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Saturday, December 24, 2005

The 2005 Ozarks Angel

I started this blog back in May when I had a couple of days off from work due to a swollen nut. That healed up nicely, in case you were wondering, but I'm still paying the $800 bill. Gotta love our healthcare system - oh, and my wonderful school health insurance covered a whopping $82. Anyway, that was an unlikely topic to start a blog, but there it is. Now, some 3,400 clicks later, we're still plugging away. Here's a review of the year 2005 sifted through some of the Ozarks Angel posts.

Of course, the really huge story that christened this crazy year of 2005 was the slow discovery of the devastation incurred by the killer tsunami that swept away some quarter of a million lives in Asia. Here at home, president Bush was characteristically distant and, despite daily briefings, seemingly uninformed about the magnitude of this disaster - a foreshadowing of his lackadaisical response to the Katrina disaster seven months later. It seems Bush can only get himself worked up if there's evil afoot. These natural disasters just don't move him much, whether foreign or in the "homeland". There's no bad guy involved. It does seem odd, though, that a man who feels called of God to fight tyranny (at least in oil-rich parts of the world) can be so indifferent to cataclysmic acts of God that dwarf his man-made crusade in Iraq.

By March of 2005, the American public and media, which we now can confirm suffers from acute Attention Deficit Disorder, had turned its attention to the plight of Terri Schiavo, whose feeding tube was finally yanked after numerous judicial appeals and a great gnashing of teeth from the Christian right - but not before a special session of Congress was called by Republican leadership as they sought to keep her brain-dead body alive for still more court appeals. President Bush, at the urging of his handlers, leaped to action this time and cut his vacation short in order to get the federal courts to deter Ms. Schiavo's natural departure from this life. Talk about skewed priorities. The Ozarks Angel spoke briefly to this issue when we reviewed an article from an Assemblies of God. Strange, we don't get mail from A/G anymore.

Pope John Paul II died in April - like Schiavo, another case of a person living too long. Not to be disrespectful, but this once vital and energetic man, who will be regarded as one of the greatest popes of modern times for helping to bring down the Soviet empire, was reduced in his final days to muttering unintelligible homilies and waving at pigeons from his balcony. Some of my best friends are Catholic, but I've never understood the appeal of this religion. I see Catholicism, from my vantage point here in the hills, as a male-dominated, authoritarian, superstition-filled holdover from medieval times. I don't think the new pope is going to do much to alter that view, but we mentioned back in July how folks here in God's Country seem to like Pope Benedict, particularly for his stand against homosexuality.

In May, we wrote about how the Springfield police had busted Mayor Carlson's son and fast-tracked the lab work in order to beat the mayoral election. Chief Rowe brought in a buddy from Miami, Florida, of all places, to oversee the internal investigation. This intense search for the facts, of course, turned up no misdeeds whatsoever by SPD. Was anybody shocked? The story was basically buried, and Carlson's son pleaded guilty a few weeks ago.

In Middle School Mind, we see a teacher trying to explain the Iraq invasion to a class of inquisitive adolescents. Some seven months later, the concluding statement still stands true.
"So, based on the newspaper day discussion in Exploratory class, one could conclude that we are at war in Iraq more out of ignorance than duty and that our busy lives won't allow us the time nor the inclination to find the truth behind the spin."
Some of the Bush spin on Iraq has come unraveled a bit since then, but even the most obvious truths become a hard sell when lies and half-truths are so persuasively marketed by those in power. Here in God's Country, Bush still gets high marks for his handling of the war - but Vlad the Impaler would get high marks around here if he was a Republican.

Probably the most frequently downloaded image from Ozarks Angel is the Hammons Field photo from May 30. I still maintain the return of real minor league baseball was the most significant event in Springfield in the last fifty years.


Another very popular download (even though I stole it from another website) is the photo of Washington girl-about-town, Jessica Cutler, whose between-the-sheets blog, The Washingtonienne, revealed the secret sex lives of certain anonymous diplomats. My favorite line: "Oh my god, I'm fucking six different men, ew." Ms. Cutler has a new blog called Jessica Cutler Online.

In July, I found myself whining about the mainstream media and wondered if the Valerie Plame scandal might finally get some people looking at the unethical and unconstitutional activities of the Bush administration. I speculated that Cheney and Rove were behind the whole thing, and that has turned out to be accurate. It looks as though Rove lied to the grand jury, and Cheney's little toady, Scooter Libby, was chosen as the one to fall on his sword to protect our stealth president from indictment.

In mid-July, we featured a story criticizing Bush's war on terror, pointing out how he and his neocon pals ignored advice from nearly every quarter in pressing for war in Iraq. One of our dictator allies in the Middle East, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who "won" re-election in a fixed vote this fall, was one of many world leaders who tried to dissuade Bush & Co. from invading Iraq. He warned that such an invasion would create 100 Bin Ladens and turn even moderate Arabs against the U. S. His warning proved to be true - the invasion of Iraq has inspired tens of thousands of young Islamic men to join the jihad against the infidel invaders from America. Our own military, however, is having trouble meeting recruitment quotas.

In late July and August we started posting some cartoons from the springfieldian, a little underground newspaper that circulated around town during the early 90's. These turned out to be some of the most frequently downloaded images from Ozarks Angel, especially SPD Blues and cartoon parodies of Charlie Brown and Garfield that had a local twist.

Another frequently visited story was the strange and twisted tale of the "Self-Abduction of Tim Carpenter", the James River Assembly associate pastor who chose to fake his own abduction rather than face up to his wife, family and church that he was carrying on with a Jezebel in Memphis. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

In mid-August, right before the first day of school, our brilliant school board chose to roll back a much sought after tax levy, which sent all kinds of wrong signals to the community and to R-12 teachers. It was an awful start for new superintendent, Norm Ridder, but there will be much more on the education front in Ozarks Angel this year. Among other things, there's a new quality initiative being pushed by Dr. Ridder that could lead to some real changes at the administrative level and in the classroom. I'm hopeful but skeptical.

By September, we were talking about the Drowning of New Orleans and how warnings of impending disaster had been ignored for years. Of course, nothing was going to happen on that front during the Bush administration. Yer doin' a great job Bushie!

If hurricane Katrina exposed the administration's indifference to the poor, the nomination of Harriet Miers exposed Bush's blatant arrogance and ignorance when it came to high-stakes judicial appointments. Our Girl Harriet generated the most heated comments from readers - mainly because of my description of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas as an Uncle Tom. It's never helpful to bring race into the discussion, but I've always felt it was a very cynical appointment by daddy Bush. The Miers appointment surprised everybody - and the fact that conservatives were the most vocal critics sure surprised me. She would have done anything they wanted - but the nomination seemed so cavalier and disrespectful to the court, even the faithful stepped back from this one. The emperor's clothes were starting to unravel a bit.

In October we wrote about the Community Safety Initiative that would have funded a new crime lab and, more importantly, a program aimed at providing education services to poor children in a cooperative effort with the school system. The local citizenry were predictably wary of this "big government" approach to helping poor kids. "Let the parents take care of this," they wrote in letters to the editor. "It's big government taking over the family". The sad truth is, a growing number of parents aren't taking care of their children - it's a huge problem that nobody wants to talk about. Early childhood development is simply not a major concern here in God's country. We simply invest in bigger and better prisons to later house the large segment of under-educated poor folks who end up turning to drugs and criminal behavior to get by. Who will take up the slack and help the growing number of children born into poverty? Apparently nobody. Where do we look for help in dealing with poverty-related issues like this? Jefferson City? D. C.? Nothing there but cutbacks and vaccuous rhetoric. Maybe Jesus will come and save the children, you suppose? This local initiative was relatively small, but it had the potential to pay huge dividends in lowering crime and providing early basic education for poor children in our community. I was one of the minority of Springfieldians who were willing to invest an additional penny for every four dollars spent on this plan. The CSI initiative was, of course, summarily squashed by local voters in November.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas, Yada, Yada


I gave all my classes a test on the last day before Christmas break. Humbug! One kid asked why I was such a Scrooge, and my answer went something like this:

The original cause for celebration was suppose to be the birth of a spiritual being whose life and teachings changed the entire world and inspired countless millions of followers to love their neighbors as themselves, pursue peace over war and violence, protect the innocent, take care of the poor and sick and to spread love and understanding among all people, regardless of their social standing.

And what do we now do to celebrate this spiritual being's birth? We get out our credit cards and shop like madmen . . . we measure the season's success by keeping a close eye on consumer spending, credit card debt and whether or not massive department stores match their earnings estimates. We erect quaint little prop-up manger scenes outside fast food restaurants - I saw one manger scene in front of a Baptist church that had Santa Claus kneeling with the wise men. Aww, how precious.

It took generations to bastardize the Christmas season into this blind orgy of mass consumerism, but here we are, lining up like lemmings trying to get in the mall, deluding ourselves into thinking this is a spiritual holiday.

The best thing I can say about the holiday season is that, for better or worse, it brings families together. True, we dutifully buy gifts for people we don't care about much, but we also take time to give of ourselves to those we love immeasurably, and that is no small thing to remember. It helps get me through it all.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

No Surprise From Gov. Blunt


As if on cue, the morning after yesterday's Ozarks Angel post about how a Washington, D. C. political action group is supplying talking points for Republican politicians on education "reform", our esteemed boy-governor Blunt stepped right up and submits a News-Leader guest editorial that parrots virtually every point we wrote about last night. How wonderful it must be to have other people do your thinking for you.

As predicted, Blunt spoke of supplying 65% of funding "directly to the classrooms", and then went to bat for raising teacher salaries, which he called, presumably with a straight face, "the most important part of any school district's budget". Blunt then went on to describe how appalled he was that Missouri teacher salaries are ranked 44th in the U. S.. (If you can find a Republican governor or legislator who has called for teacher salary increases in the last 25 years, I'll buy you lunch.)

Last night I wrote that this 65% solution aims to pit teachers against administrators and teacher organizations. Blunt obligingly says "as pay for teachers lags, pay increases for administrators have been nothing short of massive . . . the average Missouri superintendent has received three times the additional compensation that has been found for teachers . . . I certainly value the work of superintendents," Blunt writes, "but I value teachers more."

You can see that the governor is going directly to the voter with these arguments and is likely to get little, if any, support from school boards and administrators.

Let me again excerpt a memo from the Washington, D. C. political action group (First Class Education) that is pushing this proposal:

"With the First Class Education issue on the ballot, Republicans will have a viable answer to 'in the classroom improvement of education' without the need to call for a tax increase, offsetting budget cuts in other popular programs or gimmick accounting and deficit spending." The memo also states that there are other "tangential political advantages," such as pitting teachers and administrators against each other and building support for school vouchers."

Blunt has chosen to call this push "Putting Our Students First". He estimates that cuts in administration, libraries, counseling, bus transportation, janitorial services, cooks and other jobs and services will net over $270 million for the classroom (books, technology, resources and teacher salaries).

And all this without one dollar of additional taxes . . . that's the part that will play well to the GOP faithful here in the 7th district.

There was an excellent editorial rebuttal to Blunt's piece by former Nixa superintendent Terry Reid.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

65% Solution Media Blitz Coming Soon



Be prepared for the next big thing in politically-motivated, GOP-backed bullshit regarding public education - the much-heralded and very controversial "65% Solution". It's coming to you via our esteemed boy-governor, Matt Blunt, in the form of a statewide referendum which is tentatively schedule for next November. I can almost hear the television commercials already.

This new educational shell game comes to us by way of a Washington, D. C. lobbying group called "First Class Education"(FCE) - an organization founded by millionaire entrepreneur Patrick M. Byrne, president of online shopping spot Overstock.com. Byrne, who is into martial arts and is a former boxer, fashions himself as the Robin Hood of public education. The 65% plan would supposedly improve classroom instruction by guaranteeing that 65% of all education revenue be directly targeted to teachers and students in the classroom. Sounds simple enough. This should play well here in God's country.

The idea is that educational bureaucracy promotes the mispending of education revenue on needless administrative fluff that is not directly related to the classroom. This sounds great on the surface. I've been one of the many teachers who believe there is a great deal of waste at the administrative level - not to mention some ridiculously high salaries. (The raise given Springfield's own superintendent last year represented 150% of my annual salary.)

Columnist George Will describes Byrne and his plan in an April Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post:

"Patrick Byrne, a 42-year-old bear of a man who bristles with ideas that have made him rich and restless, has an idea that can provide a new desktop computer for every student in America without costing taxpayers a new nickel. Or it could provide 300,000 new $40,000-a-year teachers without any increase in taxes. His idea -- call it the 65 Percent Solution -- is politically delicious because it unites parents, taxpayers and teachers while, he hopes, sowing dissension in the ranks of the teachers unions, which he considers the principal institutional impediment to improving primary and secondary education."

Politically delicious - yes indeed. This is why so many Republican governors are salivating at the idea of presenting this highly-marketable idea to the voting public. But is a referendum even necessary? Why not just present a bill and get it passed? Robert Leger, editorial page editor for our own News-Leader, questions Boy Blunt's motivation in his November 27 editorial. Leger wonders:

"So why a statewide vote? The top race on the November ballot will be the hotly contested campaign between Sen. Jim Talent and his Democratic challenger, Auditor Claire McCaskill. The issue conceivably helps the Republican.
Blunt, who has his own challenge from Attorney General Jay Nixon looming in 2008, would likely be featured in television ads supporting classroom teachers. That could help boost the image of a governor saddled with some of the lowest approval ratings in the nation."

Leger also mentions a memo emanating from the D. C. headquarters of "First Class Education which states:

"With the First Class Education issue on the ballot, Republicans will have a viable answer to 'in the classroom improvement of education' without the need to call for a tax increase, offsetting budget cuts in other popular programs or gimmick accounting and deficit spending.

The memo also lists other "tangential political advantages," such as pitting teachers and administrators against each other and building support for school vouchers."

Aha! The Trojan Horse has been exposed! This big initiative begins to look and sound very much like a Republican marketing plan to undo public education. How clever - plus, as an added bonus, it could also place teachers at odds with their own professional organizations like the NEA. FCE founder Byrne does little to hide his disdain for the nation's largest teacher's union. He once said that if he had one silver bullet he would use it to eliminate the NEA, an organization he views as a haven for "educrats". My experience, however, has been that the NEA has fought administrative over-spending and fluff in order to put more money into the classroom and increase teacher salaries, which is precisely what the "65% Solution" purports to do.

It's all very interesting. And I have to admit, even as an active NEA member, that the idea of cutting our top-heavy administrative positions and salaries in order to increase teacher pay and reduce class size makes perfect sense.

You can see how this will be marketed, and you can be sure the debate over this 'solution' will be loud and rancorous. Missouri NEA president, Greg Jung, has already issued a pointed rebuttal to the proposal, calling it "the 65% deception." Most opponents point to what they believe will be huge cuts in school libraries and counseling services, just for starters.

Though there are aspects of this 'solution' that appeal to me, I don't trust the GOP to back anything regarding public education because I strongly suspect their underlying long-term effort aims to promote a voucher system that will further stratify our society. On the other hand, I've been calling for education reform, particularly in the form of administrative cuts, for as long as I can remember.

Governor Blunt's little trial balloon on this issue sailed into town a couple of weeks ago, and it was routinely punctured by local school board officials, who criticized it as a "one size fits all" measure that imposed statewide standards indiscriminantly on diverse school systems - and diminishes local control. We'll be hearing more on this, you can bet on it.

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