About Me

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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Today, I was leaving the drug store when a woman got out of an expensive sports car to enter the pharmacy. On her car bumper, she had a sticker that said, "Put Government on a Diet." I said to her, "Put government on a diet? That's how you get New Orleans!" She very intelligently replied, "Huh?"

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Wages of Teaching

I came across this article by Anna Quindlen of Newsweek Magazine

No school administrator should ever receive a percentage raise greater than the raise teachers get. Neither should state legislators

Nov. 28, 2005 issue - A couple of years ago I spent the day at an elementary school in New Jersey. It was a nice average school, a square and solid building with that patented classroom aroma of disinfectant and chalk, chock-full of reasonably well-behaved kids from middle-class families. I handled three classes, and by the time I staggered out the door I wanted to lie down for the rest of the day.

Teaching's the toughest job there is. In his new memoir, "Teacher Man," Frank McCourt recalls telling his students, "Teaching is harder than working on docks and warehouses." Not to mention writing a column. I can stare off into the middle distance with my chin in my hand any time. But you go mentally south for five minutes in front of a class of fifth graders, and you are sunk.

The Right People

The Right People v. The Wrong People: An Appeal to Young Voters
(Whatever their ages may be)

As with many fairy tales, there are different versions of the "Red Riding Hood" story. In some stories Red discovers that she is dealing with an "imitation grandmother" too late, and is eaten. In the version I grew up with, Red detects the phony and is saved, (along with Granny) by a woodsman who arrives in the nick of time.

I feel a little bit like Red when I hear the Republicans trot out their ideas on education, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, environmental quality and so forth. After years of bashing public schools, public health, entitlements, and "tree huggers," they suddenly say, "We were with you all along."

When I realize what the Republicans mean when they say they are "for" all of these ideas, first thought up by Democrats, I worry about which version of the story America is living now. Will we discover that when the wolf claims to be "for" these great ideas, he really means he is for them if the "right" people are involved in them?

The Republicans say that they are "for" education. Of course, what they also want is the money that has been going to public schools to go to schools run by the "right" people with the "right" ideological bend who will give students the "right" way to think. Of course many of the "wrong" students, special needs children, behavior problems, learning disabled, will be shut out of these "right" schools.

They say they are "for" Medicare, "for" prescription drugs for the elderly. "All you have to do," they claim, "is make sure that the "right" people get seniors needing drugs into corporate HMO’s, so that the "right" people are selling them the drugs - which cost far more in this country than they do in any other. Never mind the fact that HMO’s keep raising their rates and narrowing their coverage.

They say they are "for" Social Security. They simply want the "right" people to manage all that lovely government money just lying there for the taking. These "right" people want to manage the government’s pension fund because suddenly the money they had to play with in corporate pension accounts, IRAs, and the stock market just isn’t there anymore.

They are "for" environmental quality. Of course, the best way to do this is for the "right" people to "thin out" (read: denude) the forests and get government subsidies for fuel schemes.
In addition to this, the "right" people need to get tax breaks, bailouts, bankruptcy protection, charitable choice - the list goes on and on.

Let’s be fair. Many of the ideas Republicans come up with are original and effective. The only trouble is that their original ideas are not effective, and their effective ideas are most definitely not original. This is the same thing the Republican Party has done since it turned its back on Lincoln and turned its eyes toward the moneyed interests.
Young people remember this:

According to the Republicans,

If you work for wages, you are not the right sort of person.

If you make less than $50,000 a year, you are not the right sort of person.

If you work the land on the farm you own to provide for America the abundance it enjoys on its table, you are not the right sort of person.

If you own a small business where you expect to compete on a level playing field with any other honest business owner, you are not the right sort of person.

And if your business fails, it better be the "right" business because the "right" sort of business will be able to get government welfare assistance. If you have to declare personal bankruptcy, then there will be no relief because you are the "wrong" type of person to declare bankruptcy.

If you believe that your place in this republic of ours is the equal of anyone else regardless of how much you make or how you conduct your own private affairs, you are definitely not the right sort of person -- according to the Republicans.

Remember also that when Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson founded the Democratic Party, they did so for the interests of the worker, the farmer, the small business owner against the interest of the wealthy, the privileged, the elite.

In over 200 years, the two sides have made many changes, but that fundamental difference remains the same – which party considers you to be it’s kind of person.

That's My Weakness Now

As a child, I was a fairly "fussy" eater. I disliked the usual things kids dislike: okra, beets, spinach, and so on. I had a few atypical dislikes. I didn't like ham for the longest time. Once, my father used a de-icer on our car windshield with me inside. The sickly sweet smell reminded me of cherries, and for the longest time, they were on my off list.

Over the years as my palate matured, my list of food rejections grew smaller and smaller. Once I married Cat, it is practically a null category. One of the longest on the list and the latest to go is greens. Just the sight and smell of greens were enough to kill my heartiest appetite at one time. The smell was only part of the problem. Greens don't look good to me. (I am speaking of the food not the family, of course.) They look limp and soggy. Well, they are limp and soggy. That's seldom and appealing quality in food.

Cat, on the other hand, loves greens. She takes any opportunity to fix them. They were featured on our Thanksgiving table this last holiday. I gave in and tried them, and found to my considerable surprise that I liked them. I think this is attributable to a couple of things. First, Cat is a great cook. That's one of the many benefits I have gained from being married to her. I find it delightful to be in a relationship with a partner who calls our local restaurant supply outlet her "Toy Store."

As good as that is, I think that one must not overlook the power that being in love has to favor any dish. The fact that she wants to try new things for me makes me want to give what she prepares fair trial, perhaps even more than a fair trial. I am rather prejudiced in her favor. She has yet to disappoint me.

So, I feel that I can adapt the old Tin Pan Alley Song and say:

She likes Turnip Greens.
I never cared for Turnip Greens,
But she likes Turnip Greens,
And that's my weakness now.

Family and Medical Leave Act Threatened

FAMILY LEAVE THREATENED—The Department of Labor is widely expected to cut back protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that has helped tens of millions of workers since it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Big business groups—including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers—are pressing to limit workers’ ability to take time off without pay for the birth or adoption of a child and to care for a sick loved one or for their own illness. In its recently released regulatory agenda, the Labor Department said FMLA changes are among its regulatory priorities and could come as early as December. But unions and other groups have urged the Labor Department to keep the current FMLA regulations intact. Read more about corporate attacks on family leave at the AFL-CIO’s Point of View webpage:
and at the following addresses
We cannot overcome terrorism by using the tactics of oppressors.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

With Striking Albertson Workers in Hemet, California

Cost of Health Care Rising 3 Times Faster Than Wages

The Kaiser Family Foundation has done a national survey on the availablity of health insurance for working Americans. What they found should shock us all:

1. Only 60% of American employers offer any kind of health benefits for their employees. This is down from 69% just 5 years ago.

2. Of those offering health benefits, they found that about one-fifth of employers now offer high-deductible health plans. The plans, known as ''consumer-driven health plans," are intended to reduce consumers' use of healthcare services by shifting more costs to employees through high deductibles and co-payments.

3. The survey said premium costs are rising at about three times the rate of increase of the average worker's earnings and at about two-and-a-half times the rate of inflation.

4. The annual health insurance premium for a family of four is $10,880, the survey found, which is more than the yearly pay, before taxes, of a full-time worker earning the minimum wage.

The last stat really got to me. Imagine a single mother with 3 children (not atypical in our society). If this mother worked TWO full-time jobs making minimum wage, more than HALF of her wages would go to provide health care for her children and herself if she could even get it.The case for a Living Wage and Health Care for All has never been clearer.

(Thanks to Nancy Van Orden who sent me the article from Boston Globe writer Jeffrey Krasner from which I extracted the above facts.)

Do We Need High Speed Pursuits?

A week ago Saturday, a member of my church lost his life when a criminal fleeing police ran a red light through the intersection that the car he was riding in just entered. He had justed finished a day of working at the church installing some outdoor lighting.

I believe that we need to take a very hard look at police policy on high speed pursuits in urban areas. Recently, a police officer in our city lost his life engaged in such another high speed pursuit. I am not critical of the police. But I wonder what we gain when we endanger the lives of the innocent in pursuit of the guilty. We would not call it even if someone dropped a bomb on a house that held 2 innocent people just to kill the criminal who is with them. And while I would want police to pursuit a kidnapper who had his victim in his car with them, I think that we need to exercise some discretion about who get pursued and the risks we are willing to take.
We need to have a study done on this matter.

I know one thing. I will never be able to watch a high speed pursuit on televison or at the movies without thinking of my friend.

Me with the Love of My Life

Always There
by Lynn for Cat

You have burned your image into my world.

I’ve studied every line of your face, every glance of your eyes so much that each face I see is merely a variation of you.

I know the pitch, the timber of your voice so well that I hear it in the lyrics of a singer, the conversation of passers-by, the laughter of those in love.

I sense the pace, the motion of your walk so that I note when pedestrians walkers imitate you.

I’ve memorized the shades and textures of your skin so that each sunrise takes its hues from you and the earth takes its shades from you.

I feel all the swells of your body, all your curves so deeply that I feel the hills and the valleys are but an extension of you.

I feel as though you are with me at all times and in all places that I find you in the rush of fleeting impressions.

Friday, November 25, 2005

At the Oklahoma State National Honors Society Convention in the beautiful town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Tahlequah High School put on an excellent state convention! Thanks, guys.

How I Met My Wife

My wife, Cat LaFlamme, is my soul-mate. She is a high school English teacher just like me. We share the same liberal Democratic politics. We share similar views on spirituality. I find it a real kick to have someone who is intelligent, who has similar tastes in books (we both adore science-fiction and fantasy), who was born the same year I was, and who loves camping just as I do.

I love having a wife who understands my jokes. It's a real kick to be able to say to her, "What Donne has done is done and cannot be undone," and hear her laugh because she gets it. (If you don't get it, look this up under a bio on the life of the 17th century English poet, John Donne.)

I love telling a story that happened early in our relationship. We were working on a political campaign together for the AFL-CIO. We had traveled out to a neighborhood where we were going door-to-door to get out the vote for an election. I had recently become single again. We had known each other for a while through our work for our union and for the Democratic Party. I was interested in her, but each time I had called about political work, a man had answered the phone. Was he her husband? boyfriend? son? I had to find out.

I came up with a very clever method to answer my question. As we drove home, I asked her if she would be available for our next outing. She said that she probably would.

"I'll give you a call later this week to find out," I promised.

"Good," she responded.

"By the way," I said, "it's all right if I leave a message with that man who usually answers the phone, isn't it?"

"What man?"

"Well, I usually get some man when I call you."

"Oh, you must mean my son."

"So, he's your son, okay."

"Yes, he's my son."

I silently congratulated myself on my ability to ferret out this information. A couple of weeks later we went out on our first date. A couple of months later, we were engaged. Some time after this, I asked her if she recalled our conversation of that day.

"Recall?" she said, "Of course, I recall it. That's the day I knew I had you."

I was had before I even knew it.

Wanna stay "had" too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Mother Jones' Grave

Grave of Mother Jones in Mt. Olive, Illinois.

My Prayer

I first gave this prayer at the Oklahoma State AFL-CIO Convention in 2005

God of all humankind, God of many names, honored in many ways.

Your prophet Amos told the people of his nation, "Hear this, O ye who swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail. . . . I will turn your feasts to mourning and your songs to lamentations.

As your prophets long ago called their nation to repent of their sins against your justice, may our nation in our time hear your prophetic voice call us to repentance.

Lord forgive us.

For we have failed to pay too many workers a livable wage so that they and their families must live in poverty in our land of wealth and plenty.

We have treated health care, not as the right it is, but as a commodity for our profit, so that now 40% of all American companies offer no health benefits at all for their employees because employers cannot afford to do so.

We have denied the workers of this great land their right to free association by allowing those in power to harass and intimidate workers who wish to form unions, even to the point of denying them their constitutional right to organize at all.

We have denied our fellow Americans their right to dignity. For Lord, when we try to call human rights, "special rights", we merely seek to justify our fears and excuse our exploitations.

Lord, forgive us for our sins, for we have truly done what we ought not to have done, but, what is worse, we have left undone those things that we ought to have done. May we not grow weary in our labors to bring about your justice and mercy to our land. For in these times, your work must truly be our own.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Beautiful Mother Jones Monument in the Mount Olive, Illinois, Union Miners Cemetery

Mother Jones and Me

I had the priviledge of attending the "Mother Jones Memorial" observances in Illinois this past October. Here I am with a Mother Jones reinactor.

Congress Raises Its Pay But Won't Raise Minimum Wage

MORE FOR US, NONE FOR YOU—The Republican-controlled Congress, which has blocked a raise in the minimum wage three times this year, voted Nov. 18 to give itself its eighth pay raise since the minimum wage was last raised in 1997. While millions of minimum wage workers continue to struggle on $5.15 an hour, the congressional pay raise, approved as part of the fiscal year 2006 Transportation-Treasury Appropriations bill, will give lawmakers a $3,100-a-year pay hike. Minimum wage workers who work full-time earn just $10,700 a year. Members of Congress, though, will be making $31,600 a year more than they did in 1997. Congress is home for a long Thanksgiving Day recess. Call your lawmakers’ local offices and send them a message that you are outraged by their priorities. You can find the local office numbers for your U.S. representative at http://www.house.gov and for your senators at http://www.senate.gov.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Tribute to Raymond Rank, my father in law.

I would like to honor Raymond Rank. Ray became my father-in-law when I married Catherine Ann Rank, better known to her friends as Cat LaFlamme, my wife.
Ray was not the kind of man who got his name in the papers. He was the kind of blue- collar worker who provided the muscle and backbone the rest of us depend on, but don’t think too much about as we go about our lives. He was a construction worker, primarily a carpenter and cement finisher. We often don’t consider the human factor involved in the buildings we live and work in, but without men like Ray, these structures wouldn’t exist.
Some of the buildings Ray worked on were:
The State Capitol Complex
Baptist Hospital
Deaconess Hospital
St. Anthony’s Hospital
The Physician’s Building
Oklahoma State University
Northwest Classen High School
John Marshall High School
The Murrah Federal Building
Southwestern Bell
The Patio Building
The United Founders Tower
The General Motors Plant
Dunlop Tire Factory
OKCPS Maintenance Facility
Swann Rubber, Stillwater
The Gold Dome Building
We also don’t consider the suffering that all too often is a part of those buildings. In 1970, while building the Ralston Purina silo in Edmond, Ray fell 35 feet on to a concrete floor, an accident that disabled him for the rest of his life.
Ray was a union man and because of his union pension, Social Security, and workman’s compensation, he was still able to live a modest, basically middle-class life for his remaining 35 years. He raised 4 daughters, bought a home, and still managed to keep up with his carpentry work, even helping his daughter Catherine remodel the home she and I live in in The Village till age and the effect of his injuries caught up with him. He died on April 2nd of this year 2 days after his 77th birthday.
Ray didn’t want a funeral, so we held a celebration of his life here at Mayflower. Turns out that Ray had a connection to this congregation, because as an infant, Ray was christened in the old Pilgrim Congregational Church on 16th St. His wife Donna, Cat and I plan to take his ashes to one of his favorite fishing spots to give the fish a chance to get back at him. Ray would have liked that idea. He didn’t want any gravestone to mark his passing.
In St. Paul’s Cathedral, there is a plaque to its architect Christopher Wren that reads, "If you seek his monument, look about you." So as you go through the city this Father’s Day, you will see monuments to Raymond Rank, and the countless men and women who have built Oklahoma.

GM Closing Lays Bare the Lies

Greetings Fellow Democrats:
The closing at GM has laid bare the lies foisted on the state by those who claimed that passing anti-worker legislation such as "Right to Scab" and "Taxpayer Bill of Goods" will bring prosperity and high paying jobs to the Sooner State. This announcement coming just before the holiday season shows us that we must all summon our courage and stand together or else we will fall victim to those who through their access to the available means of power can, at will, toss men and women on the scrap heap.
Many voices will try to blame unions such as the UAW for this event just as they attempted to blame the victims of Katrina for their suffering. They will say, in effect, you wanted too much. You should not have desired a decent standard of living, a home for your family, adequate health insurance for you and your family. You should be willing to accept the sort of marginal living in those in the countries that now have your jobs are willing to accept. Shame on you for wanting too much of the American dream.
I have no solution for this. If there were easy answers, quick fixes, we would have discovered them long ago. Besides we have seen how far the quick fix has gotten us in this state. My thoughts and prayers are with the men and women of the UAW who worked at GM many of whom are my good friends. I also pray that our leaders will display wisdom and courage for these times. We face difficult times ahead, but if we keep our focus on what is just, right and fair and not on what is personally convenient, we will triumph

The Oil Man and the Farmer

The Oil Man and the Farmer

The other day, I was watching one of the news channels where they reported the congressional investigations into high oil prices and enormous oil company profits. One by one oil company executives defended their business practices by claiming that oil was a commodity and that speculators, not they, were responsible for high prices, and besides that’s just the way the economy works.
The whole show minded me of a story I heard about a wheat farmer living out in western Oklahoma. This old boy was good at what he did. He had prospered at what is at best a very chancy sort of business. However, this one year, he had really done well. Most of the time when he had had a good crop, his neighbors had done well also and that depressed the prices they all got for their grain. But as can happen in farming, he had done extremely well, but his fellow farmers saw their fields ravaged by a freak prairie fire. This meant that he had a bonanza on his hands. His grain was worth five times its usual price.
Now, in addition to his neighbors’ bad luck, the rest of the country was in pretty bad shape also. For a variety of reasons, the nation faced a real wheat shortfall. Now, the worst of this hadn’t hit yet, but this farmer could tell it was coming. What was now a good deal promised to be a once in a lifetime opportunity, excusing the fact that common folks would be spending a lot more to put bread on the table.
So being, the smart fellow he was, the farmer knew that if he could only hold on a little bit longer, he would be set for life. So he said, "This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods." But that night he had a dream, and in it he heard a voice that said, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"
Well, I guess you know where I’m headed with this. The smarter ones of you were on to me from the start. This story isn’t original with me. A guy named Jesus of Nazareth told it a long time ago. I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: what may seem right and normal and "just the way things are" from our point of view, may be something entirely different once we see them the way God might. We might think that big money from a needed commodity is just business. God might wish us to consider the moral implications of a few of us doing very well while many of us suffer. In any case, this ought to give us pause to consider the old question, just what would Jesus do? After all, Jesus seems like a right smart fellow.

My Reply to Tom Lindley

Note: This was in response to an article that appeared in The Oklahoman newspaper in which columnist Tom Lindley interviewed some Oklahoma World War II vets. Of course, the subject of Iraq came up.

Dear Mr. Lindley,
I read your interview with several Oklahoma heroes of World War II in Sunday's paper. At one point you state, "One of them is afraid that every soldier's death on the front page of hometown papers across Middle America will wear and wear on our sense of resolve until it takes the heart out of our will to fight." Another added that though we have lost over 2000 soldiers and counting in Iraq "we've got to remember that terrorists killed more than 3,000 civilians on 9/11." The gist of your column is that we, in our time, seem to be lacking in our ability to finish the war on terrorism compared with these men of the greatest generation.
I can only respond from my perspective as to why public attitudes towards the war in Iraq have taken such a nosedive in recent weeks. My belief is this: we went into Iraq on a lie and that lie is sapping at our national soul and weakening our resolve.
Your article in several places equates the war in Iraq with what we are doing in Afghanistan seeing them both as part and parcel in the war on terrorism. They are not. Afghanistan was the home base of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Our military effort augmented the local insurgency. Few who I know in the current anti-war movement disputed the need for our efforts there.
Iraq has been another matter. We were told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that he was in league with Al Qaeda, that he aided in 9/11, that defeating him was necessary to defeat terrorism, and that we would be welcomed by an Iraqi population making our stay in Iraq short and our casualties there light. All of this has been proven to be a deception.
Hussein was a tyrant, who we at one time supported, and the fewer tyrants we have the better, but that doesn't remove the fact that we began and have continued to fight this war under false pretenses. To fight a war based on a lie does something to our national soul.
Mainly fighting this war on such a basis makes us grow more and more doubtful of our sacrifices in it. We know that the young men and women who sacrifice their lives and their bodies are our heroes, as great as any American who ever sacrificed his or her life on the field of battle.
But their sacrifice does not sanctify the lie for which they have fought any more than the heroic sacrifices by the brave Americans in General Lee's army sanctified, in the words of General Grant,"the worst cause for which anyone ever fought".
So the fading support for the war in Iraq is not, in my opinion, due to any lack of national character. It is, instead, due to the fact feeling we feel less confidant that we are fighting this war on a moral basis. No country can claim moral authority when has it deceived itself. No country will long sacrifice the flower of its youth for such a deception.
Actually, I am not at all pessimistic about our battle with terrorism. I think that we have a great capacity to recognize our mistakes even when our leaders are horribly blind to them. But the present war in Iraq does not bring us closer to that goal. It has done quite the opposite. Before our invasion, there was no connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Now there is. And if we think for a second that this means the terrorists will stay there, we need only look to Madrid, London and elsewhere to end that self-deception.