that they are 100% right (despite Cantor's calculations) and can't stand the fact that Obama has the bully pulpit and, by the way, an argument that most Americans agree with.

My sense is that the more Obama travels the country and lays out his program, the more the Republicans will show themselves to be the obstructionists that they've always been. When you don't have ideas, all you can say is no.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Home Run

President Obama.

Or, to put it in the context of the jobs speech, PRESIDENT Obama.

He came out fiery, he came out prepared and he came out with a compelling argument focused on balancing government and private solutions to the problem, that polls show most of the country agrees with. He also came out with a bit of an attitude which unnerved some of the Republicans according to reports after the speech was over. It's about time. Republicans get all kinds of prickly when they get challenged, since they believe that their philosophy is revealed truth. Now they are responsible for a bill that tests the limits of their unconscionable obstructionist strategy.

It was also fortunate that this speech came a day after the Republican debate. Compared to Obama, Perry, Romney and the rest of the babbling bleaters look extremely small and petty. Their one size fits all approach to government, or anti-government, was exposed tonight by a politician and leader who outflanked their arguments about sparing the wealthy and framed a message that was pragmatic, urgent and based solidly in our country's history.

If Obama is as good in the coming weeks, when he takes this message to the rest of the United States, as he was tonight, then he will immediately control the debate.

But make no mistake: The man is back.

Poll Dancing

For a country that doesn't do so well in mathematics relative to other nations, we sure do love our political poll numbers. And this week we've had a spate (and a big spate, at that) of polls that show President Obama at the lowest point of his popularity. What to make of this? How will tonight's jobs speech affect the numbers?

Let's take a look

Cheater, Cheater Pants On Fire!

Um, maybe that's not correct, but what I can do is erase it and put in the right phrase, then resubmit it as my original answer. I look like an able student and my teacher gets a raise.

What's that you say? That's unethical? Tell that to the educational geniuses in Atlanta and Washington DC, who are all currently embroiled in cheating scandals that center on standardized tests that had statistically unfathomable rates of answers that were changed from wrong to right.

All of the country's public schools should be open by the end of this week, and the race is on to test our children into anxiety-induced oblivion.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Republican Debate

I actually made it through most of the debate, leaving only when the audience started clapping for all the people Rick Perry has sent to the death chambers as governor. Generally, I don't like instant reports, favoring instead to think about what I've seen, but I'll break that rule just this once.

Mitt Romney came out looking the more presidential, even though a number of his answers were vacuous, vague and evasive.

Rick Perry was the big loser tonight because he had a chance to solidify his standing as a serious frontrunner and he didn't do that. He seemed somewhat hesitant and had trouble defending his record on the schools in Texas. His biggest gaffe was his answer on Social Security where he presumed to tell Americans that they believe it's a Ponzi scheme. Even conservatives grow older and rely on the great income equalizer. He also lost the initial encounter with Romney over jobs.

Bachmann will fade from view over the next couple of weeks, if she can last that long. She didn't distinguish herself and that line about $2 gasoline is silly. It's hard to be both free market and set price targets.

Hunstman was earnest and defended himself well, but at times he seemed too eager to convince us what a great bilingual family man he is. Perhaps if the Republican Party wasn't so far to the right he could have a shot at the nomination. His work for Obama dooms him.

Gingrich had great answers and I disagreed with every one. He can deliver a line, but really, he can't win.

Cain had some interesting ideas and trying to leverage his business experience is all he can offer. Running the government takes more than he's got.

Santorum has always scared me with his social views. I was surprised that Brian Williams asked him as many questions as he did.

Ron Paul? I shudder to think of him running a country where drug companies police themselves and disaster victims have the right to lose all of their belongings with no promise of help.

Next up, Obama's speech. He should have timed it for halftime.

New Jersey Education Is Number One

In 2010, New Jersey's 4th and 8th grade school children ranked first in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

According to the College Board, New Jersey's students and teachers can add another accolade for 2010: The best Advanced Placement scores in the nation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Slight Thaw?

This just in: The Congressional Republicans are willing to find common ground with Obama.
House GOP share some ground with Obama on jobs.

House Republican leaders are offering President Barack Obama an opening for compromise on measures that would spur job growth. They say neither Republicans nor the administration should consider their own initiatives "an all-or-nothing situation."

For a group that wanted it "all or nothing" on the deficit reduction package, Obama has to be a bit skeptical about the Republican overtures from John Boehner and Eric Cantor, but this is certainly a step in the right direction. Of course, any deal has to have a conservative flavor to it.

Boehner and Cantor said they share common ground with Obama on trade and urged him to send trade bills establishing pacts with Panama, South Korea and Colombia.

They also said Republicans were encouraged by remarks from Obama last week suggesting changes in the way transportation construction money is spent. Republicans said they would support doing away with a provision that requires setting aside 10 percent of road project money for specialized public works such as historic preservation and acquisition of scenic rights-of way.

Well, duh. Who in their right mind would want historic and scenic preservation? Those things are boring and they don't generate profits. Why do even nice things from the right sound eerily counterproductive?

America Succeeds Because Teachers Succeed

I couldn't have put this better. Here's an excerpt from an excellent column, "In Honor of Teachers" by Charles Blow in Saturday's New York Times:

Since it’s back-to-school season across the country, I wanted to celebrate a group that is often maligned: teachers. Like so many others, it was a teacher who changed the direction of my life, and to whom I’m forever indebted. 

A Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll released this week found that 76 percent of Americans believed that high-achieving high school students should later be recruited to become teachers, and 67 percent of respondents said that they would like to have a child of their own take up teaching in the public schools as a career. 

But how do we expect to entice the best and brightest to become teachers when we keep tearing the profession down? We take the people who so desperately want to make a difference that they enter a field where they know that they’ll be overworked and underpaid, and we scapegoat them as the cause of a societywide failure.

Thank you, Mr. Blow for saying exactly what other leaders in the United States need to say. By all reasonable and statistical measures, America's public school teachers are doing an excellent job, but have been the targets of unconscionable attacks by so-called educational reformers and budget-cutting politicians who see no problem in demonizing educators as lazy, protected, tax-guzzling ne'er-do-wells.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tea With How Many Lumps?

They're all in. Every Republican candidate for president is now firmly aligned with the Tea Party according to this article form the AP:  

GOP candidates in SC vow to carry tea-party banner.

Even Mitt Romney, the last, best hope for a reasonable Republican, has joined the right wing fray, meriting his own Reuters write-up,  Romney jobs plan to cut taxes, get tough on China

Labor Day Reading

Labor is the backbone of this country, and if we are to solve our economic problems, then America's workers must be part of the debate. Here are some articles (the titles are links) that frame the issues well and offer some common sense solutions.

The Limping Middle Class 
by Robert B. Reich

THE 5 percent of Americans with the highest incomes now account for 37 percent of all consumer purchases, according to the latest research from Moody’s Analytics. That should come as no surprise. Our society has become more and more unequal. 

When so much income goes to the top, the middle class doesn’t have enough purchasing power to keep the economy going without sinking ever more deeply into debt — which, as we’ve seen, ends badly. An economy so dependent on the spending of a few is also prone to great booms and busts. The rich splurge and speculate when their savings are doing well. But when the values of their assets tumble, they pull back. That can lead to wild gyrations. Sound familiar? 
Do Happier People Work Harder? 
By Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

Labor Day is meant to be a celebration of work. Yet, on this Labor Day, few have reason to rejoice. Even those who have jobs. 

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has been polling over 1,000 adults every day since January 2008, shows that Americans now feel worse about their jobs — and work environments — than ever before. People of all ages, and across income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and detached from what they do. And there’s no reason to think things will soon improve.
American Tale: Workers Side against their Economic Interests
by John Farmer

As another Labor Day arrives, it’s not hard to see many in the present-day workforce doing the same thing, this time by accepting the notion that organized labor (e.g., teachers, auto workers, public employees) — not Wall Street and a reckless, unregulated financial industry — collapsed the economy. 

Anyone who dares point this out is charged with inciting “class warfare.” And the critics are right; it is class warfare, though not quite as they mean it. There is, indeed, a fierce class war under way and the working class is losing it.

Worker wages have been stagnant for a decade and lately have declined, even as income for top earners and the dividend class expands. The income gap is greater than ever.

Income inequality has been rising ever since Reagan's election in 1980. Until we address this problem, the middle and working classes will continue to struggle.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Jews and Muslims

Honestly, I had never really thought of this, so thanks to Eliyahu Stern for educating me. His column, Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America, should be required reading.

More than a dozen American states are considering outlawing aspects of Shariah law. Some of these efforts would curtail Muslims from settling disputes over dietary laws and marriage through religious arbitration, while others would go even further in stigmatizing Islamic life: a bill recently passed by the Tennessee General Assembly equates Shariah with a set of rules that promote “the destruction of the national existence of the United States.” 

Supporters of these bills contend that such measures are needed to protect the country against homegrown terrorism and safeguard its Judeo-Christian values. The Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has said that “Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” 

This is exactly wrong. The crusade against Shariah undermines American democracy, ignores our country’s successful history of religious tolerance and assimilation, and creates a dangerous divide between America and its fastest-growing religious minority. 

The suggestion that Shariah threatens American security is disturbingly reminiscent of the accusation, in 19th-century Europe, that Jewish religious law was seditious. In 1807, Napoleon convened an assembly of rabbinic authorities to address the question of whether Jewish law prevented Jews from being loyal citizens of the republic. (They said that it did not.) 

Think about what this means. If Jews were treated like many states want to treat Muslims, then they wouldn't be able to practice kosher dietary laws that include butchering and the production of foods for Passover. The United States Supreme Court uses Jewish legal principles in many of its decisions Also, would schools be able to close for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur without a recognition that Jewish law was compatible with American society?

Exclusion is the cruelest form of social interaction and is one of the most destructive practices that any institution can practice. It's based on fear and ignorance, which are decidedly against American values that preach assimilation, acceptance and respect. As a teacher, I see the effects that exclusion can have on children and adults. Anti-Sharia laws have no place in our country.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Three Charts To Email To Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law

This came out last week, but Irene set me back a few days. It's always nice to have accurate information when debating the factually-challenged.

Three Charts To Email To Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law

Laboring to Lose Weight

I'm taking a break from politics to go address one of my other hobbies, that of keeping myself alive through diet and exercise. To that end, I have found a site that reviews the most popular diet plans and discusses their philosophies, food choices and relative merits.

You can click through the slide show and look at the links provided for each plan. Some of them are fairly wacky, like the once-popular grapefruit diet, and some are standards like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers. My personal favorite, and the one that I try to follow daily is the Ornish Spectrum, which is not on the site. The link for Ornish is below.

Some of these plans are strict, but you can modify them somewhat if you're having trouble staying faithful. For example, Ornish is mostly vegetarian. I mix in some meat every once in a while. And Snack Wells. The point is to be healthier, not to beat yourself up because you had a doughnut on Wednesday.

Rather than starting a new eating lifestyle plan on January 1, why not resolve to use Labor Day to make a healthy change. Farm stands and supermarkets have much better produce now and there's far less pressure to get into that new revealing bathing suit for Thanksgiving. And speaking of the holidays, if you lose a little weight between now and November, you won't feel as bad if you add a few pounds during the holiday party season. It's win-win.

As always, if anyone needs help or support, I am here to help. Post a message or send me an e-mail at

Have a great weekend.

Friday, September 2, 2011

What To Do About Jobs


Yes, the numbers are terrible. Unemployment at 9.1%. No new jobs added to the economy. June and July employment figures revised to show 58,000 fewer jobs than previously reported.

Bad, bad, bad.

So how do we get to this?