Turn To Page 1 In Your Hymnbook

Gene Lyons, whose column appeared in today’s Joplin Globe, as usual, gets it right:  

Increasingly, one of our two great political parties appears to be governed by what Charles P. Pierce calls the “Three Great Premises” of talk radio: “First Great Premise: Any theory is valid if it moves units … Second Great Premise: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough … Third Great Premise: Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.”

No doubt, if we could measure the fervency of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s beliefs, we would have one whopper of a Truth.  A couple of days ago, I heard Paul say the following on Dylan Ratigan’s show:

I think the debate is going my way…When the financial bubble burst—and the housing bubble burst—all of a sudden Austrian, free-market economics gained a lot of credibility…

Yep. In the mind of Ron Paul, all we need to solve our troubles is more of the same stuff that caused our troubles: free-market economics.  And, of course, he is not the only one singing from the Gospel According to Ayn Rand hymnal.  Nearly every Republican leader, and potential presidential candidate, is singing from that hymnbook, which really only has one song: An Anthem to Greed.

Fortunately, though, in a moment of repentance, the contemporary high priest of Randian economics, Alan Greenspan, put down his free-market hymnal in October of 2008.  Contrary to Ron Paul and the Republican Party, he said the following to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The question I have for you is, you had an ideology, you had a belief that free, competitive — and this is your statement — “I do have an ideology. My judgment is that free, competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies. We’ve tried regulation. None meaningfully worked.” That was your quote.

You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price.

Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?

ALAN GREENSPAN: Well, remember that what an ideology is, is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality. Everyone has one. You have to — to exist, you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not.

And what I’m saying to you is, yes, I found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is, but I’ve been very distressed by that fact.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: You found a flaw in the reality…

ALAN GREENSPAN: Flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working?

ALAN GREENSPAN: That is — precisely. No, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.

How Fox Is Hurting America

As if a thinking person needed any more reason to see the Fox “News” empire for what it is, try the following video clip of conspiracy tramp—and “official blogger for the Republican National Convention in 2008—Pamela Geller, from her appearance on Eric Bolling’s “show” on something called FOX “Business” Network.  I said “business” network.  Most of us know, though, that the real business of Fox is destroying President Obama.

I warn you, if you have one cell of decency in your body and you love your country, this will piss you off:

In case you don’t know much about Pamela Geller, besides her Sharia-law-is-coming crusade against Islam, here is an excerpt from Wikipedia about her blog, Atlas Shrugs:

Controversial postings on “Atlas Shrugs” have included a number of false claims,[47][48] including that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (who is Jewish) supports Nazi ideology (accompanied by a fake picture of her in a Nazi uniform),[49] a video suggesting that Muslims have sex with goats, a doctored photo showing President Obama urinating on an American flag[12] and false claims that Obama’s mother was involved in pornography and that Obama “was involved with a crack whore in his youth”.[50][51] Geller has also posted accusations against President Obama of anti-Semitism and doing the bidding of “Islamic overlords,” while her site posted a posting by another writer who, inter alia, suggested without any evidence that the President is the “love child” of Malcolm X (Geller herself says she does not believe that Obama is Malcolm X’s love child, and never did).

Geller is, come to think of it, a perfect fit for Fox.

He’s Proud To Be An Okie From Manhattan

I don’t think I’ve ever quoted Ed Shultz on this blog, and some of you aren’t going to completely understand today’s offering, but here it goes:

Last night Shultz said something about the birther issue that may strike some folks as odd:

The President of the United States has had to put up with this honky-tonk conversation in the media for too long.

What a brilliant description of the goings-on regarding, among other things, the racist-infected doubts about President Obama’s birthplace, his college experiences, and essentially his love for his country.

“Honky-tonk” can be defined simply as, “a cheap, noisy bar or dance hall,” but in my (considerable) experience, there is a certain ethos that prevails in the kinds of bars I have known as honky-tonks. In terms of the politics of the patrons, they were, and remain, very conservative institutions.

Let me put it this way:  Honky-tonks aren’t the kind of places in which one would expect to find Barack Hussein Obama bellied-up to the bar.

While part of the etymology of the term honky-tonk is a little cloudy—”tonk” may refer to the brand name, Ernest A. Tonk, on the upright piano used in the old Tin Pan Alley bars—here is how Wikipedia describes the “honky” portion of the term:

The term honky was, as a term for whites, derived from bohunk and hunky. In the early 1900s, these were derogatory terms for Bohemian, Hungarian, and Polish immigrants. According to Robert Hendrickson, author of the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, black workers in Chicago meatpacking plants picked up the term from white workers and began applying it indiscriminately to all whites. “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy wrote of “Negroes and hunkies” in his autobiography.

Wikipedia further notes that, “honky tonk eventually became associated mainly with lower-class bars catering to men.”  The piano was replaced, for the honky-tonks I frequented, by a juke box, a juke box mostly loaded with country music. 

And the politics was, well, you can imagine.  Mostly uninformed, bigoted noise, spouted by people who don’t know what they don’t know, many of them I could politely call reactionaries, but because I’m still aggressively saddened about the events yesterday, I will call them classic rednecks.

Okay, so you get what Ed Schultz was trying to say. Which led me to thinking about Donald Trump, who I have called an Ugly American. I think a better description of him would be a Manhattan redneck.

Yes, a redneck from Manhattan.  They exist. And Donald Trump is their hero.  In fact, he’s a hero of rednecks everywhere.

I like this definition of the term redneck from the Urban Dictionary:

A glorious absence of sophistication (Part time or full time)

For the record, Donald Trump is “full-time.”

In his press conference yesterday, Donald Trump said,

I am so proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish.

It’s as if Trump was in a honky-tonk in 1964 Meridian, Mississippi, bragging to his buddies, “I showed that uppity negro. That’ll teach him to wink at a white woman.

And there on the bar stool next to Trump was his honky-tonk angel, Sarah Palin, egging him on:

Media, admit it, Trump forced the issue.

Which reminds me of an old Conway Twitty honky-tonk song, sort of Donald Trump’s plea to the world:

So tell me if you think it’s over,

And I’ll leave it up to you how it ends. 

‘Cause if you don’t want the love I can give you, 

Well, there’s a honky-tonk angel who’ll take me back in.

Makes me want to pop the top on another can.

Sad Day For America

Amazing. 

President Obama succumbs to the worst angels of American nature and releases his long-form birth certificate, thereby empowering conspiracists everywhere, especially the Ugly American, Donald Trump. 

For their part, journalists, who have been fascinated with a fool, can’t wait until Donald Trump’s helicopter lands in New Hampshire, so they can find out what he “thinks” about the latest development. 

It’s a sad day in American history. 

____________________________

*UPDATE:  Just as I figured, Trump gets off his helicopter, walks up to the multiple microphones waiting for him, and takes credit for forcing President Obama to do something no one else could get him to do.

It’s hard to know who is the biggest fool in this episode, Trump or the press.

But I’m now hopeful that all this empowerment will go to Trump’s head and he will actually decide to run for president, and perhaps there are enough fools in the Republican Party–after all, more than half of them don’t think Obama was born in America–to get him the nomination.

Then Americans can see this buffoon in all his glory, and hopefully see how far into buffoonery the Repubican Party has fallen.

Maybe that’s why Obama caved in.  It’s really a scheme to get Trump the nomination.

______________________________

*UPDATE UPDATE:  Trump’s a “carnival barker,” said the President. Why didn’t I think of that?

Robert E. Lee And The Romance Of Rebellion

Like a lot of newspapers I suppose, the Joplin Globe has been running a series of articles on the Civil War, in this the 150th anniversary year of the war to end slavery and secure the notion of an indissoluble United States.

Perhaps before too long, a story will appear that tells the truth about Robert E. Lee. 

Not being a Civil War romantic, I don’t share the fascination some people have with the war’s obscure battle sites or memorabilia, or with the vast body of literature out there about that tragic and nation-defining event.

But I have always wondered why it is that so many people considered Robert E. Lee a hero, this disloyal Union officer who betrayed his country, who owned slaves and led men into battle to preserve the right of white men to buy and sell black families like cattle. 

Suppose for a moment that Lee fought for the right to molest and maim children, out of some misplaced principle of “states’ rights.”  Would there be statues of him in state parks anywhere in America?

I suppose not being from the South, I don’t understand why it is okay to nearly worship such a man, around whom many myths have been constructed to hide the truth.  Thanks, though, to writers like Elizabeth Brown Pryor, who recently authored a piece about Lee for The New York Times, a clearer picture is emerging. 

One example:

…on April 18, presidential adviser Francis P. Blair unofficially offered Lee the command of the thousands of soldiers being called up to protect Washington. Fearing that such a post might require him to invade the South, Lee immediately turned down the job. Agitated, he went to tell his mentor, Gen. Winfield Scott, the Army’s commander in chief. Another dramatic scene followed. Scott, though a proud Virginian, had dismissed as an insult any hint that he himself would turn from the United States. When Lee offered to sit out the troubles at his home, Arlington, the general told him bluntly: “I have no place in my army for equivocal men.” Greatly distressed, Lee returned to Arlington to contemplate his options.

Now, why is it a “proud Virginian” like Winfield Scott, who “dismissed as an insult any hint” that he would betray his country, could see the moral landscape very clearly, and Lee, “greatly distressed,” could not?  More important, why is a man with such poor moral vision a hero in the South?

The truth is that, in the words of Pryor and against the Lee-as-reluctant-secessionist myth, “Lee made his decision” to betray the United States “despite the feelings of his own wife and children,” not to mention others in his extended family. She wrote:

If even his wife, and most of his children, did not support his stand, Robert E. Lee must personally have wanted very much to take this path. This was not an answer he was compelled by home and heritage to make. It was a choice — and it was his alone.

Pryor also debunks the idea that Lee was some kind of abolitionist:

He complained to a son in December 1860 about new territories being closed to slaveholders, and supported the Crittenden Compromise, which would have forbidden the abolition of slavery. “That deserves the support of every patriot,” he noted in a Jan. 29, 1861 letter to his daughter Agnes. Even at the moment he reportedly told Francis Blair that if “he owned all the negroes in the South, he would be willing to give them up…to save the Union,” he was actually fighting a court case to keep the slaves under his control in bondage “indefinitely,” though they had been promised freedom in his father-in-law’s will.

That’s not the stuff heroes should be made of, especially one that, because of his military prowess, may have extended the war and increased the carnage. Richard Cohen summed up that aspect of Lee’s treason:

Lee was a brilliant field marshal whose genius was widely acknowledged — Lincoln wanted him to command the Union forces. In a way, that’s a pity. A commander of more modest talents might have been beaten sooner, might not have taken the war to the North (Gettysburg) and expended so many lives. Lee, in this regard, is an American Rommel, the German general who fought brilliantly, but for Hitler. Almost until Hitler compelled his suicide, Rommel, too, did his duty.

I don’t think you will find many statues of Erwin Rommel in Germany, or visit any Erwin Rommel High Schools, but in the American South, there are plenty of monuments to Robert E. Lee.

One has to wonder why that is.

Racial Politics in Three Acts

ACT 1

Yesterday I happened upon Lou Dobbs’ radio show (I didn’t know he had a radio show; I thought God had called him to heaven.). His guest at the time was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist—that award is obviously not what it used to be—Michael Goodwin, of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post.

Dobbs had been upset that Obama had not offered an official acknowledgement of Good Friday or Easter. “Surely this must not be an accident,” he said. That “story” was first noted by Fox “News,” which put it this way:

President Obama failed to release a statement or a proclamation recognizing the national observance of Easter Sunday, Christianity’s most sacred holiday.

By comparison, the White House has released statements recognizing the observance of major Muslim holidays and released statements in 2010 on Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Hajj, and Eid-ul-Adha.

Just in case a Foxer didn’t get the message, the story added this:

By contrast, former President Bush traditionally included Scripture passages in his Easter messages and made a point to explain what Easter is about.

How nice of Mr. Bush to do that for all the Christian folks out there who may not know what “Christianity’s most sacred holiday” means.

Dobbs mentioned to columnist Michael Goodwin that his callers had been demonstrating that they didn’t just disagree with Obama’s policies, they actually believe he is actively working against our national interests. To which the Pulitzer-blessed Goodwin responded that such a sentiment was “fairly common.”

What did Goodwin offer as evidence for that assessment? Emails. He has received lots of emails from folks who think Obama is purposely trying to screw up the country. I guess that seals it.

Dobbs asked Goodwin, “What’s the point of offending Christian Americans?” Goodwin replied:

It’s almost at times, Lou, like he wants to show how different he is…that he alone is the redeemer of America’s morality.

It’s unimaginable to me that if Barack Obama were white, with a name like William Jones, such talk, between a former CNN television host and a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist, would take place on national radio.

_____________________________________

ACT 2

The latest journalist-victim of Donald Trump’s mythical run for president is CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

I watched part of his Trump segment last night, which involved Trump talking over Cooper on the racially-pregnant birther issue, and it was, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t Cooper’s finest hour.

But he deserves embarrassment for having Trump, who at this point would give an interview to Sam Drucker at the Hooterville World Guardian, on his show to merely repeat what he has said a thousand times to anyone who is foolish enough to to seek his opinion.

It’s three years past the point now that honest people can, with their heads held high, ask a legitimate question about the birthplace of Mr. Obama. We are in racially-tinged territory these days, as there remains no legitimate reason for people to continue questioning whether our president is an American citizen.

There simply is nothing left to the issue but race, despite claims to the contrary. If our president were white, named William Jones, and born under the same circumstances, there would be no so-called “controversy.”

There would be no Anderson Cooper interviewing a lying or confused or stupid Donald Trump about a “missing” birth certificate, or the Associated Press interviewing him about how a “bad student” like Obama managed to get into an Ivy League school.

And it’s pretty much the same with the “Is he a Christian?” issue.

________________________________________

ACT 3

Enter the Reverend Franklin Graham.

Obama has said repeatedly that he is a believer in Jesus Christ, that Jesus is his savior, and all that stuff. Yet there persists a profound disbelief among folks who themselves claim they are Christians that Obama is a Muslim, a Muslim sympathizer, or a phony Christian.

The latest, of course, was evangelical middleman, Franklin Graham, son of God’s favorite Republican evangelist, Billy Graham. I watched his appearance on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell last night, which was really an attempt to undo the damage Graham did to himself on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

Here’s part of the transcript from This Week:

AMANPOUR: Does it bother you that people like Donald Trump for instance right now, are making another huge big deal about birth certificates and whether he’s a Muslim or a Christian and where he was born?

GRAHAM: Well, the president, I know, has some issues to deal with here. He can solve this whole birth certificate issue pretty quickly. I don’t — I was born in a hospital in Ashville, North Carolina, and I know that my records are there. You can probably even go and find out what room my mother was in when I was born.

I don’t know why he can’t produce that. So, I’m not — I don’t know, but it’s an issue that looks like he could answer pretty quickly.

Sound familiar? That echoes exactly the repeatedly discredited claims of one Donald Trump, the Ugly American, who, by the way, Graham came close to endorsing on Sunday:

AMANPOUR: Well, there are people in right now. Would you support Mitt Romney, would you support —

GRAHAM: I’ve met —

AMANPOUR: — Donald Trump?

GRAHAM: I’ve met Mitt Romney. No question he is a — he’s a very capable person, he’s proven himself. Donald Trump, when I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, well, this has got to be a joke. But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, you know? Maybe the guy’s right. So, there’s a —

AMANPOUR: So, he might be your candidate of choice?

GRAHAM: Sure, yes, sure.

Sure. Yes. Sure.

On The Last Word Graham tried to clean up his mess, but he failed:

O’DONNELL: Joining me now, possible Trump endorser, the Reverend Franklin Graham. Thank you for joining us tonight, Reverend.

GRAHAM: Lawrence, it’s good to be with you. And first, I want people to know that I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want people everywhere to know, not about Donald Trump, but I want them to know of God’s son, who came to this earth to take our sins and died on a cross and rose again. I want you to know that and every viewer to know that God loves them.

[…]

GRAHAM: …first of all, if he was vetted, and if he’s a nomination [sic]for the party, I certainly would be interested in him. There’s a long way to go, and I haven’t endorsed him, and I’m not going to endorse any candidate, but I find that he’s got some interesting things to say, and you have to say to yourself, sometimes, you know, maybe a guy like this is right for our country…

Here we have a “man of God,” who supposedly believes in family values and the Bible—including Jesus’ general condemnation of divorce—essentially blessing an F-bomb dropping political candidate who is working on his third marriage, owns casinos, and has made egotism an art form.

And most egregiously, this evangelical minister—who admitted to O’Donnell that he has never—never—voted for a Democrat for president—raises doubts about the citizenship and Christianity of the President of the United States, who has but one wife, who is responsibly raising his two daughters, and who has admitted to the world that he believes in the gospel that Graham so proudly peddles across America.

There is absolutely no chance that a white man, named William Jones, who has lived the kind of conservative family life that Barack Obama has lived, who has been as public about expressing his trust in Jesus as his Savior as Barack Obama has been, would be treated as a virtual alien, both in terms of his Americanism and his religion.

THE END

Colonel Billy And The Marshmallow Media

I’ve sometimes criticized local media, print and broadcast, for its “give me your press release and I’ll be on my way” approach to local politicians. 

I’ve especially criticized the Springfield News-Leader for its mostly uncritical reporting on Colonel Ozark Billy Long.  Don’t believe me, though.  Just go to the paper’s website and do a search for “Billy Long,” and you’ll see what I mean.

I’m guessing that before interviewing Long, the News-Leader provides the Colonel with an edible marshmallow lounger, then fetches him a fluffy down pillow made from the under plumage of the most pampered white swans in Europe, offers him unlimited quantities of Valrhona chocolate, then brings in a shy reporter to ask him velvety-soft questions. 

That’s just my guess.

While I’ve grown use to the mostly friendly treatment of pols from our local press, I do expect the national folks to be a little tougher.  After all, what harm can a congressman from southwest Missouri do to folks at, say, National Journal?

I read a Q&A piece in the National Journal, titled, “Colonel of Truth.”  Nope. I didn’t make that up. Colonel of Bleeping Truth.

In any case, the piece, under the byline of Ben Terris, obviously featured Ozark Billy, and I must say, when I read the intro, I thought I had mistakenly linked to the Springfield News-Leader:

Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., is becoming a larger-than-life figure in Washington. And it’s not just because of his large figure. The Missourian rode the smaller-government, less-spending wave into Congress last November despite (or perhaps because of) his lack of legislative experience.

Reporter: “Would you like a Valrhona chocolate, Billy?

You know you’re in for the marshmallow-lounger treatment when a piece of “journalism” is introduced with a description of the subject as “larger-than-life.” 

The piece informed me that Billy had a “booming voice,” that he is “not afraid,” that he is a “straight-talker,” and, most curiously, that,

the House GOP leadership has taken a shine to him.

Reporter: “Take as many Valrhona chocolates as you want, Billy.”

I’m going to list the questions Long was asked for this exercise in downy-soft journalism:

♥ How did being an auctioneer prepare you for Congress?

♥ Which do you prefer—colonel or congressman?

♥ Can you cite an example of where your salesmanship came into play?

♥ You also didn’t like the short-term budget deal. How did you feel about John Boehner as a negotiator?

♥ You’ve come across as a true tea party kind of guy, but you haven’t joined the Tea Party Caucus. Why is that?

♥ What are the prospects for the next budget negotiations?

♥ How do you feel about Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan? (We already know how Long “feels” about the plan. He voted for the damn thing. And there was no follow-up question.)

But there was a potentially news-making question:

♥ Will you vote to raise the debt ceiling?

Now, finally, there’s a question a journalist should ask and then follow-up with some aggressive questioning.  Long’s answer:

We are going to have to get some extreme, not extreme—we’re going to have to get some good-sized spending cuts before I’d even look at it. It’s going to be another negotiating thing.

Just being a lowly blogger here in Long’s district, I can think of some quick follow-ups:  

♦ What do you mean, before you “even look at it”? Have you studied the ramifications of not raising the ceiling?  Do you think the Treasury Secretary is exaggerating the potential effects on the economy—and on your constituents back home—of failing to raise the limit?

♦ And what do you mean by “good-sized spending cuts”?  How much? What are you holding out for?

♦ Since you didn’t vote for Speaker Boehner’s last budget deal, what makes you think he can negotiate a good deal on the debt ceiling?  Do you trust him to do that “negotiating thing”?

As I said, these are just a blogger’s ideas about follow-up questions for a politician. Naturally, a big time publication like National Journal had even better ones, right?

Wrong.  No follow-ups.

There was this, though:

Reporter: “How were those Valrhona chocolates, Billy?

Finer than a frog’s hair split four ways,” said the bigger-than-life, unafraid, straight-talking auctioneer with the booming voice.

Some of McCain’s Heroes Today Were Bush’s Terrorists Yesterday

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who pulled his head out of John McCain’s rectum long enough to talk to CNN, said of the U.S. involvement in Libya:

I like coalitions: It’s good to have them, it’s good to have the U.N. involved.  But the goal is to get rid of Gaddafi…So, I would not let the U.N. mandate stop what is the right thing to do.

In other words, to hell with the rest of the world, we’ve got bombs to drop!

For his part, John McCain, who seemed to be enjoying his Graham-free rectum, said on Sunday that a stalemate in Libya “would open the door for Al Qaeda to come in.”

Whoops!  It may be too late.  McCain, who on Friday called the Libyan rebels the “legitimate voice of the Libyan people,” and his “heroes,” also said,

I have met these brave fighters and they are not al Qaeda,” he said. “To the contrary, they are Libyan patriots who want to liberate their nation.

Except that the New York Times reported this weekend that a former Guantanamo detainee—he was released by the Bushies in 2007—who was “judged ‘a probable member of Al Qaeda’ by analysts there,” and deemed a “medium to high risk” as a threat to the United States, is now leading a “ragtag band of fighters” in Libya.  And the paper reported that,

American officials have nervously noted the presence of at least a few former militants in the rebels’ ranks. 

None of this gives Lindsey Graham or John McCain (or Israeli representative, Sen. Joe Lieberman) pause, however.  They want the U.S. to engage more aggressively in Libya, with Graham urging Obama to bomb Libya’s capital. He told CNN’s Candy Crowley:

My recommendation to NATO and to the administration is to cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Gaddafi’s inner circle, their compounds their military headquarters in Tripoli. The way to get Gaddafi to leave is to have his inner circle break and turn on him, and that’s going to take a sustained effort through an air campaign.

Apparently NATO was listening.  This morning comes word that NATO aircraft bombed Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, which renewed charges that the good guys are trying to assassinate Gaddafi. 

Whether we are, or whether we’re just trying to put the fear of Allah in him or his “inner circle,” as Graham suggested, it is clear that there will be no stalemate in Libya, even though a stalemate might be the best possible outcome, in terms of short-term regional stability.  Gaddafi’s days are numbered. 

What remains is the obvious question: What happens after Gaddafi is gone?  

Nobody, not Barack Obama or, Allah knows, not even John McCain, can give us a credible answer to that question.  Somehow, though, I suspect that whatever happens, President Obama—who is under pressure from the militaristic Right to step us his Libya game—will never get any credit for a good outcome, only blame for a bad one.

“Conservatism Can Cure Classroom Cancer, Blah, Blah, Blah”

George Will’s column in Saturday’s Joplin Globe touted the efforts of John Kline, a Minnesota congressman who is on a crusade—or is it a Marine expedition, since Will makes a major issue of Kline’s military background—to use his position as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee to, oddly, get the federal government out of education.

Yes, I know. That’s nothing new.  Will’s column touted the usual conservative chestnuts: Teachers’ unions are the root of all education evil, charter schools “operating outside union restrictions” are the answer, conservatism can cure classroom cancer, blah, blah, blah.

But one of those blahs had to do with No Child Left Behind and that law’s decree “that schools shall achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014.” Will suggested that states, which are nearly en masse failing to meet the current proficiency targets, have “a powerful incentive” “to define proficiency down,” much like the state of South Carolina, heaven-on-earth for conservatives, has.  Then Will wrote this:

There also are reasons to suspect that NCLB‘s threat of labeling schools as failures constitutes an incentive to cheat. In a number of jurisdictions, including 103 schools in the District of Columbia, machines that grade the tests have detected suspiciously high levels of erasures as test-takers changed incorrect to correct answers.

Now, George Will doesn’t say so, but any “cheating” that occurred in the District of Columbia occurred under the tenure of D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, currently a conservative hero (don’t give me any of that, “but she’s a Democrat” nonsense; she is openly cheerleading for Republican governors who are attacking teachers and their unions). 

Rhee—Will once praised her for being “constructively confrontational“—is the leader of the so-called “education reform” movement, which should really be called the “get professional teachers out of education” movement.  

I last saw Rhee, who resigned after her boss, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, was defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary, on the IQ-eroding Fox and Friends, where she exclaimed: “I’m a huge fan of Governor Christie,” referring to the current political champion of right-wingers everywhere, the governor of New Jersey. 

Indeed, it was Rhee, perhaps more than anyone else in the country, who made it safe for Republicans like Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker to bash teachers and trash their unions.

But, because there is still such a thing as journalism, USA Today did an expose of sorts on Michelle Rhee and her alleged success in dramatically improving the standardized test scores in Washington, D.C., most notably of a formerly low-performing school, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus.

Using some old-fashioned authoritarianism, as well as her laissez-faire formula for education success, Rhee fired teachers and handed out awards and bonuses for improved performance, especially using Noyes as the poster-school to validate her approach.

But it turns out that, as Will mentioned without mentioning USA Today‘s reporting, the improvement in test scores may not have been real. The paper reported:

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

Gene Lyons wrote a couple of weeks ago—which is how I first learned of increasing doubts about the Rhee-inspired phenomenon in D.C.—that,  

Although the national media appear determined not to notice, similar testing scandals have taken place in New York, Texas, Georgia, California — basically anywhere school funding and/or jobs have been linked directly to multiple-choice testing. Private charter schools as well as public schools, incidentally.

“This is like an education Ponzi scam,” a teacher’s union official told USA Today. “If your test scores improve, you make more money. If not, you get fired. That’s incredibly dangerous.”

Yes, it’s dangerous.  Test-driven formulas for education excellence, as the conservative George Will and the liberal Gene Lyons both might agree, are not a panacea for the real or imagined ills of our education system. (Lyons points out that over the last 30 years “overall student performance” has actually gone up.)

Now, someone just needs to tell President Obama, who seems to have embraced the idea of test-heavy reforms.

Will says that Rep. Kline,

promises that the current system for measuring “adequate yearly progress” “will not exist when we are done.”

We shall see about Kline’s promise, but if that happens it will be an unwitting repudiation of Michelle Rhee’s effort to, in the words of education historian, Diane Ravitch, “subject public education to free-market forces, including competition, decision by data, and consumer choice.” 

Ravitch continues:

All of this sounds very appealing when your goal is to buy a pound of butter or a pair of shoes, but it is not a sensible or wise approach to creating good education. What it produces, predictably, is cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum.

It has also produced a conservative celebrity, sometimes openly promoted by Democrats, Michelle Rhee.

Finally, it needs to be said here that there is no magic in turning ill-nourished kids raised in anti-learning environments, mostly without an intact and interested family, into little Einsteinian prodigies, which, I suppose, is what some Americans expect teachers to do in urban schools and elsewhere.

Standardized tests won’t do it. Cutting teachers’ pay, or taking away their collective bargaining rights, won’t do it.  Devilizing their unions and starting non-union charter schools won’t do it.

Perhaps nothing will do it.

But a start might be to stop blaming teachers and start listening to them. Commenting on the anti-teacher film, Waiting for “Superman,” Richard Kahlenberg wrote in The Washington Post that the movie,

implies that teachers unions are to blame for the failures of urban education and that non-unionized charter schools are the solution. The movie includes no acknowledgment that the things teachers want for themselves – more resources devoted to education, smaller class sizes, policies that allow them to keep order in the classroom – are also good for kids.

Resources devoted to education? Smaller class sizes? Order in the classroom?

Imagine that.  Teachers actually want things that are good for the kids.

Who would’ve thunk it?

Jefferson Was A Koch Head?

Republicans all over the country, in their zeal to destroy the voice of the American worker, have stepped up their persecution of organized labor, and in the case of public-sector unions, they have, among other things, quashed their right to meaningfully bargain collectively.

Now comes word from The Nation that before last year’s election, at least one prominent right-wing employer was already at work—thanks to the gift that keeps on giving, the Citizens United decision from an activist conservative Supreme Court—subtly intimidating its workers:

On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

According to the article, the Citizens United ruling, which breathed the breath of life into corporate bodies, permits employers like the Kochs—who once were forbidden from doing so—to, in the words of Paul Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette:

“send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”

Troubling, indeed.  You can read the whole piece and check out the “Elect to Prosper” package Koch Industries sent out—”for the first time ever“—in order to understand what those of us on the this side are up against during next election season and beyond.

And before some of you lurking conservatives object that union’s have always propagandized their members, the last time I checked, labor unions don’t have the power to hire and fire anyone.  That matters, don’t you think?

Finally, I want to quote something in the so-called  “Elect to Prosper” package—remember this went out to almost 50,000 workers who depend on the Kochs for a job— that illustrates just how extreme and anti-civil is the political philosophy of the Kochs and many in the Tea Party movement, and how these folks will bend the truth to fit their ideology.

In a document titled, “The future of economic freedom,” we find:

Fateful warning

When Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated President of the United States in 1801, he warned about a particularly destructive way of thinking. 

It is wrong, he said, to punish someone for working harder or being more successful than someone else.

He warned against “wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them” and taking from some to give to others “who have not exercised equal industry and skill.”

More than 200 years later, the destruction of economic freedom that Jefferson warned against is being vigorously promoted by this administration and many elected officials.

In the United States, the best antidote to this kind of over-reaching government is the power of the ballot box.

It’s probably not surprising that a right-wing publication makes Jefferson sound like a contemporary speaker at a Tea Party rally, but let’s quickly look again at this sentence:

He warned against “wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them” and taking from some to give to others “who have not exercised equal industry and skill.”

The reason that sentence is structured the that way is because the writer is trying to make Jefferson say something he really didn’t say. That first quote is taken from a letter Jefferson wrote to Thomas Cooper in 1802, which you can find here.  The context doesn’t support the use of it above. 

The second quote is taken from notes Jefferson wrote in a section on taxes in an American edition of the French enlightenment philosopher Destutt de Tracy’s* book, Political Economy.

For those of you who don’t want to read the context of that quote, here is a nice summary at LIEPIE.com, that contradicts the Kochian view:

Jefferson was remarking that specific rich individuals should not be targeted by the state for extra taxation, but that taxes should be applied to all individuals consistent with the tax laws on the books.  He then went on to add that inheritance law was the best way to prevent the overgrown wealth of an individual from becoming a threat to the state.  It appears to me that Jefferson was offering advice on how to democratically check the wealth of ultra rich folks!

Imagine what would happen today if an elected official suggested that someone’s overgrown wealth could be a threat to the state.  Let’s face it:  one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, was suspicious of concentrated wealth.  I think Jefferson likely would have supported the “Death Tax!”  If that isn’t bad enough, Jefferson also authored several landmark education bills in Virginia ensuring that the State supplied a free education to the poor funded at the common expense!  Even worse, Jefferson established a free public library!

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*Tracy is given credit for coining the term “ideology,” according to Wikipedia.

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