Monthly Archives: March, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal

Spring appears to have finally arrived here in the Northeast. It’s a gorgeous day outside, and certain of my adolescent clients are somewhere enjoying it, having canceled or failed to show for their appointments. I do not begrudge their having done so. I merely seethe with envy and chafe at the bonds of mature adulthood. Okay, that’s perhaps a bit exaggerated, but suffice it to say that I would not mind being outdoors with my face tilted toward the sun like a buttercup and breezy fingers ruffling my hair. And, though I am fully aware that all is not even close to right with the world—what with all the war and injustice and stuff—I cannot help but feel a spark of childlike optimism at the transient pleasure and beauty of this day. In the spirit of such, rather than dwell on the many tragedies and horrors which daily fill our news reports, allow me to share with you a poem. Enjoy…

Mockingbirds

This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.
I mean this
seriously.

In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door

to two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,

but gods.
It is my favorite story–
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give

but their willingness
to be attentive–
but for this alone
the gods loved them

and blessed them–
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water

from a fountain,
the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,

and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
bowed down–
but still they asked for nothing

but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning–
whatever it was I said

I would be doing–
I was standing
at the edge of the field–
I was hurrying

through my own soul,
opening its dark doors–
I was leaning out;
I was listening.

—Mary Oliver

Hippie Liberal Moonbat on Stephen Colbert


A funny parody, for those not overly-sensitive to poking fun at libs: Stephen Colbert interviews ultra-liberal “Russ Lieber” on the topic of school vouchers.

Hopefully this election year there will be a few more liberals out there who can play the conservative talk show game better than Russ Lieber. Although maybe a better tactic would be to just avoid shows like “The O’Reilly Factor.” In fact, in a recent New Yorker article on Bill O’Reilly, Nicholas Lemann suggests that O’Reilly may be having a harder time getting big-name liberal guests to appear on his show. From the article:

No television host’s career lasts forever, and it may be that O’Reilly is too hot, too close to entertainment, to maintain his position as long as a network anchorman might. O’Reilly has been able to reach the top of the cable-news ratings and stay there—and to turn the deep and determined enmity of the left to his advantage—by relentlessly reminding his audience of how much the left hates him. This baroque period of O’Reilly’s is partly circumstantial: it’s hard to be straight-ahead if you’re essentially oppositional and the people you like are in power, if the guests you most want will not appear on your show, and if it’s nearly impossible to demonstrate the existence of the trends you have made it your mission to oppose.

Thanks to Oliver Willis and Shant Mesrobian for the Stephen Colbert link. They’ve started a new radio blog site, by the way, called Left in the Beltway. Looks like a good place to add to the Worthy Blogs page.

Whom to Believe About Iran

Steve Laffey:

As the international community faces a decision on Iran, it is up to America and its leaders to lead the effort against the enemies of freedom and peace. While the decisions we will have to make will no doubt be difficult ones, they are decisions that must be made. They are decisions that will require courage and honesty about the nature of the world we live in. Talk of working “more closely� with Iran or Syria is not only naïve; it is a demonstration of weakness.

Or Robert Dreyfuss:

The fact is that the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq knocked off two of Iran’s deadliest regional enemies, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Iran has amassed great power inside Iraq, not by supporting the insurgents, as President Bush claims, but simply by using its Shiite allies to gain power in Baghdad. Iran is building its influence in Lebanon, too, and among the Shiite population in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Bush administration seems incapable of understanding the need to engage with Iran, to seek their help in Iraq, and to search for an accommodation with the ayatollahs. Ironically, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of the United States in Iraq has been given permission to talk to Iran about calming tensions in Iraq, but according to the latest statements from U.S. embassy he has not yet done so.

De Ramel to RI Election Board Heads: Resign Now

Guillaume de Ramel, candidate for Secretary of State in Rhode Island, whom we interviewed last week, has gotten some validation from the courts for his criticism of the state’s Board of Elections. From the de Ramel campaign press release:

Providence – Guillaume de Ramel, Democratic candidate for Secretary of State today called for the resignation of the leadership of the state Board of Elections. Citing gross incompetence, de Ramel believes Roger Begin, chairman; Thomas Iannitti, vice chairman and Robert Kando, executive director should all resign their positions immediately.

Yesterday, Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato heard testimony from lawyers representing the Board of Elections and the Rhode Island Republican Party regarding a complaint filed against the RI GOP for illegally airing campaign commercials on behalf of Donald Carcieri’s gubernatorial campaign in 2002.

Yesterday Judge Fortunato ruled that the board had no rules and that their procedures were unconstitutional. He issued an order halting the board’s languishing investigation of the RI GOP which has meandered aimlessly for over 3½ years. After almost four years, the merits of the case were never fully investigated or ruled on.

“At this point, it is clear that the board is completely incapable of executing and enforcing Rhode Island’s election laws, laws that set the rules of our campaigns and elections. Yesterday’s decision by Judge Fortunato showcases the mismanagement and incompetence the current leaders at the board offer Rhode Island,â€? said de Ramel. “The board is essentially responsible for protecting the integrity of our elections. The leaders of the board have done nothing to warrant the trust and confidence of their fellow Rhode Islanders. In short, the board desperately needs new leadership and new direction.”

From my observations, it seems there is bipartisan concern about the competency and effectiveness of the Rhode Island Board of Elections. Resignations at this point would be a surprise to me, honestly — they’ve already weathered so much scandal and rebuke. But perhaps this expression of “no confidence” from the courts will be the “tipping point.”

De Ramel’s emphatic voice on this issue says a great deal about his commitment to restoring public trust in the election process in Rhode Island.

Baghdad Burning Nominated for Prestigious Literary Prize

The blog entitled Baghdad Burning, written by an anonymous Iraqi woman in her late 20’s, was nominated for the prestigious Samuel Johnson prize, which awards £30000 to the winner.

The most recent post at Baghdad Burning marks the three year anniversary of the US occupation. The author talks about the increasing separatism between the Muslim factions, the Shias and the Sunnis, in Iraq. She uses a childhood memory to depict the progressive, peaceful way she was raised to think and feel about being a Muslim, and contrasts this to regressive attitudes of some of her fellow Iraqis now.

There is a frightening sense of despair and foreboding in this recent entry — the proverbial feeling of the anvil hanging, waiting to fall.

All That Is Left Behind

When daily confronted with a multiplicity of often competing demands and the stress that comes with such, something invariably has to give; something will be forgotten or forsaken. Last week, for Jonathan Sander of North Potomac, MD, what was forgotten was his 7 1/2-month-old daughter, as reported in the Washington Post:

Sander arrived at the Shady Grove Metro station about 7 a.m. to begin his usual commute, only this time with his baby girl, whom he is normally not responsible for taking care of in the mornings, said Lt. Eric Burnett, a Montgomery County police spokesman.

Sander parked in a garage and got on a Red Line train. His daughter, whose name police did not release, remained in the back seat of his Volkswagen Passat in a car seat.

At some point during his commute, Sander realized what he had done, got off the southbound train and headed back to Shady Grove, police said.

“People go to work. They have a lot on their minds. It just happens,� Burnett said, describing Sander as “panicked, to say the least.�

By then, commuters on the second level of the Shady Grove station’s east garage had noticed the baby. They called for help, and firefighters soon arrived, removing the baby from the car before 8 a.m. more…

Fortunately, the child was unharmed and reunited quickly with her family. Jonathan Sander was given a criminal citation by the police and, presumably, a lengthy verbal whiplashing by his wife. My inital reaction upon reading this news item was that the No Child Left Behind act just isn’t working. While I admit that saying so makes for a whimsical punch line, I have a serious point to make. (Brace yourself.) Just as the seemingly distracted or overstressed Mr. Sander found himself in the unenviable position of having neglected a fundamental responsibility, a great many schools—overstressed themselves by decreased funding and increased demands—are finding themselves in the unenviable position of having to forsake fundamental elements of the curriculum in order to comply with provisions of the No Child Left Behind act. A recent article by Sam Dillon in the New York Times, entitled “Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math,� reports on this concerning phenomenon:

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Schools from Vermont to California are increasing — in some cases tripling — the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level.

The intense focus on the two basic skills is a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art. A nationwide survey by a nonpartisan group that is to be made public on March 28 indicates that the practice, known as narrowing the curriculum, has become standard procedure in many communities.

The survey, by the Center on Education Policy, found that since the passage of the federal law, 71 percent of the nation’s 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math. The center is an independent group that has made a thorough study of the new act and has published a detailed yearly report on the implementation of the law in dozens of districts….

The increasing focus on two basic subjects has divided the nation’s educational establishment. Some authorities, including Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, say the federal law’s focus on basic skills is raising achievement in thousands of low-performing schools. Other experts warn that by reducing the academic menu to steak and potatoes, schools risk giving bored teenagers the message that school means repetition and drilling. more…

And we all know how the oil tycoons in power love drilling. The sad truth is that the No Child Left Behind act is a farce, an unfunded mandate that substitutes standardized testing for legitimate reform. By forcing schools to rob Peter to pay Paul, NCLB robs our children of the rich and diverse learning experience that they deserve and, in effect, leaves them all behind in the back seat.

Less Federal $$$ for RI, More for Republican States

Rhode Island is receiving less in Federal spending. We have gone from receiving $1.15 for every dollar paid in federal taxes in 2000, to $1.02 for every dollar paid in 2004.

One of the reasons for this trend, according to Gary Sasse of RIPEC, is that there are more high income earners in Rhode Island paying more in federal tax.

But another factor in the trend bears notice:

Of the 19 states that voted for Democrat John F. Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, 13 pay more in taxes than they receive in federal spending. Conversely, of the 31 states that voted for Republican George W. Bush, 25 receive more than they pay.

For all the Republican talk about small government, the fact is that Republican-voting states are receiving more federal dollars than Democratic-voting states.

As a voter in the upcoming Senate race in Rhode Island, this is of utmost concern to me. We need a US Senator who will go to Washington and advocate for Rhode Island to get its fair share of the federal largesse. Otherwise, along with being the smallest state in the union, we risk becoming the economic neglectarino of the union.

Our infrastructure can’t afford this. Our elderly can’t afford this. Our schools can’t afford this. The Democrats need to retake Washington and ensure that federal dollars are distributed to states equitably.

More Competition for Girls in College Admissions

Girls are outnumbering boys in college admissions to many US colleges. While the good news is that girls are working hard and striving for the best education possible, the scary part for parents of girls (like me) is that this trend may make college admissions increasingly competitive for girls, while boys may not run up against a comparable level of competition. This Op-Ed in The New York Times by the Dean of Admissions at Kenyon College (and a parent of a high schooler heading for college and facing ugly rejection letters) spells out just how this trend is impacting colleges and college-age girls.

Thanks to Echidne of the Snakes whose post directed me to the New York Times article. She also points out that it is not the top level colleges that have this problem, as they are able to attract a large pool of male applicants. It is the second-tier colleges where this is a growing problem. As her post also details with a table, the disproportionately high number of women is even higher for low-income blacks and hispanics, suggesting that there is a significant dearth of men in these demographic sectors applying to second-tier colleges.

Barbara Bush: Donating or Hurricane Profiteering?

Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush-Clinton Hurricane relief fund, and specified that the money must be used to purchase Ignite Software for Houston schools.

While charitable donations can be earmarked for a specific purpose, I have never heard of a charitable donation that is earmarked to be given to a specific business, whether owned by one’s next of kin or not.

Never mind that this is disgustingly self-promoting behavior for anyone, let alone a multi-million-dollar Presidential family. I question whether it is even legal. I would like to see the IRS review this situation and say that it is okay for a charitable organization to be required to use a donation to purchase the product of a specific company. That just seems plain wrong.

The Grossest Absurdities

“Where men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken, and have there given reins to passion, without that proper deliberation and suspense, which can alone secure them from the grossest absurdities.”

These words were written more than 250 years ago by the Scottish philosopher and essayist, David Hume. They still ring true today, as we daily bear witness to “the grossest absurdities� of men like Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, et al., who are “sure and arrogant� to a fault. What prompts this reflection is an article by Charlie Savage in yesterday’s Boston Globe entitled “Bush shuns Patriot Act requirement� (excerpt below). Though I can no longer profess surprise at anything the President or his minions say and do, I nonetheless am disturbed by what Savage reports and what it means to our frail democracy:

When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act’s expanded police powers.

The bill contained several oversight provisions intended to make sure the FBI did not abuse the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize papers. The provisions require Justice Department officials to keep closer track of how often the FBI uses the new powers and in what type of situations. Under the law, the administration would have to provide the information to Congress by certain dates.

Bush signed the bill with fanfare at a White House ceremony March 9, calling it “a piece of legislation that’s vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people.” But after the reporters and guests had left, the White House quietly issued a “signing statement,” an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law’s requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would “impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive’s constitutional duties.”

Bush wrote: “The executive branch shall construe the provisions . . . that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch . . . in a manner consistent with the president’s constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information . . . “

The statement represented the latest in a string of high-profile instances in which Bush has cited his constitutional authority to bypass a law….

Bush’s expansive claims of the power to bypass laws have provoked increased grumbling in Congress. Members of both parties have pointed out that the Constitution gives the legislative branch the power to write the laws and the executive branch the duty to “faithfully execute” them….

Bush’s signing statement on the USA Patriot Act nearly went unnoticed.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, inserted a statement into the record of the Senate Judiciary Committee objecting to Bush’s interpretation of the Patriot Act, but neither the signing statement nor Leahy’s objection received coverage from in the mainstream news media, Leahy’s office said.

Yesterday, Leahy said Bush’s assertion that he could ignore the new provisions of the Patriot Act — provisions that were the subject of intense negotiations in Congress — represented “nothing short of a radical effort to manipulate the constitutional separation of powers and evade accountability and responsibility for following the law.” (emphasis added)

“The president’s signing statements are not the law, and Congress should not allow them to be the last word,” Leahy said in a prepared statement. “The president’s constitutional duty is to faithfully execute the laws as written by the Congress, not cherry-pick the laws he decides he wants to follow. It is our duty to ensure, by means of congressional oversight, that he does so.”

Leahy, of course, is correct, but the sad and dangerous reality is that—Congressional grumbling aside—such oversight is not forthcoming, as partisan politics and special interests continue to lame the legislative branch. And thus our democracy falls prey to “the grossest absurditiesâ€? of corrupt and arrogant men. Unless…

We take action and take to heart the words of our founding fathers, who some 25 years after David Hume, wrote a modest document known as the Declaration of Independence. I encourage you to read it anew (here) and remind yourself of the “unalienable rights� to which we are all entitled and what actions are not only possible but necessary when faced with “a long train of abuses and usurpations� by tyrants of great power and arrogance.

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