Extreme rhetoric, such as “don’t retreat, reload”, leads to violence, the latest being in Norway…

July 23, 2011

You see, it is the extremists who are the problem. Not the far left or the far right, per se, but the extremists in those camps.

Case in point:

A radical Islamic cleric threatens violent reprisals against Norway if he is deported.

And the Islamic extremists went crazy with rage and threats when a Danish newspaper published a cartoon mocking Osama Bin Laden (the now late Osama Bin Laden).

And now a right-wing home-grown terrorist has killed at least 93 people (a final count is yet to come) and maybe more, apparently first setting off a bombing as a diversion in the Norwegian capital of Oslo and then motor boating out to an island dressed in a police uniform and pretending to be there to help protect people in an apparent ongoing attack, only to then mow down people with a machine gun. The camp was for youth of the ruling left-wing party, which he may have thought too soft on suspected Islamic extremists and not vigilant enough in a perceived threat of a takeover of Europe by Islamic extremists.

The attacker was identified as Anders Breivik, 32 years old, a blond and blue-eyed Norwegian with no criminal record or anything else that caught the attention of authorities. I am not sure how he makes or has made a living, except he reportedly owns an acreage and a small farming enterprise, something that may have been used as a cover to order fertilizer to make a bomb.

When either the right or the left ratchets up the rhetoric there are nuts out there that take it all to heart and take action. These nuts left unchecked would put Hitler to shame.

Our own Sarah Palin, not really a politician, but huckster riding the far-right zeitgeist, urged her followers not to “retreat, but reload”.

People with their marbles have a hard enough time sorting out all the political rhetoric. And people a brick short a load get it all messed up and do terrible things. The Norway culprit is being likened to our (U.S.) own Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for his part in the Oklahoma bombing episode.

Unfortunately in a free society it is difficult to detect and control these nut cases in time.

But thinking people should eschew the extreme rhetoric and hate emanating from both ends of the political spectrum.

Norway is known as a peaceful country. It has not conducted war with anyone in an awful long time (ADD 1: except that Norway has committed troops to the NATO operations in Afghanistan and Libya, and earlier to the NATO operations in Kosovo). But I just read that one of its big defense contractors (arms merchants), Kongsberg, has won a contract to sell weapons to Italy. Weapons are a major industry of the western world. You reap what you sow.

It will be interesting to see how peaceful Norway responds to what has been called their own 9/11 moment.

P.s.

The Norway culprit was reportedly concerned about the threat of an Islamic takeover of western Europe. An Islamic takeover of the whole world is a real threat, I think (not that all Muslims are into that), but killing innocent people, to say the least, is not the way to counter it.

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Where de fault lies in the threat of default of the U.S. government

July 23, 2011

It seems all but inevitable that the U.S. debt limit will be raised at the last minute, which I guess has to come just before Aug. 2 (I had heard that it has to come just about now because it would take a week to prepare, whatever that means).

But the chance for the far right to use the leverage of the threat of financial default to all but gut every social program they can think of is just too much to pass up.

But I am not blaming just the far right or conservatives or Republicans  or whomever you want to call them.

And I’ll stop right here to just say default would seem to be on its face a disastrous thing because the dollar’s value is based on trust and not much of anything else — not gold, not silver, not anything of hard value, just trust (when I was a kid I was led to believe that the dollar stood for all the gold in Fort Knox. That may have been partially true at one time, but we have been off the gold standard for a long time now. I spent some time at Fort Knox while in the Army. Never saw the gold. Saw a lot of dirty dishes in the mess hall, but I digress).

This just popped into my mind as I am writing this:

The blame probably should go about equally to the electorate as a whole and to the news media as a whole (or particularly the cable news, that seems to be where most people get most of their news), who seem to report opinion more than objective news.

The electorate as a whole does not pay enough attention to details and seems to respond to easily to the hyperbole of the extremes. If political candidates knew that people would not listen to or fall for their exaggerations, distortions and outright lies, they might be forced either out or to be  a little more honest.

Politics is politics and always will be a rough and dirty game, but if the electorate had better objective information (as opposed to debate talking points) and would use it, we might get a better crop of elected representatives and leaders.

The fault also lies with the super liberals who constantly push for the government to do everything for the individual, regardless of the cost, the idea being that the rich can and rightfully should pay for everything. And the super conservatives never met a tax deduction they did not like, but that deduction turns out to be a tax shift to someone else, probably a struggling working middle class (or lower middle class) worker.

And then there is our weird system for fiscal matters:

The legislative branch constantly votes in new programs that call for expenditures without any regard as to how they will be funded. The president, the executive, has no power to pencil things out because there are not sufficient funds. The line-item veto does not exist for the president. There is also no requirement for a balanced budget; it has been tried, but ruled unconstitutional.

Actually, we should all be conservative, at least on fiscal matters, but it seems to me the so-called conservative movement in the U.S. historically, at least in my lifetime, has mostly been about different priorities for spending more than less spending, despite their rhetoric.

And that is really where we are at now. The opposing political factions are arguing over spending priorities more than paying off the burdensome debt that eats up our tax dollars.

So turn off Fox and CNN and take some time to read maybe the Washington Post and the New York Times (I’m talking news stories as opposed to just opinion pieces, although you need to read those too) or any number of publications, mostly available on the internet, that seem to offer fairly objective analysis of the news (complete objectivity is difficult to obtain).

And to those who tend to read or listen only to what they agree with — what’s the point?

And despite the competing claims of the right and left as to where the majority of the American people really stand on the debt ceiling debate, here’s an opinion piece that claims Nixon’s old “silent majority” is mad as heck at all parties in the government — and by and large I agree with the points here, by and large that is: http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/07/23/zickar.silent.majority/index.html?eref=igoogledmn_topstories

P.s.

And I still think that a way to pay off the national debt would be to institute a “debt tax” (not a death tax) dedicated solely to paying off our loans.

And why is Social Security threatened by default? Is there not a Social Security Trust Fund? Yes, I realize it is filled with IOUs, but those markers should be called in before Uncle Sam borrows even more money. And if Social Security starts to become insolvent, then the only option is to raise the Social Security deductions (as long as that money is actually going for benefits). Al Gore used to talk about  a Social Security “lock box”. He was right, the government should not rob the Social Security account.


Why are products that could be made here and create jobs made in Turkey?

July 15, 2011

It was not really a revelation, but it reinforced my notion that our economic problem here in the good old US of A is that we are not productive enough and therefore do not have enough jobs to spread the available or potential wealth around.

I was having my semi-truck loaded with produce (something fortunately we do produce, even though we also import but then again also export) when I read the inscription on a an air bag, used to cushion loads: “Made in Turkey”.

Now I have nothing against world trade and I do not hold it against the Turks that they are industrious enough to produce products that they can ship to us. I recently read that folks in Turkey are pretty happy with their government because their economy is doing well.

But is there any reason on God’s green earth that we could not produce those air bags right here in this country and thus create jobs for people here and thus stimulate our own economy? I know. The answer is the cost of labor is so much cheaper overseas, particularly in developing countries (is Turkey a developing country?) that it is more economical for business to have things made over there and shipped back here.

Well it is not economical for our own well being as a nation.

Our government already subsidizes low-paid employment via food stamps and even unemployment insurance benefits (for seasonal work) and other social programs, maybe we could do that for production of some goods that do not seem to be made in America anymore.

There is plenty of blame to go around for who lost American industry, but part if it goes to capitalists who do not want to support their own nation who gives them a home and protection from the world at large and part of it goes to organized labor who has been quite willing to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. And liberals (I am a middle of the roader) have gone too far in trying to protect us all from the often hard realities of life, killing the work ethic in the process and running up the national debt.

Strangely, both liberals and so-called conservatives in our government have been quite willing to mortgage our future by piling up the national debt — they just spend the money for different things.

And now the so-called conservative element sees a golden opportunity to get rid of all those programs that help people as opposed to business by starving the beast big time by refusing to raise the debt ceiling or raise taxes.

Economic experts assert that a failure to raise the debt ceiling will or could result in a collapse of the whole economic system, here and abroad.

Some in the Republican Party (who call themselves conservative) claim that there is plenty of money available without raising the debt ceiling. I imagine they simply mean cut the social programs they do not like and cut the business regulations they do not care for and cut costly environmental regulations they do not care for.

So far, all the Democrats have come up with to help the economy are road repair projects that although certainly worthwhile only supply jobs temporarily and really do not produce anything, along with some relative small-scale green energy projects that don’t seem to have much of an effect on the economy either, as promising as they may or may not be.

Our education system may be a large part of the problem. At the low end it churns out students who cannot read or write or do arithmetic after 12 years, and at the upper end turns out large numbers of graduates who either cannot find jobs, despite what they have supposedly learned, or they go into things like the stock market or bond trading and such and make good money but produce nothing for society as a whole. And I know that activity on Wall Street has its rightful place and some utility value in making the economic engine run, but as things now stand it has too big of a place, serving only to make the super rich richer.

Whatever the case, unless we become far more productive, we will certainly face ruin.


Statesmen need to emerge to resolve the U.S. debit crisis…

July 14, 2011

It does seem like the Republicans and the Democrats are playing a deadly game of political chicken in the ongoing debt ceiling crisis, especially the hard-line Republicans.

And it’s hard to say whether the statement made by President Obama that Social Security checks might have to be withheld is just one of those typical political ploys to stir up the populace or whether he is serious and is trying to make an important point — no money to borrow, no money to pay our obligations.

But the Social Security Trust Fund is not technically insolvent, as I understand it, although we are now paying out more money than we are taking in — so there is trouble on the horizon. To make matters worse, the so-called trust fund is made up of essentially IOUs where the government has borrowed from that trust fund. Pat Robertson, as nutty as he was, made that point many years ago when he ran for the presidency.

Social Security has been the third rail of politics, something even the Republicans were afraid to touch because so many citizens who call themselves Republicans depend upon Social Security. Cut those wasteful government social programs, but keep your hands off my Social Security.

Nonetheless, the Republicans have to think they stand for something and certainly they want to differentiate themselves from Democrats.

Of course the old adage is that Democrats want to help those who need it and Republicans want to help those who do not need it.

But the conservative element of the GOP wants to make a point: when you run out of money you have to quit spending (or did I just say that was Democrat Obama’s point?).

But both parties have taken part in a government that prints up dollars based on questionable hard value — really just based on the fact that Uncle Sam will pay what he owes, even if he has to borrow money from China to do it, and that because we are still the strongest nation in the world, people will accept our dollar as legal tender and, in fact, as the world’s bench mark currency.

There is a split in the Republican Party between old-line conservatives who still think the government has to at least be responsible enough to not default on its contractual obligations — therefore it must, albeit reluctantly,  raise the debt ceiling — and a more reactionary element that wants to make a point, even if it has to destroy the whole faith in our economic system, that would seem to arise if the mighty Uncle Sam no longer honored his fiscal obligations, to do it — maybe kind of like destroying the village to save it.

Obama certainly is not making friends with the more liberal element of his own party (Democrats) by holding Social Security hostage.

The Democrats basically would propose a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes, while the Republicans are trying to hold fast to the idea that massive spending cuts, particularly in social programs, with no tax hikes will resolve the debt crisis (and let’s quit spending money on clean drinking water and pollution regulations and regulations on financial transactions, such as the ones that got us into our current financial problems).

Truth be told, our nation is not broke. There is tremendous wealth here, but people just naturally have an aversion to paying off debt.

Republicans are correct, I would think, in their notion that we cannot spend our way into prosperity, but I do not understand their notion that to simply quit spending will solve the problem.

On a personal basis, If you are over your head in debt, you might well be forced to quit spending, simply because you no longer have the money to spend and no access to further credit. To simply stop spending on your part will not get you out of debt,  but of course it will prevent you from digging yourself deeper into the hole.

A person usually has to get productive and find an income source and then start saving and accumulating wealth. But even then you will have normal obligations to pay.

We as a nation need to become more productive and start all over again.

In the interim some things may well be cut , but we will still need to raise revenue by taxing ourselves to meet those normal obligations.

When the economy gets back into high gear, the same struggle between opposing philosophies on the role of government can and will take place, but in the meantime this issue must be resolved before we lose our status as the world’s leading economic force and power.

It would be a relief if some statesmen from both parties — and President Obama may well be one of those — would emerge and overpower both the reactionary right and ultra liberal left and get this thing resolved.


Jurors selling their stories subverts justice system in Anthony trial and verdict…

July 7, 2011

If memory serves me right, people have been convicted of murder even when the body could not be found, although I would think that rare.

But some are saying that the prosecution in the Casey Anthony case overreached in going for a capital murder charge when no time or actual cause of death could be determined.

And the suggestion from juror comments now coming out is that the panel did not fail to convict Anthony because they thought she was innocent, it’s just that there was too much room for reasonable doubt with nothing but circumstantial evidence.

In criminal court the standard for conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt”, while in civil court the bar is lower at “preponderance of evidence”.

I would not want to get in the way of free speech, but the disturbing thing in all of this is that the whole affair of the trial (which I admit here I did not follow, but heard about from time to time) is that it seems to have been (and still is) more about making money for participants (perhaps even the defendant Anthony herself) than justice in the death of a little girl.

A lawyer with not much experience has made a name for himself with what appears to be a miraculous victory for a client already fairly well convicted in the court of public opinion.

Apparently Anthony was not much into mothering but a lot into partying and may have felt her child was a drag on her lifestyle.

The Cable TV networks, especially the ones we have now that specialize in the tawdry world of crime and celebrity foul-ups and such, are raking in the doe with a story about a dead girl that they hope to keep alive (that is keep the story alive) for as long as possible. The OJ trial started it all for cable. Sensational coverage by the media at large, in the old days newspapers, has a long history going back to and before the famous Scopes Monkey trial.

But here’s something new, perhaps (or not), now even the jurors are apparently trying to cash in. After the verdict for acquittal came down the jury reportedly agreed to stay mum in front of the media frenzy for interviews. But we now find out they or some of them at least apparently were just holding back so they could sell their stories to the highest bidder, not in the interest of the integrity of the judicial system.

As I already said, I would not want to get in the way of free speech, but the fact that jurors would sit through a trial contemplating how they might cash in once the verdict was handed down seems to me to be a clear subversion of justice. Who knows what effect that might have on their thinking and their deliberation and their interpretation of the facts? And one might think that handing down a verdict of not guilty in a case, however circumstantial, that seems to so clearly point to guilt of the defendant, makes a more compelling story than throwing the book at an apparently guilty person (and no I do not know if she was really guilty or not — but she lied a lot, and that has been proven).

There are laws, I believe, in at least some jurisdictions that forbid convicted felons from profiting from the sale of their stories, maybe that should be extended to jurors, but there is that free speech barrier.

But fair trials are important to us all.


Standardized test cheating scandal may point to wrong goal in education…

July 7, 2011

People will drop all sense of right and wrong and ethics and morals when it comes to money or promotion or just keeping their job.

I mean if it is true that in Atlanta, Ga. that as many as 178 teachers and principals in the public schools there took part in what is billed at the largest school cheating scandal in history, that seems to prove what I just contended in the first paragraph.

A state investigative report, apparently prompted by investigative reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, charged that they erased wrong answers by students replacing them with correct answers. It also implicated former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall in the scandal. Her legal counsel, however, says she denies the charges.

It is sad indeed that professional educators would think it more important to cheat and thus get unjustly rewarded for higher tests scores via monetary bonuses than to concentrate on actually teaching. And they did get bonuses.

There is no excuse for their actions, except that maybe they felt their whole livelihoods were in jeopardy. And I suspect some soothed their consciences by rationalizing that it was a way to strike back at the test-is-everything no child left behind approach.

I think the whole emphasis on simply improving standardized tests scores misses the point. And I think the pressure should be more on the students to learn than the teachers to worry whether everyone gets a high score.

We all know — and it is painful to us all or many of us — that some people are just smarter than others. The idea that everyone should get a good grade is kind of silly, kind of like Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Woebegone where “all the kids are above average”.

But it is vital that the knowledge be offered. It is vital that teachers be of the highest quality and that they themselves have mastered the subjects they teach.

Done right, teachers will likely see many of their charges surpass them in their own areas of expertise, and they will be proud of this I am sure.

While it is true that some people are better able to pass on their knowledge, each teacher has his or own teaching style and some students may take to it and others not as much.

But this emphasis on teaching to a standardized test is nonsense in that it narrowly focuses on how to get right answers but does not ensure that students really understand what they are doing. In my own life I have often seen people who seem to be good at standardized problems on tests but fall apart when they have to do something original or think out of the standardized box.

I’m not particularly the math type, but I love language. When I was taking Spanish I noticed that some students could ace the tests which were often fill in the blanks and the like, but could not come up with an original sentence on their own.

There has to be some bench mark. So tests have to be used. But teaching to the test and, worse yet, rewarding educators simply for coming up with higher test scores is counter productive, especially when some feel compelled to cheat by changing their own students’ answers.

I do have to say, however, if top-level education were being offered at any given school, it would seem to follow that an abundance of comparatively high scores would be the result. But it should go without saying that cheating ruins the whole thing, but apparently in some educators’ minds the scores and not the learning was the goal.

There is nothing wrong, however, in preparing students in the methods of taking a test. But again, when how to take a test becomes more important than actually learning a subject, something must be wrong.

A more accurate picture of student achievement might be rendered on more individually creative tests than the standardized model but such tests would be difficult to administer and grade on a mass basis, I suppose.

It’s hard to believe that someone who would go into education would stoop to falsifying test results. It’s sad.

It is also sad to hear stories about parents who actually encourage their own children to cheat. To them the scores are all important. I guess they feel they get you into the better colleges and give you more status and more money.

Passing the test has surpassed actual learning as the paramount goal.

If we as a society think we are smart to immediately pass go and get rich, we may eventually find ourselves at last not so smart and not so rich.

India and China value learning (and they like money too).

P.s.

The tenure of former Washington D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee, who carried on the  hard-charging, change-minded get rid of underperforming teachers and principals — under performance based on test scores of the students — was marred by charges or suspicions of cheating by some teachers and principals, the implication being she somehow knew about and/or encouraged it.


A little road trouble doesn’t dampen my HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA spirit…

July 5, 2011

Written on the evening of the Fourth of July..

I had wanted to write a Fourth of July blog but my truck driving work got in the way. Funny how work gets in the way of things you want to do. It looks like I won’t even see any fire works — although it is still  light as I write this (but the way this blog service works, the posted date will be the 5th, I think), so I might still see some. If I were at home I would have a front-row seat for the local fireworks display. But I have been out on the road in the past and seen some pretty good shows as I was driving. Actually yesterday evening someone threw one of those twirly fireball things on the road as I drove through Madras, Oregon — hey there was my show.

To make matters worse, that is besides having to drive today and tonight, I just had a tire blow out here on the freeway about 45 minutes  ago, and here I sit — well just now the road service guy called me and said he is on his way — that’s good news.

But really this is the Fourth of July or it is while I am writing this and this small problem does not bother me. I’m just happy to live in America and have a job.

And if I could have put more effort into this post I would have said something like I think I know what makes America so great. While we are not perfect and we have constant internal dissention, we are still THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITY AND FREEDOM. People all over the world want to come to America and make a new start.

Even though it is true that the super rich keep gobbling up more and more of our resources and even though when it comes to economics and lifestyle we do have classes in our society, we do not have an ingrained class system based on birth and blood lines and so on. And people can move up, even if it seems at times that opportunity is not as large or likely as it used to be — and I do not know for sure that the opportunity is not just as great as it ever was.

We used to have the frontier, which offered people a chance to pull up stakes and start a new life — it was never a guarantee of success, but it worked for a lot of people.

But people still do move on, they just don’t simply go west anymore. They go wherever it seems there might be an opportunity to do better, north or east or south or west.

While I often disagree with the hardcore conservatives when they seem to be in such opposition to social programs and most any kind of regulation on business, I do think we need to keep that American can-do spirit alive and promote self-sufficiency and the retention of that pioneer spirit.

Well I’m not really saying what or all I want to say here due to time and other considerations, like figuring out how to make up for lost time on this run, but I do feel fortunate to be born in America.

So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!