Friday, December 30, 2011

Payroll Tax Cut and Stability of Social Security

Critics of the passage of the payroll tax exemption are arguing that it portends a dangerous new direction for the one basic safety net that most Americans agree on preserving. The new direction weakens the entire premise of the program. And, while I do not pay into Social Security, I understand and at least somewhat agree with the criticism. Certainly, this extension is weakening the overall funding of the program, and I was surprised to learn this is the first ever cut in the payroll tax. The idea of using such a cut as stimulus is dubious at best. The same goes for the seemingly unlimited extensions in unemployment. There has to be a point at which the government ceases to continually fund unemployment - especially because there is no legitimate means testing for this benefit. Ultimately, Americans need to commit to precision surgery to save the limb of the basics of a safety net.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Waiting for the Huntsman Surge

So, it's now official. With the quick rise and fall of the Ron Paul campaign, and the recent rise in the polls of Rick Santorum, every candidate on the official GOP stage has surged to the front with the exception of Jon Huntsman. What gives?

Why are GOP primary voters so completely opposed to, or uninterested in, a strong conservative governor from one of the most conservative states in the union. Is it really about his two years as an ambassador to China under the Obama administration? Would it be that petty?

It can't be that they find him boring or un-engaging because even Tim Pawlenty was topping the polls for a while.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Don't Know Much About ...

It never seems to amaze Americans that apparently none of them knows much about anything, and they are outraged as they point fingers ... or they just laughingly dismiss it because they don't really care. Whenever new polls reveal how little students are learning or how many college students need remediation or how few Americans are really informed on the pertinent issues in an election, there is brief coverage and even cries of doom and gloom. And then Americans go back to their daily lives because they know as much as they need to know to live the lives they are reasonably satisfied living.

However, we are a curious people. And we sometimes want to know what it is we need to know. And this phenomenon has been quite lucrative to some innovative writers and thinkers over the years. Most notable is a man named Kenneth C. Davis, who twenty years ago published a book called Don't Know Much about History which spent thirty-five weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list. Davis - a man who never graduated college - had a knack for distilling the complex details of the nation's history down into digestible tidbits written in a clever voice that gave people the basic knowledge they might want to know about the Boston Tea Party or the New Deal or Brown vs the Board of Education.

Of course, some will criticize Davis as being a hack who dummies down true liberal arts knowledge. And, in many ways, he may be the pioneer of the "For Dummies" books. Years ago, I got into a small spat with a fellow teacher after my freshman students were complaining about the notoriously heavy and convoluted American history text they had to lug around. I grabbed Davis' book off the shelf and recommended the school switch its required text because Davis' book had "all they were going to remember anyway." Probably an imprudent choice of words.

Anyway, these days, Davis has built himself a nice cottage industry of "Don't Know Much About ..." books. And I wonder how history should judge his contribution.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Teacher Contracts and Hours

If you are a teacher, do you consider yourself an hourly employee?

Most, if not all, public school teachers are salaried employees. Thus, they are not punching a clock each day. However, teacher contracts inevitably make specific mention of "contract time," and many teachers - and teachers unions - are particularly sensitive to rigid guidelines about exactly when a teacher must be "at work." This situation is problematic at times, especially in terms of management and administration. Certainly, teachers should not be expected to work constantly and always be available to students. They shouldn't have to attend all events or be on call at home. At the same time, teachers need to be accessible to students for a reasonable time before and after school. And it really surprises me when teachers are gone from school within fifteen minutes of the bell. I've always been troubled by the issue of contract time, and the idea that teachers supposedly do a lot of work at home and therefore don't need to stay at school.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Separate but Equal In Colorado?

According to District Judge Sheila Rappaport, the formula for school funding in Colorado is inadequate and, subsequently, fails the state constitution's mandate to provide a "thorough and uniform system of free public schools." The story behind her ruling has been brewing for years after a group of parents from the San Luis Valley filed suit against the state for negligence in guaranteeing sufficient funding to all school districts in Colorado. Eventually, the suit grew with the help of education advocates to include all school districts in the state. Last week, Governor Hickenlooper said the state will appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Certainly, this is a complex and convoluted issue, as the discrepancies between schools statewide and nationwide is not disputed. Even within districts, schools are often inconsistent in not only the delivery of education but also the results. Without doubt, more affluent suburban districts always outperform poorer, urban, and rural areas. However, there is no clear or easy answer to solving the inconsistent results. While Colorado must provide a "uniform system," there is no guarantee of specific classes or textbooks or set levels of funding or education levels of students, etc.

On a post-note: it seems interesting that Taylor Lobato, whose parents were the originators of the suit, is now a successful student at the University of Denver - one of the top two elite academic schools in Colorado. Clearly, the discrepancies in her high school education did not inhibit her ability to gain admission to a top college, nor did it inadequately prepare her to be successful at a top school.

So, where does that leave us?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Break Means Break

As a rule, I do not assign homework over fall, winter, or spring break. To do so would negate the very nature of the word "break." Certainly, I hope students will pick up a book or engage their minds critically during the week or two off. But to claim they will "lose it" if they don't "use it" during a holiday is ridiculous. And the idea of a major project such as a research paper during a break is simply wrong. I'm not grading papers during breaks - though I am an obsessive lesson planner, so I am always doing something work related. But the idea of kids handing me papers on the first day back is nauseating. We already live and work in a country where we are terrible about actually taking vacations and being off the clock. So let breaks be breaks.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Teacher Retirement

Public worker pensions are in trouble across the country - and there's little sympathy these days for people who generally have a better gig than Social Security. Of course, remember that public workers neither pay into nor receive Social Security, so their pension is all they have. And in many places the public pensions are written into the state constitutions, so the state is constitutionally mandated to pay, regardless of what revenues must be raised to do so. And that can be a recipe for fiscal disaster.

I tend to get into trouble with public workers when I argue that the retirement benefits for many are untenable for the future. Retiring at the age of 55 and drawing 80% of salary for thirty years is a hell of a deal for workers, but ultimately not a sound financial strategy for the whole system. Workers will claim they made a deal to accept lower wages in exchange for better benefits and earlier retirement. Somehow, I don't see that as the official statement on the contracts over the years, though workers have accepted it as gospel.

The reality now is that public workers are not necessarily accepting sub-market wages in exchange for a nice retirement deal. Certainly, statistics show higher wages in the private sector for comparable education and experience. But that's not really the point. There is no guarantee that all public workers would be making more if they hadn't "sacrificed the big bucks" for public service. And, wages they "could be making" are really beside the point.

The point is no retired teacher should be drawing a $150,000 a year in pension for thirty years.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

High Teacher Salaries in Illinois

A high school physical education teacher in the Chicago suburbs leads the news of shocking teacher salaries by pulling in a yearly salary of $203,154.

I know, I know. It baffles the mind.

The contentious issue of teacher salaries and benefits is always controversial, especially in the current economy with state budgets strained. As a teacher, I've never had any complaints with my salary and benefits, and people have long explained how they feel teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated. However, as the latest release from Bill Zettler at Champion News reveals, that is certainly not the case for teachers in many of the Chicago suburbs. Zettler's website,, has published Illinois teacher salaries for years with his agenda of being a taxpayer watchdog.

Certainly, this type of information is nearly indefensible. $200K for teaching PE? I don't care how long he's been working or how successful he is or how high the cost of living is. And, I am sure that he is doing more than teaching kids to play hockey with those pathetic plastic sticks. He's probably coaching and teaching summer school and chairing the phys ed dept. But there's simply no way to justify this to taxpayers ... or other teachers in Illinois. And, of course, Illinois's budget and pension system are absolutely busted at this point. So, the thought of this man retiring by the age of 57 and drawing a $150,000 yearly pension for twenty or thirty years is simply beyond the pale. The same goes for the thousands of other teachers in Chicagoland who are drawing upwards of $180K. Teaching simply shouldn't draw that kind of cash in a budget strapped state.

However, I take exception to Zettler's website which disingenuously fails to distinguish these salaries and districts from the majority of teachers in Illinois. I taught for years in southern Illinois and made nowhere near that money. In fact, the pay scale for Edwardsville School District, near St. Louis, starts teachers in the mid-thirties and tops out at $69K. That top only comes with a Master's degree, plus 32 graduate credit hours, and thirty years of service. Most teachers are not ever topping out in a places like that. And that pay scale is fairly average for the state of Illinois.

So, while ChampionsNews is right to spotlight the extremes of teacher pay in some Chicago suburbs, most teachers are not rolling in dough.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tebow - All He Does Is Win

At this point, there is no counter argument because all he does is win. Maybe the whole state of Colorado should go to church on Sunday.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Perception vs Reality

Isn't it strange that as of last June, the United States has become a net exporter of oil. We're exporting more oil than we import. Kind of challenges that idea of more drilling ending the country's dependence on foreign oil. Cause it doesn't stay here, regardless of what people want to think.

And, isn't it strange that the yen is so strong right now, yet Japan's debt has been downgraded for years, its economic growth is in its second decade of stagnation, and its top company Toyota is scaling back profit projections and production.

That's the essence of complex systems and public mis-perception.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pujols and Baseball's Financial Madness


OK, now that I got that out of my system, I can express my profound disappointment in the decision by Albert Pujols to leave the St. Louis Cardinals - the best baseball town and team in America and one that revere(d) him - for more money in California.

He is, no longer, Sir Albert.

Certainly, every man has the right and the free will to pursue the best financial deal available for his services. And Albert's services are definitely among the most valuable in the game for going on a decade now. However, in a place like St. Louis where legends like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith finished illustrious Hall of Fame careers, baseball is more than a paycheck. Loyalty is paramount in the town where baseball is religion.

Interestingly, I recently re-read Bob Costas' seminal baseball treatise Fair Ball: a Fan's Case for Baseball and it perfectly encapsulates the problems with baseball. They are pretty much all about money, greed, the bottom line, the players' union's myopic focus on salary, and the problems this creates for what was sport's purist game. That it is all about the paycheck and nothing more is disheartening, and many in St. Louis naively and foolishly believed Albert was above that. I don't wish him well - I don't wish him anything at all. His wishes have all come true - I'm just surprised his wishes are so devoid of emotion. So, we're left with the memories, and I'll simply conclude that Albert has, for me, left the game, and it wasn't really "for love of the game." Am I wrong? Am I jaded? Is this unfair? Whatever.

The statue of Stan Musial outside St. Louis' Busch Stadium is inscribed - Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight.

Stan "the Man" remains the only one.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Leno Promotes Welders

Jay Leno - car enthusiast - has a video promoting the career of welding as not only a lucrative and fulfilling job, but as the foundation of the country and our rich industrial history. When will school leaders and reformers do the same?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Support Wikipedia

Wikipedia is in need of financial support, and if you use it, even sporadically, I urge you to donate a little cash to this invaluable online information source. This morning I made a small donation because I understand that nothing is for free. The source is free of advertising, and that is a significant condition for a site devoted to the free exchange of information.

Check out this message from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. You can also make the donation from the page.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Politicians Fail Econ 101

While people are quick to criticize college professors as living in the Ivory Tower, it's hard to dispute the criticisms they make of our current presidential aspirants. In a recent piece for CNN Money Magazine, Charles Riley reports from the college campuses where many economics professors argue the presidential candidates - including President Obama - would flunk a basic course in economics.

For example, America's Econ 101 professors say yes. In their view, the candidates continue to offer ideas and policies that wouldn't pass muster in their classes -- populated by 18 year-old college students. "There are so many economic 'misstatements' being made," said Jonathan Lanning, a professor at Bryn Mawr who is teaching two introductory economics classes this semester. "And it isn't confined to any one candidate." Michele Bachmann promised to bring back $2 gas. Tim Pawlenty suggested sustained 5% GDP growth was a realistic target. Rick Perry would balance the budget with lower tax revenues.

Another professor who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Michael Salemi, was able to identify statements from six candidates that "would earn failing grades in my Econ 101 class." Salemi called Ron Paul's rationale for returning to the gold standard "one of the most dangerous ideas put forward by a politician in recent years." And the idea of waging a trade war with China that was bandied about by Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney at a recent debate? "If we learned anything from the Great Depression it was that starting a trade war by passing new tariffs leads to reprisals," Salemi said. "In the end there are no winners, only losers."

And it's not just Republicans -- the Democratic candidate is slipping too. Neither "side" has a "truly comprehensive understanding of even basic economics," Lanning said. Nelson pointed to President Obama's green jobs initiative, which he said is an attempt to wed job creation and energy production in a way that is unlikely to produce real results. "They should either concentrate on a policy that aids job creation or a policy that creates more green energy; attempts to do both with one policy means they do well on neither goal," Nelson said.

Certainly, we see politics through an ideological bias. But numbers don't lie. And the criticism from econ professors of many political soundbites is accurate.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jooble for Jobs

Jobs, jobs, jobs.

That's the focus these days, and everybody has an opinion. How we create jobs and connect people with available jobs is at the foundation. And the internet is a key to job creation and networking that the country so desperately needs. In the past, it was all about job fairs and classified ads. Now, we have a myriad of websites from Monster to CraigsList. In fact, I've looked for freelance writing and education jobs on Craigslist before.

Another website that may be of interest to job seekers is called - jooble. I recently learned of the jooble website, and I took a few minutes browse around. The site is pretty straightforward and accessible, though I admit I haven't used it to actually connect with employers.

At this point, our economy is moving in new direction with employment, and who knows what it will look like in the future. But it will most certainly include more freelancing and sites like jooble are certainly a part of that.

Worth taking a look if you're looking for work.

Conservative Appeals Court Upholds ACA

Consider this from the Court of Appeals:

"That a direct requirement for most Americans to purchase any product or service seems an intrusive exercise of legislative power surely explains why Congress has not used this authority before – but that seems to us a political judgment rather than a recognition of constitutional limitations," Judge Laurence Silberman, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan wrote in the court's opinion. Silberman was joined by Judge Harry Edwards, a Carter appointee. But, they added, "The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute and yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Samuelson Busts Budget Myths

While I don't feel good about any options for repairing the budget - and I'm still torn between which party I think is more screwed up - I do know what I think about the current budget mess and the shameless campaigning that is going on regarding it. Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post voices my sentiments exactly on this catastrophe today in the Washington Post

Among Samuelson's many - and obvious - insights:

... Many government programs deserve the ax. I’ve railed against some for years: farm subsidies (food would be produced without them); Amtrak (it is non-essential transportation); public broadcasting and culture subsidies (these are unaffordable frills); community development block grants (they generally don’t enrich poor communities).

Entitlements — mainly Social Security and Medicare — should be trimmed. I’ve also made that a crusade. We need higher eligibility ages to reflect longer life expectancies. Wealthier retirees should receive less Social Security and pay more for Medicare.

But plausible savings don’t match conservative rhetoric. All the suspect “discretionary” programs come to tens of billions, not hundreds of billions. Culture subsidies total about $1 billion annually; community block grants in 2010 were $4 billion. Meanwhile, total federal spending was $3.5 trillion. Do conservatives really want to eliminate the national parks? The FBI? Highways? Food inspections?

And, of course, this:

Contrary to liberal dogma, the rich already pay plenty of taxes. Indeed, they pay for government. In 2007, the richest 1 percent of Americans paid 28 percent of all federal taxes; the richest 10 percent (including the 1 percent) paid 55 percent.

For most millionaires, federal tax rates — the share of income taxed — exceed 30 percent. Some rich have lower rates. Raising these rates is justified but wouldn’t balance the budget. The plan by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for a 5.6 percentage point surtax on incomes exceeding $1 million would raise an estimated $453 billion over 10 years. Deficits over the decade are realistically projected at $8.5 trillion.

As for the Pentagon, the military was cut sharply after the Cold War. Combat forces are half to two-thirds of 1990 levels. Defense spending as a share of national income is headed toward its lowest level since 1940.

What liberals don’t say is this: Unless Social Security and Medicare benefits — the bulk of the budget — are reduced, we face three dismal choices. Huge, unsustainable deficits. Massive tax increases on the middle class, as high as 50 percent over 10 to 15 years. Or draconian cuts in the discretionary programs that liberals accuse conservatives of wanting to gut.

And, so, we are left with a super-committee that will, by most accounts, accomplish nothing. Where have you gone Tip O'Neill/Ronald Reagan?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Better World

Recently, I gave an argumentative writing prompt to my senior Intro to College Comp class, asking them if the "world is getting better." The subsequent discussion - as they debated their positions in class - confirmed most of what I believe about young people. Roughly two-thirds of the class saw the world as improving, while the rest were more pessimistic. Both side made valid assertions, and the discussion reinforced my opinion. Despite all the naysayers of gloom and doom on issues from education to the economy to health care to the environment to our "culture," I'm upbeat and hopeful about the time in which I live - and I can't imagine wishing to live in any other era.

Certainly, reasons for pessimism abound, and the economy/fiscal/jobs crisis leads the charge. Disparity in wealth at current levels is never good for a society, and the lack of solutions about how to reverse the credit/cash crunch are slim. Rising health care costs always make me anxious, and I see no end for the conflict about how to cut spending and raise revenue for society to meet its basic expectations. Education costs are certainly getting out of hand, and the results for sixty percent of our population are disheartening. Additionally, I worry about popular culture and its licentiousness as my children head toward adolescence.

Nevertheless, the world is a wonderfully opportunistic place these days, and the future knows no limits. My students talked about the increases in technology that improve health care and daily life. They reminded me how many students are taking advanced calculus and sciences in high school - the types of classes reserved for college in the past. They are an incredibly tolerant generation who will probably see less violent crime and prejudice in their world. While the war against islamic terrorism is certainly troublesome, the world sees far fewer wars and deaths from violence than at almost any time in history. Additionally, we have a lot of altruistic people out there who are doing the heavy lifting - and financing - with the hope of clean water and development for impoverished peoples. Changes are happening - albeit slowly - in education, and access is increasing worldwide.

Ultimately, the world is what we make it. And, thus, if our image is positive, our world most certainly will move in that direction. Thus, I asked my students at the end of class, not if the world was getting better, but if they were.

So, how about you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Better World & Civic Duty

What do you think about all the trash on the ground? Do you ever pick it up?

Many years ago, a friend of mine was living in Tokyo teaching English, and he occasionally conducted his own little experiments in civic duty. He would walk down the street with an empty Coke can or a chip bag 0r piece of paper, and then he would casually drop it. After walking further on, he would stop and observe the trash he'd left behind. It was never on the ground for longer than a minute.

Ghandi asked us to "Be the change you'd like to see in the world," and since a student reminded me of that - in an essay earlier this year - I've tried to pick up a little trash here and there. Because I walk to work and to the store and around my community for exercise, I've been trying to make the world a cleaner - if ever so slightly - place. It's usually a bottle here or a flyer there, and I don't go out of my way to pick up everything in my view. If I did, I would simply never get where I was going. But it doesn't take that much effort to pick a few pieces of trash up and throw them away.

I know, I know, it's not your problem, and if you pick up other people's trash, they'll never learn to do it on their own. Duh. They're not doing it on their own anyway. And it's not really about them, it's about the community in which you live.

So consider making a small effort to be that change and make the world a better - a cleaner - place. Pick up some trash.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Buffett Congressional Reform Plan

So, what do you think of this?

Warren Buffett, "I could end the deficit in 5 minutes," he told CNBC. "You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election. The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971...before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land...all because of public pressure.

*Congressional Reform Act of 2011*

1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their terms, then go home and back to work.

THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!! If you agree with the above, pass it on.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Voting Booths

The Occupy Wall Street - and Occupy [name city] - movement seems to be pretty motivated and pretty angry about the GOP and the conservative position that the White House - not a finance industry meltdown resulting from mortgage industry malfeasance - is responsible for the continuing economic doldrums. This is clearly a liberal, progressive, and moderate/independent response to the Tea Party, and they seem motivated, if not exactly clear on their goals.

However, as this article very clearly explains that progressives would be much more successful and have less need for these political demonstrations if they'd simply bothered to vote. Rather than occupying Wall Street and other city/state governments, the protestors should simply go home and make sure they are registered to vote - and then file their ballot. Rather than banging the drums of protest movements, they should be banging on the doors of their friends and fellow progressives and make sure these people are registered and voting.

The numbers on progressive votes are shocking. In 2008 65 million Democrats voted, a full 13 million more than the GOP. Yet, in 2010, thirty fewer million Democrats voted and that simple fact may have handed the US House of Representatives to the GOP. Certainly, independent voters have shifted as well. But the drop in progressive voting is hard to ignore. The 18-24 year old voting block dropped by a staggering 60%. That's the difference in the Democratic Party right there. So, the protestors ought to head home and do something that actually works - vote.

My mail-in ballot came today for city council and mayoral races, as well as a significant state revenue bill and several initiatives on open space. My wife will drop our ballots by City Hall tomorrow. Because, rather than get all hyped up in a tent across from the capital, I actually bother to participate in my republic. I actually understand how my government works. I vote for goodness sakes. In every election.

So .... get a clue, Hippies.

Cain Still Not Able

While Herman Cain became intriguing to GOP primary voters, the national media played its inevitable role in digging up the dirt. Certainly, the bizarre rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," with Cain lamenting a "world with no pizza" is fodder for the late night comedians as well as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Though, GOPers will point to Clinton playing the sax on Arsenio as just as embarrassing. And we won't even talk about Howard Dean's primal scream.

But, it's the policy questions forthcoming that reveal a tale that unnerves me. Cain seems so clearly aloof to basic issues in the world, that I simply can't imagine even considering him as a candidate. And, of course, I am not talking about the "gotcha" questions of the Prime Minister of Sweden. Candidates need advisers to provide all the details on the myriad of national issues. But knowing the term "neoconservative" would seem like a pretty basic question for the GOP candidates. Maybe not. And there is plenty to criticize about the knowledge of many former presidents and candidates. But knowledge really should count for something. And Cain hasn't shown a lot.

This apparent shameless ignorance of the world baffled me with the GOP support of Palin, and it's happening all over again with Cain. I just don't get how reasonably educated and informed people can overlook such vast ignorance in others when it comes to picking presidential candidates ... or even congressman.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Third Party GOP

The current economic and political mess in America is a result of lost opportunities and missed chances. Looking over the past ten years, I can't help but wonder how the country would be faring if John McCain had simply beat George W. Bush in South Carolina. That would, arguably, have changed everything ... dare I say, for the better.

With that in mind, I won't argue the current fiscal crisis would be gone. Certainly, the housing and debt bubble would still have burst, and we would be in a down economy. And, if McCain had won in 2008, I doubt we'd be in better shape - and potentially far worse without the infusions of government cash that has kept the economy limping along.

But how about this? What if, in 2008, John McCain had reached out and made Hilary Clinton his vice-president? That would have changed everything. McCain - like he's done in marriage - simply picked the wrong woman to go to the dance with. America was hungry for change - and a truly bi-partisan ticket could have derailed the Obama Train.

So, with that in mind, I'd propose a new bi-partisan ticket for the GOP. When Romney secures the GOP nod, he should do everything he can to find a moderate Democrat - preferably a woman - to be his running mate. While Clinton is probably a "No," I wouldn't rule it out. And, if not Hilary, then perhaps ... I don't know. Claire McCaskill?

Come on. Mitt! Show us something new. Impress the country with some forward thinking. Let's offset those calls for a moderate third party by creating a coalition government.

Take a chance.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Partisan Politics

So, Henry Reid unilaterally changes Senate rules this week in a power grab, eliciting cries of the "nuclear option" and the GOP vowing retaliation.

And then across the aisle, Colorado's Secretary of State Scott Gessler said this week - at a GOP fundraiser - his goal is not to encourage voting or conduct fair elections or maintain accurate records "but to further the conservative viewpoint."

Crazies to the left of me, nut-cases to the right ... "I'm stuck in the middle with you."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cain is Not Able

As Mitt Romney recovers from the Rick Perry flash-in-the-pan and the Chris Christie tease, he appears to be poised to once again take the nomination ... and very likely the presidency. However, one critical decision could secure or derail that trajectory - the choice of vice-president.

Herman Cain's candidacy will never succeed, and lets hope Mitt knows that when he thinks about running mates. For, mark my words, Herman Cain will be Mitt Romney's "Sarah Palin."

Romney needs a running mate with experience ... and Herman Cain needs to go run for city council somewhere.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Republican on Health Care

After visit to the Italian Fest in Denver - and watching people "enjoy" plenty of pizza and cannoli -I felt a slight philosophical shudder, a shift in my political center. All I need to do is go to a food festival or go to the mall or even go to the supermarket, and I feel an urgent need to "go Republican" on health care.

By that I mean, the issue of personal responsibility for health care is becoming more and more significant to me. Americans who give little thought to their diet, exercise, and health are literally costing me money. And, as cold as this may sound, I don't want to pay for their Medicare. And it may not even be about retirement - the poor eating and exercise habits of many Americans are clearly driving up my private sector premiums right now as well.

Obviously, increased demand and consumption - and advancements in technology/treatment - is what is driving up prices. And, on the national level with Medicare, it is only going to get worse. The biggest problem with our deficit is the millions of Baby Boomers who are retiring and signing up for their "all but free" health care for the next twenty or so years. And, let's face it, millions of these people are doing nothing to decrease their health care costs. They're not trying to get off their blood pressure medicine, they're not trying to decrease their risk of coronary hearth disease, they're not doing anything. And, we're going to be paying for it for decades and decades. And that really bothers me.

Now, of course, there is another side to this. I am under no illusion that this problem is entirely the fault of consumers - especially people like me and my family. Insurance companies are posting record profits, and they are jacking up premiums simply because they can. Some state governments are considering legislation that forces companies to spend a set percentage of medical services and lowering premiums. The insurance companies are certainly taking advantage of the fact that we are all terrified of getting cancer or getting in a car accident or tearing our ACL. And, so we could all get amazingly healthy, and the companies might still raise rates.

But, still. With the survival of Medicare in mind, I'm thinking, "Come on, people. Get a clue." Even conservative Bill O'Reilly has argued for years that we all have a interest in the health of others because their behavior directly affects our pocketbook. As much as a the libertarians want to whine when people seek to restrict and regulate consumption of "crap," one man's heart attack or high blood pressure or type II diabetes is certainly my business. So, lay off the fast food people. Period. Enough with the sodas. I'm serious. Stop plying your kids with processed versions of food, and get a clue about a little exercies.

Recently, after I criticized President Obama's jobs plan, I friend of mine said, "You're turning into a Republican." I laughed, knowing it's not about party for me. It's about money.

Now, go take a walk. And ask someone to go with you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Teen Athletes & Drinking

According to Mike Littwin of the Denver Post, high school athletic programs have "passed for too long" on the issue of teen drinking, and teen athletes who violate the law and their school rules and their team contracts by drinking "need to be broomed. History. See ya. End of story."

Littwin's comments in his Sunday column followed the news that number one-ranked 4A football team Valor Christian beat number three-ranked Pomona by an embarrassing score of 38-0. The caveat of this news came with the revelation that Pomona had suspended twelve of its starters for a game after they were caught drinking the previous weekend.

Littwin believes high schools - especially their athletic programs - have been completely lax for far too long, and it's reached a point where they practically condone the illegal behavior because the athletes have little fear of losing anything significant if they are caught. The students literally "don't care. They have no fear. Embarrassment? What's that? Honor? Yeah, right.

Sadly, "too many adults can't handle their own drinking," much less be bothered to worry about the actions of teens. Some even consider it a right of passage, a right of youth. And high schools who require contracts with their students for activities are undermining their authority by having policies with no teeth. Some even allow students to serve suspensions after the season is over. That is outrageous - but I hear about it all the time.

If the coaches and schools had any integrity, the policy would matter. Set the bar high. If a student is caught drinking or doing drugs in season he is out for the remainder of the season. Immediately. Period.

Is that too harsh? Littwin doesn't think so. Neither do I.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Unimpressive GOP Candidates

A recent discussion with a die-hard Republican about the current presidential candidates revealed a lot about the Grand Old Party ... and none of it seems good.

"The nominee has not yet appeared, you mark my words."

Really? Not yet. Seven candidates on the stage, two well-known prominent front-runners, and several candidates who aren't even invited for lack of support ... and you're telling me you've got nothing. That you're still waiting. That any day now, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is going to ride into town in his white hat and save the day and the party. Wasn't Rick Perry supposed to do that? To be that guy?

What the heck is wrong with that party if, amidst all those candidates, and all that hoopla, that even the die-hards are disappointed or unmoved and waiting for someone else.

Not good, GOP. Not at all.

I mean I'd like to rally around Romney or Huntsman. But you're making it really hard. And what kind of future does that propose?

Parenting by Distraction

At my daughter's ballet class, I sat in the lobby while several other parents talked ... and effectively ignored the younger siblings they had brought along to wait while older sister danced. Several of the kids were busy on mom's cell phone, and one parent even complained that a lack of wi-fi or 4G meant there was less the kids could do to pass the time. And then this question from one mom whose child had yet to look up from the iPhone:

"Oh, cell phones. What did we do before then?"

Well, I don't know. I assume we parented. You know, engaged with our children, talked to them, spent time with them. Perhaps we took them for a little walk, or we actually played a game with them. It seems so sad - the people who have little interest in preparing a little to engage their children in a little activity. The same goes every time a car zips past me with a DVD playing for the kids in the back seat. As if the twenty-minute car ride to school or practice or anywhere is terminal if the kid doesn't have SpongeBob to act like a freaking moron in front of him.

Either accept the role of parent seriously ... or make the decision to be self-absorbed in the first place and not burden society with more zoned-out or attention-starved children.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NCLB and Student Accountability

State test scores are out, and education reformers and critics need to take a good look at discrepancies in the state testing model. Basically, these tests are completely unreliable, and it comes down to one simple fact that no one is willing to talk about.

Students don't try on these tests. Period.

Like many schools, I know, state test scores for my high school are less than impressive. These disappointing results conflict the reality that my school is one of the highest performing schools in the country. The Washington Post and others regularly rank it in the top 2% in the country. Some researchers have concluded it is one of the top 30 schools in the nation for preparing students for college. My school regularly has between 25 and 35 National Merit scholars. It's schoolwide pass rate for AP exams is above 90%. Students rack up more than $20 million in scholarship money to some of the top schools in the country. Our ACT scores - especially in English - are through the stratosphere.

Yet, on state tests 40% of students are below proficient in writing. That reading numbers are almost that abysmal.

Students simply don't put much effort into these tests. Some skip the tests - or ironically go on college visits - resulting in zeroes on the tests. The students know these score don't matter - and the scores are worst for sophomores. That's a year before they absolutely rock the ACT, SAT, and AP scores. That's two years before 95+% graduate and go on to top schools and universities. The top students actually showed that smallest gains, and had actually dropped the most from past years. And, yet, state rankings are now counting these scores for as much as 25% of the overall ranking. And, these scores are to be used - according to new laws - as 50% of a teachers evaluation.

This discrepancy is absolutely outrageous. And, while I am not a union member, this lack of student accountability could be the one thing that could put me on the front lines of labor negotiations ... with a bull horn.

Students are no longer putting adequate effort into state tests that have no accountability for them. This situation must be the primary focus of school reform.

American Hiker Freed by Iran

No, I don't believe they were spies.

But, were they incredibly naive, foolish, and reckless. Oh, yeah.

I'd hope our spies are smarter than that.

Glad they're home - hope it's a lesson for other brash young Americans.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Elizabeth Warren for Senate

Though I am a proponent of lower tax rates because it makes sense, I still have a hard time with the platitudes and bromides and diatribes and snake oil that the GOP is selling. For me, it's about common sense. And Elizabeth Warren who is running against Scott Brown for Teddy Kennedy's seat tells it like it is:

Warren's simple truths are opposed by only the most rigidly ideological. However, I have to say, I am not happy about Warren running against Scott Brown - because I actually find him to be a rational Republican. And we need all those we can get.

But given the choice between Warren being in Congress or not ... I have to say bye-bye Senator Brown

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cowboy Ethics and Character Education

Character education occasionally pops up as a buzzword in the move for school reform. The basic idea is society wondering what the heck is going on with these kids - especially when it's clear that not much parenting is going on in many families. Some teachers, however, are accomplishing incredible things with kids in terms of character and identity - especially with the kids that society is either ignoring ... or has simply given up on.

A couple years ago, a teacher at my high school developed a unit based on the book Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West by James Owen. The unit had two goals: one was developing the literacy of kids who had struggled in that area, and two was developing the self-esteem and identity of those same kids.

The unit was a fabulous success - and it received some nice press about its impact. Currently, I am working as a mentor in my school, and we are integrating the concept of "cowboy ethics" into the classroom. For many kids, having a code to live by is the last thing on their minds ... and that might be part of the problem. Cowboy ethics is based on the following principles:

Live each day with courage
Take pride in your work
Always finish what you start
Do what has to be done
Be tough, but fair
When you make a promise, keep it
Ride the brand
Talk less, say more
Remember that some things aren't for sale
Know where to draw the line.

These ideas are simple and honest - and quite effective as a code not only for cowboys or Wall Street bankers but also a group of teenagers struggling for identity ... and really for all of us. The book is fabulous and worth checking out especially these days. And the idea of using it in schools is absolutely something special. Check out the following video about a group of students and their journey back to the old West on a journey of self discovery.

Schools and kids need more of this.

Govt Excess - or Private Sector Corruption

Here's an interesting thought, though:

I've been listening to people harp about the Dept of Justice wasting taxpayers money for paying $16 per muffin and $8 per cup of coffee. Certainly, a foolish oversight.

But where is the press criticism and coverage of the private contractors who charged this? What about the military contractors who literally cheated the taxpayers out of $400 for an ashtray?

Certainly, a failure of govt oversight. But why is no one calling out the corrupt companies who are literally the ones screwing the taxpayers?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

REM - Thank You and Good Night

My adolescence was defined by three bands - U2, The Police, and REM. They all took the music of the 1980s in a fascinating new direction that changed the future and defined Rock-n-Roll for me. U2 continues to innovate, the Police have long since disbanded, and REM, until today continued to define post-punk music that inspired me. Alas, the band from Athens, Georgia has gone the route of the Police and formally ended their career together. They were one of my first concerts, and I was mesmerized from that moment on for the next twenty-five years.


What Are the Independents to Do?

Two interesting points of view today regarding the future of the Obama Administration and the question of whether what the GOP is selling is preferable. Certainly, there is much to criticize about the current state of the nation, and change must come. Yet, when Obama puts out jobs plan that most Americans don't think will work, and statistics reveal that most secretaries don't, in fact, pay more in taxes than Warren Buffet, and David Walker, the respected former comptroller of the United States blasts Obama's deficit plan for not using CBO numbers, there is reason for independents to look for in new directions for answers.

The GOP offers cuts in spending and no new taxes on the "job creators."

Thomas Friedman and Dana Milbank take those two limited positions to task. Friedman offers a convincing argument about what true conservatives would do to address the financial stagnation and job slowdown - and it ain't just cutting. While clearly the tax code is in desperate need of review and reform, there is a need for the code to actually still generate revenue. Additionally, as Friedman notes, Countries that don’t invest in the future tend to not do well there. Real conservatives know that.

On the tax front, Dana Milbank identifies himself as a "job creator" who will never create jobs no matter how much the GOP cuts his taxes and offers him incentives. Milbank's analysis reveals the secrets of the 27 million small business owners in this country. Most of them are single employee businesses that are not designed to expand. Thus, more evidence arises about the "snake oil" argument that GOP leaders are continuing to peddle. They have no more ability to spur hiring than Obama does.

So, keep looking, Independents. Keep looking. Obama's basically got nothing ... but the GOP appears to have even less.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's About Housing and Lending - Not Taxes

Jose Nocera of the New York Times is making the same argument about the economy that I just did. It's about a lack of cash in people's pockets which resulted in the housing meltdown. Having screwed up their job of lending money, banks have shut down and are not lending money. Without it, no new business, no new houses or buildings or highways or products. It's not about taxes, people, because businesses and individuals don't expand business or build new houses with their own money. It's always borrowed. Thus, cutting taxes will certainly gut the government and explode the debt and deficit. But it ain't gonna grow new jobs because it was never about that.

It's the lack of funds on the demand side - and that comes from the housing and banking crash.

False Answers to Recovery

The following post is a rehash of comments from the past - because it is relevant and timely. Concerning the argument over what will lead to economic recovery and growth and the return of job creation. The dispute is about taxes - though it's complicated by concerns over the debt and deficit and the need for more or less regulation. As I've noted before there is a correlation - and even a degree of causation - between lower taxes creating better conditions for growth. That is why in the early 1980s dropping marginal rates from 70% (or originally 89%) to low thirties or high twenties was significant. But fiddling around between 28 and 38 has no discernible impact - See Mankiw and Feldstein for clarification.

Additionally, naive Republicans like Palin and Bachmann like to call upon the Reagan growth as only about taxes - and they neglect the importance of Volcker breaking inflation and then dramatically dropping interest rates. That alone freed up tons of cash for economic growth. And with the expansion of credit card lending, the money infusion in the economy came on the demand - NOT supply side. Add to that the dramatic drop in oil prices following discoveries in the North Sea and Central America - which broke OPEC's hold - and lower gas prices also freed up tons of money on the DEMAND side. The economy is far more complex than simple tax rates - though lower is certainly better. And there is no reason not to broaden the base, flatten the rates, lower the corporate rate, and close the deductions - especially at the top level. Then, by means testing Social Security and Medicare and lifting the cap to at least $250K, the government and the economy will move toward solvency and fluidity.

Finally, you must keep in mind that the 2008 Crash and subsequent economic drag was not caused by tax issues. It simply wasn't. It was not caused by regulation. The current slump is not continuing because of a drag on tax issues - because there have been no changes - other than the cut taxes more. So, it's not about taxes - and anyone who thinks it is has been asleep for about the last decade - or perhaps a Hannity-induced coma. This economic problem is about cash on the demand side. Period. It was about lost wealth from a housing crash that imploded the lending industry. And that came from deregulation. This is not about taxes - it's about no cash. It's about loss of spending power from lost housing money and decreasing wages impacted by rising insurance rates.

Additionally, companies aren't hiring for one simple reason now - because they don't have to. Demand is not going up. They don't need workers - except for the skilled labor ones for which there are tens of thousands of vacancies. They are making money and increasing dividends and it's that simple. It didn't start with taxes (at lowest rates in 60 years) and it won't be solved by tax cuts - because they aren't the problem.

An overall review and reform of taxation is a great idea - and necessary. But blaming the current problems on taxes is simply foolish.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Obama's Recovery

David Brooks offers a pretty clear and critical analysis of the "recovery" that is being defended by Obama and criticized by the Republicans. Ultimately, the return of job growth after a recession always lags by years - and government policies rarely have the immediate impact of generating growth and returning economies to sound footing. Clearly, not all agree, as evidenced by Investore.Com in this analysis. As an independent voter, I'm not happy with Obama's leadership - especially on the economy as well as basic "politics."

However, this recession seems different. Obama didn't have an inflation problem that the Fed could just break, and there wasn't an oil shock that could be relieved. Downsizing of companies and increased productivity haven't existed like this before either, and Obama simply couldn't count on a tech boom or a housing bubble to grow the way out. That sums up the post-recession growth for the past several decades. So, I'll cut him some slack there.

Additionally, I'm of the mind that there's not a lot Presidents and DC can actually do to create jobs - other than infrastructure, public service, cash rebates, and tax credits for actual hires. That's why I won't give Perry too much credit for jobs in Texas, nor will I knock Romney for stagnant growth in Massachusetts. Thus, Obama has been pretty weak in terms of national leadership - that is no doubt. But Perry and Boehner are full of it on cutting taxes for "job creators" as a guarantee of creating jobs and generating economic growth.

So, we'll see. I think Brooks pretty much nailed it. And he may be the only one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Be Very Afraid of Dr. Watson

Here's food for (disturbing) thought:

WellPoint Insurance plans to use the IBM super-computer "Watson" to assist doctors in diagnosing illnesses. Watson, of course, is the computer known for beating the top Jeopardy! champions at the game of trivia. Now, a major insurance company is counting on the computer's vast resources and lightening speed to provide guidance to doctors as they seek diagnosis and treatment options.

The company spokesperson was quick to assure consumers that patients need not fear that WellPoint will deny care if in making a diagnosis of choosing a treatment option a doctor chooses to ignore the advice of the computer. In those cases, the insurer "will have a clinician review the case." A "clinician"? What the heck does that mean?

Is this an example of "trivializing" health care? Or is that just redundant at this point?

Be afraid people. Be very, very afraid.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Douthat on Obama's Do-Over

Ross Douthat offers one of the most clear and insightful breakdowns of the hopes and shortcomings of the Obama administration in his piece The President's Do-Over in the New York Times today. By focusing on a targeted stimulus without guaranteeing recovery, working on the deficit sooner rather than later by reforming entitlements, and focusing on the Recovery Act rather than attacking the health care issue by both horns, the President could have been that moderate voice of steady guidance in the storm of the 2008 recession's wake.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Disney's Prom a Pleasant Surprise

It's not often that I have kind words for the company of Disney, but with the release of this summer's teen film Prom, the company that generally rubs me the wrong way has put out a surprisingly enjoyable and sweet teen film about the most mythical night of high school - Prom.

Prom, a Disney original from a screenplay by Katie Wech, examines the final big night of high school in all its promise of drama and magic. Nova (interesting name) the senior class president of Brookside High has planned the perfect prom to finish off the perfect senior year. All is going well with the decorations and the theme, and the night will be perfect if only fellow student and committee member Brandon asks her to the dance they've been planning.

The movie is fleshed out in standard ensemble cast with various couples and their prom story lines filling out the opening scenes of the movie. A clever play - with music - of the tradition of asking a person to prom sets up the first act with all going according to plan. Standard stock characters like the perfect king/queen couple, the couple who've been "together forever," the lovable loser without a date, the underclassmen desperate to be a part of the magic, and, of course, the teen rebel with an air of mystery who is too cool for prom fill out the cast.

Certainly, the perfectly planned night will be anything but, and it only makes sense that the heroine Nova will be inadvertently thrown together with the anti-prom loner. Many obstacles will challenge Nova to carry out her mission of providing the perfect night for her classmates, even as she tries to ignore the personal conflict she has over who she's going to spend the evening with. Director Joe Nussbaum cleverly strings his scenes together building the drama over prom night in an engaging way. Additionally, there are enough nods to 1980s teen cinema that it's clear Nussbaum was paying homage to the Golden Age of teen film.

I was particularly pleased by how pleasant - and not over the top - this teen film was. It was engaging and funny and insightful, and also really sweet. Wech and Nussbaum manage to capture all the significant drama of the genre and the night without resorting to anything sordid or gratuitous. In fact, it was refreshing to be engaged in a teen film for 90 minutes with no scenes of teen drinking and literally no mention of teen sex. The drama was real and honest - but it very effectively focused on the simple emotions of adolescence, rather than the standard mediums of sex and alcohol. This film simply didn't need to go there.

Overall, Prom is an enjoyable film, and definitely worth the rental if you enjoy the genre. It's certainly not the best teen film in recent years - that honor goes to Easy A. However, it's a nice take on a traditional genre, and it gives me a little hope for the ability of Disney to provide quality and wholesome entertainment.

The Sandwich King Has Moved?

Looking for information on the Food Network's Jeff Mauro and his show The Sandwich King? Check out my first entry after he won the Next Food Network Star.

Disappointed by the Food Network, or maybe myself, this morning.

Having enjoyed The Sandwich King Jeff Mauro's first two shows, I sat down at 10:30 Mountain time to check out Jeff's third show. It was probably a great one - Cod Sliders with fennel slaw and sweet potato fries - and I will certainly check for the recipes. Alas, I tuned in to a repeat episode of Chopped because Jeff's time slot was apparently 9:30 Mountain, not 10:30. While I am certainly OK with the time, as I am more likely to be home, I am disappointed to have missed the show. So, for sandwich afficianodos - and fans of the Sandwich King - Jeff's show is now on Sunday mornings at 11:30 Eastern, 10:30 Central, and 9:30 Mountain.

Check it out for more great ideas on how to "turn any meal into a sandwich and make any sandwich a great meal."

UPDATE: At this point, it appears Jeff's show has gone into a bit of a hiatus. Not much news on the website. So, we'll have to assume he is simply on a break and not cancelled.

Friday, September 2, 2011

GOP Offers Nothing After Jobs Report

Taxes did not cause the 2008 Crash and recession.

The Affordable Care Act did not cause the 2008 Crash and recession.

Regulations on business permits did not cause the 2008 Crash and recession.

Regulations on the finance industry did not cause the 2008 Crash and recession.

Regulations on the energy industry did not cause the 2008 Crash and recession.

None of these caused the economic downturn, none these is preventing companies from hiring people, none of these is the key to dismal jobs report in August, none of these is the answer to the struggles of the economy.

So, why are these the only ideas the GOP offers?

Monday, August 29, 2011

So, About All Those Bad Teachers

The general - though misguided - consensus is that public education is a failure. And the general cause of this failure is assigned as "bad teachers." That seems to be the mantra of every education reformer from Michelle Rhee to Bill Gates. And, of course unions and tenure get a pretty good shot.

In response, teachers will often acknowledge the presence of bad teachers and the weaknesses of due process for "bad teachers" but assert that there are far more complex issues at stake - particularly the lack of accountability for students, parents, and administrators. Few people outside the field have ever experienced the challenge of trying to promote learning to resistant adolescents. And even fewer have knowledge of just how many bad teachers are out there or why they might be "bad teachers." It's worth noting, for example, that education does have a self-selecting system of attrition. In that, I mean 60% of new teachers leave the profession in the first three years. Thus, they quit - as opposed to sticking it out and keeping that "easy job for life."

And, then, every once in a while the curtain is pulled back for just a moment, and one honest soul provides some insight into the schools where all the bad teachers are blocking achievement from these children thirsty for education. Such is the case with the recent expose "Confessions of a Bad Teacher" from John Owens, an editor with a long career in the publishing industry who decided to step into the classroom to "make a difference."

He got quite the education.

Google and the Loss of Existing Knowledge

Researchers have long noted that the human brain compartmentalizes and categories all new information it encounters. This organizing stems from the reality that learning new material is rather arduous. That is why our learning curve is so steep - it takes us year or more to simply be able to make words ... but acquisition of new words from that point is exponential. Thus, we use old information to make sense of new information - and, so, the more we know the easier it is to learn.

This physiological reality is not lost on teachers of reading. The most important technique for any effective reader is to access existing knowledge to make sense of new information. Ultimately, I encourage my students to become "people on whom nothing is lost." They need to access a great deal of new information in short time periods - and it's easier if their brains already have some place to put it - something to which the new info can be connected. And from the time of Roman orators, we know the growth in rhetoric and literature and science was intrinsically linked to previous information. Roman students spent vast amounts of time memorizing the classics. Abraham Lincoln spent vasts amount of time copying the speeches of Cicero by hand. All told, their brains and their abilities to think critically grew exponentially.

Thus, I worry about this latest generation - the Google generation. Google and the internet are wonderful innovations that have made life infinitely more efficient. Yet, current students are the first group who have legitimate reason not to commit information to memory because they can simply look it up. Think about how they know many of their friends phone numbers simply as #4 on speed-dial - or even worse simply by the name in the directory where they can often voice activate "Call Steve."

This is a problem.

The less we commit to memory on a daily basis, the less are brains are enabled to form the categories and make the connections that lead to higher level critical thinking and, even, innovation. Thus, I would assert that it is still a good idea for students to memorize a speech or monologue or sonnet from Shakespeare. It's still a good idea for students to write in-class essays from memory with no access to the book or their notes. It's still a good idea for students to study spelling and memorize their times tables.

In fact, it might not just be a good idea. It might be an imperative.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

New Postings on GatherNews

I've got a new forum for some of my writing. At this point, they're featuring articles for me in the areas of news and politics. The platform is called GatherNews - it features news/commentary on trending topics. Currently, I have four pieces published, and you can find them here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can I Have the Answer Key?

It's a time-honored tradition in education that there is no reason to reinvent the wheel when it comes to lesson plans, especially tests and quizzes. My files are open to anyone who needs anything, and years ago I organized a computerized folder and file system for my department to share materials more easily. Of course, all teachers make their classes unique, and thus I may ask a question or focus on a piece of information that others don't. Thus, we do have to revise and adapt all test materials to the expectations our specific class.

Years ago there was a veteran teacher at my school who, like me, had a knack for creating units - especially tests - and she had materials for practically everything. However, she was old school and tough as nails. So, inevitably another - often younger - teacher would use one of her tests in a class and then ask for the answer key. Her answer was always the same. "If you need the answer key, make one. And if you can't answer all the questions, you have no business giving this test." Upon delivering this curt response, she'd turn back to what she was doing, sending her colleague out the office door with tail firmly between legs.

Now, I've never been able to be so hard-nosed ... but I understand. Instead I will hand over the key, and then recommend that the teacher look over the test and edit out any questions which weren't specifically focused on in that particular class. And, of course, many teachers will simply assert that there is no reason to take the twenty to fill out a key if there is already one completed. But, still. Don't you wonder sometimes?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back to School Movies

As school gears up and all the drama gets going, it's worth taking some time and checking out the best movies about high school. I recently received one list of the top back-to-school movies of all time. While the list isn't bad, I certainly would challenge the number one ranking of Rodney Dangerfield's Back To School, especially because it comes in ahead of The Breakfast Club. Alas, we all have our opinions, and there are many worthwhile teen flicks on the list.

It's, of course, no surprise that the bulk of the movies were released during the 1980s - the Golden Era of teen cinema. However, there have been some great teen movies lately, namely Easy A. And, in a great nod to the 1980s and teen cinema, I recently watched Topher Grace in the film Take Me Home Tonight, which isn't quite a teen film, but a pretty good movie that captures a lot of the 1980s and the teen angst that sometimes extends past adolescence and into the first few years out of college.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Engineering and Trades Up, Banking Down

In the past few weeks, I've encountered numerous stories about increased hiring by corporate industry giants such as Seimens Technology and GE. At the same time, Bank of America, HSBC, and UBS are all announcing large scale layoffs over the next couple years. So, perhaps last decade's trend of the best and brightest math and science minds going into finance for a quick score has crested, and we may see a return to engineering colleges and a new rise in innovation. Additionally, the stories at Seimens and GE indicate that they are seeking skilled labor as well. That will mean a rising need for technical workers. It's doubtful that politicians and education leaders will have enough foresight to prime the pump for this growth. But I'm hoping.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back in the Swing of Things

Today was the first day back for students .... and it only took a second for me to feel the energy and be ready for the year. This is the first year I am not teaching College Prep English to juniors - as I am now teaching our first dual-credit, or concurrent enrollment (CE), class offered in English. Seniors can now sign up to take Intro to College Composition and Intro to College Literature. They are required to take the Accu-Placer test to qualify for the college credit. And students are allowed to take the class even if they don't qualify for credit.

The CE model is long overdue, and I am excited to teach it. The class will enable students to receive credit at both the high school and a local community college at the same time. Thus, the model is similar to AP, but the students don't have to take the exam at the end of the year for credit. And, the credit is awarded automatically as long as the receive a C or better in the class. The credits must be accepted by any state university or college in Colorado, and should transfer to any schools which have reciprocity with Colorado.

Now, clearly these classes are not the rigor of my AP Language and Composition. But not many freshman comp classes in college meet the rigor of AP's curriculum. Thus, any student who can write well enough to earn credit at a state two-year or four-year college should be able to get the credit in high school. Overall, this approach is necessary and practical for the needs of many high school seniors.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sandwich King Spreads the Love

The Food Network's Newest Star Jeff Mauro "The Sandwich King" premiered his new show this morning at 11:30, and he left no doubts about the judges decision last week to award Jeff with his own show. Presenting an engaging personality and quality recipes, Jeff effectively introduced his show by revealing the secrets of the perfect Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich. Flipping back and forth between his time in the studio kitchen and a feature trip to the Italian beef restaurant of his youth, Jeff's show was a lot of fun. Shooting on location from Johnny's Italian Beef in Elmwood Park, Illinois, Jeff introduced the idea of the sandwich with stories of visiting the shop after a day at his Chicago Catholic school. He explained the way the sandwich is prepared, as well as the atmosphere of the scene, with most people eating the sandwich standing up. I could practically smell the "juice" as Jeff took a trip to Italian beef nostalgia.

In the kitchen Jeff walked through the steps of recreating this Chicago staple at home by starting with a pot roast, and then cooking up a nice pepper and onion relish to put on top. As most people don't have a meat slicer at home, Jeff recommended the roast which could simply be pulled apart for the sandwich. While the roast was cooking Jeff also presented a unique creation he calls a Focaccianini = a panini sandwich using a nice mortadella, cheese, and homemade fig spread. Because he doesn't have a panini press in the kitchen (who does?), Jeff pressed the sandwich on a griddle with a bacon press. Great tip and amusing idea. I loved Jeff's description of the mortadella - "the rich man's baloney" - and his comment that every house should have a pound of it on hand. When the beef sandwich was ready, Jeff walked us through creating the au jus, or as Chicagoans call it, "the juice." The sandwich looked - and practically smelled - heavenly.

The Food Network has come a long, long way from the early days of single camera cooking lessons with simply a chef, a studio kitchen, and a recipe. In fact, there's ample evidence to the argument that the Food Network is producing some of the best television on the air today. Jeff's show neatly juxtaposed his work in the kitchen with a little slice of life with the visit to Johnny's. Additionally, the multi-camera editing and split screens created an entertaining montage of shots of Jeff cutting up and preparing the onions and peppers. It was a refreshing change from the often laborious shots of cook's cutting veggies and trying to fill the time with banter - not that stand-up specialist Jeff is ever at a loss for words. But, overall, the producers made some nice editing decisions in giving America its first "taste" of The Sandwich King.

Nice show, Jeff.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sports & Energy Drink Stupidity

Sports and energy drinks are not a healthy choice. Sports and energy drinks do not "enhance performance." Sports and energy drinks have no business in the hands of children. Sports drinks are awful - and I am regularly shocked at how many American's are ignorantly "drinking the Kool-Aid" of the sports drink myth.

At a large baseball workout and practice session for my nine-year-old this morning, I was amazed and disturbed by the sheer numbers of children sipping Gatorade, Powerade, and energy drinks in between drills. The practice was at an indoor air-conditioned training facility, and no child ever ran more than about thirty yards. The rest of the time was spent on throwing mechanics, fielding drills, and hitting in batting cages. And, these kids were sucking down sports drinks. Worst of all, the parents are pushing it on these kids.

There is no situation I can imagine when children have gone through such a physically grueling workout that they need to "replace electrolytes" and sugars ... not to mention consume dyes and artificial colors and flavors. Gatorade was originally created for the Florida Gators because of the extreme fluid loss their practices and games. What is being sold today - often now containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) instead of the original fructose or sucrose syrup - is nothing but chemically dyed and flavored sugar water. In practically any situation where children are exerting themselves, water is sufficient to replace fluid loss. For more intense workouts, athletes would better serve their bodies by eating an apple or banana - and maybe a complex protein like nuts - along with plenty of H2O after a workout.

Quick quiz: How much sugar does the body need on a daily basis? The answer is none. There is never a need for a person to ingest additional sugars. Thus, this misguided ignorant consumption of sports drinks is harming children more than helping them re-hydrate. Of course, the greater crime is the parents allowing their children to ingest energy drinks. The most disturbing example was the young player who was sipping a NOS-Grape "High Performance Energy Drink" during breaks. This insane-ly over-sugared stimulant contains carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, taurine (an amino acid used as a stimulant), L-carnitine (amino acid), caffeine (stimulant), inositol (a sugar ), ginseng (stimulant), sucralose (chlorinated sugar), and Red#40 and Blue#1 dyes. On the side of the can are the following words CAUTION: POWERFUL - Not recommended for children. Giving this drink to a child is a disturbing degree of negligence and downright stupidity on the part of this child's parents.

Granted, a number of kids like my son were simply taking a sip from the water fountain or simple water bottles when they were thirsty. Yet, the preponderance of kids sipping dyed, sugar water at a casual sports practice gives me little hope for the health of the average American.

Stop drinking this garbage.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Government and Jobs

I have to laugh at politicians - especially in the GOP - going back and forth about their beliefs regarding government and job creation. Half the time the political leaders - especially governors such as Rick Perry of Texas - are claiming they "created jobs," and the other half of the time they are claiming the government doesn't and can't create jobs. That latter position, of course, excludes all public service as well all the private sector jobs that come from government contracts, especially infrastructure spending.

Of course, the GOPers will respond that their create jobs by getting out of the way of the business sector. The reality is that policies can be more business friendly - as companies will seek incentives and subsidies to relocate or build a factory or train new workers, etc. However, as we've see over the last decade, a pro-business policy - especially tax and regulation policy - doesn't mean it's pro-jobs. In fact, corporate profits, executive pay, dividends, and cost cutting are proving that the new rule is "pro-business" often means job losses.

GE is moving thousands of jobs to China - even as the President has reached out to their leadership about creating jobs at home. Of course, GE's job is to make money, and they are free to do it wherever they can. Yet, if their policies have a negative on growth in the US and negatively impact American communities, we should not treat them so favorably. That's why I think any tax cut/deduction/rebate ought to be tied specifically to numbers of local jobs produced. If you cut jobs at home or locate them elsewhere, you lose the tax incentive.

Seems pretty obvious ... but I can already hear the pundits shouting it down.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stock Market Yo-yo

And, of course, the stock market plummeted again today. Apparently investors are worrying about the possibility of another recession. So, they are selling stocks.

Could we simply ignore what the stock market is doing and simply focus on the issue of jobs. The US economy will not contract and slip into another recession as long as business owners start hiring - or at least stop laying people off. The economy is driven by consumer demand - and consumers only spend when the have money. So, if companies committed to maintaining employment levels and maintaining wages, consumers will continue to spend. That will, very simply, stave off any contraction in the economy.

If any business owner and investor is worried about a recession, he or she can simply not contribute to the problem by not cutting jobs or wages. He can contribute to the solution by hiring back some of the nine million people laid off since 2008.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Huntsman for GOP Presidency Nod

Watching the Republican debate last week, I was - like many voters - profoundly disappointed in the field .... with one exception. John Huntsman was the one candidate who came across as honest, forthright, and genuine. Unlike Michelle Bachman who "wished the United States had defaulted" or Newt Gingrich who was offended by questions about his record or Ron Paul who (God love him) simply misunderstands national economics in the twentieth century or Mitt Romney who seems to be running from his record and confused about who he is, John Huntsman is the one man who presented a practical and clearly stated philosophy and who is "standing by his record" and "running on his record."

Huntsman can honestly defend his support for the deficit reduction bill and TARP and the stimulus plan. He can openly acknowledge his support of cap and trade legislation on climate change - especially because he can point out it was the Heritage Institute's idea. He can stand by his position on civil unions - because even that should be seen as conservative. He can look at conservatives and say, "Hey, this was our idea" and it's still a good one even if the Democrats embraced it. That's the same thing Mitt Romney should have said about the individual mandate. Instead of running from it, he should have stood his ground and said, "Hey! This is a conservative idea. This started with the Heritage Institute. It's still a good idea - even if Obama adopted it."

So, as an unaffiliated independent - one who is moderate with a strong fiscal conservative foundation who has much to criticize about the Democrats at the federal level - I will say this: In a contest between Huntsman and Obama today, I would be likely to vote for Huntsman. In a race between Obama and anyone else on the stage, my vote would go with Obama running away. If the GOP really wanted to appeal to the independents, they'd go with someone like Huntsman - or Johnson out of New Mexico.

But they won't. So, at this point I am stuck with the Democrats.

NCAA Academic Standards

In a move that is either a late but much needed - or more likely a symbolic but meaningless - act of reform in the higher education field, the NCAA voted to raise the base academic standards that it requires for its athletes. The board implemented a tougher baseline standards for schools to remain eligible for post-season play. Though the plans are still broad and won't be fully enacted for three years, word is the new standards would have barred Ohio State from post-season play in recent years - and the move would also limit their scholarships.

This action is way overdue - and probably won't be that effective. But it may be progress. As I've argued before, it is absurd that the NCAA and associated schools can sign TV contracts for billions of dollars and then claim tax-exempt status because of "their educational mission." The idea that the University of Texas has an "educational mission" for its football and basketball players would be laughable - if it weren't so pathetic and corrupt.

Considering 95% of the NCAA athletes playing basketball and football will never play professionally, the educational mission must take precedence. For sports outside of the big two, the rate is 100%. Thus, it may be high time for higher education to start paying its dues in terms of the revenue it generates if it is not going to accomplish the basic task of providing an education.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Do Special Needs Need Vouchers

The battle over the proposed - and now suspended - voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado has generated some serious discussion about the needs of students and the right of choice in schools and how tax dollars are spent. As I've noted before, Douglas County struck some as an unusual place for a voucher program - as it is one of the richest counties in the USA, and it's students are not trying to escape failing schools. Thus, the issue is all about freedom of choice - though Colorado already has statewide open enrollment. Thus, the issue is really about using public dollars to choose a private and/or religious education. However, in the testimony for the district's plan, one interesting claim was made by a woman who claims her son's special needs require a private school. So, that's a new angle.

Resident Diane Oakley appealed to the district to pass this voucher plan because her son has special needs - Asperger's syndrome. Oakley claims she needs the voucher to pay the $17,000 tuition at a private school called Humanex Academy - as that is the school that can meet the needs of her son. I am curious about this assertion. As a public school teacher, I know that her son's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome qualifies him for special service under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thus, in Douglas County Schools, he would have a case manager and a specialized instruction program to assist him in fully accessing his right to a free and public education. Certainly, a well-funded school system like DC is going to have all the necessary support for students with special needs. And, if a public school cannot provide for a students needs under the law, families can file suit for additional support. Thus, I am wondering why this parent believes that only this private school can meet her son's needs.

Over the years I have had numerous students with Asperger's Syndrome, as well as numerous other conditions such as ADD, ADHD, anxiety disorder, sensory processing syndromes, etc. At every school I know, there are qualified personal to assist students with these struggles. I've had students with these conditions - including Asperger's - in my basic level classes that have been team taught, and I've had them in my honors and AP classes. Thus, I have no doubt that public schools - especially high quality schools like DC - can provide every angle of support to assist students in accessing their education. However, occasionally parents will feel like their child needs even more than the school provides. At those times, students do pursue private alternatives. However, that decision is personal, and I'm not sure the public schools have to support that perspective. Certainly, any parents can file with districts if they believe that the school can't provide for a legally recognized disability.

Thus, the idea of a voucher being necessary for special needs students is questionable in my opinion.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Next Food Network Star

In the most exciting, competitive, and entertaining season yet of the Food Network's reality TV challenge to be the next "Food Network Star," the title of rising star on the Food TV scene went to Jeff Mauro. Jeff beat out eleven other competitors in a weekly test of food skills and camera challenges to earn his own show on the Food Network. Jeff created a compelling and marketable vision as "The Sandwich Guy," and his consistent commitment to that vision throughout the competition is what solidified the win for him. From his top notch cooking flair as an executive chef to his engaging stand-up comedy persona, Jeff proved to have what numerous judges and panels throughout the show deemed "star quality."

Though I don't watch a lot of TV - especially reality TV competitions - I truly enjoy the high quality lifestyle programming that is the trademark of the Food Network. Thus, last year on vacation my family became engrossed in the weekly Sunday night food cook-offs that led to Arti Sequeria winning the title of Food Network Star. Her show Arti party is still running on Sunday mornings. This year's competition was engaging from the start with quality cooks and dramatic personality clashes. But, ultimately, it was Jeff's skill and charm that earned him victory. From the beginning, my wife and I had pegged Jeff and other finalist Suzie as the two people we wanted - and expected - in the finals. We were not disappointed. Suzie was a great competitor and truly deserved to go as far as she did - but there was no doubt that Jeff was the next Food Network Star.

If you haven't yet checked out the show that launched the career of Diners, Drive-in, & Dives star Guy Fieri, you missed the exciting run of the Food Network's next great personality - Jeff Maruo, The Sandwich Guy. Jeff's show airs next Sunday morning, and it will contain his trademark line - "You're only a couple steps away from turning any sandwich into a meal, and any meal into a fantastic sandwich."

Congratulations, Jeff. Can't wait to see your show.