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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, June 5, 2006

Home Schooling

I am against home schooling while at the same time for a parent's right to choose it for their children. I have always felt that a child who is home schooled is only getting half the story and missing out on learning childhood, adolescent and young adult social skills. I think of the movie Blast From the Past, starring Brendan Fraser as a child whose parents (played by Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek) were so afraid of the Communism that they built an elaborate bomb cellar which would allow them to stay safe from a nuclear (or is that "nukular"?) holocaust for decades until it was safe again. Fraser's character, Adam, was taught beautifully by his wise, and yet naive parents getting an education that would rival any offered by the best prep schools and universities. The only thing lacking were his social skills.

Brendan's Adam wasn't sure how to act around women nor was he to use his better judgment about people because he didn't have that judgment to offer himself. At the end, Adam and Eve (played by Alicia Silverstone) fell in love and all was well that ended well.

However, back here in the real world (Vs. The Reel World) things dolt work out that way. Children need to be exposed to life. They need to experience the micro-culture that is known as school which will, in most cases, prepare them for the real world. They need to go on field trips with the other kids in grade school; go to that first dance in middle school; and have that awkward moment when they ask that special person to the Prom.

School is gym class with that guy you think was a drill sergeant in the Marines; or forgetting to do your homework and having to face Dad when he gets home. School is the right amount of tension and anxiety balanced by life-long friends and experiences that prepare you for the real world.


Make no mistake... School is necessary.

When my daughter had an operation a few years ago, she had tutors coming in and out of the house all day long. It was their job to teach all she needed to know so she could get to the next grade. It was a necessary experience, but one that had bad social implications.

Sure, I understand that Home Schooling is used by those who want their children to learn about
God as well as math and grammar. But can't they do that anyway? Forcing home schooling on a child just because they don't teach religion is a bad choice. There are religious schools that offer both academics and theology in their coursework, so why not use them instead? A parent that wants to keep those kind of tight restraints on their children often finds their son or daughter ill-prepared for life outside the home. And it must be stressful to the parent as well, knowing that they have a second job, that of teacher.

But what bugs me more than home school as a concept is home school as a convenience. It is becoming a way for divorced parents to share their child in different cities or states and not have to "worry" about education. It is becoming a way of life for those parents who wish to travel while their children should be in school.

"For someone who travels a lot or has a parent who travels and wants to keep the family together, it's an excellent choice,"
-Trish Mazzoni, co-owner of a speedboat company with her husband and mother of daughter Lisa

Lisa's family lives in both Marina del Rey, California and Delray Beach, Florida. They must really love those "Reys".

"Sailing comes up at least once or twice a year,"
-Bob Harraka, president of Professional Tutors of America

Well, we don't want school to become a hindrance to a year-long cruise, now do we? After all, it's more important for Little Johnny or Little Suzie to sit on the beach from 9-to-3 rather than spend time with other kids their age in school, isn't it?

"Public education has social goals; that's why we pay tax dollars for it. When Socrates was tutoring Plato, he wasn't concerned about educating the other people in Greece. They were just concerned about educating Plato."
-Jon D. Snyder, dean of New York's Bank Street College of Education

"I do love the fact that instead of waking up at 5:30 every morning I get to wake up at 8:30. It makes life so much easier. I don't have to worry about missing tests and if I really wanted to, I could bring the work with me — because it's all in the computer — if I'm in Florida visiting my dad or going to a boat race."
-17-year-old Lisa Mazzoni, whi is attending public school only now in her senior year at of high school

Even Lisa's parent realize that school is more than just optional. They obviously don't want their daughter to miss all of the fun, excitement and camaraderie of the final year in High School but they had no problem in her missing all those years before. And the reason was merely convenience.

"It's fun."

I'm sure it is fun, Lisa.

Most of us parents need to send or children to public schools. Many families today work two and three jobs just to make ends meet. Children need parents but they also need peers. I think that parents should think twice about before removing their children from school for convenience or because they want more religion in school. Social interaction makes children better adults and it makes us better parents.


I'm sure the Bushites would love to see all Americans home school their children. How much could that send to their "base" of "haves and have-mores" in future tax give-give-aways?

-Noah Greenberg

High Health Care Costs

The next time someone tells you that profits are not the reason why health care costs are rising use these facts:

Last year, the highest-paid executives at 10 of the nation's largest for-profit health plans received an average compensation, including salary, bonuses, life insurance, retirement plans, and other compensation -- but not unexercised stock options -- of $11.7 million, with the highest-paid executive, William W. McGuire of UnitedHealth Group, making $54.1 million.

The report is from Families USA, which is critical of the compensation levels. The organization extracted its data from information that the companies submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Highest compensation package, exclusive of unexercised stock options NAME TITLE COMPANY COMPENSATION William W. McGuire CEO UnitedHealth Group $54,129,501 Wilson H. Taylor Retired chairman Cigna $24,741,578 Ronald Williams Executive VP, large group businesses WellPoint Health Networks $13,205,631 William Donaldson Chairman Aetna U.S. Healthcare $12,650,393 Leonard Schaeffer Chairman & CEO WellPoint Health Networks $11,127,465 H. Edward Hanway Chairman & CEO Cigna $9,478,634 D. Mark Weinberg Executive VP WellPoint Health Networks $8,957,410 Richard Huber Ex-chairman, CEO, president Aetna U.S. Healthcare $6,988,987 William Pastore President, Cigna HealthCare Cigna $6,779,028 Thomas Jones President, retirement and investment services Cigna $6,055,314

-Robert Scardapane

Another Appeal to Bigotry

Laura Bush revealed where the family stood on gay marriage when she said recently that she would hate it to become a big political issue.

Mrs. Bush's outspokenness and decency on the issue of gay marriage demonstrates again why her public approval rating is 30 percentage points or so higher than her husband's. On the issue of gay marriage Mrs. Bush has shown sensitivity, humanity and common-sense.

The President, apparently obsessed with his falling poll numbers and fearful of slipping into irrelevancy has decided to gin up the base with yet another appeal to bigotry. While it may increase cynicism toward the President among the more thoughtful and well-informed people still supporting him, Bush seems to think that he is so low in the public's esteem that he can afford to exhort the bigots and so intimidate some weak minded members of the Congress.

What the President doesn't seem to realize is that the public's perception of him has changed remarkably because his social security plan's failure. The President's attempt to privatize social security has convinced the American public that he is not concerned about our well being. His stubborn refusal to demand any sort of accountability from our Iraqi allies in exchange for our blood and treasure and support, further increases the sense that Bush is a blunderer.

This latest attempt to improve his standing by a naked appeal to bigotry is probably an irreparable mistake. At odds even with his wife on same sex marriage, GW Bush, in this appeal to bigotry, is about to lose his reputation for decency.

-Robert Chapman

Business Wire stuff:

The Fed Chairman acknowledged that the economy is slowing as the housing market cools and consumer spending moderates, but noted that the recent upturn in core inflation remains brisk. Mr. Bernanke blamed higher energy and commodity prices for much of the rise in prices. Core inflation rates have reached a level at or above the upper range that many economists, including the Chairman believes is conducive to price stability and long-run growth, Mr. Bernanke said. He added that the FOMC will remain committed to controlling inflation at low levels, and "vigilant to ensure the recent pattern of elevated monthly core inflation is not sustained."

The comments had the effect of raising rate expectations as fed fund futures priced in an increased possibility for a rate hike at the end of June. Investors will continue to debate whether the Fed is simply talking tough in order to maintain flexibility as inflation expectations later in 2006 remain quite modest, or if the FOMC will feel compelled to keep its finger on the trigger.


I just love Fed speak. Elevated core inflation? Geez, 2%+ is the core inflation. If these turkeys measured real inflation it would approach double digits.

So, my reading on this Fed speak is that we should expect interest rates to continue rising. What effect will that have? The housing market will continue to cool and capital expenditures will slow. In addition, the already tight job market will get very tight. I think stag-flation, recession with inflation, is just around the corner - paid for by Dumbya's reverse robin-hood tax cuts plus the immoral Iraq war.

By the way, the Rethuglicans are trying to repeal the estate tax this week. This tax that effects a fraction of the upper wealthiest one percent. It has been reported that 18 of the richest families, including the Walmart family, have poured millions into a campaign to repeal the estate tax. Don't you just love our plutocracy.

-Robert Scardapane

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2006 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

The swell of anti-immigration fervor of the past few months has recently come to include one more unnecessary nationalistic element: campaigns for making English the official language of America. English already *is* the national language: It became the national language when the Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights *in English.*

Those who know American history (and regrettably there are few of those in the U.S.) know that two of the early colonies did not use English as their main language. Maryland, named by its French founders for Christ's mother, Mary, then the patroness of France, was a predominantly French-speaking colony. Florida, founded by the Spaniards, was a predominantly Spanish-speaking colony. When Louisiana was purchased from the French, that too was a majority French-speaking place (the next most commonly spoken language was Spanish, not English). Throughout the history of the U.S., from the earliest settling of land in North America by the Dutch in the Hudson River Valley or by Germans in the upper regions of New England, there have been Americans speaking languages other than English. Scandinavians settled the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Poles, Czechs, Rumanians and Russians settled in Illinois, from whence a majority of Chicagoans still trace their lineage. Pacific Islanders and Asians populated an already majority-Spanish-speaking West and Northwest. The reprehensible slave trade of the 17th and 18th centuries brought East and West Indians and Africans with their range of languages to this country as well.

For generations, the U.S. has had wave upon wave of immigrants landing at Ellis Island and other points along our shores. A very small percentage of those later immigrants spoke English and yet throughout those immigrant waves English has remained the language of our government, our laws, our schools, our media, our books, our currency, our signage, our food and medicine labels. Walk through any of America's largest cities and you will hear a panoply of languages other than English, but our nation *functions* in English. So why do we need to make English our official language? It already is.

America is indeed the Melting Pot, the nation of immigrants. It is our immigrant history that has forged our cosmopolitan republic. Among nations, the U.S. has been just that: the *united* states. Regardless of differences of ethnicity or national origin, we have continued as one nation. We do not have, as Canada does with Quebecois or Spain does with the Basques, the consistent drive by one or another state to secede from the Union.

The furor over an official national language is merely part of the jingoistic xenophobia of recent months, which is itself fueled by politics and upcoming elections, nothing more. Centuries of immigration have not altered America. New waves won't either.

Nor will making English the official language do anything other than ostracize non-English speaking Americans. Does no one remember the disgrace of Japanese-Americans being forced into internment camps throughout the Pacific Northwest during World War II? Focusing attention on non-English speakers is the sole impact of making English our official language. It serves no other purpose but to state, unequivocally, to new immigrants or older immigrants for whom learning a new language has been too difficult in their declining years, that they are somehow less American for not having the facility with English that you or I have.

For many people learning and incorporating a second language into daily life is difficult. I began teaching English as a second language when I was in college and worked as a VISTA volunteer (the domestic Peace Corps) for various literacy programs. Most of the people I taught then were either Spanish-speaking or Vietnamese and Cambodian. One woman, the mother of a college friend, spoke Ukranian. Although she had lived in Philadelphia since she emigrated after WWII, she had never mastered English. She had cleaned office buildings for years and helped put her four children through school when her husband, who spoke English, became ill. But as her youngest child prepared to leave home, and her husband had recently died, it became imperative that she master enough English to answer the phone herself and go shopping outside her Ukranian neighborhood.

We communicated in German, which we both spoke, as I knew no Ukranian and she knew no English. In her middle-sixties, the frustration and humiliation of having a college girl teach her from grade-school texts was tremendous. But she struggled and persevered and in the end was able to glean enough English to keep herself safe.

Last month, when President Bush announced the need for making English the official language, he did it the way he does most of his public speeches–fumbling and stumbling over his words. Bush's struggles with his native tongue have long been fodder for comedians, but in this instance it raised an important point about having an official language.

If the U.S. is to make English the official language, then shouldn't all citizens be taught to speak that language–not just immigrants, at whom the proposed legislation is aimed, but the native-born Americans who are sometimes only marginally more familiar with English than are those newly arrived immigrants?

I live in a neighborhood with many immigrants–Asians and Africans, mostly. I also live in a neighborhood where the majority of the population–non-immigrant–is functionally illiterate and cannot speak English either properly or, in many cases, intelligibly.

One in four native-born Americans is functionally illiterate, which means he or she cannot read above a fifth-grade level. One in three native-born Americans is grammar-illiterate, which means he or she does not understand nor is able to use proper English grammar.

If we want to make English our official national language, shouldn't we be teaching it in our schools and correcting students when they speak incorrectly until they understand their own language and can speak it with facility? Americans have the least facility with their native language among all Western nations. We have the highest illiteracy rate among all Western nations. And our President, leader of the world's only superpower, cannot get through a single speech (even with a teleprompter) without stumbling over his words like a third grader.

When I taught English as a second language and literacy classes, I told my students (who as adults, frequently became frustrated with the slowness of their progress): Language is power. If you know the language and speak it properly, write it intelligibly and read it, you can make your own decisions. You never have to take someone else's word for something–you can make determinations on your own, whether it is about what bus you are going to get on or how many aspirins to take or whom to vote for. Language is power. Illiteracy is the best tool for creating a permanent underclass that any society has–which is why dictatorships the world over ban schooling for whole segments of society (in the U.S. it was illegal for slaves to be educated, for example).

Thus the question of an official language is fraught with issues because not only does instituting such legislation ostracize the non-English speaking immigrant to the U.S., it does nothing to hold our nation's schools or government accountable for the literacy of native-born Americans in their own language–two scenarios that are equally reprehensible.

As a society we know that without good language skills, a child's future is bleak. Immigrants to the U.S. already know a language. But our children–our *American* children–are fundamentally lacking in the skills these new immigrants already have. One only need listen to a news broadcast from almost anywhere abroad to have America's basic illiteracy exposed: everywhere people speak more than one language, yet in America one in four Americans cannot speak or write their own language with any degree of literacy.

Speaking English in America has become a tool of the upper classes and the elite. How can we begin to even discuss the idea of an official national language when we have made no effort as a society to ensure that our native-born citizens are being taught English intensively enough that they can have a hopeful future? Illiteracy breeds crime and drug abuse and other social ills; more than 85 percent of people in prison in the U.S. are functionally illiterate.

Shouldn't we focus our attention on making sure that those born in America learn English, rather than being concerned that new immigrant know that English is America's language?

My parents were poor. They attended public schools in Philadelphia and won scholarships to prestigious colleges, my father to an Ivy League school, my mother to a Seven Sisters college–two of the ten best colleges in the country. My sister and I were grilled mercilessly by our mother in grammar and English throughout our childhood. Our parents knew that the only way to achieve success was through education. My parents were articulate, well-spoken people. Of my four grandparents, only one had an education beyond the eighth grade. But my grandparents and my parents knew categorically that language is power. Most new immigrants know this and ensure that their children learn English quickly, even if they themselves do not. But proper English has become the language of the elite in the U.S., which hardly makes it "official."

What the President (who constantly jokes about having barely made it through college with his C average) and our other lawmakers need to understand, is that when it comes to an official national language what America needs is not laws to segregate immigrants, but laws to aid native-born Americans.

If we want an official language, then the President as well as the kid next door needs to be taught to speak it properly. The challenge to America is not waves of non-English-speaking immigrants. The challenge to America is that so many of our own children and adults are illiterate in what is now and has always been the national language, English. There can be no more important issue regarding English in America than that we ensure that every citizen in the U.S. be able to speak, read and write in English. That is a role for our schools, not our legislators.

In response to, "With all of our problems, the best this idiot can come up with is gay bashing? So, Mr. Moronic President, isn't the FMA judicial activism? I am sure that the four judges of the Apocalypse would love to work on this rubbish but the nation does not!", Eddie Konczal writes:

Here is a "conservative" (i.e. SMALL government) approach to gay marriage: If you're against gay marriage, don't have one. No laws, no amendments, no waste of taxpayer dollars, no telling people how to live. I'm a man married to a woman, but I don't need a Constitutional Amendment to validate my marriage. If gay marriages are allowed, it doesn't endanger mine or any other traditional marriage in the least. In fact, allowing gay marriage can only be good for society by promoting monogamy.

In response to, "With the loss of middle class advantages such as tax deductible credit card debt, free college and after school programs, we are now forced to use our 'disposable income' for even less 'disposable' purposes. The thinning of the middle class will continue as the economic policies of our present government continue," Robert Scardapane writes:

We are seeing is a systematic attack on wages. It's accomplished by:
1) Outsourcing jobs to cheap labor. The Bush commerce department even conducts seminars advising companies on how to outsource jobs.
2) Importing cheap foreign workers - whether it's illegal immigration or temporary work visas.
3) Ignoring labor and tax laws. Prevailing wage laws are routinely ignored. Temporary work visas are used even when there are qualified resident workers. Workers are coerced to work off the clock.
4) Keeping minimum wages low.
5) Re-defining workers as professionals to avoid paying overtime.

We need to start asking the politicians tough questions about wage issues and we must also stop giving in to rhetoric. As David Sirota says in Hostile Takeover, the worst aspect of the hostile takeover is that issues are framed in a way that can't be debated. For example, some will say that we can't be "protectionists". But, the truth is that it's not a choice between "protectionism" and "free market". In fact, business profits are being protected! The real debate is over what is being protected - wages or profits.

Quote of the Day

"Congress has already declared that the budget deficit is serious enough to warrant depriving children of health care; how can it now say that it's worth enlarging the deficit to give Paris Hilton a tax break?"
-Paul Krugman

Do we need any further proof of the genius of Paul Krugman? This has to be the quote of the year.

-Eddie Konczal

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-Noah Greenberg