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.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Politicians and Science Curriculum

(This essay is from a "Letter to the Editor" I have sent to several local newspapers.)

Rep. Sally Kern, a former Oklahoma City Social Studies teacher, has introduced a bill to “allow” science teachers to present alternative theories to evolution which attempt to account for the origin and development of life on Earth. Her argument seems to be that her bill strikes a blow for academic freedom and debate on what she sees as a controversial issue. In her passive/aggressive way she is saying “what’s wrong with giving teachers the freedom to teach alternative ideas.”

Well, first, politicians should not dictate what should or should not go on in the classroom curriculum. Ms. Kern should know that curriculum should be left to those who know something about it. As an English teacher, I would no more dictate what the math teacher should be doing in her class than I would want the math teacher making regulations for my class.

Second, if a science teacher teaches his pet theories for the origin of the species be it intelligent design, creation science, or Sky-Woman and Big Turtle (an Iroquois myth) rather than the science curriculum, his students are faced with a dilemma. Do I go along with what the textbook and curriculum say, or do I go along my teacher’s bias? In other words, the student may face the possibility of being penalized if she does not bend her responses to the teacher’s subjective opinion.

This is a problem students often face in courses where there is not the mathmatical or scientific certainty of math and science. Students in Social Studies classes often complain that their grade suffered because their social studies teacher wanted a particular answer to a question. We do not need this sort of chance for bias introduced into the science class curriculum.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wal-Mart Health Care Spending Decreases

You are not going to believe this. Wal-Mart’s health care spending per employee actually went down, and the number of Wal-Mart workers without company health care has risen to a whopping 775,000 workers or 57% of the company.

In response, our campaign is releasing a shocking new report titled, “America Pays, Wal-Mart Saves: The Growing Cost of the Wal-Mart Health Care Crisis.” The report estimates the Wal-Mart Health Care Crisis cost American taxpayers nearly $1.4 billion in 2005 with a projected cost over the next five years of $9.1 billion.

Please download your copy of the shocking report and take action today:
Wal-Mart Health Care Crisis

As you know, we have been working vigorously to enact Fair Share Health Care legislation all across America to stop corporations, like Wal-Mart, from shifting their health care costs onto taxpayers. Although Wal-Mart and its allies are spending untold sums of money and hiring lobbyists in every state to defeat us, the will of the American people cannot be stopped.

We are launching a new tool on our website to help you make your voice heard in your local community. You now have the ability to find your local newspaper and submit a letter to the editor by going to WakeUpWalMart.com

Please make your voice heard on the Wal-Mart health care crisis by going to:
Health Care Letter

Wal-Mart’s shockingly bad health care numbers prove more than ever how important it is to build public pressure to change this corporation. We need your help now! We have to grow our movement from 182,000 supporters today to 1 million supporters. As our grassroots army becomes larger, we will become an even more powerful force for change.

Only you have the power to change Wal-Mart and change America. Make sure to download your copy of the “America Pays, Wal-Mart Saves” report and ask your friends, family members and co-workers to join our movement to change Wal-Mart and build a better America.

Thank you for all that you do,

Paul Blank


What a Difference a Photo Op Makes!

From the Bill Wineke Blog

Renewable Energy Lab Rehires Researchers

Do We Really Have an Appropriations Process?

President Bush said in his State of the Union address the government was going to try to lower its dependence on Middle Eastern oil, in part, by improving research on how to make fuel from such stubstances as switch grass, corn stalks and wood chips.

Sharp-eyed reporters -- no doubt aided by government whistle-blowers -- immediately noted that the government has only one national laboratory for renewable energy resources and that the budget for that lab had been slashed and several of its researchers would soon lose their jobs.

All of that was kind of embarrassing since President Bush was traveling to Colorado Tuesday to tout his new energy program at that self-same laboratory.

So, over the weekend, the Energy Department appropriated a quick $5 million to restore the jobs of the researchers (though not to fund the work of the lab, which will still be down more than $20 million).

I would guess that's a good thing. But it certainly raises some disturbing questions, the main one being, do we really just dump $5 million on a lab in order to avoid having the president embarrassed? I mean, presumably the first budget cuts went through a review process. Why was that process dumped overnight? And, if Bush had chosen a different venue for his Tuesday speech, would those researchers still be out-of-work?

We know the answers. The answers are that the $5 million was restored because the Energy Department didn't want the president embarrassed. The remainder of the research funds wasn't restored because the embarrassment wouldn't have been that great.

In the vast scope of the federal budget $5 million isn't all that much. But it does spell the difference between a good job and an unemployment compensation check for a few researchers and the decision was, from anything I can see, completely arbitrary.

bwineke@madison.com Renewable Energy Lab Rehires Researchers

Monday, February 20, 2006

Cuts in Renewable Energy Funding Force Layoffs

(Didn't Bush say something in the State of the Union message about reducing America's dependence on oil? You don't suppose he was lying again, do you?)

Budget Shortfall Forces Renewable Energy Laboratory to Lay Off 32 Staff

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Golden, Colo. — The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reduced its staff by 32 people today to help meet a $28 million budget shortfall.

Twenty-seven are regular staff, and five are temporary employees. Of the 32, eight were research staff and 24 worked in support positions.

Congressionally directed projects, or earmarks, reduced the budget available to the Department of Energy for funding renewable energy and energy efficiency research at the Laboratory, leaving $28 million less in operating funds for NREL for fiscal year 2006. The Laboratory made substantial cuts in other areas, including travel, outside contracts and other operating expenses, before reducing staff.

Regular staff affected by the layoffs will remain on payroll through Feb. 10 and will receive severance pay and job search help.

Research programs affected by the layoffs include biomass, hydrogen and basic research.

NREL Director Dan Arvizu, in a message to staff, said, "I appreciate how you have all responded to the challenges placed before us. NREL should now focus on the new opportunities and challenges that lie ahead."

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by Midwest Research Institute and Battelle.

For further information contact NREL Public Affairs at (303) 275-4090.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Six US Ports to be under Arab Control

(I keep asking myself, "What if a Democratic President had done this? What would the conservatives being saying right now?")


Chertoff defends Arab firm control of U.S. ports
Homeland Security director says government review provided ‘assurances’

WASHINGTON - Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff on Sunday defended the government’s security review of an Arab company given permission to take over operations at six major U.S. ports.

“We have a very disciplined process, it’s a classified process, for reviewing any acquisition by a foreign company of assets that we consider relevant to national security,” Chertoff told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.”

London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., was bought last week by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business from the United Arab Emirates. Peninsular and Oriental runs major commercial operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

(You can access the entire article at Homeland Security Chief Defends Arab Firm's Control of US Ports)

Okay, Okay, one more Dick Cheney Joke

Coming to a T-Shirt Near You Soon!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Raising a Democrat

My good friend and fellow Oklahoma Democrat, Jacquelyn Powell passed along to me this anecdote which shows she is raising her son as a good Democrat.

She writes, "As my 8 year old son and I were walking to our car from the University of Central Oklahoma reading clinic today, we saw some litter flying in the wind. Out of the mouth of this sweet boy came, 'What is wrong with people? You can't go buy a new earth in a bag!'
Expanding on his thought made me think about a recent ABC news report on Global Warming, and how the ice glaciers are now melting 50% faster than they were 5 Years ago. Republicans want to use their self coined phrase, 'Climate Change'. What a waste!"

Good for you, Jacquelyn, and keep up the good parenting.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

You Heard the Lies During the State of the Union Speech. Now Here's the Truth

Inflation-adjusted median household income in 2000: $46,058
Inflation-adjusted median household income in 2004: $44,389

(Source: Historical Income Table--US Census Bureau)

Decrease in median household income from 2000-2004 in White households: $1066
Decrease in median household income from 2000-2004 in Hispanic households: $2,141
Decrease in median household income from 2000-2004 in Black households: $2,407

(Source: Historical Income Tables--US Census Bureau)

American manufacturing jobs in 2001: 17,101,000
American manufacturing jobs in 2005: 14,283,000

(Source: "The State of the Economic Union," Manufacturing and Technology News, Jan, 19, 2006)

Number of private sector jobs created since 2001, excluding those produced by increase military spending: 1,160,000
Number of American manufacturing jobs lost since 2001: 2,818,000

(Source: "The State of the Economic Union," Manufacturing and Technology News, Jan, 19, 2006)

Inflation adjusted average CEO pay at depth of recession in 2002 $7,773,000
Inflation adjusted average CEO pay as of 2004: $9,600,000

(Source: "Executive Pay" Business Week April 18, 2005)

Percentage increase in average American CEO's compenstation since 2002: 24%
(Source: Business Week April 21, 2003)

Increase in American worker productivity for 2005: 13.5%
(Source: Bureau of Labor Productivity and Costs)

Average number of fewer hours per week parents have to spend with their kids today than 25 years ago: 22.

Percentage decrease in average American household income since 2000: -3%
(Source: National Statistics: US Census)

Percentage of companies that provided health care to their employees in 2000: 69%
Percentage of companies that provided health care to their employees in 2005: 60%
(Source: The Kaiser Family Foundation, June 14, 2005)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Valentine's Day Cartoon

Bush claims that we had to invade Iraq because of Al-Qaida. Well, they weren't there until he invaded. Thanks for nuthin' George.

A Couple of Cheney Cartoons

Think before you shoot has never been a strong suit of this administration.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Learning from Literature II

In response to my Julius Caesar post, one commentor suggested that W studied history rather than literature. I find this dubious because he seems doomed to repeat so many of history's failures. Perhaps he should have studied F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel on the theme of American excess, The Great Gatsby.

I, at least, find a strong resemblance between the two ultra-rich characters, Tom and Daisy, and the ultra-rich Bush.

Fitzgerald writes of Tom and Daisy:

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Language That Fails Love

Language that Fails Love
For Cat from Lynn (a sorta sonnet)

Oh, that my words had words so that
When I tell my love, of my love,
My words could say to her
What this poor, stamm’ring fool
Really means is . . . .
Poor words, how can you tell
Her that she centers me,
That she fills the corners of my life,
That I do not know where
I end and she begins. . . .
Poor metaphors, how can you compare
She who has no compare?
My heart is full, but when I speak,
My language limps, my words are weak.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Learning from Literature

My wife is also a high school language arts teacher. This semester she is teaching sophomore English. The literature text includes William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar. She described to me her discussion of Brutus' soliloquy in Act II sc i of the play where Brutus, speaking his thoughts aloud, says these lines:

It must be by his death: and, for my part,
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crown'd:
How that might change his nature, there's the question:
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder;
And that craves wary walking. . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which hatch'd, would, as his kind grow mischievous;
And kill him in the shell.

In other words, Brutus says that he must kill Caesar, not for anything that Caesar has done, but for what Caesar may do.

"So it's like a preemptive strike?" one student asked.

"Exactly," my wife responded, "and what was the result of Caesar's assasination by Brutus' and the conspirators?"

"Civil war," another student said.

"So, Brutus kills Caesar in a preemptive strike not for what Caesar has done, but for what he could do. The result is chaos and civil war. What can we conclude from this?" my wife asked.

"George W. Bush didn't study Julius Caesar when he was in high school?"

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Radical Freedom

I attend Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mayflower is rather unique among churches in our little "buckle on the Bible Belt." Our motto is that we are "unapologetically Christian and unapologetically liberal." We have no creed or dogma. Instead we covenant with one another to aid each of us in our walk with God.

Last Sunday, Rev. Robin Meyers' message concerned what we gain through our faith walk together in a church like Mayflower. He termed it "Radical Freedom" and defined it as "the end of striving."

Rev. Meyers explained it thusly:

Most of us spend our lives wanting to get somewhere and be somebody. Radical Freedom is the end of striving. This does not mean the end of obligation since we are obligated by the example of Jesus to a life of service. Instead, we realize that we do not need to strive because we have already obtained grace. Rev. Meyers noted that the theologian Paul Tillich stated that in the end one must accept the fact that you are accepted.

Those who accept Radical Freedom realize we no longer need worry about place and identity. God has saved us from ourselves, from our striving, from our separation from each other and from God, which is what sin is all about. When I realize that I need not worry about being different or superior to those of my community, I realize that I am free from the fear that I have missed out on the fullness of God's blessing. I am free to in St. Paul's words, "to become all things to all." And I am free to celebrate the life of faith with all faiths. I can enjoy fellowship with the Catholic, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Protestant (both evangelical and liberal), Jewish, Unitarian/Universalist, Bahai, even agnostic brother and sister.

"We fear most those who fear not They indict us because they strive not."--Robin Meyers.

Army Blasted over Soldier's Body Armor

By Eric Eyre
The Charleston Gazette
Wednesday 08 February 2006

Sympathizers raise nearly $6,000 to repay Army for missing item.

West Virginia's two US senators asked top military leaders Tuesday to explain why 1st Lt. William "Eddie" Rebrook IV had to reimburse the US Army $700 last week for body armor and other gear damaged after he was seriously wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

More than 200 people - from West Virginia and across the country - donated more than $5,700 to Rebrook after reading about his body armor payment to the Army.

Rebrook, 25, who was medically discharged from an army base in Fort Hood, Texas, last week, said he wouldn't keep the donations. He's passing along the money to charity and a Louisiana woman who lost her home in Hurricane Katrina. He said the woman's son helped save his life in Iraq.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Tuesday, demanding that the Army refund Rebrook's money immediately.

"I was outraged this morning when I read the story about what happened to Eddie," said Rockefeller, who nominated Rebrook for admission to the US Military Academy in West Point, NY, when Rebrook attended George Washington High School in Charleston. "I'm heartbroken that he can't continue his career, and I'm shocked that he has been treated this way by our military."

At a US Senate hearing Tuesday, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., asked why Rebrook was forced to pay for body armor damaged when he was wounded in Iraq.

"How can it be that the Army is charging wounded soldiers for replacing damaged body armor? Is this standard practice?" Byrd asked during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Department of Defense's 2007 budget.

Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, attended the hearing.

"That is a very unusual story," Schoomaker responded. "I have no idea why we would ever do something like that. We have issued body armor, the very best that exists in the world. Every soldier has it.

"We certainly have procedures that account for battle loss, and I just find it a highly unusual story. But we'll certainly follow up and correct it if there's any truth to it."

"First Cavalry Division leadership is going to do everything to ensure this issue is brought to a conclusion that is both in line with procedures that apply to all its soldiers and in the best interest of our veterans who have served so proudly and honorably in Iraq," Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, the division's spokesman at Fort Hood, told the Killeen Daily Herald for today's edition.

Bleichwehl said soldiers are not held financially responsible for any equipment lost, damaged or destroyed in combat.

Rebrook said he borrowed $700 from his buddies to pay back the US Army for the destroyed body armor and gear. He plans to pay them back out of his own pocket.

Friday, February 03, 2006

George Bush Joke

(But, as Mark Twain would put it, I repeat myself)

Poor George W. Bush couldn’t get anything to go right for him. First, George decided to become a big oil man just like all of the other Texans who were his family’s friends. So first he formed Arbusto Energy and got his friends to pour $3 million of their hard earned money to back him. But it all went bust. Then he got his buddy from college Philip Uzielli to give him another $1 million, but that soon went the way of the other dollars. Then Major League Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth convinced a bunch of his friends to buy the Texas Rangers for George. They even let George put his picture on a baseball card just like the real big leaguers. George traded away Sammy Sosa, and the Texas Rangers played like, well the Texas Rangers.

So George’s friends got him elected governor of Texas, and after he nearly bankrupted that state, he ran for president becoming one of three men in history to become president even though he came in 2nd in the balloting. It helped that he had 5 very good friends with the title “Justice” in front of their names.

George thought he was set for life, but then things went wrong again. He started a war in Iraq in March 2003 that he thought would be over by Christmas. We are still fighting it 3 Christmases later. He thought the people of Iraq would throw flowers in the path of the soldiers. Instead, they threw bombs and now over 2000 of them have died. He thought that oil revenues from Iraq would pay for the war. Instead, energy prices have sky-rocketed and the war has cost nearly a trillion dollars of US tax money.

Then his friends let him down. His friends in the energy business turned out to be cheating bastards. His friend Tom DeLay was arrested for taking bribes. He appointed friends who bungled their response to natural disasters. Finally, popular opinion held him to be lower than an armadillo’s ass.

One day, Bush knelt down on his knees and asked his Maker, why? “Why Lord? Why is the Iraq war going so badly? Why is there no end in sight to the bloodshed and the huge cost? Why are my friends turning out to be such incompetent idiots or outright crooks? Why are there so many natural disasters? Why do we look like the Three Stooges when we respond to them? Why Lord why? What do you have against me?

George then heard a voice as if from heaven above say to him, “Son, there is just something about you that really pisses me off!”

Thursday, February 02, 2006

America's Sin: A Lack of Civic Virtue

My friend, Kerry, who has the excellent blog A Writer's Journal posted the following: "There are currently over 30,000 homeless people living in Detroit, Mi. But worry not America--most of the homeless citizens have been rounded up and housed in the old Tiger Stadium where they are being feed and kept off of the streets of Detroit until the Super Bowl XL festivities cease."

I have read other reports of the economic devastation that has been brought upon Detroit and other parts of Michigan by corporations who would rather race to the bottom in search of cheap wages than face up to the fact that they employ real men and women and not just marks on a business ledger. The following was my response to her blog:

"Detroit is the carnary in the cage that miners use to warn themselves that the air becoming poisonous. We are creating "3rd World America" in our major cities though an economic policies that trades our long term economic health for short term luxuries and conviences.

The most disturbing trend of our time is our lose of our sense of civic virtue: the feeling that we have a responsibility for the well-being of all our citizens.

You and I, we all, have a responsibility to live our lives so that everyone benefits. We must ask ourselves the question, "how does the way I live affect the lives of others? Can I say that by my actions, others are able to live better than they would otherwise be able to?" No other life is worth living."

As I have always said, the Bible speaks not only of our need to repent of our personal sins, it speaks of our need to repent of our social sins: the sins of prejudice, intolerance, and above all, exploitation.

Hear the words of the prophet Amos:
This is what the LORD says:
"For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not turn back {my wrath}.
They sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals
. (Amos 2:6)

A Paucity of Justice

I listened to the State of the Union message on Tuesday. I am, by nature and profession, very interested in how language is used and what that reveals to us about the user. I examined the text of the speech and made these language discoveries:

Bush used the word "terror" or a form of it ("terrorist", "terrorism") over 20 times in his speech.

The word "economy" or a form ("economics") was used over 15 times.

The word "justice", except in the title "Supreme Court Justice", was used 3 times in the following sentences:

"And we do not forget the other half -- in places like Syria and Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran -- because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom, as well."

'A hopeful society depends on courts that deliver equal justice under the law."

. . .let us also work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope, and rich in opportunity.

So, out of the three reference to justice, only twice did Bush call for some form of justice at home in the United States. Out of those two, only one can be thought of as a call for the kind of social justice that people like Coretta Scott King devoted their lives to. (Several people people who watched the speech with me noted that Ms. King's tribute came from a man who has snubbed the NAACP, an organization Dr. and Ms. King worked through.)

Bush knows war. Bush knows money. Bush doesn't know jack about justice.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Modest Proposal on the War on Terror

In his "State of the Union" message, Pres. Bush defended his "terrorist surveillance program" by noting that "two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. . . ." (Note: The CIA did know that two of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, attended an al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in 2000, and then traveled to the United States. The men simply were not put on a terrorist list, and the FBI was not alerted to their presence.)

Bush defended his warrentless survelliance as a necessary action in time of war and invoked, as always, September 11 to justify his claim to special war powers.

Fair enough. I would simply like to note that prior to September 11, 2001, we in Oklahoma suffered a terrorist attack on April 19, 1995. The bombing was carried out by an American Christian named Timothy McVeigh to avenge the death of fellow Christians at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. In addition to this, McVeigh was in contact with other fellow Christians at Elohim City in Adair County, Oklahoma.

Since we are in a permanent state of war of terror in the United States, I look forward to the revelation that our president has ordered the warrantless terrorist surveillance of these right wing Christian groups. And in the name of Homeland Security, I think that other conservative Christian groups will not think unkindly of our Federal Government if they too are subjected to this kind of secret, warrentless surveillance. In fact, since our president is the darling of the evangelical Christian community, I expect that they not only applaud such actions on the part of our chief executive, but that they demand that their members submit to having all their communications monitored by our government, which, after all, has only our best interests at heart.