The Randy Turner Case (Updated)

For those of you who tune into this blog for political opinion, I apologize for the following post, but I feel compelled to comment on something happening in my local school district.

Randy Turner is a teacher assigned to Joplin East Middle School. Until recently he taught English to eighth graders, and judging by the accounts I have read from current and former students, he was good at it.  He was once a finalist for the district’s Teacher of the Year Award. Turner is also a local blogger (The Turner Report), does some writing for The Huffington Post, and has authored several books.

The 57-year-old middle school teacher is now on administrative leave, having been escorted from school premises by a police officer on April 8—a mere six weeks before the end of the school year.

The charges against him, as related by Mr. Turner himself, can be found here. For the sake of brevity, I will condense the charges down to the two essential ones:

1) That he directed his middle-school students to a book he wrote, No Child Left Alive, which the district claims contained “sexually explicit and violent passages,” and that he promoted “obscene material” in the book “to 12, 13, and 14-year-old children through his blog for his middle school communication arts class.”

2) That he “marketed for personal gain” another book he wrote, Scars from the Tornado, that incorporated “stories, essays, and comments” from his eighth grade students about Joplin’s horrific storm experience, and that Turner allegedly “instructed” his students to contribute to the book.

Mr. Turner offers his public (and to me, plausible) defense against these charges on his blog and I will leave interested readers to draw their own conclusions, but there are a couple of things that bother me about the actions the school district has taken.

Before I offer my criticisms of the district’s actions against Turner, I want to make a couple of things clear. Randy Turner is not a fan of mine. I used to read the Turner Report now and then and even linked to it for a while, but he didn’t seem to appreciate my writing or my efforts on this blog, particularly when it was connected to the Joplin Globe, so I sort of wandered away from what he was doing.

But I have appreciated his criticism of our education system and the attempts to reform it, and I endorse many of his views. (His recent piece for HuffPo—“A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher”—was outstanding, if depressing—my youngest son wants to become a teacher.)

So, nothing I say is because Randy Turner is a friend of mine or an admirer. I don’t know him and have never met him.

That having been said, there is something fishy about what has happened to him. First, he has taught in this school district for ten years and has been honored for his efforts. No matter what one thinks of the charges against him, or his defense, any fair-minded person reading the essentials of those charges can easily see that the matter wasn’t so urgent that it could not have waited until the end of the school year, which was just six weeks away when a cop walked him out of the building—in view of the kids who were still at school at the time.

Second, if Randy Turner is known for anything outside of Joplin, it is for his general criticism of so-called education reform and the problems those reforms have caused and continue to cause for the classroom teacher. My daughter teaches high school English and I have heard her express nearly the exact criticisms of today’s classroom experience that Turner has offered, including his criticisms of what he called “overambitious administrators.”

My suspicions are that the hasty and apparently excessive actions taken against him have less to do with some naughty words in a novel than with silencing a contrarian, someone who is not afraid to speak up about what teachers actually experience in the classroom.

Third,  I’m especially bothered by the actions of the district’s superintendent, the much-praised C. J. Huff, who has become something of a local hero for the way he handled the devastation the tornado did to several of our schools, including my son’s high school. Huff, who deserved commendation for many of his actions after the tornado passed through (I thanked him in person myself), has enjoyed very positive publicity in our local paper.

But something I read in the Joplin Globe (amazingly, the story appeared two weeks after the teacher was placed on administrative leave) about the Turner case really bothers me. The paper reports that Huff said a “district employee” complained about Turner on April 4 and he was removed from the classroom four days later. Then the Globe reports:

After an investigation into the complaint by the administration, a 28-page “statement of charges” was given to Turner on Thursday, Huff said.

 That would have been on or about April 25. The Globe continued:

Huff said the investigation included “a review of any and all evidence” related to the complaint as well as interviews with people who might have had relevant information. Speaking in general terms, he said the people who were interviewed could have included district employees, students or parents.

Now, a fair interpretation of Huff’s statement, that the investigation included “a review of any and all evidence,” would lead one to believe that Turner himself was given the opportunity to substantially contribute to the investigation, to contribute “relevant information.” Yet, that didn’t happen.

Turner posted on YouTube the actual audio of an interview that the district’s human resources director did on the day Turner was removed from the school. The part of the interview in which she asked him questions lasted about four minutes. Four minutes. Turner said he was never questioned again, so those four minutes constituted his involvement in the so-called investigation.

I remind you that the subsequent charges against him were listed in 28 pages.  And I remind you that the so-called investigation began somewhere around April 4 and concluded somewhere around April 25. Thus, there were more or less three weeks to interview Turner and get more information before the charges were filed against him. But he got four minutes.

The Globe reported that Superintendent Huff said,

Under the school district’s due-process procedure, Turner can request a hearing in front of the Board of Education, at which time he would be allowed to “state his case,” Huff said. The board would review any evidence against him and then determine whether to continue his contract, Huff said. If a hearing is not requested, the board still would meet to consider whether to continue the contract, he said.

Now, that’s a funny way to do an investigation, isn’t it? You do an initial four-minute interview with a well-respected employee who has been accused of something, spend a couple more weeks talking to others and looking at websites and reading his books, then you never go back and talk to the accused again? Wasn’t there some other questions that the investigators might have had regarding something they discovered?

Or was the whole thing a done deal before Turner ever had a chance to speak on April 8?

Based on my extensive experience as a union representative, as one who has sat in on many “investigative” interviews of employees accused of wrongdoing, I can pretty much guarantee you that the district had determined before April 8 that Turner was guilty of some district policy infraction (there are many policies, of course, that one can trip over), and that the only reason for the “investigation” was to gather evidence to “convict” him before the Board of Education.

Again, based on my experience dealing with these kinds of matters, Mr. Turner, like many of the employees I represented, was already guilty in the eyes of management before he was asked the first question. The questions were designed not to obtain facts or shed light on known facts, but to build a case against him. Thus, there was no need to talk to him and have him further explain his side of the story as the phony investigation proceeded.

It’s true enough he will get his chance to “state his case” before the Board, as Superintendent Huff said. That hearing will happen on May 9.* But think about the odds against Turner. You have the school district’s superhero superintendent, and all the school district’s resources, stacked against a teacher who got four minutes—during an interrogation ambush and without any union representation—to contribute his side of the story, and obviously after conclusions were already drawn.

I don’t like his chances.

But there are, as the Globe reported, some local students and parents trying to help him. A site offering a petition to the school board to “Allow Randy Turner To Continue Teaching” has now reached 229 supporters. And a Facebook page has been created that now has 570 “likes.”

As for Turner’s state of mind at this time, he says:

I don’t want to let people know that I am worried to death about losing a job I love and worried that the steps that have been taken against me could end up marking the end of my teaching career.
 
Though I feel like a young man, let’s face it- I’m 57 and I have a pacemaker. Schools aren’t going to be lining up to add me to their faculties.
We should all hope, as citizens and as taxpayers, that the Board of Education will do its job and give Mr. Turner a fair hearing and actually give his defense the weight it deserves, considering his achievements as a teacher and the fact that we need folks in the classroom who give a damn about their profession of educating our kids.
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* UPDATE: The Board of Education hearing that will decide Turner’s fate has been moved, according to Turner, from May 9 to May 23 at 9 a.m. He wrote:
I had been a bit concerned when I have heard that parents had planned to pull their students out of school May 9 to attend the hearing. Now that won’t be necessary, since the last day of school is Tuesday, May 21.On a sad note, this pretty much guarantees, barring some sensible intervention in this matter, that I have already spent my last day with this year’s eighth graders.

“To Be Worthy Of Their Trust”

I know by now you have heard all the jokes told at the 2013 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The President, as usual, was on his game. But perhaps you didn’t hear what he said at the end, what he said to all the beautiful people and the powerful people and the people who, for better or worse, have incredible influence on what happens to the country.

Or, even if you did hear the president’s final remarks, maybe it would be  better to actually read the words and hope against hope that they will have even the smallest effect:

And in these past few weeks, as I’ve gotten a chance to meet many of the first responders and the police officers and volunteers who raced to help when hardship hits, I was reminded, as I’m always reminded when I meet our men and women in uniform, whether they’re in war theater, or here back home, or at Walter Reed in Bethesda — I’m reminded that all these folks, they don’t do it to be honored, they don’t do it to be celebrated. They do it because they love their families and they love their neighborhoods and they love their country.

And so, these men and women should inspire all of us in this room to live up to those same standards; to be worthy of their trust; to do our jobs with the same fidelity, and the same integrity, and the same sense of purpose, and the same love of country. Because if we’re only focused on profits or ratings or polls, then we’re contributing to the cynicism that so many people feel right now. 

And so, those of us in this room tonight, we are incredibly lucky. And the fact is, we can do better — all of us. Those of us in public office, those of us in the press, those who produce entertainment for our kids, those with power, those with influence — all of us, including myself, we can strive to value those things that I suspect led most of us to do the work that we do in the first place — because we believed in something that was true, and we believed in service, and the idea that we can have a lasting, positive impact on the lives of the people around us.

And that’s our obligation. That’s a task we should gladly embrace on behalf of all of those folks who are counting on us; on behalf of this country that’s given us so much.

It’s Obama’s Fault That There Aren’t Enough Socratic Children Being Born in Washington

On ABC’s This Week, the host offered up the suggestion that the failure to do anything meaningful in Washington was President Obama’s fault:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: …a lot of questions about the president’s leadership as he pushes all of these as well, especially after the failure, during the bombings, of the background checks.

It’s created a whole bunch of comparisons, especially in the “New York Times” I noticed. The president, they say, is not enough like LBJ. Front page story this week. Went on and said, “If he cannot translate the support of 90 percent of the public for background checks into a victory on Capitol Hill, what can he expect to accomplish legislatively for his remaining three and a half years in office? Robert Dallek, historian and biographer of President Lyndon B. Johnson, said Mr. Obama seems ‘inclined to believe that sweet reason is what you need to use with people in high office.’ That contrasts with Johnson’s belief that ‘what you need to do is to back people up against a wall.”

Stephanopoulos did accurately point out that LBJ had “massive majorities” of Democrats “in both the House and Senate,” which, obviously, was much different from Obama’s situation. To which Genius George Will responded:

WILL: …Lyndon Johnson did understand that politics is a transactional business. You give something, you get something. This president has an inordinate faith in the power of his rhetoric. He campaigned against Scott Brown, against Chris Christy, against Bob McDonnell. He campaigned hard for the Democratic candidates in 2010 that got shellacked. He campaigned for Obamacare. It’s still very unpopular. His rhetoric is overrated. It is no basis for government.

Now, if you have followed George Will’s ongoing critique of the President, you know that he often comments on how Obama talks too much, is too visible, and “has an inordinate faith in the power of his rhetoric.” That is pretty much the standard Republican criticism of our first black president: he’s just a little too uppity. Doesn’t quite know his limitations.

But I want to point out once again what has lately become another standard Republican critique of President Obama, expressed by Matthew Dowd, who worked for Bush-Cheney, and who now is a frequent talking head on ABC’s This Week. He added his own analysis to Will’s criticism of Obama’s excessive faith in his rhetorical skills:

MATTHEW DOWD: …I think the president, he’s had a lot of great speeches that he’s given. But I think they’ve made a mistake by not having a relationship, not trying to build one-on-one relationships in Congress and saying we’re going to go out and talk to the country. We’re not going to worry about Washington, D.C.

This president has never built relationships outside of saying, I need your vote tomorrow….it’s all been photo ops with Congress. He hasn’t reached out. He hasn’t consistently said come to Camp David, “sit down with me, let’s talk about this.”

I think if the president had that ability—he’s got a 1 on 10,000 ability—he does not have a 1 on 1 ability.

If you listen to a lot of “expert” talk on cable TV, you hear that same criticism of President Obama a lot. He’s aloof. He’s professorial. He’s not good at one-on-one politics.

And it’s all bullshit.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn is said to be one of President Obama’s good friends in the Senate. They are supposed to be fairly close. Coburn has described Obama as a “good personal friend.” And a lot of good their alleged friendship has done the President, or the country. Coburn recently voted against legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases—something that enjoys nearly universal support among the American people—a vote that was exactly the same as Oklahoma’s other extremist senator, and most definitely not a friend of President Obama, the nutty Jim Inhofe.

One must ask: With friends like Tom Coburn, who needs Jim Inhofe?

What political good does it do for Obama to have a good relationship with Tom Coburn? No political good, that’s what. Yet, some folks blame President Obama for not getting background checks passed in Congress because he just can’t seem to “connect” with the galactic egos of mostly Republican legislators.

When people like Matthew Dowd say things like he said on Sunday, that President Obama “hasn’t reached out” and that reaching out to Republicans would somehow change the dynamics in Washington, they are obligated to explain how that would change the dynamics.

Matthew Dowd and other pundits are obligated to explain how such schmoozing would change one damn thing about what is happening, about what has been happening, in the Republican-controlled Congress—yep, the Republicans essentially control the entire Congress these days.

Matthew Dowd should explain how it would work. If President Obama invited, say, Ted Cruz to Camp David for some croquet and Chablis, would that meant that the Tea Party zealot would vote for immigration reform some day? If Obama invited Paul Ryan to play golf every Sunday on the finest course in Virginia, would that mean that Ryan would stop trying to kill Medicare? Would happy Socratic children, their DNA riddled with reasonableness, be born all over Washington, D.C., if only The Scary Negro would simply talk friendly to these guys, cozy up to his political enemies, and massage their Milky Way-size egos?

Come on, people. The problem isn’t that President Obama hasn’t cultivated political relationships with hyper-partisan, fanatically-ideological legislators. It is that those hyper-partisan fanatics mean to slit his political throat, whether they get invited to dinner or not.

By God, Fix The Airport Delays Now! The Heck With Everything Else!

In the news today we find this:

Under growing pressure, the Obama administration signaled Wednesday it might accept legislation eliminating Federal Aviation Administration furloughs blamed for lengthy delays affecting airline passengers, while leaving the rest of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in place.

The disclosure came as sentiment grew among Senate Democrats as well as Republicans for legislation to ease the impact of the cuts on the FAA, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held talks with key senators.

Get that? The story begins, “Under growing pressure…” Under growing pressure from whom? Exactly who is putting such pressure on Congress and the White House that suddenly there are bipartisan efforts to fix a problem that bipartisan efforts—the sequester—caused in the first place?

But that’s not why I bothered to mention this development. This is:

At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said that if Congress “wants to address specifically the problems caused by the sequester with the FAA, we would be open to looking at that.

“But that would be a Band-Aid measure,” he added. “And it would not deal with the many other negative effects of the sequester, the kids kicked off of Head Start, the seniors who aren’t getting Meals on Wheels, and the up to three-quarter of a million of Americans who will lose their jobs or will not have jobs created for them.”

Now, Jay Carney is right of course. Fixing the problem of flight delays at airports is only a small part of fixing the damage the sequester has done, is doing, to folks around the country. But I find something amazing, something telling, about what Congress and the White House are planning on doing regarding FAA furloughs and flight delays.

Republicans apparently are willing to get together with Democrats to fix a small problem that affects folks who fly—folks who can afford to fly, which generally means more affluent folks and a lot of business people—but they refuse to get together to fix the much larger problem of kids getting booted out of Head Start or older folks getting fewer Meals on Wheels, or the rather large number of Americans who will not have jobs because of the sequester.

That Republicans ignore poor kids and the elderly and the unemployed but are willing to fix a problem that at the most inconveniences folks who do a lot of expensive traveling on airplanes—which means a lot of Republican constituents—tells us everything we need to know about the Republican Party.

And that Democrats are apparently now willing to settle for this kind of “Band-Aid” approach and are not demanding that we also fix the problems the sequester has caused for people who won’t be spending much time waiting a few extra minutes at airports, tells us a lot about the Democratic Party leadership these days.

Sad.

The U.S. Government Bombed The Boston Marathon, Or Just Another Day In The World Of Right-Wing Nuttery

I only listened to a little Glenn Beck on Wednesday morning because, frankly, a little Glenn Beck goes a long way in terms of destroying brain tissue, and, to be honest, I don’t have that much brain tissue to spare these days.

Naturally, since Glenn Beck specializes in peddling conspiracy theories for cash, Glenn Beck has a conspiracy theory regarding the Boston Marathon bombing, which, as far as I can tell,  involves Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe Biden and the Saudi Arabian foreign minister and the Saudi ambassador and Janet Napolitano, who will, when this plot is unraveled, be “the first to fall,” says Beck.  Oh, yeah, I think the pigmented comedian Dave Chappelle is involved too, because he converted to Islam in 1998 and since then, well, the world has gone to hell.

Because he is a capitalist without a conscience, Glenn Beck won’t let a terrorist attack go to waste without least attempting to make a profit from it. And this latest conspiracy theory—involving a Saudi man who police—and, for Allah’s sake, even Fox News’ Bret Baier—says was merely a victim of the bombing and not a suspect or participant on behalf of the government, is so stupid and unbelievable that, of course, it has legs in the world of right-wing nuttery. (You can see Beck’s take on Bret Baier here.)boston marathon bombing

Let me tell you that the evening of  the Boston Marathon bombing, I was at a local high school baseball game watching my kid play. Standing beside me was a dad of another player on our team. I knew this guy to be a right-wing fanatic (chances are, around these parts, someone you are standing next to at a ball game is a right-wing fanatic), and, it happens, a Glenn Beck fan. He was checking his phone for updates on the bombing and, lo and behold, he told me that “they” just found out that the perpetrator was a “Saudi national.” “Who could have guessed that?” he said sarcastically.

Playing along, I said, “Of course!” Who else, I said only to myself, would want to kill spectators at a marathon but those damn Saudis! They’ve always hated long-distance runners, especially long-distance runners from Ethiopia who win, and they hate people who would stand and applaud their efforts. Kill the infidels!

Needless to say, I later found out the truth about the Saudi national and that Matt Drudge and Alex Jones and Glenn Beck and others were trying to make a buck off the whole thing. And I sort of felt a little guilty for not telling the guy at the baseball game that he was, dammit, out of his mind for believing anything that came from his right-wing “sources.”

In any case, all of this embarrassing nonsense leads me to post the segment below from Wednesday night’s Rachel Maddow Show, which, in case you think this conspiracy stuff is harmless fluff, will change your mind about how pervasive, sick, and thus, dangerous, it is in terms of our national well-being. Because people like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity can, thanks to Fox “News,” talk radio, and the Internet, reach millions of folks, they are making us dumber as a society.

As Steve Benen wrote:

…let’s not overlook the fact that last week, Beck used his Internet show to push a bogus claim about a Boston suspect, but his arguments quickly drew attention from the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, the chairman of the House subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, the chairman of the House subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, and the chairwoman of the House subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security — all of whom are Republicans, and all of whom took Beck’s nonsense seriously.

There’s a strain of madness running through contemporary Republican politics…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Has Obama Been Soft On Wall Street? Yep. Does That Make Him Mitt Romney? Uh, Nope.

President Obama has done some amazing things since he took office in January of 2009 (many of those things have been chronicled on this blog). Much of what he has accomplished he had to do with only Democratic support, and much of his time has been spent trying to overcome the economic recovery saboteurs in the Republican Party who were trying to destroy him politically, many of whom are still trying to undermine, if not outright destroy, his remaining presidency.

But that’s no excuse for the President’s horrible record on pursuing, or, really, not pursuing, banksters—those financial folks responsible for the ongoing economic misery among working-class people in the country, people long on class but short on work. The Administration should have been, and still should be, making the banksters, for God’s sake at least some of them, pay for their crimes.

Aggressively pursuing these miscreants from the start would not only have been the right thing to do, it would have been politically popular too. It might even have helped, ever so slightly, endear him to a few folks on the right who also hate it that big-time money men and women seem to have escaped without so much as a rugburn, after the most horrific financial meltdown in 80 years.

There will be some stains on the Obama legacy, but perhaps no stain will be as dark and ugly as the President’s failure to see to it that some sense of justice was satisfied, or at least aggressively pursued, for what happened in the fall of 2008.

But having said that, I’m not one of those on the left who will write ridiculous things like Eric Zuesse wrote recently for HuffPo (“Is The Obama Administration the Most Corrupt in U.S. History?“):

The rot certainly starts at the top. I am a proud Democrat who can tell a phony one clearly, especially when it’s demonstrated by four years of remarkably consistent criminal (and profoundly conservative) decisions by him. Obama is a phony Democrat. He is, at best, Romney-light. Maybe he is, in some ways, even Bush-heavy. As regards non-prosecutions of financial fraudsters, the data show him to be Bush-heavy.

Zuesse urges Democrats to turn on Obama, mainly over his dealings with Wall Street and his proposal to possibly change the way the cost of living adjustments are made to Social Security benefits:

The rot is on both sides now. Let’s see if our side will clamp down against it – as Senator Warren obviously wishes to do. Are we with her, or are we with Obama? That question does not concern a white woman versus a black man; it concerns a nation of equality under law, versus a champion of “Too Big To Fail.” In fact, Obama has been disastrous for Blacks, and not just for the rest of “the 99%.”

The Democratic Party will have to show where it stands – and with whom, and for whom.

The Republican Party has already failed its test regarding Bush. Will the Democratic Party fail its test regarding Obama?

Come on. Sure, there is plenty to criticize the President for over his handling of the banksters. Sure, he has surrounded himself with too many people wrapped up in that Wall Street-runs-America culture. Sure, at times his actions haven’t always lived up to his campaign rhetoric.

And there are other reasons why liberals should lately be a bit upset with him, including his embracing the chained CPI scheme and the quiet, very quiet, signing of a bill last week that will undo much of a law passed in 2012 called the STOCK (“Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge”) Act, which prohibited members of Congress and their staffs from profiting from insider trading.

By signing the latest bill—a true symbol of corruption of our political system— President Obama reveals himself to be what he has always been: a politician with political motives that often involve sweetheart deals with those in power. (For an excellent telling of this sad tale, go here.)

But Eric Zuesse calling Obama a criminal and a phony Democrat and labeling him Romney-light and Bush-heavy? Please. Give me a break. And for Zuesse to say that “corruption has…been rampant during his Presidency”? Get a bleeping grip, Eric. That’s the same kind of stuff that happens when uncompromising ideologues on the right take out after one of their own whom they perceive to be philosophically disloyal. And it’s the same kind of stuff they say about the President.

Ironically, Zuesse criticizes Obama for acting too much like a conservative, which is sometimes a fair criticism, but then Zuesse acts like the worst of the conservatives himself when he blasts him and suggests he has done nothing worthy of respect, even from people on the left.

And particularly given the environment within which President Obama has had to work since 2010—a totally hostile House and a filibuster-drunk Senate, which has to figure into any realistic evaluation of his performance—Zuesse’s comments about Obama remind me of something exiting the lips of, say, a Rush Limbaugh.

Geeze.

Meanwhile, for some level-headed, but hard-hitting criticism of the President’s policies vis-à-vis Wall Street, see today’s piece at HuffPo by Ryan Grim and Shahien Nasiripour, which begins:

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has privately criticized the Obama administration and the Department of Justice for not aggressively investigating dodgy mortgage deals that helped trigger the financial crisis, according to senators and congressional aides who met with him this month.

As this article demonstrates, there is plenty of frustration to go around regarding the Obama administration’s failure, and it is a failure, to put orange jumpsuits on otherwise well-dressed Wall Street bankers. But that frustration should not lead those of us on the left to treat President Obama the same way hysterical conservatives have always treated him: like a Kenyan-headed American stepchild.

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[image from Seeking Alpha]

“Stop Terrorizing Women”

We’ve been treated to a lot of talk about terrorism since the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent events. I want to talk about another kind of terrorism that goes on every day somewhere in America.

The Good Men Project describes itself this way:

We are a community of 21st Century thought leaders around the issue of men’s roles in modern life. We explore the world of men and manhood in a way that no media company ever has, tackling the issues and questions that are most relevant to men’s lives…

Guys today are neither the mindless, sex-obsessed buffoons nor the stoic automatons our culture so often makes them out to be. Our community is smart, compassionate, curious, and open-minded; they strive to be good fathers and husbands, citizens and friends, to lead by example at home and in the workplace, and to understand their role in a changing world.

According to the website, one of The Good Men’s Project’s most popular stories involved a man named Aaron Gouveia, who wrote a story that began this way:

“You’re killing your unborn baby!”

That’s what they yelled at me and my wife on the worst day of our lives. As we entered the women’s health center on an otherwise perfect summer morning in Brookline, two women we had never met decided to pile onto the nightmare we had been living for three weeks. These “Christians” verbally accosted us—judged us—as we steeled ourselves for the horror of making the unimaginable, but necessary, decision to end our pregnancy at 16 weeks.

After extensive testing at a renowned Boston hospital three weeks earlier, we were told our baby had Sirenomelia. Otherwise known as Mermaid Syndrome, it’s a rare (one in every 100,000 pregnancies) congenital deformity in which the legs are fused together. Worse than that, our baby had no bladder or kidneys. Our doctors told us there was zero chance for survival.

Gouveia says he’s not religious, doesn’t believe in heaven or hell, but:

…there is a hell on Earth. Hell is sitting next to the person you love most and listening to her wail hysterically because her heart just broke into a million pieces. Hell is watching her entire body convulse with sobs because she’s being tortured with grief. For as long as I live and no matter how many children we have, I will never forget that sound. And I vowed to do everything in my power to make sure she’d never make it again.

One of the things Gouveia has done is create for us and present to us the video encounter below, now more than two years old. He shows us that religious zealots, no matter how sincere they may be, need confronted. They need challenged. They shouldn’t exercise the right of public protest over reproductive rights, over what they call “baby killing,” without at least knowing that there are lives on the other side of the argument that are very much affected by their zealotry, and those lives have a voice, sometimes a loud voice, that needs to be heard, too.

Aaron Gouveia ends his written piece with a plea both to the zealots and to the rest of us:

My wife and I wanted our second child. We loved her. We even had a name for her, Alexandra.

You never know the circumstances surrounding this kind of decision. Consider this my plea: stop terrorizing women. Stop adding trauma to their trauma. If you’re able, stand up to these bullies in nonviolent ways. Speak out. And if you have a camera, use it.

“Bullet Backstops”

Tea Party freak, Sharron Angle, back when she was trying to take away Harry Reid’s senate seat in 2010, famously said in an interview with a conservative talker, Bill Manders:

Angle: I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who’s in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical…

Manders: If we needed it at any time in history, it might be right now.

Angle: Well it’s to defend ourselves. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.

Now, Angle—who, by the way, got nearly 45% of the vote in Nevada in her race against Reid—was suggesting, of course, that the right to murder unrepentant Democrats, who she considered to be part of a tyrannical government, was why the Second Amendment exists. And to be honest, a lot of Republicans in power, most in fact, wouldn’t publicly disagree with her Second Amendment logic, even if they would criticize her Second Amendment honesty.

Now comes the latest freak in the Republican Party to endorse the Second Amendment-sanctioned murder of legislators: Chris Nogy. This man is married to the secretary of the Republican Party in Benton County, Arkansas, chris nogywhich is uncomfortably close to Joplin, less than an hour’s drive from my house. Yikes.

Mr. Nogy is proposing the murder of legislators who voted for “socialism” in Arkansas, otherwise known as Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare. In the latest Republican Party of Benton County Newsletter, Nogy wrote (the piece was titled, “Scathing”):

…we need to get a LOT tougher if we are ever to assure that events like those that took place this week don’t happen again.

Part of me feels that this betrayal deserves a quick implementation of my 2nd amendment rights to remove a threat domestic.  Because no matter how much one group says it is inevitable to start down the road to socialism it isn’t as long as we use our creativity and energy to creating solutions that don’t take us that way.

Fortunately for Democrats, and unlike Sharron Angle’s Second Amendment strategy, Nogy is letting Democrats who voted for Medicaid expansion off the hook:

I don’t feel the same way about the Democrats as bullet backstops as I do about the Republicans who joined them.  The Democrats were doing what their party told them they had to do because they were elected to do that job.

Whew!  Thanks Mr. Nogy for at least getting your aim right!

In case you were thinking that Nogy was just kiddin’ around, he wasn’t finished:

We need to let those who will come in the future to represent us that we are serious.  The 2nd amendment means nothing unless those in power believe you would have no problem simply walking up and shooting them if they got too far out of line and stopped responding as representatives.

Damn! That gun-toter is pissed! And he ain’t apologizin’. In a response on the Benton County Republican Committee’s Facebook page, he begins with this:

This is not a retraction, this is a clarification.

After he claimed, falsely, that he “didn’t advocate violence,” he ended with this:

I believe that in a world of nameless, faceless thugs influencing our people every day, it is imperative that we become thugs with names and faces just as scary even if in a different way. If we don’t, then we lose.

Yep. He called himself a thug. No, I mean, a “scary” thug.

And if any of you are tempted to think that this Nogy creep is a lone wolf, think again. You can follow the Twitter accounts of any number of  Tea Party Republican conservatives, or you can peruse the comment sections of nearly any right-wing web site, or, heck, you can just tune into any reactionary radio station near you and listen to the same kind of stuff Nogy based his kill-the-traitors screed on:

To the turncoats that sunk us, thank you.  It is now our responsibility to make sure that you are forever remembered in history, in big, bold, letters as the ones who placed Arkansas firmly on the path to Socialism, to the desires of Obama and Sebilius [sic], and who made it easier for future traitors to introduce all kinds of other socialist laws and programs.  You set the precedent,  now I hope that we can do something to make sure the lesson learned by those who represent us in the future is that bad things will happen to you if you follow that precedent.

For some folks in this country, the metaphorical civil war going on over that Scary Negro in the White’s House, is too much metaphor and not enough war.

An Open Letter To Senator Roy Blunt

Dear Senator Blunt,

I recently called you a gun whore and I apologize.

Oh, don’t get me wrong here. I don’t apologize to you, Senator. I apologize to all the street prostitutes in the world who don’t deserve to be compared to a United States Senator of your dubious moral quality. Most of the women who decide to make a living on the streets by selling themselves to the highest bidder do so for reasons beyond their control, reasons like poverty, sexual abuse, or drug addiction. Misfortune in life has often driven them to trading favors for money.

But you, Senator Blunt, have had no such misfortune in life. You, along with most of your Republican colleagues, simply sold yourself to the NRA for political power and for thirty pieces of blood-stained silver. Make no mistake about it, sir, the money you have taken from the NRA—and the money you will no doubt take from the NRA in the future—has blood on it.

That money, every single dollar, has on it blood spattered from bullet-riddled six-year-old faces, kids who spent their last minutes of life on this earth in utter terror, as a madman with a military style killing machine in his hands and armed with multiple 30-round magazines, quickly and methodically hunted them down and murdered all twenty of them, along with the six adults who tried to be their guardian angels on that bloody day.

You, too, Senator Blunt, are a guardian angel of sorts. Through your unfailing support of the NRA, you look after the welfare of gun manufacturers and their profits. You are the dark and dishonest spirit that keeps the NRA in power and keeps America awash in guns, awash in war-time killing machines, awash in blood, even the blood of children.

Your claims to voters and ultimately to the Almighty that you are a Christian and a “social conservative” will one day, if there is any justice in this incomparably large and unfathomably cold universe, be weighed against your actions as the gluttonous guardian angel of people and groups who care for nothing but their own narrow, lucrative interests.

Yes, Senator, I apologize to all the whores in the world for comparing what you do to what they do. They merely trade sexual favors for money. You trade the public good for money and power. You trade the commonweal for currency and clout. You trade our national well-being for your own. And, I confess, you are good at it. You are good at turning tricks and selling yourself to the highest bidder and accumulating power in Washington. In fact, Public Citizen honored your whoring skills with a special report:

Rep. Roy Blunt: Ties to Special Interests Leave Him Unfit to Lead

That report, which examined your record as a legislator in the House, revealed the truth about what it is you do, Senator:

In the end, what emerges is a portrait of a legislative leader who not only has surrendered his office to the imperative of moneyed interests, but who has also done so with disturbing zeal and efficiency.

What perverted pride you must have felt at being so honored, Mr. Blunt. What sick satisfaction you must have experienced when a Washington Post profile favorably compared your work in the House to convicted felon Tom DeLay, and noted that,

Here in Washington, Blunt has converted what had been an informal and ad hoc relationship between congressional leaders and the Washington corporate and trade community into a formal, institutionalized alliance.

And now that you are in the Senate, you must feel a strange and devilish joy that your prowess as a corporate prostitute is still recognized, not only for your continued support for the gun industry, but for the agribusiness industry:

Sen. Roy Blunt: Monsanto’s Man in Washington

I have to admit that slipping a Monsanto-friendly provision into a totally unrelated piece of legislation is a skillful maneuver worthy of anything I have ever seen in the Kama Sutra or, frankly, in Deep Throat or Debbie Does Dallas.

But your votes on Wednesday, Senator Blunt, your votes to kill even the mildest and most common-sense efforts to at least make it more difficult for murderers to murder our kids and loved ones with NRA-protected killing machines, those votes, those votes, Senator, are more shameful than anything you have ever done.

The lies you, your colleagues, and the NRA told about the legislation, and your votes that ultimately killed all the relatively modest proposals and amendments, those lies and those votes, if there were a righteous God who has ears to hear and eyes to see what you have done, would move him to, as the Bible says, spew you and your cowardly colleagues out of his mouth on some future judgment day.

But, alas, whether there will be such a future day of everlasting judgment, whether there will be a time when you, Senator Blunt, stand before and receive unappealable justice from the God you claim to worship, whether there will be such a day and time is uncertain. Not one of us knows the truth about that possibility. But we do know, we can be certain of one thing, that the judgment of history, the only judgment we as human beings can make that has any permanence, won’t be kind to you, sir.

If there is a heaven and hell of human construction, it is the heaven and hell of historical judgment. And someday, long after you have passed from this life and have or haven’t met your creator, your descendants will find your legislative legacy in the hell of human history, where it most certainly belongs and where it, if not you, will live forever.

“A Species Of Madness”

I don’t do this often, but I must share with you a comment I received on Monday from a frequent and insightful contributor to the ongoing discussions on this blog. I know a lot of you folks don’t dive into the comment section, but you really should. You will learn a lot of stuff or be directed to places where you can learn a lot of stuff, or you can be one of those who teach the rest of us a lot of stuff.

In case you missed this one, here it is:

thegeneralist commentThe book, The Fall of the House of Dixie, can be purchased here, and here is a link to a review from NPR Books, which includes this:

As its ranks dwindled and in a last gasp, the Confederacy, too, had a plan to recruit black soldiers. In 1864, Confederate President Jefferson Davis approved a plan to recruit free blacks and slaves into the Confederate army. Quoting Frederick Douglass, Levine calls the logic behind the idea “a species of madness.”

One factor that contributed to this madness, he says, “is the drumbeat of self-hypnosis” that told Confederates that “the slaves are loyal, the slaves embrace slavery, the slaves are contented in slavery, the slaves know that black people are inferior and need white people to … oversee their lives. … Black people will defend the South that has been good to them. There are, of course, by [then] very many white Southerners who know this is by no means true, but enough of them do believe it so that they’re willing to give this a chance.”

Considering what might have happened had there been no war at all, Levine thinks slavery could well have lasted into the 20th century, and that it was, in fact, the Confederacy that hastened slavery’s end. “In taking what they assumed to be a defensive position in support of slavery,” he says, “the leaders of the Confederacy … radically hastened its eradication.”

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