Tuesday, September 04, 2012

See y'all in November?

Around noon on September 5th, I'm heading north for just over two months of political work. I should be home in time to hear the crowd at Jordan-Hare as Auburn hopefully whips Georgia. I sure was looking forward to being home for the whole of football season. However, duty calls. Once back, I want to find something meaningful to do beyond just trying to make a dollar here and there.

My hours will be brutal while I’m gone. Thus, I'll likely limit my shares and comments. I'll be busy engaging in a very different type of activism. Also, I want to make sure my own views aren't associated with any campaigns I’ll be helping. Then again, I might just shift my online efforts to more strategic communication. We’ll see.

I’ll honestly miss sharing and interacting across different mediums. I am a unabashed news junkie who reads reporters and bloggers on and off nearly every day. I can get into the policy weeds as well. I may, in fact, start a doctoral program this January. I suppose I dig into politics, law, policy, and such just because that’s how I’m geared. However, I also care about what all that means to my world. I’m anxious about our current situation and certainly the future. We can address the challenges we face. It’s actually quite doable. But, I fear an almost pathological resistance to a role for government and common cause is hindering us.

It's an exciting time for political junkies. However, 24/7 news coverage, and even more so the almost instantaneous updates via social media, especially Twitter, can at times seems like both a blessing and a curse. While I was surely frustrated over the summer’s silly season where the chattering class maintained the buzz, things might not get much better. I actually don't think the top of ticket is going to be too close of a race. However, it's good for the boob tube's bottom line to make it look tight. There will be plenty of horserace coverage, even down into the Senate and House (the few seats remaining competitive due to gerrymandering) races. That’s especially so if the trend on the Presidential race is too obvious for the media and insiders to ignore. However, we’ll see few actual policy stories. I could rant over how infotainment may ruin us all, but I’ll push on.

As for the next few months, I really look forward to getting on the ground in a political fight, hopefully several, rather than just being a Chairborne, keyboard commando who tries, woefully at times I'm sure, to use social media for constructive activism. I feel somewhat lame doing mostly shares and micro-blogging but since I've been home am doing more direct contact and engagement. I tend to mix it up more over on Twitter as @JuntoGunto but try my best to tread carefully when on Facebook, either directly or when it’s required to comment on newspaper stories and such.

(As a quick aside on Facebook, there’s some stuff that’s shared which amazes me. I’m past understanding why things can’t be run through the Google before it’s posted up on a wall for the world to see. Also, quit sending me game requests!)

As for the trip north, I depart with some trepidation. I’m no rookie and yet I’m sure some of the ground game technology has changed since 2006. And this is a coordinated campaign where I’ll be working with many different, at times conflicting, groups. I’ve been in part of this next state for a few days, but it’s a new part of the world in which I’ll live. It will be cold by the time the election is over. And I surely don’t like driving in the snow.

As for what I’m giving up, I hate to be away from the bride, boy … and surely the critters. I’ll put a few more miles on Raull, my trusty little green CR-V. I’ll likely exercise little and eat poorly. And then there are the ales and spirits to fuel any decent campaign. Might I find a fellow cigar aficionado?

Maybe I’ll do a little hunting once I’m home but I’m liable to miss some good fishing this fall. There’s a tile job and several other projects around the manse to knock out once I get back. I’d held off doing some stuff outside until the weather cooled off. Woops! Yet, after being way up north, it might seem pleasant weather-wise once I’m home and start stacking rock and moving dirt. There’ll be no reports or volunteers or … to knock me off stride. And the holidays are right around the corner! If I get caught up, I’ll just start the outdoor kitchen with the cool bread oven thingie.

I remember being slam worn out after 2006 but I surely was proud of what we’d done. I think I’ll feel pretty good this time, too. If not (or, to be honest, even if we whip all comers) I’ll be digging into the analyses and data to see what might apply to the next time we all lock horns. Again, we shall see.

So why leave home for two months? There's the Abraham Kuyper quote I have on the back of my business cards that I think covers it. It reads,
When the principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then the battle is your calling, and peace has become sin. You must at the price of dearest peace lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy with all the fire of your faith.
Won the day? They've won the last three decades! 

While one brand has its own problems, hardly related to its leaders actually being too liberal, the other has largely forfeited a role. And they've shifted things more and more to the extreme right. What's become of the modern GOP could have offered principled opposition. But principle is where many seem to struggle. How Paul Ryan lied so much on the national stage at the RNC stuns me. Then again, he perhaps felt like he had to hit the themes their message machine has been telling their base. His lying about his sub-three hour marathon time might indicate this man-child of privilege has some issues beyond mere political license with pesky facts. Maybe he really is a hard core Ayn Rand Objectivist where selfishness is celebrated.

And what’s with all the straw men? For a group who likes to rant about postmodernism, they sure do rely on truthiness. I get that they’ve invested much in bashing “the liberal media” - owned largely by for-profit corporations - and building a counter-intelligentsia but, outside of Glennbeckistan, reality intrudes every so often. Honestly, there are also these things called “antecedents” applicable to pronouns which also need some studying. Then again, common sense should also apply.

They've offered little beyond platitudes and posturing. Details are as scarce as Mitt Romney's tax returns. Let’s just double down on what got us in the current mess is exactly their solution. Tax cuts/policy geared to the affluent, plus deregulation, solves all which ails us. It’s gospel! But it’s mostly magic! For their base, conservatism never fails but can only be failed. When they lose, it’s because their candidate wasn’t sufficiently conservative and/or because the Godless liberals and/or brown people stole the thing.

As for the image above, I think the overalls and rolling up the sleeves is what I like most. Still, it's admittedly with a "fighting" angle. However, as much as I enjoy sparring, I'm more interested in respectful dialogue. I often find common cause with all but the most ideologically hidebound. As I've offered before, I'm a propservralist. And I've never persuaded anyone of anything by telling them how stupid they are. The same applies to folks telling me I suppose but I've got rather thick skin. 

Additionally, I truly believe many in my tribe hold to their ideas less certainly. Many on my team seem to seek out information and embrace a little cognitive dissonance. In fact, lefty sorts are notorious for fussing with each other. I'm rather certain ideological purity and loyalty are more valued among the authoritarian set. Pleased be assured I'm not saying conservatives and/or libertarians lack a role. I appreciate their perspectives, at least for the most part. I know many of all persuasions disgusted with the national parties.

Many in the modern GOP are hostile to science. Thanks, but I’ll pass on the theocracy. I don't get these people. In fact, I culled a couple of folks I grew up with, and the mother of another, from my Facebook "friends" just last night who were caterwauling about how "God" was dropped from DNC platform (apparently "faith and religion" isn't sufficient) and how 20K Muslims are coming to Charlotte for some sort of ritual prayer at the convention. Jesus Christ, do these people not know how to work the Google? Glenn Beck will tell them something and they'll not only swallow it hook, line, and sinker but also parrot it. WTF? I've no way to engage these sort of people but they are truly a big chunk of the modern GOP's base.

I didn't mention it anywhere I suppose, but I recently listened to a little "Christian" radio when the bride was up in Anniston. Good grief! A couple of God Squaders had this rather sharp young academic based out of the Discovery Institute (they're peddling intelligent design) talking about how Jesus really loved modern ideas of capitalism. Then again, Dr. Jay Richards also keeps his bread buttered at Heritage, AEI, Acton, ... as if there's one thing the right does well, it's wingnut welfare. Truly, you can be a total hack and there's work for you in movement conservatism.

Also, I can accept that the modern GOP has a fragile coalition made up of some rather hidebound ideologues. These groups (that they’ve kept cobbled together far beyond what many might have imagined back in the late 60s or early 80s) often hold completing conflicting world views. Thus, I can appreciate that it’s a tough task to keep them all in the harness. Maybe that’s why the grownups among them can’t let go of the damn lies and divisiveness. You can unite people out of fear much easier than out of positive consensus building. I can imagine many at the top of the food chain just thinking one more election. Others know that tapping into anger, religious fundamentalism, and fear is their only path to power. It’s “Little Red State Fundie” though for some I’m sure with those they’ve long relied on to win elections. Yup, the inmates are now running much of the operation. Mr. and Mrs. Fringy McFringison represents them.

Also, the mess the last administration made in letting the neoconservatives get us engaged in military adventurism can’t be forgotten. Poor Mitt Romney barely mentioned our deployed men and women in his acceptance speech!

Neither should we forget how their judicial appointments have opened up the flood of funny money into politics via the Citizens United case. The whole Federalist Society effort has paid off handsomely. The modern right gets the long game and they surely develop talent and reward loyalty.

Conservation doesn’t get much better treatment. I can’t figure out how “conservatives” so often leave this out of their program. Maybe in their minds, pollution isn’t allowed to cross private property boundaries and externalities don’t exist. Climate change isn't anything to sweat, or so says the well-funded denialists and businesses worried they'll face more regulation.

Perhaps the most priceless thing is that the modern GOP's ideas run up the deficit, allowing them to slash spending in programs which help keep the society moving forward. Please note how subsidies to obscenely profitable oil companies and our bloated defense budget are sacrosanct. Truly they’ll bash welfare all day long, except when they are defending the corporate versions doled out to big business and war profiteers.

Modern movement conservatism is so bent up that when the current administration floats ideas they actually once advocated, as has been done in health care for instance, or considers reviving “cap and trade” on carbon, they'll claim it’s socialism and/or unconstitutional.  The “Party of No” has obstructed efforts to get past the problems their very own Friedmanism and neoliberalism, which, to be fair, did have some bipartisan backing, caused us. It’s been their strategy to a comeback from 2006 and 2008. Well, that and dressing up in funny hats with tea bags hanging off them. They’ve tried to wipe their collective hard drive of any history before January of 2009.

The same applies to three plus decades of Reaganomics. Supply side economics, especially when coupled with structural challenges from globalized capital chasing cheap and docile labor in minimally regulated locations, just doesn’t work except for those at the top of the food chain. Sure, it’s nice to be able to buy a cheap TV at Wally-mart. Yet and still, building an economy off low-cost, disposable consumer goods doesn’t seem like too promising a strategy to me. And I’m putting Jeff Faux’s new “Servant Economy” book on the reading list come mid-November. It’s nice to think that I might be able to read on it by a nice fire on some cold days when I’m not laboring about the house.

Additionally, any decent student of American history, especially the southern flavored version, knows how the bossmen and landed often worked to make sure commonfolks didn’t unite across racial lines. The same applies to some religions and other cultural differences all too easily exploited by the Big Mules. Also, don’t ignore how the mill owner moved down South and soon set up a preacher to talk about how good Christians stored up rewards in the next life and needed to mind their place in this one.

Demographics are going to change things as well, assuming we can just hang on a little longer. Old geezers yelling at an imaginary President can’t carry the day. At some point, all but a rare few will figure out that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and … are lying liars paid handsomely to distract people from looking up the food chain. And Lord knows we’ve plenty of local versions across the land who imagine they might be the next Glenn Beck crying all the way to the bank.

So the gig’s up. Or it soon will be. I hope. And, either way it goes, I’m going to be able one day to tell grandkids or somebody that I was there. Maybe I’ll have some way of preserving bytes but I surely have my books and some notes. The camera is heading north as well and I’ll try to keep it handy and also use the darned thing.  I already have stories to tell but I’m about to go get me some more. As to when I might be able to share them, well, it beats me. We shall see.
Respectfully, john gunn

Friday, January 20, 2012

Governor Bentley and the sad state of Alabama education policy

Perhaps fourteen hour days are too taxing for Alabama Governor Robert Bentley yet his Thursday evening talk with the Greater Gardendale Chamber of Commerce has me motivated enough to actually take the time to write a proper post. Via "Bentley speaks about jobs,health, other topics to Gardendale chamber" from Lisa Osburn, we find:
As for education, Bentley said he was tired of the bureaucracy that has held the state back for too many years. He plans to propose a limited number of charter schools, perhaps even a single-sex charter school, to see if they work for Alabama. He said he also wants performance to be part of teacher evaluations.
Bureaucracy holds us back? A single-sex charter school? And what do teacher evaluations consist of, if not performance? Huh?

I guess it's conservative gospel that bashing bureaucrats is proper for a Governor's evening on the town.  I expect folks attending the Greater (Is there a Lesser?) Gardendale Chamber of Commerce banquet ate this up along with their rubber chicken.  That G-dale is the home of Alabama State Senator Scott Beason, actively seeking even higher office despite his fumbles and bumbles, might be worth recalling.  Seriously, doesn't this local chamber of commerce have members who are bureaucrats?

I'm especially troubled by Governor Bentley talking up a single sex approach to education.  Sharing "The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling" and the work of "The American Council for CoEducational Schooling" out of Arizona State University is obligatory.  Seriously, what's Governor Bentley getting for our $70K he's paying to his new Education Director?  Doesn't Emily Schultz need to make sure her boss understands some actual policy? To be fair, it's likely she wasn't asked. After all, her job is to explicitly promote a certain "reform" isn't it?

Still, I'm most confused how our dermatologist in chief can be this loosey goosey with another profession.  Then again, politicians, the business community, and other arguably well-meaning citizens frequently do frequently impose their ideas into our schools.  And, since it's a taxpayer-funded and critical effort, that's appropriate up to a point.  Educators actually want citizens to understand the hard work they do and the circumstances under which they labor.  Many have long felt I'm sure that if the biz whiz politicians would walk a mile or two in our shoes then most of their "solutions" would improve.

However, let's not ignore the reality that many in the "education reform" community are acting out of unadulterated self interest. Ayn Rand would be proud. The chance for various management firms, real estate developers, and such to make a fortune is undeniable. "The Big Enchilda" is how Jonathan Kozol described the way the big money desperately wants into the education business.  Furthermore, I am somewhat uncomfortable with billionaires dictating and promoting public policy.  The thing is that our schools are often starved for resources and the problems of endemic poverty are such that every dollar helps.  I just don't know that funding a narrow agenda is always done simply for philanthropic reasons.

Movement conservatives are surely eager to wound any public sector effort and especially one where unions hold some influence.  We know the new Sheriff of Goat Hill and most of his team is chapped with AEA, with many who favored the Gubernatorial candidate who wasn't Robert Bentley being especially steamed.  Recently, we even have the Alabama Policy Institute taking the memory of Dr. King and turning it into a call to loosen the market magic upon Alabama schools.  This is the group who was nailed for manipulating statistics so I suppose they have not shame in twisting MLK's legacy into their bent agenda.

This policy shop will, just like Governor Bentley and many others in the conservative camp, tell us how we ought to reward "high performing" teachers but yet they'll avoid the inconvenient fact that no purely objective measure exists upon which this policy prescription is based.  More than likely there will never be such an instrument and, even then, how do we measure in neat, business type terms how a teacher inspires a student, teaches them to critically approach information, and otherwise become stellar citizens.  It's more of the top-down accountability movement that was flawed from the get go but now is even lamented by once strong supporters like Dr. Diane Ravitch.  We've a system where a #2 pencil on tests and material that make a few companies a mint drives a curriculum that's often an inch deep but a mile wide. We're data obsessed not data driven. And it's as wrong a nine-eyed rat.

Of course, the Alabama Policy Institute is just one of the many state level "think tanks" in the State Policy Network's realm.  I recently stumbled across the documentary "Flunked" providing a nice list of these Friedmanite, neo-liberal, market fundamentalists groups interested in education "reform."  I'll confess to never hearing of "Flunked" yet the length Washington State's Evergreen Freedom Foundation (yup, a State Policy Network baby) went to hide its role in the production is interesting.  For what it's worth, the more well known and very successful "Waiting for Superman" also didn't exactly publicize the Gates, Broad, hedge funds, and ... money upon which it was funded.  Truly, if we want to be ready to work against all this radicalism in education and other critical public policy areas impacting the commons, it's smart to be aware of how well funded and coordinated are many of these groups.

As the Goat Hill gang prepares for the new session, we still don't see the new charter school legislation do we?  I've surely looked on Alison to no avail.  Perhaps they'll recycle last year's version?  You'd think they'd make sure citizens had a chance to look at such a critical "reform" to education.  After all, there's a charter school piece almost every day or so in Alabama media.  Yesterday, I learned that Senator Dick Brewbacker (R-Elmore) is going to lead the charge.  That he's a third generation car dealer who went to and briefly taught in private schools seems about par for the course.  His work with the noted education reformer Fob James is also perfect preparation.

For what it's worth, and it's a bit of a rabbit hunt away from the topic, Governor Bentley lamented the woes to our General Fund now that "federal stimulus money is gone."  Mercy heavens, we surely do love Uncle Sam's cash even while any politician we elect in Alabama pretty much must master the art of fussing about the "fedril gubmint."  Governor Bentley is still asking us to borrow $2 billion to build and repair infrastructure.  Borrowing?  Billions?  Infrastructure?  If he's not careful, the Madison County Republican Committee is going to kick him off the ballot.  And he's pressing for a comprehensive effort aimed at obesity like he's some sort of Michelle Obama.

Lastly, and back on track, the research on charter schools seems to be rather clear.  And I still don't know much that charter schools can do than traditional schools can beyond hire uncertified staff with limited protections as profiteers take a cut from taxpayer money.  Seriously, why not just make it easier for school boards to roll out magnet schools and such?  That innovation occurs in classrooms across our nations and we're doing pretty good all things (like poverty, family chaos, or even over-stimulated and under-motivated students for instance) considered is something these ideologues conveniently ignore.

I'm beat as I truly had to avoid outright ranting from a pedantic posture as education "reform" gets my Scots up. I kept having to cull material as the "reform" movement is prolific in the propaganda they push.  How mooncat and some of the others at Left in Alabama pound out regular content impresses me even more.  I can't fathom how I once blogged regularly. I do welcome comments, both positive and otherwise but I'm going to head over to Twitter where short and sweet suffices.  Respectfully, john gunn

Update ~ 1348 on 20 Jan 12 ~ This post was put up on  Left in Alabama  first and there's even a silly poll in the tradition of narrow answers recently illustrated by State Senator Cam Ward should you got that route.  Darned if this old computer of mine isn't on its last leg plus I can't seem to get the hang of .html editing after all this time.  The best thing about old Blogger is that it's free but it's also surely user friendly for just one lone voice.