Friday, April 5, 2013

Good journalism . . . at last

My continuing lament over the sad state of journalism these days is beginning to see a few rays of light, the main one being the terrific folks at MSNBC that present the liberal point of view fairly but forcefully, intelligently presented and integrity-based.   Their ratings are climbing, with Rachel Maddow now breaking into the FoxNews monopoly of the top 10 viewed news shows.

Chuck Todd, now with his own show on CNN, is another.   In an exchange with newly-nominated Republican candidate for Congress from South Carolina, Mark Sanford, he asked the pointed question about Sanford's position on marriage equality:
Who are you to deny love between two men or two women, when you are somebody who talks about following his heart, regardless of the laws and traditions of the state of South Carolina? Why are you sitting in judgment of same-sex couples, when you have had the life you have had?”
Sanford, you may remember, resigned in disgrace after his infamous disappearance from home and work, leaving a message that he was walking the Appalachian Trail.  It later came out that he was in Argentina with his mistress.   His wife divorced him, he is now engaged to  the "love of his life."  He will try to ride the wave of "forgiveness" that Southern evangelicals are known for (which I also think masks a fascination with "bad boy" types.)

Whatever that may be, Sanford dodges and obscured Todd's question.  Acknowledging that he had voted for DOMA when in Congress before, he says he saw no reason to change his position now.   Then he tried to say that what's going on at SCOTUS now isn't really about gay marriage but about state's rights and federalism, [yeah, like the Civil War wasn't about slavery but about states' rights, huh?] and he thinks it's wrong for a small group of non-elected judges to decide for the whole country what is best left to local voters in states.   After all, he says, one size does not fit all -- implying that it would be appropriate for some states to allow it and others not.

This is what I really don't understand about this concept of what should be left up to the states.   On something as fundamental -- and don't both sides claim that marriage is a fundamental -- or even God-given -- right?   So why doesn't one size fit all on this question?  Should we also allow each state to decide whether to go to war or pay federal taxes or the right to vote?   What about racial equality?   Is that an individual state decision?

I don't get it -- except as another example of how priniciple can't stand up to prejudice.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

NC out-shames GA

Looks like North Carolina may be vying to take the Southern Shame crown away from Georgia.

Two of its state legislators have introduced a bill -- with the Speaker of the House as a co-sponsor -- which would allow the state to establish a state religion.   In doing so, it would explicitly assert that the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution applied only to the federal government.

They claim that, even though the Bill of Rights prohibits the federal government from establishing a religion, this does not apply to the states.

Let's get the straight.   The Bill of Rights -- amendments to the U. S. Constitution -- applies only to the federal government;  the states are not bound by these same declared rights?

If upheld, this would mean that states could violate the any federal law, wouldn't it?   I mean, if you can ignore the amendments to the constitution, mere laws are that much less binding.

So states could, with impunity, ignore the voting rights act, the orders to desegregate schools, any gun control laws, and just about anything else you can think of.

What were these people thinking?   This wouldn't stand up in court for one minute.   But it shows the level of resentment against Washington and Obama that is just short of paranoia.

It's getting scary.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Gotta have a gun

Georgians are bound and determined to put our worst foot forward.

Outside the horrors of slavery and the Civil War and reconstruction that all the Southern states went through, perhaps the biggest shame came to Georgia in the late 1940's when we had three men claiming to be governor.  Shortly after, I went to college in another state and got teased with:  "How many governors does your state have today?"

Well, there was actually an explanation for that.   Gene Talmadge has just been re-elected governor for a fourth term but died before inauguration day, and the law was unclear on such a situation.

Hence three claims to the seat:  (1) The incumbent governor claimed he served until his successor was chosen;  (2)  The Lt. Governor-elect claimed he should have been seated;  and (3)  The Legislature claimed it had the responsibility to elect a governor in this situation and elected Talmadge's son, Herman.   Ultimately the GA Supreme Court decided that the Lt. Governor-elect would serve as Acting Governor until a special election could be held, which resulted in Herman Talmadge being ultimately elected by the people.

But back to today.   There's Honey Boo Boo.   The whole world is laughing at us hicks with the trashy values and uneducated boorishness, played out for laughs as a reality show.

Then there are our politicians.   Congressman Paul Braun gets us quite a bit of shame-mileage out of his proclamations, such as "Evolution and the Big Bang Theory are lies straight from the pits of hell."   Now he's running for the senate, which will keep this going until November 2014.   Another congressman, Phil Gingary initially sided with Rep. Todd Akins's claim that women don't get pregnant from rape;  he's been trying to walk it back, now that he also is running for the senate.

The scandal of the moment -- described as the biggest school cheating scandal in U. S. history -- led to the indictment of 26 teachers and administrators, including the much decorated superintendent herself, Beverly Hall, who last night was got finger-printed and booked into the local jail before being released on bond.

Now comes the latest worst-foot story.   Nelson, Georgia is a town of 1,300 just 50 miles north of Atlanta, and I had never heard of it.   But now the world is hearing that its city council has just passed an ordinance requiring every head of household to own a gun and bullets.   Already they've had media calling from as far away as Germany.

Kennesaw did the same in the 1980's, but apparently did not enforce the law.  And its not likely to be enforced in Nelson either.   Loopholes excuse those who are mentally or physically impaired, as well as anyone who just doesn't want to own a gun.

But here's the thing:  Nelson has no violent crime.   But a spokesman explained, "If you plan on doing us harm, we'll be armed."  Not clear who "you" refers to, but supposedly it's some outsiders.   Another council member said, "It's like a big security sign for our city."

Actually, it's merely a statement, which they have no plans to enforce, spawned by the Second Amendment Fever opidemic that is sweeping the nation.

From my perspective, it is but one more example of Georgia putting its worst foot forward for the world to laugh at.    It' almost enough to make me wish I lived somewhere else.


Monday, April 1, 2013

One last, desperate grasp for a straw . . . any straw

Time magazine's cover this week declared "Gay marriage already won."    That is, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides on the two cases, public opinion has shifted and the tipping point has toppled.

Even opponents have conceded.  Rush Limbaugh now says:  "It's inevitableConservatives lost."  Bill O'Reilly wants to join the good guys, saying everybody ought to be able to marry the person they love.

But . . . wait.    There's got to be one more straw out there somewhere to grasp, isn't there?   Anything?

Well . . . maybe.   Sue Everhart, Chair of the Georgia Republicans, found one, she thought.  Here's the scenario she came up with:
Straight same-sex friends might use the decision to allow same-sex marriages to fradulently claim to be married so they can get the federal benefits of marriage.   Say, two good guy friends.   They could claim to be married and get the spousal health benefits, marital tax breaks, and the 1,098 other advantages our government gives to encourage marriage.
Clever?   Yes, clever enough to have been the premise of a 2007 Adam Sandler movie called "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry."   Two straight-arrow guys try marriage fraud for gain.

Besides the fact that it's already been tried in fiction, there's a problem with this that Everhart doesn't mention:  It happens all the time already with  man-woman couples who get married for non-love, non-procreative reasons with the traditional marriage laws we already have.

You know, like the waiter from South America who talked the kind-hearted waitress into marrying him (temporarily) so he could get a green card.  Or the two old folks in the assisted living home who got married to she could get survivor benefits from his Social Security after he died.

From the dawn of marriage, it has been used for financial gain, to control property, or to obtain social position.   Love and children are the idealistic reasons for marriage;   but the reality has often been somewhat more practical -- throughout history.  In the old days, marriage was primarily a financial or political arrangement.

So, dear Sue, I'm afraid your final straw turned out to be broken, your magic bullet just a misfire.    It's merely an old trick.  You've lost, dear.   Time to give up the fight.


Sham leads to shame #2

The Atlanta Public School (teachers) cheating scandal is getting national attention.   The New York Times began the story on its front page and devoted nearly a full page as it continued inside.

More details show what a strong case against Beverly Hall there is, despite her lawyer's claim that "Not a single person has testified that she ordered them to cheat."

Well, duh !   Only those who just fell off the turnip truck think you have to explicitly order people to do something wrong, when you have power and control over their fates and you order them to produce certain results.   Dr. Hall did not order them to cheat.   She merely gave her underlings an ultimatum:   you have three years to get these scores up.   Do whatever you have to do.   And then she backed this up with firings.   Nearly 90% of the school principals were fired or voluntarily left during Dr. Hall's ten year tenure.

It seems undisputed by anyone that she was ruthless in her demand for meeting goals and for punishing those who crossed her ambitions.   According to an AJC article, she always kept a copy on her desk of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, a classic of military strategy and tactics.  She apparently saw her job as a general waging war, and those who did not go along with her plan must be removed from the field.

Another example in the indictment:   One teacher filed a whistle-blower report on a colleague, whom she accused of changing test scores.   The alledged cheater got a 20 day suspension ordered by Dr. Hall;  but the whistle-blower was fired.

Another bit that's hard to explain away:   Both Dr. Hall and her aides always put on gloves before handling test score sheets.    Why were they so intent on not leaving finger-prints?

The most damning evidence will probably be from one of the original "insiders group," who participated in the changing students' test answers, and later decided to cooperate with the investigators and a wore a wire to allow them to tape conversations and meetings.

Whether Dr. Hall ordered her staff to cheat in so many words or not, she could not possibly have failed to know it was going on;  and she certainly created the climate of fear that abetted the crime.   There is evidence that she refused to do anything about the reports that were given to her of cheating.

In addition, Dr. Hall profited both financially and with fame from the sham success of her program.    Bonuses tied to "success" in raising scores brought her over $500,000 in the 10 years she was superintendent, in addition to her $300,000 salary.   She was named Superintendent of the Year by a national educators association;  and a reception honoring her was held in the White House hosted by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.   So we know what she got out of it.

But what did the children get?   Fake fame for their school, loss of a learning opportunity, a disillusion by teachers cheating.

And it was all based on teachers' lies and cheating, done at the behest of Dr. Hall.  For shame.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter and Pope Francis

It's not clear yet what changes Pope Francis will bring to the ancient structure of Roman Catholicism.

What is already clear is that his style is diametrically opposed to Benedict, so much so that it almost seems like Francis's anti-pomp and anti-pageantry is a silent rebuke to Benedict's apparent fondness for it all, from the Pope-mobile to the custom-made red slippers.

In stark contrast to the high-church regalia and pageantry of Benedict's observation on Easter, Francis spent Good Friday going to a juvenile detention center and washing the feet of two girl inmates, a ceremony that in the past has been for men only.  In addition, he opts for a simple white cassock rather than the red cape and funny hat.

Other than style, however, Francis is said to pretty much adhere to the same beliefs as Benedict, regarding doctrines of the faith and opposition to modern changes in policy toward women in the church, celibacy, married clergy, and strict opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.

But it is also clear that Francis will be able to identify with the people -- and they with him -- and he will likely bring back the emphasis on the social gospel and social service.    And I think he is more likely to evolve (that's the buzz word these days for changing views on social controversies) because he is more likely to be able to empathize with those who are discriminated against or who suffer society's slings and arrows and hardships.

The big question that may be as important as anything, though, is whether he will be able to bring the Vatican bureaucracy under control.  Can he get rid of the corruption and secrecy and bring fresh air and reform?

Today is Easter.   A big day in Christiandom.   And Francis's humility and care for the unfortunates of society will serve him well during this transformation period.   So far, it has seemed like a honeymoon.   Of the recent popes, he seems more like the beloved John than either the successors John Paul or Benedict.   

I have been a sharp critic of Benedict, particularly, because of his heavy handed anti-gay rhetoric and his unscientific and cruel stance on condoms and HIV.    I wish his successor well.