Monday, January 29, 2007

Hey, Democrats!!

One of the biggest things that separate most Southern liberals and Democrats from the opposition is our unwavering commitment to public education. While anti-government forces believe we’d be better off without public schools altogether, we on this side of the aisle always talk about how committed we are to excellence in public education. One of our core values is that education is a shared expense, and that public education is one of the most cost-effective places to allocate our shared resources.

But we’re supposed to be good stewards of those public resources we allocate. We have to get them from the appropriate places and make sure that those dollars are effective when spent, and give taxpayers and property owners an appropriate return on their considerable investment. Otherwise, the already endangered support for public education will erode from the folks who put up the lion’s share of the money.

The movement towards private schools and vouchers and white – flight and home-schooling may have their roots firmly planted in the anti-integration soil of the past 40 years. But as of today that movement has gained most of its ground not from the inherent racism of its birth - as many liberal pundits insinuate - but at the fact that our public schools, especially across the South, are failing to return the proper investment to taxpayers, property owners and parents whose children should be attending those schools. In the case of the anti-public schools movement, what began as an ideological response has morphed into a competency-based response. Ignoring this fact will continue the downward spiral and will lead to the eventual dismantling of the American Public Education system, one of the core institutions of American public society, and what could have and should have been one of the crowning achievements of American liberalism.

As I say often, competency will trump ideology, even if all you hear about is the ideology. People will vote with their feet. One day, we wake up, and the whole public education system is de-funded because another, more competent but more exclusive system will have been built while we argued about who is to blame.

Maybe that is just a natural evolution of public institutions, but I think it would be a step backwards. If it ends up being a better education system, however, so be it. But it deserves our best fight - our best efforts - in defending our vision of American public education so that the choice is not poorly made. The final directional choice should be between two of the best educational models as opposed to grasping at whatever is better, safer, or more effective than our crumbling public institutions.

The future of the Democratic Party, Southern Liberalism, and the American way of life will factor heavily on how education is dealt with in the coming years, as an event horizon is approaching. The choice between public education v. private education will come to a head sooner than many of us on this side of the aisle are willing to think, and the results of that choice will have effects long into the future.

That choice will be made in New Orleans.

Seventeen months post-deluge, the public schools run by the locals and the state are still unable to accept all students and provide basic services for them at the schools. While some problems were to be expected in recovering from the scale of the disasters faced by this area, this is an American city, part of an American state and a piece of this Union. Last time I checked, the United States of America was the greatest, richest, most powerful and most can-do nation ever to exist on the face of this Earth, and the roughly 50% of us who consider ourselves left of center have a core value that says ‘we are all in this together’ and ‘what happens to the least of us happens to the best of us.’

Right now, in addition to those students who already went to parochial school, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has 1,500 public school kids in the system who had no space in the public schools, and made a declaration recently that they are willing to add another 300 students to that number because the need has arisen. Yes, bless whoever made that decision, because when the need arises, there is no greater thing to see than someone or some group stepping up to the plate and saying ‘we got this.’

And, as a Southern liberal and a Democrat, I have no problem with the state legislature sending some cash the Archdiocese’s way to cover some of the expenses. Separation of Church and State be damned, there are several hundred kids who won’t go to school this year if such drastic measures aren’t brought to bear. Yes, I factor in a hierarchy of need into my political and policy thought: it is called common sense.

What chills me is the slow pace of the public schools to recover, and I wonder: with the resources already so slow in coming, with the work so overwhelming, will they ever? Us Democrats and Southern Liberals should see the importance of this recovery for what it is: the line in the sand, the referendum on public schools as a shared American value. Right now, our side is losing this fight in spectacular fashion.

Madame Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Dean, we need that 101st Hour.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Democratic Congress So Far

Oh yeah, the really cool thing is, they haven't even been sworn in as the majority yet. Think the country was ready for a change?

So, we all know that, the day after the elections, Rumsfeld was out as Secretary of Defense, and hopefully the soon to be confirmed Mr. Gates is a conservative member of the reality based community, a huge step in the right direction for this country. As I've said before, I think this is going to be a very good thing.

Second, I submit a hearty Thank You to ultra-Northern Progressive Sen. Feingold, for announcing that he will not run for President in 2008. I don't like Senators running for President, and this has nothing to do with their success rates. They have a huge responsibility to their posts in the legislature, and Presidential campaigns destroy their Senatorial credibility (IMHO). Also, Feingold as an almost undefeatable progressive Senator is far more valuable to the nation, even on issues where I disagree with him, in the legislature than mounting a distracting fight for the Presidential nomination.

Third, I'd rather Maryland Representative Hoyer become Majority leader than Jack Murtha. Only part of this is that the dude is from Maryland, and that's almost considered a Southern state. But Rep. Murtha is not the dude I want to publicly speak for the party from an actual position, because even when he makes good points, I don't like the way he makes them. I'm very tired of lightning rods filling every leadership role.

Fourth, Pelosi is being awful shrewd, and is talking an excellent game so far. The right wing shrill machines will howl about how liberal she is all they want, if Americans see her holding out a hand to the other side to get stuff done, it is the shrill machines who will get egg on their faces. I hope she walks the walk she's talkin about.

This also sounds like a really smart divide and conquer plan, as the schism war between the really real conservatives and the big government Bushitistas has already opened up cracks. If the door to get legislation amended and passed remains open, especially with a Democratic focus primarily on effective government and Congressional oversight instead of partisan retribution for the past decade, some real work may get done - and quickly - without falling into the same holes of hackery that led to the Republican Congressional maturity issues (that consequently led to the GOP's electoral defeat last Tuesday). I think that's one thing the real conservatives and the variety of Democrats are really looking to achieve at this point.

This is some pretty cool stuff to hear about, and like I said up front, they haven't even been sworn in yet...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Kicking Tusk



Those Democrats over at the DLC have got some skills, and recieve mad props from this Southern Liberal for the unveiling of their latest project.

I may not agree with everything inside, but I sure am glad someone in the Democratic Party is getting some serious planning done with The American Dream Initiative. This is something we've needed and needed to say for a long, long time. Here's a taste:
The American Dream Initiative is an opportunity agenda for the middle class and all who aspire to join its ranks. Our vision is straightforward and clear: to leave our children a richer, safer, smarter, and stronger nation than the one we inherited. We believe that every citizen should have the opportunity to secure the pillars of the American Dream: a college degree, a home, a secure retirement, and the chance to get ahead in a growing economy.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Rescue Public Education

A. Commit ourselves to being the party that will ensure Glynn County, Georgia and America has the finest public education system in the world. Public education is a bedrock institution of Democratic civil belief. If Glynn County is to encourage new investment, we will need a well educated work force. If Glynn County is to alleviate the creeping disease of poverty in our community, public education is the key to the door of opportunity for all citizens.

B. No voters, conservative, centrist or liberal believe that our public schools are in good shape. This is because our public education system is in trouble on all levels. We are not willing to give up on public education. We are not that Party that wants to cut and run from our most at risk classrooms. We are not the Party that will wash our hands of this matter, and leave our public schools in the hands of for-profit entities.

We are the Party that will dive into those troubled waters, and rescue our Public Education system from the deep.


Here’s how we do this:

1. Face realities on the ground. Without understanding and addressing the concerns of citizens, our public schools will continue to sink in both perception and public support. To rescue public education, we must assume the mantle of leadership and begin to address each issue, and work positively with the public for comprehensive solutions. This will require action primarily at both the local and state levels, which are luckily the places where our local Party has more influence.

a. Our budgets are bloated,

b. Our citizens are wary of educational spending due to the overbearing nature and inconsistencies of the property tax system,

c. Our citizens are suspicious of the Teacher’s Unions that are perceived to protect bad teachers at the expense of their children,

d. Our citizens fear that they are sending their children to places where behavior problems detract from the learning environment,

e. Our citizens fear that they are sending their children to school where their ideological and religious beliefs are under attack,

f. Our citizens are weary of promises to deliver results that never come to fruition.


2. Bloated Budgets. In Glynn County especially, we continue to throw money at the schools and continue to have a crumbling infrastructure, problems recruiting educators, and problems providing for adequate supply.

a. Citizens aren’t mad because they are paying for public education, they are mad at localities and municipalities not spending those monies effectively or efficiently.

b. Maintenance costs are most likely the one area where tax dollars are wasted on public schools, and the problems are never apparently fixed. This should be the point of attack.

i. Zero balance budgeting by the state must end. If a school can come in under budget, we must be able to bank that money for capital projects. This will cut down on the spring semester spending frenzy on things that may not be needed, and will allow for more effective yearly maintenance budgeting.

ii. Bidding, development and project completion rules must be re-examined at the local and the state levels so that projects take a shorter amount of time from inception to completion.

iii. Bidders and contractors who fail to deliver within reasonable timeframes and budgets must be removed from the possible pool of applicants for any maintenance or construction
jobs.



3. Educational Spending & the Dependence on the Property Tax. We will never fully address the issue of educational budgets without addressing where we get the money for our schools and how efficiently we spend it.

a. Property taxes generate public ire, especially when collection and appraisal appear as unjust and arbitrary as they do in places like Glynn County because of our archaic and tiered system of exemption.

b. Undeveloped, agricultural and greenspace property must be taxed at a different and lower level than parking lots and subdivisions. Small businesses operating out of owned properties should be under consideration for breaks to encourage small business development.

c. Multiple income streams must be examined. We live in a tourism area where sales tax can prove wildly beneficial to our public education system. Also hotel taxes and property management taxes can be examined.

d. Lowering property taxes increases home ownership potential, providing an influx of investment from outside the community, and equity for lower income families who move from renting to home ownership.

e. Multiple income streams must be examined. It is time we consider creating community trusts and organizations dedicated to raising outside funds to supplement our schools for capital projects and high price equipment.

4. Teacher’s Unions. We will never be able to rescue public education while educators and parents feel at odds with one another.

5. Safe & Positive Learning Environment. Academics and public perception falters when students go to school in fear, when educators go to work in fear and parents fear for their children’s safety while at school.

a. School uniforms?

b. Real and enforced discipline.

c. Early intervention.

d. Common sense penalties.

e. Rewards for good behavior.

f. Encourage half-work days.


6. Ideology & Religion. As long as special interest groups can effectively sell the idea that a student’s core beliefs are in danger by going to school, support for public education will continue to erode.

a. Affirm support for the Pledge of Allegiance, respect a student or educator’s right not to participate.

b. Affirm support for faith based student organizations like the FCA, respect student or staff organizations right not to be religiously affiliated.

c. Affirm support for respectful display of religion, respect the rights of those who do not wish to display their faith. Encourage display of Bill of Rights and First Amendment.

d. Affirm the right of a student to pray in school, especially before math tests, and as long as the method of that prayer does not disrupt class.

e. Reaffirm that Evolution will be taught as part of the science curriculum, and Genesis will be taught at the Church, Temple or Synagogue of the student’s parent’s choice.

f. If a valedictorian wants to turn Graduation speeches into fire and brimstone sermons, the school shall allow an additional speech that does not focus on religion, but on school pride, high school memories, the future, or any number of other appropriate topics for high school graduation.

g. Teachers and Administrators may participate in prayer groups, but may not lead
them.

h. Football games are for football.

i. If any bullying, participation, grades, employment, etc are affected by faith discrimination by the culturally correct, the gloves come off against the offender, not against the folks who have both respect and faith.


7. A Little Less Talk & A Lot More Action. We must constantly re-examine the ways schools are being run so that our practices are the most effective and our spending is the most efficient. If there is a problem, we must never fear to think outside the box to deliver a solution and work towards that solution at all levels.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Homework

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help find ways to 1) enunciate specific Democratic positions and 2) develop an overall Democratic philosophy. Next month's meeting should be fun, since that's where we're gonna start bringing all of this together.

I have some suggestions to start us off with....

Enunciating specific beliefs:

1) Rescue Public Education
2) Restore Civil Rights
3) Invest in America's Workers

I'm trying to find a way to put public works, levees, the internet, infrastructure and the environment all together, but nothing sounds very cool with the word 'infrastructure' in the sentence. I'll need some help on that.

Overall Democratic Philosophy:

1) Common Good
2) American Renaissance
3) Playtime is Over
4) We Are The People


I'm a bigger fan of specific enunciation than the overall philosophy, but I think all of those could help us explain our positions better than we are right now. What do y'all think?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Re-Activation

Its an election year, and this blog has been waaay too quiet for waaay too long.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

London: Bush's Flypaper Theory is Blown to Pieces

London: Bush's Flypaper Theory is Blown to Pieces
Posted July 7, 2005 - Ariana Huffington

Well, there goes that theory...

Odds are we probably won't be hearing for a while the Bush mantra that the reason we're fighting them over in Iraq is so we don't have to fight them here at home. For the last few months, this ludicrous shibboleth has been the president's go-to line -- his latest rationale for slogging on in Iraq.

Here he was on July 4th: "We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home."

And during his primetime speech to the nation on June 28th, there he was again, this time quoting the commander on the ground in Iraq: "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us."

The attacks in London proved how absurd this either/or logic is when fighting this kind of hydra-headed enemy.

Not only was this flypaper theory empirically disproved by the London carnage, it directly contradicts the president's other most often used justification for the war -- that we invaded to liberate the Iraqi people. So let me get this straight: we invaded them to liberate them... and to use them as bait to attract terrorists who we could fight on the streets of Baghdad rather than the streets of London and New York?

Of course, it didn't take the London bombings to reveal this premise as a sham. The presence of American forces in Iraq didn't keep the enemies of western culture from attacking Madrid. And it didn't keep them from planting explosives in London's tubes. And it won't, in and of itself, keep them from striking here. Indeed, it's helping terrorists recruit new followers -- and hone their deadly skills.

How pathetic is it to keep arguing that fighting Baathist Sunni insurgents in Iraq is keeping us safe from Al Qaeda terrorists and their offshoots on our soil?

It's still not clear who was responsible for the London bombings, but let's assume for a moment that the initial reports turn out to be true, and that it was an offshoot of Al Qaeda. No one can seriously argue that if the U.S. and Britain had spent the last 46 months -- and over $200 billion -- focusing on Al Qaeda rather than Iraq these attacks would not have happened. But we can say without a doubt that spending that time and money in Iraq did not prevent them.

If Iraq is like flypaper, it unfortunately looks like we're the ones who are stuck there. Any predictions of what Bush's rewrite boys will come up with next?