Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Teacher Madness", or, I watched Waiting For Superman

Don Wheeler

Having a bit of time on my hands and a Netflix subscription, I decided I should at last view the mockumentary "Waiting For Superman".

Yeah, I know it is the pride and joy of the Rephorm Privateers, but as an on again off again political operative I know opposition research is important.  The film did not disappoint in its baldness.

The filmmakers show their hand early.  We start out all feel-good.  The narrator shares that he filmed a story about public schools in 1999.  We see short scenes of earnest and patient teachers working with earnest and attentive students.  All seems well.

But abruptly the narrator says that ten years later (when it was time to send his kid to school) his fear of failing schools leads him to drive past three public schools to drop his offspring off at a private one.  I  wondered, what could have happened in the intervening years?  Will Waiting For Superman be an explanation of it?  Turns out, not so much.

It's just the set-up for a series of (pretty clumsy) manipulative attempts to legitimize the claims of the education "reform" (read privatization) proponents.

About twenty-five minutes in, we are riding past a prison.  It is pointed out that it costs $33,000 per year to house an inmate.  BUT (it goes on) the average private school tuition is a mere $8300 per year.  I guess we're supposed to conclude it makes more sense to send people to private schools than to prison.

I happened to be fortunate enough that I attended one of the very finest public High Schools in the United States - Evanston Township High School (Illinois) in the early 1970s.  There I learned that the above comparison is a "false choice".

You find lots of stuff like that in this film, and in some ways it seems like they don't take their own arguments seriously:  There are lots of cartoons, and animated graphs, and repeatedly, "It should be simple..."

Here are some more whoppers.  An ineffective teacher covers only 50% of the course work in a given year.  A highly effective teacher covers 150% of the course work.  There is the obvious problem that one can't possibly cover 150% of any given material.  And the equally obvious problem that comparisons like this are only informative in controlled study groups.

Also, there was a claim that Howard Fuller couldn't fire teachers (who clearly committed malfeasance) "due to a provision in the (teachers') contract called tenure - which guaranteed a job for life".  Call me skeptical.  Even university professors don't get immunity for stuff like that.

Another claim:  We can't do what needs to be done because of teacher contracts.  Here's a flash, the teachers' union negotiates with another party before the contract is agreed to.  Think provisions need to be changed?  Negotiate, don't whine.

We're later told that if we "eliminated" the bottom 4-6% of teachers, our students would reach the achievement levels (test scores) of Finnish students.  The producers seem to not know that 1) The Finns don't think test scores are very important 2) That teaching is a very high status job in Finland 3) That teachers have nearly complete autonomy in Finland.... etc.

There are the wet kisses for KIPP Corporate Charter Schools - who don't outperform public schools, and Michelle Rhee - whose much ballyhooed "turnaround' of the Washington DC school system turned out to be a smoke and mirrors kind of thing...  They must wish they could take those back.

Waiting For Superman is a steady stream of misinformation and disinformation.  Two years out it is very obvious, but at the time it probably fooled a lot of folks and got them focused on strategies which are not helpful.

We rightly think Finland has shown real success in public education. Does Finland have long school days?  Nope.  Does Finland have school six days a week?  Nope.  Does Finland have anyone involved in teaching or administration who is not a trained academic?  Nope.  You get the idea.

This movie enjoyed some box office success and something of a cult following. But when the producers tried to spike the football this past fall with a film called "Won't Back Down", it disappeared from theaters nearly immediately - despite a hugely splashy launch.  You can fool all the people....

If you want to see a film that rationally discusses the real issues, I'd recommend the reply movie "The Inconvenient Truth About Waiting For Superman".

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Letter to the South Bend Tribune

It is widely believed that the State DOE Board will be considering REPA2 at their December 5 meeting.   The proposal, as I read it, seems to pretty much remove the imperative for teacher training and skill confirmation.  A college graduate who passes a licensing test – such as the kind to sell auto insurance – can teach.  No training in teaching, no mentoring, or student teaching would be required.

This is nonsensical on many levels.  Let’s face it, a High School graduate has enough math to (in theory) teach Seventh Grade math.  If we don’t care if people actually possess the skill to pass their knowledge on to others, why insist on college?  Seems like overkill.

And what effect will this have on state university Education programs?  Do we believe qualified teaching graduates should be strictly an export item?  Talk about a brain drain.

Our daughter has had five excellent teachers in her five years in public education.  Three have retired – and it’s hard to fault them.  After working for many, many years and doing really great work, the State has made them feel as though they are some sort of villain.

Please contact our Rep Jo Blacketor with your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Prefer Professional Educators

Jo Blacketor
Indiana Department of Education Board of Trustees
Second Congressional District Representative

November 20, 2012

Dear Jo,

Around four years ago, you and I had some nice back and forth on the South Bend Forum concerning education issues.  The topic at hand was the SBCSC Board of Trustees race – in which I was a candidate.  Facing fourteen opponents for two seats (including the ex-Mayor), I did stop campaigning aggressively towards the end.  But my interest in public education issues never waned.  As a matter of fact, in the past year I have devoted many tens of tens of hours reviewing policies, strategies, analyses, and studies in the realm of pre-K to grade 12 education – what works and what doesn’t.  There’s plenty to sift through, and I devote some time every day to it.

It is widely believed that your Board will be considering REPA2 at your December 5, 2012 meeting.  This is not known for certain, since I gather the agenda is made available only shortly prior to the meeting.

The proposal, as I read it, seems to pretty much remove the imperative for teacher training and skill confirmation.  A college graduate who passes a licensing test – such as the kind to sell auto insurance – can teach.  No training in teaching, no mentoring, or student teaching would be required.

This is nonsensical on many levels.  Let’s face it, a High School graduate has enough math to (in theory) teach Seventh Grade math.  If we don’t care if people actually possess the skill to pass their knowledge on to others, why insist on college?  Seems like overkill.

And what effect will this have on state university Education programs?  Do we believe qualified teaching graduates should be strictly an export item?  Talk about a brain drain.

I have trained working dogs, mentored kids, taught Sunday School, trained adults for low level management, and am a parent.  I’ve taken all these roles seriously, and now in my mid-fifties, feel reasonably competent.  But K-12 teachers have a much tougher job.

I had the privilege a few weeks ago to spend an hour with my daughter’s Fourth Grade class at Hay Primary Center.  I came to tell them about how elections work, how the elected federal government is organized, the intricacies of the Electoral College, etc.  It was a lively session – the kids had really great questions.  It was obvious they were in the room of someone (Mrs. Nace) who kept the excitement of learning going for them.  I was very good for that hour, but pretty drained when it ended.  Then she took over - someone trained to, and having the experience to, teach every day, all day.

My daughter has had five excellent teachers in her five years in public education.  Three have retired – and it’s hard to fault them.  After working for many, many years and doing really great work, the State has made them feel as though they are some sort of villain.  They’ve personally covered the cost of class supplies the state should have paid for.  Parent Teacher Organizations have tried to help them fill some other gaps. All this can’t be easy to take. 

By ostracizing these professionals, the result is that other children will be denied the advantages of learning from these truly excellent educators.  That’s a loss to our community.  Yet the proposed state policy claims that any random college graduate (competent enough to pass a standardized test) is an improvement.  Well, as my southern friends might put it: That dog won’t hunt.

And it’s pretty offensive when the outgoing Governor, and the Governor Elect, claim that the stunning election loss by an extraordinarily hyper funded Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, doesn’t indicate dissatisfaction with state education policy.  Mr. Pence narrowly defeated an opponent who pretty much ran on his moustache – and received fewer votes than our newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz.  The election was entirely about citizen dissatisfaction with state education policy.  To claim otherwise is to look reality in the face and deny it.

I realize you serve at the pleasure of the Governor.  But you represent a district who voted for Glenda and the Moustache.  I hope you will keep us in mind at your meeting.  Thank you for all your public service.

Don Wheeler
South Bend

Monday, November 19, 2012

State School Board To Meet - Likely To Ignore Election Results

The Indiana School Board is scheduled to meet on December 5.  Tony Bennett will still be (albeit lame duck) Superintendent.

It is widely believed the Board will consider cheapening the requirement for state teaching certification.  Here's an analysis of the proposal .

The Second Congressional District is represented by Jo Blacketor, a former South Bend Community School Corporation Board Trustee.  I would urge everyone to look at the proposal and send her your thoughts.  Her e-mail is .

I'll writing in more dept about this soon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On the Glenda Ritz victory: Fantastic, but....

I posted this on Diane Ravitch's blog earlier today:

I am very pleased with Glenda Ritz’s victory. There was much energy expended here in the South Bend area to highlight this race. Educators (of all stripes) in particular were highly engaged.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Mike Pence – a front man for ALEC and Engulf & Devour (Koch Industries) is the Governor-Elect. His party controls the state Assembly. As a teacher I worked beside yesterday said to me, “Mitch Daniels kept Tony Bennett on something of a leash. Mike Pence would take the leash off”.

So we’ll have a Governor who will make things very difficult for the new Superintendent of Public Instruction. And a legislature capable of starving her department of funds.

The bottom line is that while we citizens of Indiana dodged a serious bullet, we’ll need to be extraordinarily vigilent and engaged to promote policies which will truly benefit our youngest citizens. Fellow Hoosiers, I hope you’ll join me in dedicating your efforts to that.

Don Wheeler
South Bend, IN

Friday, October 26, 2012

Why I can't support Roger Parent's re-election

Don Wheeler
I have more than a little respect for Roger Parent.  Roger has attracted resources to the South Bend Community School Corporation via his connections.  It's not a known whether they would have been available otherwise.  I credit him for making things happen in any case.  I am also in complete agreement with his observations published in today's paper  and I'm glad he wrote about the situation.  I support action to review the conduct of Bill Snaidecki - who has caused enormous trouble, tumult, and expense. There are probably some other ways Roger has been helpful that I don't recall right off as well.

I have contact with some current and past Board members, some familiarity of recent history, and of course follow relevant events and issues in the press.   All these inform my perspective.  So here's what I don't like.

For starters, Roger raised and spent $37,000 for an unpaid position when he ran in the gang of 15 last time.  I'm pretty sure that was well in excess of what all of the rest of us spent, combined.  Not damning by any means but something of a red flag to me.

Prior to that election the Board (after some pretty tough sessions) narrowly decided to launch a nationwide search for a permanent Superintendent to replace the recently terminated Robert Zimmerman.  James Kapsa had been named interim in the meantime.

Despite the fact that the search could have been funded without touching the school corporation budget, candidate Parent insisted that Kapsa should be named the permanent Superintendent.  My position (especially considering Mr. Kapsa had no prior experience as Superintendent) was that he should be invited to apply.  But considering the pain and tumult which occurred over the dismissal of Dr. Zimmerman, the community needed a fresh start with someone experienced in the process of major overhaul of a school district.

Parent and Stephanie Spivey won the election and the (partially lame-duck) Board decided to consult the Trustees-elect on the matter.  Ms. Spivey had been clear and vocal during the campaign that what was needed was "a turnaround expert" in the position.  She confirmed to me that her view had not changed as we walked into the SBCSC building together.  We parted company, she to an Executive Session Board meeting and I to the gallery.

The report of the ESB meeting was a motion to permanently appoint Mr. Kapsa to the position - effectively reversing the earlier decision.  And imagine my surprise when Stephanie rose to speak in favor of the motion - though not all that convincingly.  In fact, of all speakers I was the only one to voice opposition - suggesting that the original course was the wiser one.  That prompted Trustee Ralph P. to comment that he admired my courage.  It wasn't much fun, that's for sure.

Naturally I felt a bit blind sided by Stephanie.  When I asked her about it later, she muttered something about being steamrollered.  I didn't press for details and she didn't offer.

So Parent pretty much made this all happen.  But the honeymoon didn't last with Kapsa - for whatever reason.  From what I heard and observed, Parent made things difficult for Kapsa, eventually causing him to "retire".  (I've heard it put more harshly).  Two years later we were back where we started from - looking for a Superintendent.

Parent's conduct at the early meetings could be characterized as self-important and petulant.  He even offered for President at the very first meeting he sat in.  He was narrowly defeated by sitting President Sheila Bergeron. 

That observation may strike you as petty, but it then set the scene for a continuation of all that the community loathed about their school board.  There was already one self important and petulant member (Snaidecki), and it seemed clear that there would be no end to the plague of factions.

Puzzlingly, about a year into his term, Parent penned something of a manifesto of what had and hadn't been accomplished.  This was published in the Tribune.  What was striking about it in my recollection was that there were 23 instances of the words "I" and "me" and zero (or at least nearly zero) or the words "we" and "us'.  It almost seemed a plea for re-election.  But he wasn't up for election.

Then there was the instance when he was so adamant about the New Tech High School program, that he threatened to start his own charter version if the program wasn't adopted by the SBCSC Board.  This was reported by the Tribune and occurred in open session of the Board.  The program clearly has merit, but that was a pretty crummy way to behave.  But he got his way.

Fast forward to present day.  Bill Snaidecki goes to the press, charging the Board has met illegally. I could fill many pages covering what is wrong with this action and catalogue other transgression on Snaidecki's part.  If I were a fellow Board member, I would not have taken this lightly.

But what does Roger (and Michelle Engel) do?  They also go to the press.  But they don't just say that Snaidecki is wrong - and that the Board will need to come to an understanding about this.  They say that Snaidecki must apologize and resign as Vice President.

No one who knows anything about the man would have believed that would happen.  And it didn't.  So back to the press goes Roger announcing what he surely intended from the beginning - a motion of censure.  And he's dragged the Superintendent into this mess as well.  He wasn't able to achieve enough support to cause this action to happen prior to election, so its scheduled shortly after. 

I couldn't believe it, so I wrote the Tribune expressing my frustration and exasperation. 

I have no doubt that Roger Parent deeply wants the children of our community to thrive.  None at all.  But individuals who are intensely self-absorbed and filled with certitude ride roughshod over others and often get in the way of their own stated goals. 

The community is fatigued by the drama and intrigue their school board has provided over the years.  There's a reason Dawn Jones has been unopposed the last two times she's stood for election.  The same reason Jay Capanigro is so highly respected.

So though I know Roger Parent has much to offer our community, I cannot support his re-election.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My letter to President Obama

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 

October 15, 2012

Dear President Obama,
I am the parent of a public school fourth-grader in South Bend IN.  I write today to express my deep concern regarding federal education policy.
We have in our state a Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, who appears to be wholly dedicated to turning over our school system to for profit companies.  He can do this under the cover of your “Race To The Top” program.  From the Fort Wayne, IN  Journal Gazette:
Indiana enjoyed almost 24 years of steady, collaborative effort to improve public education under Republicans H. Dean Evans and Suellen Reed, but Bennett’s election four years ago marked an end to the partnership among policymakers, educators, parents and the business community. The noteworthy improvement Indiana schools have made in recent years, including higher graduation rates, is the result of the foundation Evans and Reed set.

Rather than follow their example, Bennett cleaned house, replacing experienced educators with a DOE staff whose frequent turnover has left school districts struggling to interpret rules and requirements. He took advantage of GOP majorities to push an expansive legislative agenda, including the nation’s most expansive voucher program. Before its effects are even known, he is looking to extend it, eliminating the restriction that vouchers go only to students who first attend public school. 

Studies demonstrate that charters generally don’t get better results than public schools unless they exclude low-performing children. Sometimes they can’t compete even with that advantage.  Our local charters lag slightly behind the School Corporation average in terms of test scores.  
Public schools educate all children. For-profit schools cherry-pick their student body and compensate teachers at below market levels – which enables them to steal precious tax dollars to pay off investors. Those resources belong in the classroom.  The for-profit virtual schools (which seem to be the next strategy of the Privateers) get uniformly bad reviews from everyone but Wall Street. 
Should for-profit charter schools enter the picture here, I have no doubt it will lead to a dual system for the haves and have-nots. That would be terribly ironic - since our school system operates under a consent decree whose origin is due to past segregation issues.
Please withdraw your support from the failed effort to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students. The American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education issued a joint paper saying that such methods are inaccurate and unstable. Teachers get high ratings if they teach the easiest students, and low ratings if they teach the most challenging students.  Additionally, prepping students for tests cheats students of valuable instruction time.  The only people who come out ahead are the stockholders of test design and/or administration companies.
Please stop encouraging the closure of schools and firing of staffs because of low scores. Low scores are much more likely a reflection of high poverty, than an indicator of bad schools or bad teachers. Insist that schools enrolling large numbers of poor and minority students get the resources they need to succeed.
Please speak of the role of public education in a democracy, doors open to all. Please speak about the importance of early childhood education and small classes and libraries and the arts and a rich curriculum. Please remind the nation why schools need nurses and social workers and after-school activities.
Please recognize that schools work best through collaboration, not competition. Remind the nation why teaching to the test is wrong and why standardized testing should be used to help, not to give rewards and punishments.
Please, President Obama, recognize that your policies are demoralizing teachers. Many are leaving the profession. Young people are deciding not to become teachers. Your policies are ruining a noble profession.  My daughter has had five outstanding teachers in her short  school career.  Three of them have retired.
It’s time to re-think the federal approach.  Up to now, you have basically taken George W, Bush’s policy and put your stamp of approval on it.   I ask that you devote your skills and your attention to what is possibly the thing that matters most to the future of the United States – the education of our children.  I’m confident you can do better.
Thank you for reading this.
Don Wheeler

Friday, October 12, 2012

My letter to the South Bend Tribune

The South Bend Community School Corporation Board of Trustees had some accomplishments members reasonably could feel proud of.  They had secured some no cost and low cost consulting to help them formulate a strategic plan.  They appointed a Superintendent.  And they resolved an anticipated budget shortfall.  That’s pretty good work.

Then Trustee Bill Snaidecki went to the press, revealing events in a closed meeting – something he’s been accused of doing anonymously in the past.  I disagree with the South Bend Tribune’s decision to publish this information, since Snaidecki clearly violated at least the rules of the Board, if not worse.  But what followed was arguably worse.

The Board President and Secretary took their turns in the press to express outrage – insisting that Snaidecki resign the position of Vice President and apologize.  Seems to me, a meeting might have been a better forum in which to lodge the protest – particularly since at last count there are seven members of the Board, not three.  In any case, Snaidecki declined the request.

More recently, the Board President upped the ante, announcing that he and the Superintendent had initiated an investigation of Snaidecki’s past conduct, and had called for a special meeting to consider censure shortly after election day.

I hate to be a stickler for chain of command, but doesn’t the Superintendent report to Snaidecki as one of her seven bosses?  It seems inappropriate that she be involved in this way - particularly since she apparently will be a witness for the prosecution.

When asked if there was political motivation behind this announcement, the Board President insisted that announcing the action before the election and resolving the matter after the election was the most neutral way of handling things.  Not in my view.

Snaidecki stands accused, but unable to defend himself prior to the election.  There’s nothing neutral about that.  If neutrality were the goal, scheduling the meeting, but not publicly announcing it would have been the way to go.

Furthermore, the Board Secretary has announced that should Snaidecki be re-elected, she will pursue his removal from the Board entirely.  Let that sink in a minute.  Sounds to me the voters of that district are being warned not to make a mistake.

Were I a member of the SBCSC Board, I would feel marginalized by a minority of my colleagues playing out this drama in the media.  Were I a voter in Snaidecki’s district, I would also feel marginalized – since the implication that my vote might not count for anything is pretty clear.

As it is, I am neither.  What I am is a parent of a school age child, a constituent of the school corporation, and a citizen with a strong interest in the preservation and enhancement of public education.  And I don’t like any of this one bit.

To be clear:  I am not a fan of Snaidecki’s, and I could get very detailed about my reasons.  I would not be shocked if there were a strong case for his censure.  But there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle problems like this.   It’s hard to imagine a way more wrong than what’s gone on to date.

Don Wheeler
60648 Lilac Rd,
South Bend, IN  46614

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

South Bend School Board needs to get its house in order

Don Wheeler

I'm no fan of South Bend Community School Corporation Board Trustee, Bill "Common Sense" Sniadecki.

He routinely grandstands for the audience at Board Meetings.  He's been accused of attempted intimidation of female Trustees in closed meetings. He votes no on low bids if the contractor is not a local one - though state law requires our Board to accept the lowest bid.  And it is widely believed that it was he who leaked the details of the performance evaluation of  former Superintendent Robert Zimmerman which ultimately led to his dismissal.  Snaidecki opposed the termination bitterly.

More recently,  he revealed details of a closed meeting to the press (not anonymously), and the Board President Roger Parent, and Secretary Michelle Engel called him to task - insisting he apologize, and resign the office of Vice-President.  Mr. Snaidecki has refused.

From the South Bend Tribune:

Last month, Sniadecki publicly questioned the legality of an executive session of the board in which, he said, potential closure of schools was discussed, rather than just the decades-old consent decree, an order for desegregation of the schools.

In a South Bend Tribune article today , Parent, et al, upped the ante, calling for censure, and bringing new charges.

Parent said today that he and Schmidt then decided to conduct a "deep and broad" investigation into Sniadecki's conduct as a board member.

Among other examples of alleged misconduct they cite is a November incident in which Schmidt said Sniadecki dropped off an envelope for her -- when she was still the interim superintendent -- at the administration building marked "confidential."

Inside, she said, was a list of the 20 questions that would be asked of the candidates for permanent superintendent, a position for which she had applied.
Now why a subordinate (the Superintendent) would be involved in investigating one of her bosses is an intriguing question.  Particularly since she is a potential witness.

In between there was this story

Some exerpts:

South Bend’s school board president says the group’s executive sessions — closed-door meetings that are legally allowed under specific, limited circumstances — will now be recorded.

“Hopefully, this will encourage board member Bill Sniadecki to express his concerns about any issue being discussed during the executive session instead of improperly after the session is over,” Roger Parent wrote in an e-mail Wednesday that he sent to the news media, Superintendent Carole Schmidt and board members.

The e-mail, however, was not sent to Sniadecki.

Parent later said that was an oversight.
That's one possible description.


South Bend Community School Corp. spokeswoman Sue Coney said the corporation’s attorneys have advised that if the board wants to record executive sessions, it should first update its bylaws to reflect its intent.

oops, and:
 Jay Caponigro, another board member, said he thinks the decision about recording executive sessions should be decided via a consensus of the entire board.

“I think my main concern,” Caponigro said, “is Roger is making the decision on his own.”

Previously, Mr. Caponigro stated he had heard Mr. Snaidecki's complaint at the meeting, but thought it lacked merit.  Mr. Parent claimed not to have been aware of it.

I'm probably not the only one in town to think that perhaps this drama should not be played out in the press.  That maybe the complaint and cross complaint(s) should be dealt with in a meeting of the body.  In fact, it's hard to see what the desired outcome could be by using the local newspaper as an intermediary.

I would be less than astonished to discover that there is a good case for Mr. Snaidecki's removal - should it come to that.  But even if that is correct, there are many reasons to question what's gone on.

Generally speaking when one or two members of a group of seven go to the media about a topic not yet discussed by the group, I've got a problem with that.   And it was an eyebrow raiser when Mr Parent claimed that raising this issue in advance of the upcoming election wasn't politically motivated:

Bringing the issue out before the election and voting on it after, he said, seemed to be the most neutral position to take.
Well isn't that special?  Particularly in combination with Ms. Engel's intentions:

If Sniadecki is reelected in District 3, Engel said she will pursue the judicial process of having him removed as a board member.
So go ahead voters, elect him.  See what good that'll do you!

This would be funny if it weren't distracting them and us from the business of educating our children.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rosemary’s Weekly Campaign Memo: Don’t Ever Misdial The FEC

It’s been an active couple of weeks as Rosemary Candidate (the potted plant that’s challenging both Republican “Ineffectual Dave” Reichert and “Generic Democratic Opponent” in Washington State’s 8th Congressional District) continues to grow through the legal process of officially becoming a PAC.

Rosemary recently obtained her Taxpayer ID Number from the IRS, she also opened her campaign bank account, and she’s about to file the last official paperwork before the inanimate potted plant becomes an official political entity.

Along the way, we had an encounter with the Federal Election Commission that involved misdirection, extraordinary irony, and a phone call that could well have cost $1.99 a minute – and the scary part was that, for a minute, it all made actual sense.

We have a lot to talk about this time; we better get right to it.

For many ladies the victor cuts a ridiculous figure because he is swelling with importance and yet cannot cope with the never-ending handshaking, saluting, bowing, and waving, while the defeated keep their mouths shut and casually pet the necks of their whinnying horses.

--From the storyReflections for Gentlemen-Jockeys, by Franz Kafka

As we’ve mentioned in a previous story, it’s impossible to be a political candidate or committee without handling the money issues first (did you need direct evidence that money rules politics? Here it is…); that required Rosemary to obtain from the IRS a Taxpayer ID Number which then allowed her to open her bank account, and that will allow her to file her FEC Form 1, which is the document announcing to the Federal Election Commission your plant friend’s intention to form an “independent political expenditure committee”.

The IRS helpfully provides an online and a telephone service to issue Taxpayer ID Numbers; it took about 15 minutes to get it done, and there’s no charge for the service – and that’s pretty darn good for dealing with the IRS.

She also had to file an IRS Form 8871 to tell them that the Write In Rosemary PAC is an official nonprofit, in this case a 527(c)(4) organization, which, as with all political groups, means donations are not tax deductable (as opposed to charities, which are 527(c)(3) nonprofits; their donations are tax deductable).

When we first began to search out a bank, we tried Key Bank, but they wanted $250 to open an account, and that created an apparent “Catch-22”:

The Write In Rosemary PAC cannot accept or solicit donations without first opening a bank account, and $250 is a legally reportable donation, which, obviously, Rosemary cannot accept until after her account is opened.

The bank representative suggested perhaps Rosemary could ask for small donations to get to $250, but, again, that’s soliciting donations, which is illegal absent a bank account.

So I figured I better call the Federal Election Commission for advice, which, in their “Committee Treasurers Brochure”, they encourage, so I went to the website and dialed the 1-800 number.

The recording told me to hang up and dial the “Live Talk Line”, or something to that effect, which I thought was a bit odd, but then I figured, hey, maybe the FEC is doing some sort of phone tree reorganization to create better customer response outputs.

So I called.

The somewhat overly dramatic female voice who answered the “Live Talk Line” reported to me in no uncertain terms that I had come to the right place if I was looking to engage with one of her colleagues in some sort of live chat designed to…well, to elicit a better customer response output, anyway…and by the time she began to discuss the manner in which she intended to handle certain shafts that might come her way (a manner which, I might add, was wildly outside the context of any mining situation that you could possibly imagine), I was pretty darn sure that this wasn’t the FEC or any other Federal regulatory agency on the other end of the line – although, if you think about it, if it really was the FEC it could actually make a lot of sense, in its own weird way:

After all, there has been a real effort on the part of the Republicans in the House to cut funding for the regulatory agencies, and this is a good way to raise a buck, I suppose (a buck? How about $1.99 a minute), and there is a close connection in the minds of the public between elections and getting screwed, so I could see, conceptually, where the FEC might be going here – but it’s pretty hard to imagine, even for me, that anyone in the “No-Drama Obama” Administration would be willing to allow the FEC to turn the 1-800 number over to a performance artist in an election year, and that’s what really convinced me that something must be wrong.

Sure enough, I’d transposed two of the numbers (I’ll leave it to y’all to figure out which ones), and once the error had been corrected the again very helpful folks there at the FEC let me know that, as far as they were concerned, until I got to $5000 in either donations or expenditures they weren’t too worried about how I was taking in donations (although they did point out that, even under $5000, I still have to report certain donors, which is true within the boundaries of the Citizens United ruling).

With that advice in mind, Rosemary has since found a smaller local bank that allowed her to open a no-fee campaign account with a $100 initial deposit (no names, in order to protect the innocent, but it starts with an “S” and ends with “terling”, and so far they seem quite nice), and she will soon have all the legal “t”s dotted and “i”s crossed to allow her to accept (non tax deductable) donations from interested members of the public.

Rosemary is also about to begin her actual public campaign work, which is a subject about which we’ll have more to say shortly; for now let’s just say that Rosemary is planning a bit of political performance art of her own, and we’ll see how that goes when we get together next time – and if we get lucky, there’ll be some fun video to get the conversation going.

So that’s where we are for the next few days: the final paperwork is going into place, then we move along to the actual parts of the thing that are the hardest: getting out there and reminding folks en masse how much Reichert really does suck, and learning how to ask for money, which is something I don’t do naturally and Rosemary is going to have to learn to do fast if she wants to stay in the campaign in any real way.

Any questions? You can always email Rosemary at; if you Twitter you can also follow @ElectRosemary to keep up with all the fun.

It’ll be an interesting summer, that’s for sure, and if nothing else I’m already learning, in a real way, that there in nothing in politics before money – and if any of you ever wonder as to why there aren’t more “plain folks” in politics, I suspect we are getting a pretty good handle on one of the biggest reasons why.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Echoes of a tragedy

Don Wheeler
To the editors of The South Bend Tribune:

I write to offer my unqualified compliments and appreciation for the trio of articles published today. I regard the reporting work as thorough, sober, objective - and important. Devoting the first, second, and seventh pages of your publication to this subject is a clear indication that the editors of Tribune understand the importance as well. 

I am particularly pleased you included a detailed explanation of how the Department of Child Services (DCS) program operates and that you included descriptions of the increased challenges they face.

I was sworn in as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children (CASA) fairly shortly after Indiana had made a serious investment in reducing caseloads for DCS caseworkers (who often had to try to monitor over forty families each).  The trends were encouraging.

The cases I have been associated with involved kids designated as Children In Need of Services (CHINS) for many years. It is my belief that the improvements made to the program led to positive outcomes for a group of four siblings, and look very promising for a teenager ready to start life as an  independent adult.

Yet a few short years later, the trends are the opposite.  As noted in the article, reported cases of abuse and/or neglect of children which were investigated fell from 39% to 16%. Does anyone really believe that 84 percent of reported child abuse cases are meritless? And investigation does not necessarily mean that the children involved will get help - keep in mind that many investigations conclude with a finding that the abuse is unsubstantiated. 

Though I was appalled to read that DCS left over $100M of its seriously truncated budget unspent, it becomes clearer how that happened. If fewer cases are investigated, the State's cost will decrease. It's also no secret that the State DCS has tried to move children out of more expensive residential programs and into foster situations.  For some children, that's not appropriate. Then (as noted in the article) the State has reduced compensation levels for both types of programs.

Indiana DCS Director James Payne is quoted as saying "We have more children with fewer dollars and better results.."  I have to wonder what results he's thinking of.  In his department the only result worth discussing is good outcomes for our children. 

Budgets are clear statements of our values. Resources are finite. What of those we devote to specific purposes speaks loudly of what we believe to be important.

I believe the State of Indiana has a duty to protect its citizens - especially the most vulnerable ones. Our children.

It doesn't bode well, if in our efforts to help our children safely towards adulthood and productive citizenship, cost containment is the objective.  I believe that to be both shortsighted and immoral.

Monday, January 2, 2012

On Being Petarded, Or, Michele Bachmann, It’s Time For The Fork

As we speak, the Iowa Caucuses (which, even before the deportations, had a remarkably small Ingush population) are about to take place, and while we aren’t sure who will ride the wave of victory all the way to the White House – or if the wave will crest even before New Hampshire – we are petty sure that whatever happens, it ain’t gonna happen to Michele Bachmann.

And I feel bad for her, because she really has put in the time in Iowa, having virtually moved there some time back, and probably having shaken every available hand in the State…but it’s still never going to happen for her.

It’s not her ideology, either; those of you who follow her know she can hit all the right notes a conservative electorate (caucusate?) wants to hear, and she can do it with those crazy bug eyes that just tell you that whatever she’s saying she’ll do in office, she’ll probably try to do it.

And I have a feeling she either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to acknowledge what the real problem here might be – but I’m here to help, and we’ll see if we can’t set her straight.

At the end of their third long visit, the Butthole Surfers wanted to thank us by throwing a party, and there was a ceremonial, portentous aspect to the whole thing. First they made a huge dinner of Tex-Mex shrimp, red hot. Then came the real party, for which we cleared all the furniture from one side of the loft. They were going to play.

Early on, a friend of the band showed up with thirty-five tabs of acid. I don’t remember who took what. There were dozens of friends there. But try to imagine a band, especially this one, playing with high-powered amps in an old loft building on the Bowery. I loved it, though I knew this was the end.

--From the story, My Boyfriend Brought Home A Rock Band, by Jerry Rosco

So she really does hit all those right notes, and if you go visit her website (which first requires a visit to the donation page, and then, in a new twist, a page that sales pitches you on her new book – then you can go visit the site), and she does it that special Lutzian language we love so well. Here are a couple of examples from her American Jobs, Right Now page:




Here’s a classic from the A More Secure Nation page:

...Instead, we have a President who devalues the special relationship with our most trusted ally, Britain, even as he bows to kings, bends to dictators, bumbles with reset buttons, and babies radical Islamists. We have a President who tells our true friend, Israel, that it must surrender its right to defensible borders to appease forces that have never recognized that nation’s right to exist…

... We have a President who – in unprecedented fashion – is ravaging our military strength and structure at a time of war, while elevating political correctness over readiness in its ranks. And we have a President who is declaring a premature end to the war on terror against the advice of his own generals.

So she can throw the red meat, just the way Iowa GOP voters like, and according to her website, she’s visited every single Iowa county, just like Rick Santorum – and yet she doesn’t have anywhere near Santorum’s poll numbers.

The thing that’s really weird about all this, at first glance, is that in a State full of conservatives who are still truly distraught about the fact that same-sex couples can marry in Iowa…she really don’t like “Teh Gays”.

Consider this, from an article by Michelle Goldberg in The Daily Beast, back in June of ’11…

Lots of politicians talk about a sinister homosexual agenda. Bachmann, who has made opposition to gay rights a cornerstone of her career, seems genuinely to believe in one. Her conviction trumps even her once close relationship with her lesbian stepsister.

…or this, from Perez Hilton:

Why doesn't she just walk around with a sandwich board draped on her body, equipped neon lights flashing the words, "Homos Be Gone"? That would be more subtle.

And while they may officially deny it, it appears that the Bachmanns are able to earn a living because her husband, Marcus, actually operates one of those “pray away the gay” operations, which should be enough to out-homophobe even Santorum, who has achieved near-legendary status for his elaborate gay-themed fantasies.

Add it all up, and I’m sure Michele Bachmann wonders, right about now, why things aren’t going better?

Well, I hate to tell you this, Michele, but all the homophobia in the world ain’t gonna cover up the fact…that a lot of folks out there think your husband is gay.

And with video like this out there, it’s not really a huge surprise:

And God bless him, he is a rock for Michele: you can see him at personal appearances, right next to her, and she introduces him to almost everyone: “This is my husband, Marcus…” – but when he looks right back at the person proffering the handshake, and he smiles that big smile, and he does that “Soo nice to meet yew…” thing that he does to say hello…well, you can actually see that for some of the voters, it’s a bit awkward.

Especially when you consider that he’s running that “pray away the gay” clinic…

And it’s not just me: Dan Savage and Jon Stewart have famously suggested that Mr. Bachmann might be in the closet – and in fact, that led to a response of its own, from June Thomas, over at Slate:

In other words, the man who launched the “It Gets Better Project,” an effort to stop the bullying of gay teens, was acting like a big bully. As Savage always notes, the kind of smear-the-queer taunts that can cause so much pain to young people aren’t aimed only at kids who are gay, they’re often aimed at boys who don’t live up to some mythical standard of masculinity and girls who just aren’t girly enough. I can only imagine how listeners who happen to have the kind of lisping, effeminate speech and affect that Savage was ridiculing felt upon hearing the attack.

(For what it’s worth, I’m on Stewart’s and Savage’s sides here: that’s because they are pointing out Bachmann’s perceived hypocrisy; as Savage puts it, the effort to drag people back into the closet is Marcus Bachmann’s life work, and I don’t see that kind of attack as being really out of line.)

So, listen, Michele, if you’re out there…I don’t know what to tell ya.

You have staked your political and personal fortune on homophobia, and it worked out pretty well for awhile, but now it’s quickly become a national joke – a Field of Dongs, as it were – and all those people you were counting on to hate Teh Gay, do.

And whether it’s appropriate or not, a lot of those very same haters get kinda squeamish when they see Marcus out and about.

They wonder if maybe he, too, has a bit of a “wide stance”, if you know what I mean.

And when your anti-gay-indoctrinated voters hear him lisp his way though an entirely bizarre anti-gay rant that suggests that what gay people really need is more discipline…well, that’s not helping.

So good luck Tuesday, and I’m sorry that perception sometimes equals reality, especially as it relates to Marcus – but if things go as badly for you as they now appear they will Tuesday, I think it’s officially going to be time to stick a fork in it and call it done, because South Carolina and Florida are not going to be the bastions of bedrock conservative, LBGT-accepting voters that you’ll apparently need to get over the hump here…and after that, well, it actually doesn’t get better.

I’m not a Biblical kind of writer myself, but you can’t help but notice that sowing and reaping are surely connected in this case, and as much as I see Michele preaching from the pulpit, I hope it’s a Bible lesson she someday learns.

On Holding Down The Conversational Fort, Or, Jobs, Republicans, And Hooey

As the next Congressional fight over payroll tax extensions and unemployment benefits and pipelines gets set up in the next few weeks for either its final chapter or to be kicked down the road a bit farther, one or the other, you’re going to hear a lot from our Republican friends about how much they value work and workers; most especially, they’ll tell you, they value American jobs for American workers.

After all, they’ll say, creating American jobs is the most important thing of all.

But if we were to look back over just the last few months, some would tell us, we could quickly find examples of how Republicans promote ideas that don’t seem to value work or workers at all, much less American jobs.

Well as it turns out, “some” seem to be right; to illustrate one of those examples we’ll look back a month or two or three to a time some Republicans might wish was long, long, ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

A successful comedian usually becomes more megalomaniacal as the success barometer rises. Initial success might be achieved from stand-up but then the comedian envisions a sitcom, then Broadway, albums, extended tours, Europe, and then his or her own production company. These things are all fine. Don’t do dinner theater. Don’t open stuff, like shopping centers or bowling alleys. Don’t do fairs, especially if you follow the pig contest.

--From the book “How To Be A Stand-Up Comic”, by Richard Belzer

So…the House Republicans went and promoted and passed out their payroll tax cut plan, and within that plan was a demand that the Junkie XL Pipeline – sorry, that should be Keystone XL Pipeline – get special “expedited” approvals, despite the objections of those who are worried about their water supply, and we have to do this, right now, those same House Republicans tell us, in order to put more or less 6500 folks to work getting the thing built.

And as we mentioned above, this is because the House Republicans care about American jobs and American workers.

So…it may strike you as a bit odd that the exact same House Republicans sent to the Senate in September the “Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act” (HR 2587), which has only one purpose: it tells the National Labor Relations Board (the “NLRB”) that if workers at a company decide to form a union, or the company even thinks a union might be coming, and the company, in retaliation, decides to move work from that plant – or, for that matter, decides to move the entire plant – then neither the NLRB nor the United States Courts shall have the authority to do anything about it.

All of this stems from an effort by Boeing to move work from Washington State to South Carolina in retaliation for union activity by the Puget Sound workforce; the NLRB has ruled that Boeing cannot move the work, and the Company and its friends in Congress have joined forces with other anti-Union Members of Congress to move this legislation.

Need a third-party expert opinion to help make sense of the NLRB’s involvement and remedies? Consider this comment from University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Ellen Dannin, via Dennis Kucinich:

The NLRB has decades of experience with cases of this sort, and the National Labor Relations Act is clear that employer actions like Boeing’s violate the law. If this were a murder case, it would be a case in which the police found a person saying : “I did it,” while standing over a fresh corpse with smoking gun in hand.

Decades of experience, did she say? Yes she did – and she was right. In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that the NLRB had the power to order remedies that include making companies “bring work back”, the relevant case being Fibreboard Paper Products Corp. v. Labor Board, 379 U.S. 203.

The 250 law professors who wrote a letter explaining why HR 2587 is such a bad idea point out that it’s not just about Boeing: companies will no longer have any reason to even bargain with unionized workers (or those who wish they were) before closing plants and moving work overseas, as they have to do now under the law; again, that’s because no one will have the power of enforcement in these cases anymore.

As you might imagine, that’s going to accelerate the departure of jobs overseas, and it won’t take very long to get to 6500, which makes all that Republican fussin’ and fightin’ and sanctimoneoussin’ about Keystone look a bit hollow, eh?

Let’s jump to the side track, as it were, and take a moment to talk about why the question of which Party controls Congress matters: HR 2587 was introduced into the House, and if the Democrats controlled the Chamber it would have died in Committee, and that would have been that…but they don’t, and it didn’t, so the bill made it to the House floor, where it passed with no Democratic “aye” votes and six Republicans voting “nay”.

Then it went to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Sometimes Frustrating) has a bit more power than a Speaker of the House to kill any bill before his Chamber, if he’s so inclined; in this case the bill sits on the Senate Legislative Calendar, and unless he says otherwise, that’s where it’ll stay. Of course if Mitch McConnell (R-Hates Obama With The Fire Of A Thousand Suns) were Majority Leader, he would have that bill on the Senate Floor in a heartbeat – and it would pass with a Republican majority, unless Democrats were willing to stand firm and filibuster the thing or the President was willing to use the veto pen, neither of which seems particularly certain.

A companion bill, S 1523, was introduced by Lindsey Graham; it was referred to Committee, possibly to never be seen again – which is also thanks to Harry Reid, with an assist from Tom Harkin, who is the relevant Chair.

At this point I was going to move on to the “what have we learned today” part of the deal, but before I do, I want to take a moment to show you just what kind of legislation our GOP friends will bring to the table, given the chance:

S 1720, the “Put All Your Crazy Eggs In One Basket Act” (not the real bill title, but close enough), was introduced by John McCain just before Halloween (it’s now on the Legislative Calendar, not doing much), and it’s a classic.

This one single bill calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment vote, a semi-flat income tax, repeals “ObamaCare”, repeals Dodd-Frank (Wall Street reform), says you basically can’t sue for medical malpractice anymore, says that if Congress fails to approve any Federal Agency regulation in 90 days, it’s invalid, and then says no Agency can pass any regulation, of any kind, until unemployment hits 7.7%...and there’s a lot more besides, including, I kid you not, forbidding the EPA from regulating the discharge of pesticides into water.

So now let’s get to “what have we learned?”

How about this:

We are going to hear a lot over the next 60 days about how the GOP loves you, the American worker, but at the exact same time they are looking to…well…put all the crazy eggs in one basket, if they can get away with it, and at the same time they’re looking to make it easier and easier to send more jobs to more countries than ever before, even to the point of trying to tell courts and regulators that they can no longer enforce laws Republicans can’t get repealed.

As our GOP friends stand before you, these next couple months, professing their undying love, remind them of this conversation today, and HR 2587, and S 1720, McCain’s “Crazy Egg Basket” bill, and then ask them if they think the GOP really cares about American jobs, or if they’re just getting hustled by slightly-slicker versions of used-car dealership credit managers?

Then you lean in close, look ‘em in the eye, smile just a bit, and you say to ‘em: “And hey, while you’re here…what do I gotta do to get you into a slightly used 1993 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagontoday?”

Then you can both have a little laugh – while you take their money and run.

What do you think it symbolizes?