Thursday, August 18, 2011

Don't make us look like crap

Driving my kids to school yesterday morning for their first day back from summer vacation, I reminded them to keep their heads facing forward and hands to themselves in line, to be respectful even if someone else is being a jerk and to keep their lips zipped when a teacher is talking.

I was no paragon of model behavior when I was a kid, but my children are a lot smarter than me. They take after their mother. One day when Liana was in third grade, her parents went to her school and, unbeknownst to her, peaked into her classroom. It was like animal house. Students were boisterous, throwing spitballs and running around desks. All the while, the teacher kept talking, but no one was listening. Except dutiful little Liana, head upright, eyes and ears fixed on the teacher. I would’ve been one of the kids throwing spitballs.

I tell my kids that I don’t want them giving their teachers any reason to talk trash about them in the staff lounge.

Liana and I emphasize to the kids that their actions don’t just reflect on themselves. If they make trouble, then we look like crap.

But you have to give them room to grow. Expecting your kids to never make mistakes would be as realistic as thinking the sun’s going to rise in the west. One evening, I came home from work and Liana said, “Dad, Sam has something to tell you.”


His third grade class had a substitute teacher and he was showing his classmates a picture he drew of her with the word, “stinky” written above it. The kids’ laughter caught the teacher’s attention and she confiscated the picture.

“How would you feel if you were that teacher?”

“Bad,” he answered with repentance in his voice.

I wanted to ground him from his Nintendo Wii for two days, but Liana reminded me that he had confessed out of his own volition. That was cause for clemency, I agreed. We told Sam we were proud of him for taking ownership of his actions, but we did have him write a letter of apology to the sub. His regular teacher would probably have him do that the next day anyway. His letter read:

Hello. I’m sorry I called you stinky. Will you forgive me? If you don’t, I understand. Actually, you are one of the best substitutes I’ve had. Signed, Sam.”

The letter was still in his backpack the next day. His teacher hadn’t said anything so apparently the substitute hadn’t reported the misbehavior.

“Maybe, writing the letter was punishment enough,” Liana said. Maybe, but something didn’t seem right to me.

Blackboard jungle

I was working as a substitute teacher in a third grade classroom. Some girls wrote my name on the dry erase board: “Mr. Guy.” I turned to the para-educator in the room and said, “If they were in middle or high school, some smart aleck would turn the u into an a.”

It’s happened. A high school girl called me “Mr. Gay.” What was I supposed to do, get all offended? Say, “Yeah, well my wife is one happy woman”? I just wrote her up for sexual harassment since she meant “gay” as a pejorative. The teacher thought that was a nice touch. “Oh, she can get in a lot of trouble for that,” he said. Good. There may be a teacher or student who is gay. They don’t deserve that abuse.

Kids will never be as good for a substitute as they are for their regular teacher. It’s party time, a free-for-all. I accept that, but I will not sub for PE or music at the middle and high school levels. Been there, done that. That’s when these hormone-driven beasts are most riotous and the room starts to resemble a London riot scene.

An obstreperous eighth grade boy wanted to bring out every ball in the storage locker to play dodge ball with. I only let them use one ball and this kid’s friends still wound up holding him down when he got mad and tried to beat the hell out of another boy who lodged a ball into his head. Never let kids play dodge ball.

Most kids, by the time they get to middle school, do not want to be in music class and they let you know it. On the two occasions, I subbed for middle school music, it was like trying to manage a lunatic asylum and the residents were cruel, vulgar cretins. Their parents must be proud.

“I don’t have to do what you say,” this tough guy wanna be told me. “My mom told me I don’t have to listen to substitutes.”

“Well, that explains a few things,” I replied.

“Oooh,” he said, face tightening. “You talkin’ smack on my family. I’ll kick your ass.”

I ignored his idle threat. I’m not a big guy, but what was this scrawny little kid going to do to me? I did almost call security to have him removed from class before he left on his own.

Most elementary school kids still respect their teachers, but discipline is still a challenge. I heard two teachers sharing war stories about their students at the end of the day. They talked about poor parenting, how kids haven’t learned manners and self-discipline at home. This thought kept flashing in my head:

Not my kids.

Making things right

It was the last day of school. I told Ashton, the school secretary, about Sam’s mistake and handed her the letter of apology.

“He doesn’t remember the name of the sub, but she was the last sub the kids had for the year,” I said. “Could you find out her name and make sure she gets this?”

“We’ll get it taken care of,” Ashton said with a voice that conveyed confidence and efficiency.

Sometime during the summer, I told my wife and son that I had the letter mailed to the substitute.

“I bet that touched her heart,” Sam said in an ordinary kid voice, unaware of any sentimentality.

“I’m sure it did, Son.”

Liana was nervous about how the kids would do in getting back to the school routine. Sam, entering fourth grade, would be in the intermediate school, and Kenzie, a first-grader, would be on her own in the primary school. I assured her they would be just fine.

Later in the day, I got a text from Liana.

“Kids had a great day.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Woody Guthrie~ All You Fascists Bound To Lose

Hope it's true.

Off the cliff, into the apocalypse

America is scooting by with its ass intact. We staved off a worldwide depression. The long international nightmare over the debt ceiling is over so we should all feel happy and let out cheers like we haven’t heard since Bin Laden was killed.

So why does it feel like a hallow victory?

I don’t know. Some rouge band of extremists holds the country hostage, threatens to send our economy – and by extension, the entire inhabited world economy – down a bottomless abyss unless we lay down and let a small oligarchic faction of super-corporate Caesear-esque, pseudo-Christo fascists have their way. Poor people of America, the world over be damned.

This drama was already old weeks ago when my friend Marie, a regular NPR listener, said, “I’m sick of hearing about it.”

“Democrats want to raise taxes on the wealthy to bring in revenue and Republicans want to make spending cuts,” I said.

“Why can’t they do both?”

“They could. Obama offered them a deal that would do that very thing and they wouldn’t have it.”

The Teaheads held their collective breath like recalcitrant children until they got their way. Like pre-schoolers refusing to share their toys, they stood at the door like obstinate George Wallaces, unwilling to yield a tiny bit of control and share the power and decision-making.

Obama rolled over and gave them the kitchen sink. Well, maybe not the whole sink. He may have kept a faucet handle or two. We don’t have to pass a balanced budget amendment. Wasn’t that a magnanimous compromise on the part of our Republican friends?

I wish Obama would have invoked the 14th amendment, Section 4: The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

I interpret that to mean that the nation’s debts, approved into law by Congress will be honored. Surely, the Party of Personal Responsibility would support keeping our word and paying the bills our government has racked up. Amendment 14 gives teeth to Article VI. Section 1, which basically says any debts or agreements the United States makes with another nations comprise the “supreme Law of the Land” and every executive, legislative and judicial office holder in the federal and state governments are bound by a sworn oath to abide by that law.

By that logic, I would think that elected senators and representatives who extort the government by threatening to destroy the country’s credit for political advantage are guilty of violating their oaths, the Constitution and rebelling against the United States of America. Yes, I think this extremist band of right wing radicals cloaking itself in the Bible and the American flag have committed an insurrectionary act. Impeachment would probably be too nasty and prolonged of a process, but I think they should at least be censured.

Sure the right wingers would call Obama a socialist dictator. So what? They’re going to anyway. Despot. Traitor. Dictator. They said that about Jefferson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, JFK and every progressive leader this country has ever had. They put those words to the hand bills they were passing out on Nov. 22, 1963 when Pres. John F. Kennedy rolled into downtown Dallas, Texas.

Obama may as well have shown some backbone and cited the Constitution to end the crisis. It’s not as if there’s no precedent for a president broadly interpreting the Constitution in the interest of progress and national security. Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. FDR and the Land-Lease agreement with Great Britain. Critics denounced Lincoln for violating the Constitution in executing the Civil War and preserving the Union. Think how symbolic, how historically significant it would be if Obama were to follow in the footsteps of Lincoln in saving the country – and world – from modern day Confederate flag wavers.

But if the president won’t show he has gonads and the insurrectionists won’t get a spanking in Congress, we can only hope the right-wing thugs will be held accountable before the court of public opinion.

Good luck with that. The public has let the corporate CEOs and preachers make fools out of them. They bought into this false and phony Wall Street engineered “populist movement” called the tea party. A lot of people abnegated their God given powers of reason and let their emotions be played by their puppet masters, the Koch Brothers.

Sure, most of America got wise to the Republican antics. Most people think it’s not asking much for the wealthiest Americans, those who have benefitted the most from their country’s abundance, to share the load. They see whose stymied progress.

To a lesser degree, I’d say Americans blame Obama and see this meltdown as the failure of both sides to find common ground. The “centrist” media, in the interest of “objectivity” and “fairness” has mostly treated this right-wing led scorched earth attack as a pissing contest between two sides instead of calling it out for what it is. Editors and corporate media heads tell reporters to do this so they won’t be called (gosh I’m so scared) the “liberal media” by Fox “news,” eliminationist talk radio demagogues and the vociferous loud mouth sitting on a bar stool or church pew.

The public has proven it can easily be misled and conservatives are counting on a fickle public to forget who caused the debt ceiling debacle. That way they can blame Obama and all Democrats for the poor economy that will result from their gutted plan. It’s a terrible deal.

Republicans complained about the $14 trillion debt and how we cannot keep adding to it. However, when Congress authorizes spending and does not have revenue coming in (taxes), the government has to borrow the difference. Spend less? Slashing spending will cause further wreckage in an already depressed economy. Most any economist will tell you that. Keynesian economics – a government stimulus to jumpstart growth – is a proven standard. It’s economics 101.

But why should Republicans care about U.S. growth when the people getting them elected send their labor overseas where they can commit human rights violations and decimate the environment with impunity?

Also, wouldn’t it be uncharacteristic for right wing extremists to heed the word of economists – you know, educated people? These flat-earthers have ushered in an age of anti-intellectualism. Global warming? Climate change? Scientists warn us in published scientific journals. Forget it, it’s a lie invented by the “liberal media.” We don’t want no “constitutional law professor” as Sarah Paliban called the president. (Seriously, she meant that as an insult.) Hell no, don’t put no educated man in there. We want Joe Six-Pack. Better to keep in the pocket of brothers Charles and David Koch.

I’m from Kansas and I can tell you, these blinded-by-the-right sheep among goats will follow their leaders over a cliff and into the apocalypse. And when their scorched earth politics bleed the earth with disease, famine, pestilence and death, all the manipulators have to do is rouse up the rabble rousers’ hatred of immigrants and homosexuals, call up Jesus and they will blame the “liberal” Democrats.

Now why do you suppose conservatives would make such a stink over raising the debt ceiling – something that has been done 140 times since the end of World War I and has traditionally been a non-event? Why would a Congressman who worked for Strom Thurmond as a teenager and supported keeping the Confederate flag over the South Carolina statehouse shout “you lie” during a speech by a president who happens to be black? Why would crude caricatures of Obama and his family show up in emails and at Tea Party rallies?

We know why. Around 150 years ago, a minority faction of right-wing, human rights violating oligarchs tried to ruin this country under the guise of a manufactured people’s rebellion and their heirs are still at it. With our economy and credibility damaged before the world, let’s hope the South hasn’t won.