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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Uranium Coffee Table Chat for Greeley Colorado

I've been working on a project for a few days and have been laggard in my postings.  But I came across some interesting links in my email tonight that revisit the Uranium issues for the Durango Colorado area and Northern Colorado and thought I would post up the links here at least for those interested in doing more research on the topic. If there is anyone out there who still feels there is a chance to buck the political powers in the region on this one.

Below is a great site with some very good well written articles covering many sides of the issue.

Arizona Geology: Colorado's uranium legacy
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Colorado's uranium legacy

With the debate heating up over uranium exploration and mining in Arizona, Colorado is having a similar debate over reopening a uranium mill near the historic mining town of Durango [right, mill tailings pile. Credit, WISE-Uranium.org]. The Durango Herald last week published an impressive set of articles looking at the history of mining and milling in the region. I haven't read all of the articles yet, but the ones I have read are good.

Uranium mining hinges on markets, courts - 8/12/2009
Some companies 'mining Wall Street' - 8/12/2009
Health risks from mines covered up - 8/11/2009
Ore from last uranium boom still scattered on Colorado land - 8/11/2009
Tensions high over plans for uranium mill - 8/10/2009
Reed Hayes: One false step, 41 years of pain - 8/10/2009
Lee Sutherland: Still working, still healthy - 8/10/2009
Marie Moore: Farming, ranching came first - 8/10/2009
Marie Templeton: Life's work is in history - 8/10/2009
Coloradans grapple with promise, threat of uranium - 8/9/2009
Town ceases to exist after Superfund cleanup - 8/9/2009
Mill will control pollution, company says - 8/9/2009


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Greeley Colorado's Future--SAT's are in

Considering all the chatter about Greeley's District 6 Mill Levy Tax Override I thought this small foray into the statistical trends facing the nation may be worthy of consideration. Today's kids are our future workforce and government. Greeley Colorado, whether special interests like it not, rides above a fifty-percent hispanic population. Couple that with lower per capita income for the northern colorado area and Greeley has a big future problem staring it in the face. It doesn't take courage or a leap of faith to make that speculation.

Time for the community to get serious about education and fixing those performance gaps by focusing on the lower performers.

Minority Participation, Scores Up for Some of the Washington Area's Class of '09 - washingtonpost.com
washingtonpost.com > Education
COLLEGE ADMISSION TESTS
Minority Participation, Scores Up for Some of the Class of '09

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By Nick Anderson and Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Four out of 10 students who take the SAT are racial or ethnic minorities, the College Board reported Tuesday, a milestone for the college admissions test most widely used in the nation and the Washington region.

But scores of the wealthiest students are growing faster than scores of the poorest, and some racial disparities in test performance are widening.

Narrowing such achievement gaps has become a key issue. Loudoun County schools, contrary to the national trend, reported that average SAT scores for black and Hispanic students rose faster than for white students.

For the 1.5 million students nationwide in the Class of 2009 who took the 3-hour, 45-minute test, composite scores were 501 in critical reading, down one point from the year before; 515 in mathematics, unchanged; and 493 in writing, down one point. Those figures include results from public and private schools. The grading scale is 200 to 800 points for each section.

During the past decade, math scores have risen four points, and reading scores dropped four.

The College Board, a New York-based nonprofit organization that oversees the test, stressed participation trends, not scores. The 40 percent minority share of test-takers was up from 38 percent a year ago and 29.2 percent in 1999.

"We are tremendously encouraged by the increasing diversity of participation in the SAT," said College Board President Gaston Caperton. "As the equity gap narrows, more than ever, the SAT reflects the diversity of students in our nation's classrooms."

But one of the SAT's leading critics pointed to widening score gaps by race and income, despite many efforts to raise performance of disadvantaged students through the federal No Child Left Behind law. For example, black student scores fell four points (to 1276), while white scores fell two points (to 1581). Scores for students whose families earned more than $200,000 shot up 26 points (to 1702), while scores for those whose families earn $60,000 a year or less were unchanged or rose only slightly.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that the nation cannot test its way to better educational quality or equity," said Bob Schaeffer of the advocacy organization FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

The SAT counted about 110,400 test-takers from Maryland, Virginia and the District in the Class of 2009, up from about 109,900 in 2005.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Greeley Colorado School District 6 Mill Levy Tax Requires Trust

Greeley Colorado School District 6 is getting closer to cutting a deal with taxpayers to increase funding for education this fall to help the under performing district get our community back up to par. There are a few more fine tuning points, on my agenda, before voters should sign on to supporting this initiative in hard times.

In regards to open disclosure to the readers of Greeleyville I have met with administration and District 6 teachers since my last postings (some are listed at the bottom of this post) and have heard good, promising, plans for improving past performance problems. Not all my concerns have been alleviated as I explain in the following critique. Although, specifically, I have been reassured that better math performance is on its way. I have also been reassured that the local school board has a foundational governance plan. Additionally, it is simply logical, to conclude that it is going to take a bit of time to pull District 6 out of the rut that previous poor administration and restrictive citizen-driven anti-education legislation has arguably placed it into. I personally, still, strongly prefer, that local tax increases be used to fund performance pay for top level teachers but without reforming basic school performance and statewide legislative issues first--that really is not a reasonable expectation. I'd like to keep that on a back burner though. It is doable and it can work to polish a school district's performance quickly.
Onto the Jane critique.

Apparently the district has issued new statements that contain certain specific goals for the new funding revenue to be spent on. They have also, if the Tribune has it right, generated specific threats for what will happen if the Mill Levy doesn't pass. Most the threats fall on the shoulders of middle class students but then again most the benefits are aimed at middle class students.

Hence one of my continued beefs is with the administration of District 6's lack of dealing with the core educational problems it faces. Low performing students need to be targeted for additional support and it is still unclear exactly what this District is willing to commit to for this sector of its educational community.

It is clear that there will be an emphasis on maintaining programs that service the high-end performing kids. Magnate programs and advanced placement courses will be continued if the Mill Levy passes. These programs "might not" be continued if it doesn't pass. Certainly high-end programs are important as high tech industry relying on science and math skills will be watching. Of course middle-class parents, often prone to thinking their own Johnny and Susie are brilliant super-stars in the making regardless of the facts, will also be interested in seeing these maintained.

These high-achiever programs however should not be promoted at the expense of the those students under performing in the district. According to the Greeley Tribune article the only bone being thrown to the current under performers is a bone called "adequate" academic instruction.

Hello? Would you care to define what "adequate" means.

Does it mean "just enough"? Does it mean the same under achieving low test mark performance that has been plaguing this district in the first place is acceptable again next year? Does it mean that this District is willing to do whatever it takes to bring these low performers up to adequate? Does it mean that the Greeley Tribune has misstated the press release?

One would hope it is more based on the latter than the former. The evidence doesn't point in that direction though. The statement says that non-English students will learn English. Of course they will. The question is whether or not they will become literate in the use of English. Without being literate in their first language it makes it very unlikely they will become literate in their second-language. Without appropriate and directed bilingual instruction the goal the District is setting is just a bone being thrown out to the lower performers. One that lacks any "meat" and "integrity" in change.

There is also a vague statement that math instruction will be maintained if the Mill Levy passes. Yipes! Does that mean it could get worse? Will they pull the new math series being introduced if it doesn't pass? Will they pull out the much needed math training for existing teachers? Does it mean fewer math majors hired (who tend to draw higher salaries--because they are also in demand in the private sectors)?

Just maintaining the status quo isn't okay. Threatening citizens that these staples will go away if they don't pass the tax measure isn't okay either unless that truly is what the administration means--just to maintain current levels of education. If other local districts are performing there is little reason that District 6 can't perform at least as well. Clarity please on this latest round of objectives. And where did the transportation issues and new technology spending ideas go? Don't confuse the voters more--help them to understand the need to support education.

Of course a lot of what is being seen is political posturing. Personally I am more for transparency then posturing. But I understand posturing. It is not a very powerful political position to stake out in this northern Colorado town that people, likely to be of color or of impoverished backgrounds, are going to get the taxpayer's dollars. Poverty doesn't make for low performers it just means there is not a lot of private funds to buy the tutors to help the student round out the education they are not getting from their local schools. But targeting the lower performing students is a position that is realistic and one that needs to be understood by the citizens calling for improvement in local schools. Remember a "C" student is the average.

So let's be clear, few would envy this administration the political task of making this argument to Greeley's taxpayers. However it should be expected the administration will also pursue what is best for the education of all the students. Whatever it takes to get those test scores up needs to be done or all taxpayers, job-seekers, and citizens will continue to suffer from the poor image of Greeley schools. It takes backbone in the face of local politics to be transparent. It also takes taxpayers willing to see beyond the end of their own backyard.

It takes a community to make good education happen.

So far most of what the District is promising, in this new press piece*, is "fluff" to get voters on board and voters are promising defeat without hearing any realities of what that defeat will do to the community well-being come tomorrow. The sides are entrenching which basically means little will be accomplished. Fine, I get the need behind entrenchment, but how about we step out of the business as usual box and get down into what really counts to make this happen--measuring the administration's performance. Yes, measurement for administrators, just like we want to measure teaching performance.

What is fair for the goose is fair for the gander. Let's put some numbers to it.

Here is what I'd like to see come from the District 6 administrators or their public image arm. Give the citizens of Greeley exacting and measurable performance standards. It will help voters have confidence that this administration is serious about helping all students--not just those that fall in the politically elite classes. Citizens of Greeley need to have it proven to them that their image of Greeley schools can change because change is happening. If the community waits until this administration gets to the ultimate finish line to reestablish trust in performance another entire generation could go wanting educationally.

Give us a reason to start trusting now.

If the District is saying that poor performing students will be given adequate instruction then is it fair to say that the citizens of Greeley will see a 5% gain in math scores every year for the next three years? Is it fair to say that low performing students in literacy will see a 3% gain every year for the next three years if voters pass the tax increase? Throw us a bone with some meat on it please.

If the District is saying that graduation rates will increase--give us a figure. A percentage or any figure. Something tangible to expect. Something, anything, so once this town gets serious about supporting local education voters have something tangible to measure the true worth of their financial commitments. Meet this goal and the next round will be a bit easier. Give the administrators a little public incentive to help the students who need it the most not just the politically expedient needy ones.

Get a backbone Greeley District 6. It is time to face the public and educate the voters with reality if you want to get your Mill Levy passed.

Greeley District 6 Mill Levy
Review of Greeley School Performance
Greeley Should Not Abandon the Arts

*I looked for a news release on this new set of "promises" cited by the Greeley Tribune at the District 6 School Board site under press releases but did not come up with any confirming information. It is my assumption that Tribune has obtained this information from a qualified source.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Greeley Council Thumbs Nose at Existing Mom and Pop's

Ma and Pa businesses in Greeley Colorado need to get hollerin' at the Greeley City Council. Greeley Council passed a resolution to lower development fees last Tuesday night. I really try to stay out of these battles as the public rarely gets a real transparent look at the goodies being traded across the table in these type of negotiations. But I can't help but notice Greeley's undies keep being exposed when it comes to long term strategic direction for this city. Time to get serious when electing these officials folks. Greeley isn't just a podunk town any longer.

The new fee break being handed around comes with a stench. Why are businesses coming in now getting sweet kissy-face deals at older businesses' expense. Why give one business a competitive advantage over existing businesses. The City's job is to court specific industry targets and development--not to wade into competitive positioning. It's like the honeymoon for all the Ma and Pa's struggling to stay afloat is over and now the best bedroom suite is being whipped out for new and expanding businesses.

The big problem is the sheets on that honeymoon bed aren't clean.

This strategy may appear fine and dandy on the surface for those businesses like Sooper's being romanced. After all it is an unfortunate common practice deployed by corporate interests and developers to sweet-talk councils into lowering their operational expenses. But, I'll argue, Greeley isn't every city and it has carved out special problems for itself that need a special strategy. Time to look those sweet-talkers in the face and get some real political backbone (and better advisors). Not to mention that the ugly smaller ducklings hanging back against the wall need to be asked to dance too.

What about infrastructure for the aging, decaying, poorer parts of town? What about redevelopment funds to draw people back into the sectors that have those empty store fronts? Who is going to get stuck with the bill to support all this infrastructure ten years from now? What about finding new ways to perk up those saggy bags under Greeley's eye and put facades in all those closed store fronts down 8th avenue? What about fluffing up the education sectors? The culture art activities are where again? Getting serious about getting monies and marketing together for a "real" Farmer's market? A generic, "sounds-good-to-me", tax base strategy will not get the job done except for those trying to keep Greeley a low-wage industry dumping ground for snail-snot companies with bad business practices.

JBS Swift Sinks Good-Ship-Lollipop

I get what the Council thinks it will achieve. By lowering these rates they will get more business in and might draw a few opportunities away from other, family-friendly, neighboring towns. That's not what the bigger forces in power have planned for Greeley.

Greeley's Barrio

Have You Seen Ma an Pa Lately

First of all, in the case of Sooper's, it is going to go where the studies show there is enough market to survive. It is trying to stay competitive with the well capitalized Safeway expansions and that's all good, in the long run, for the consumer. But helping them out? Back door subsidies for special interests are not any prettier viewed locally than they are nationally. Are we going to do this every time a food store wants a little more elbow room? Whisper a few sweet corporate words in a Councilperson's ear about ...."just can't quite make it happen with those fees and taxes..." and off flies the dress and the romance begins.

We need savvy deal makers instead of social engineers at the city helm. Someone who can see past the first dance and date. One of the bolder early strategies of Walmart in rural areas was to open up stores close to their smaller competitors, wait until the competition's ship sunk, then close the store and allow the regional store to service everybody. Is Greeley going to subsidize this type of activity too. Do the existing Mom and Pop's really not in market position to expand or move going to have to float the bigger corporate machines with minimum wage jobs as they, supposedly, roll into town to bring all these new job opportunities?

Who has the Greeley Town Council's ear?

Oh that's right, the Northern Colorado Economic dudes and dudettes have it. Well Greeley City Council just danced really pretty for their "economically 1970 minded" counterparts. As I have said in earlier postings--it is pretty clear Greeley has lined itself up to be the economic armpit of Northern Colorado by making poor decisions on what type of companies (JBS Swift is one that comes to mind) to groom for life in Greeley. Now, by showing its undies and willingness to cut rates for low returns, Greeley has just thrown open the doors to continue this type of snail-snotter corporate development. And Ma and Pa will be helping taxpayers float these boats.

Thank you Greeley City Council.

Greeley needs a better plan, better advisers, and full-time dedicated politicians to pull it out of the position it has allowed itself to be pushed into. Redevelop the side of town where people only make $20k a year. Get that plan working for pumping the Farmer's Market and snag those funds you flipped your nose at. Make a strategic plan to lower the rates for the types of businesses that bring in stable families and living wage jobs. Attract new types of industry--not just ANY type of industry. Make a target and aim for it. City Council may not have advanced economic degress but haven't you guys ever played Sim City? Promote education and weave it throughout all age groups in the city. Make a thriving viable city-square out of the old barrio areas and bring in small businesses, artist studios, and revive some of those cool old buildings like the Kress. Get people walking around town and talking to each other instead of doing the Stepford family thing on the West end of town. Bring the Munsters and the Stepfords together and mix them all up--a healthy economy is a diverse economy with a strong Ma and Pa sector.

Otherwise we are all going to end up being the hairy old arm pit of Northern Colorado and a low-wage service community to Fort Collins. The professionals will live in Fort Collins, spend money in Fort Collins, develop Fort Collins quality of life, and drive into Greeley everyday for work and drive home at night to live and kick up their heels. Meanwhile Greeley will have low rent, low wage, decaying infrastructure left to service the retirees who have stuck it out, the toxic factory jobs, and a bunch of abandoned buildings. The only green in town will be the castle on the hill called UNC.

Voters in Greeley should look carefully at who they elect this fall. Out with the old and in with the new. Time to look outside the box for answers and quit shooting down ideas simply because they come from "outsiders". And ask your handy-dandy economic development industry pushers--just what that candy-coated advice they are giving you is going to lead to in the long run. Besides the shiny-badge editorials from their buddies in the local newspaper of course.

Time to build your own spine Greeley and quit laying down in the middle of the road so the rest of Northern Colorado can dump on you.

Just my opinion... of course.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health Care Cooperatives--Not Good Enough Mr. President

President Obama is from a big town. In a town like Chicago, big and cosmopolitan, the idea of health cooperatives meeting the public need for health care might look sane. President Obama is already on record as having said as much.

The Senate Finance Committee, where this health care plan for cooperatives is rooted, basically shows how completely out of touch with the needs of the average American the Senate has become. The Senate is made of millionaires. Even if one happened to land out of their mother's womb in a small town to begin with it is obvious they have no memory of it now. Perhaps, given this scheme, they may have landed on their heads. Why else would Congress promote a design which essentially leaves the insurance industry still in power over the public's health care needs. The idea of nonprofit health care cooperatives serving the public need is a shell game. It is a cloak over the public's eyes at the behest of the insurance company profiteers and the medical elite.

I say don't play the game and don't believe it. This "option" is not an alternative to the public option or the single payer system. It is a way for the insurance and private health company executives to retain control of the health care market and have it their way.

Here's why.

First and foremost any nonprofit, especially a membership based nonprofit, is like driving a bus. Whereas a private forprofit business is a zippy little red sports car. Well funded private business, like you find in the insurance and health industry, goes even further and resembles the famed Italian Maserati. They are sleek organizations, designed to hug the road, expensive, and represent loads of capital (cash).

President Obama has said he feels that the nonprofit cooperatives should have to compete for that capital. I like President Obama and empathize the heft of his burden but he is more the attorney and politician here and less the nonprofit business man.

In a nonprofit cooperative there is a board of directors. This board, although there are no definitive guidelines put out yet, most likely will be elected by the members of the cooperative. There are specific regulations which provide the directors with the structure for governance in a nonprofit. These have distinct differences compared to a forprofit organization.

The people who run for nonprofit board positions will be similar to the same people who run for local school boards and housing cooperatives. In private corporate business the board of directors are appointed more often than not. Directors receive nice annual stipends, pay, and perks for giving advice in their special areas of expertise or using their influence to get favorable legislation. It is a nice job in the forprofit world and someone wealthy with clout and experience lands the role and holds onto it--until death, or dementia, do us part. Meanwhile, back at the nonprofit, the assets of the nonprofit belong to the public and therefore the public representatives are assigned to watch over those assets on behalf of the membership of the cooperative. How many board directors, what regional representations might be assigned, how long their term of service, all has to be established in the nonprofit charter. Any remuneration will likely be limited and contained to expenses incurred while being a public community servant.

In this spirit, allow me to metaphorically introduce you, the person needing health insurance reform, to your new bus driver--your neighbor Joe the Plumber. Or perhaps Suzy the Secretary, Gary the Mechanic, Jenny the Accountant, and/or Carol the Hairdresser.

Basically the cooperative board of directors will be made up of people from your cooperative's community.

Now if you live in the community of Chicago the pool of potential nonprofit board candidates is bigger. The select educated elite and various professional backgrounds are naturally more diverse and better candidates can be drawn upon to serve. Your Chicago Cooperative might end up with Karen the Physician and Sam the Surgical Nurse for example. These options would, presumably, be better trained leadership for a health care cooperative. Lucky you--the Public Citizen.

At least for a while.

Then Karen and Sam's term of service will be up and new board members will come on. New board members who have never driven this particular bus before. New board members unfamiliar with the history of the bus, the patients riding the bus, and the mechanic's tinkering with the bus. Never having stuck their heads under the engine of the bus and never having kicked the tires of the bus these new board members will be seated. Not to mention these new board members, "drivers of the bus", will even have to become familiar with what road the bus is going down.

And there are a lot of bumps, cracks, and potholes in the road.

This, Public Citizen to whom I write, is who will be in charge of your health care in lieu of the government. A gamble at best. A tragedy in the making at worst. Because (play close attention to where the pea lands underneath the shell) while nonprofit cooperatives may be designed to be in lieu of the government being in charge of your health care they are not in lieu of the insurance company executives remaining in power. They, the insurance executives, are just scurrying under the new shell Congress has designed to maintain the status quo for the elites.

In the meantime, the insurance company executive will be driving on ahead of the bus, happy in the newly lightened and speedy Maserati. A few small tow lines attached to the Public Citizen bus at the initial camera-op, all for show, without any long lasting effects for the Maserati driver.

In fact, is that a smile I see on the Maserati driver's face?

Of course it is, since the Public Citizen bus will be full of riders that the insurance company executives don't want in their zippy little sport car. Public Citizens add weight and cost money in gas and repairs. Plus, the evil public riders tend to complain when they get dumped out on their heads in the middle of the road. It will take a little more conniving to get around President Obama's legislation on patient dumping--but with the Senate Blue Dogs on their side, no problem. So onto the bus with you!

A private forprofit organization can make quick stealth-like decisions. It can plan a long time in advance since it has a relatively stable market. It can control, to a great degree, how much supply it wants to give in order to meet demand. The forprofit insurance company is going to set, because it can and the industry is allowed to collude, how much profit it wants to put in the hands of its executives and investors. And the profiteering will always come first because that is what the company is designed to do, and it is what the executives get paid the big bucks for... doing what is best for the company.

Is there a great new technology on the market people are dying to pay for?
Great let's adopt it and charge a 200% markup. Better yet let's buy up that company and roll it into our portfolio! Full speed ahead. The zippy little red Maserati doesn't even slow down for the turns or the bumps in the road--it generates enough money to negotiate successfully all the curves and bends in the road. And when it needs repairs it just charges anyone riding along more money.

Ah, the perfect life. Neck scarf blowing in the breeze and the Senate pumping gas into the tank.

Meanwhile, the Public Citizen bus is back here trying to figure out which way to turn next. The driver has stopped and is waiting to hear from all the passengers (members). The driver has to unfasten his seat belt and walk up and down the aisles of the bus to get every rider's ideas and thoughts on which way to go next. Then there is the time spent to show that process is being done and to take these thoughts into consideration. Next compare the new ideas with the old map, explain to everyone why that might be the wrong way to go, get the board to draw a new line on the map, and then finally he can get back in the driver's seat and go forward to make the turn in the road ahead.

Needless to say, if Public Citizen, wants to get anywhere soon he or she isn't going to get there quickly by riding that nonprofit cooperative health care bus.

Could you buy a better bus or a better trained driver or mechanic? Not likely. The nonprofit will never be able to, without the government's backing, outbid the private forprofit competition for the best doctor's, nurses, administrators, and technology. Even if the, ever-changing, board can get it together to understand the strategic need and are willing to work, being semi-paid, full time to raise capital. The forprofit insurance industry will have every reason to work around any regulations and to take shortcuts to ensure it stays ahead of the bus. Effectively undercutting any strategic advantage the nonprofit cooperatives may develop.

Just ask Fannie and Freddie--they essentially got into competition with the for-profit mortgage sector. It is a slippery slope leading to the eventual abyss.

Yet some buses might be better than others--true. Big polished city buses might have bigger gas tanks and better drivers than rural or small city ones--but they still will never be able to catch up to that tasty little red Maserati ahead. There are individual health care nonprofits that are bound to be rolled out as examples. An individual does not an industry make. Overall if the bus breaks down along the way and needs more gas, private gas stations are going to give their best supply to the Maserati owner because the Maserati owner obviously can always pay more. The Public Citizen will get the dregs of the tank and the mechanics straight from medical skid row. Running on dregs never makes for a good ride--for anyone.

Even more poetically or poignantly, however you want to look at it, the Maserati driver will get to dine at the White House with all the Senators long before the Public Citizen bus limps in. All the prime rib, shrimp, and organic greens will long be gone. Congress and the Maserati driver will be snuggled into the study smoking a few handrolled cigars and sipping cognac by the time the bus pulls in. In fact, the Maserati drivers may even, if they are clever enough, be able to arrange it so that the Public Citizen gets to the White House just in time to done a servant's outfit and wait upon the Blue Dog Senators and Maserati drivers in their cloistered study.

Guess who will get the bill.

Finally, after every one else has left, pockets stuffed full of goodies for the drive home, the Public Citizens can pick at the crumbs spilt on their uniforms before heading home to wait for that call from the Grim Reaper.

Yes, Virginia, this is a class war and Santa Claus doesn't really visit the little people in America any more. Not even for Show and Tell.

Let's just hope President Obama is playing chess with Congress rather than MouseTrap.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Health Cooperatives Are An Insurance Industry Shell Game: Don't Buy it

This is unacceptable. Health Cooperatives are a shell game being used in the interest of the insurance companies maintaining their profits. It has little to do with real change in American health care. Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota should look himself in the mirror in the morning. Then go out and look the people of his state in the eye. Then come back and look his children straight in the face and tell them that he is helping to undermine the future of 46 millions by pulling the wool over every one's head.

This Senator, and the other Blue Dogs, are willing to sell every American's soul to a private company and make it a law that they have to turn it over--regardless. Passing legislation that every American MUST participate in health care gives the insurance and health care industry a guarantee of 100% forced market penetration.

What a gravy-train for those companies, those profiteers, and their investors. Cooperatives are still pseudo-private companies. The boards are elected. Eventually these boards will become a popularity contest, a special interest fest, and loaded with all the private agendas, system gaming, and biased manipulation that we all know come with oversight from directly-elected or appointed citizen committees.

What does that mean for Americans?

I fear nothing will change in the long run (which is exactly how the insurance companies want it) except now those too poor to afford current private coverage will be forced to dig into their pockets and cough up money for some ill-run-underperforming cooperative where your local cooperative's board will come between you and your doctor. The cooperatives will never be able to compete with the big insurance industry and the big insurance industry will not have to cover anyone more effectively than they do now.

In fact their lobbyists will be able to, and no doubt will behind closed doors once the legislation is passed, argue that private insurance companies be allowed to dump the patients they don't want to cover into the cooperatives. "It is good enough for them." The insurance companies will harvest the high end of the market and costs will soar because the high-end will be frightened of becoming second-class-health citizens and socially stigmatized. Employers will find a way to discriminate against hiring anyone being serviced by certain cooperatives. They won't have to look at your health-records or even ask questions--they can stereotype with big sweeping generalities.

Let's see now. We are making progress. We now have three supposed options on who gets to call the quality of health care can be provided to which person-- 1) the insurance company executives; 2) the government; or, 3) your next door neighbor.

I cannot vote and remove replace the self-serving insurance company executive. I can vote to remove my next door neighbor but only to replace him or her with my other next door neighbor. I can vote to change the people representing me in government and writing flawed policies or legislation.

Hence the only place I can see having any power as an individual citizen over my own health care is option #2--the government.

Have you been to the Dakotas lately? Where in hell did this man get the power to speak for the Democrats? Is this a Republican in Democratic drag? Who gave him prime time coverage? Egad are they, the Democrats going to allow the Republicans to draw this out until fall elections?

I certainly hope this is just the media exploiting rumors out of context again. Because otherwise someone should pull the plug on the Senate because they are obviously sold out and brain dead. Bring on Sarah Palin's ghastly notion of a Death Panel. They can standby for when the Democrats flatline in the next election cycle.

Democratic senator: Public health insurance option dead - CNN.com
Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said it was futile to continue to "chase that rabbit" due to the lack of 60 Senate votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for a public option. There never have been," Conrad said on "Fox News Sunday."

His comment signaled a shift in the health care debate, with Obama and senior advisers softening their support for a public option by saying final form of the legislation is less important than the principle of affordable coverage available to all.


American Health Care Reform: For Whom the Bell Tolls?

In education you learn quickly that most students learn very quickly through visualization and actual experience. You can write forever on a blackboard, overhead, or whiteboard and you simply won't reach everyone. Some people have to feel it. Live it. Know it as it happens in front of them to understand the nuances and be empathetic for the situation or learning given.

Regardless of how words appear on paper the feeling of being powerless to describe the undercurrent of what health care means to this nation escapes me. Seething underneath the floorboards there is a struggle between whether America has become a country run for the sake of business, industry, and profit or if it will be, going into the future, a country of the people, by the people, and for the people.

My mother lies rotting, slowly, in a care home. She has dementia, Alzheimer's, and Sundowners. She spent a life trapped in an alcoholic marriage escaping it only after her children left home. In the country, had there been money for a doctor, there wasn't any doctor around for casual things. My mother came to believe that health care was something for other people. People with money. The lack of health care became a part of her identity. Her routine. By the time she was old enough to retire and her children were old enough and established enough to help her along--it was too late. The high blood pressure had taken its toll. Her brain, trying to flee from the increase in pressure, shrank.

My mother, now surviving on my father's social security and her own, is comfortable. She is being fairly well tended. But when she passes on, within the next couple of years most likely, she will have spent the final twenty years of her life in a care home. Twenty years that she could have spent laughing, loving, and sharing with her grandchildren--my children and my brother's children. This is what she dreamed of doing all those years while doing menial labor and tending my father's needs. It was her planned retirement from a life of labor, service, and strife. For the five years prior to being imprisoned in the Colorado care home my mother had three newspaper routes in our local town. She walked over ten miles each day to keep her income sufficient to pay for housing, groceries, and other small needs. She stopped and chatted with the elderly folk on her route and listened to their troubles. Kids from the local school would walk along with her and talk to her. She called a doctor more than once when she found a shut-in having trouble. While the reality of my mother's checking account may have been poor--she herself was wealthy in the way many people express a desire to possess such wealth. But this community wealth never went onto a spreadsheet anywhere even though it helped many a soul beyond my mother's.

Had my mother decent access to routine health care, blood pressure checks, she would still be contributing to her community today most likely. She would still be paying her taxes. She would still be working as a volunteer at the voting polls. And she would still know my name and her grandchildren's names.

I know this is one story out of many. But that is the point. It is only one story that belongs to too many people. It is my story. It is my brother's story. It is my mother's story. It is each of my children's story. And there are many versions with different names attached. These are the stories that aren't being heard and seen above the raving blue dog howls of the manufactured Town Halls in America.

My regret? My pen simply doesn't have enough ink or enough power to paint the picture for those who are blinded to the plight of their fellow citizen. How do you touch someone who has closed the gates of their own yard to the community around them?

I've tried ringing the bell at the gate. The same gates I've stood at an argued before. My neighbors. Some of the same people who cry for babies lost to abortion cling to the idea that America should value one human life over another as long as the distinguishing characteristic is poverty or health care or education. All of which can be almost as deadly.

Sometimes I just don't understand the world around me enough to paint it for someone else to see. So I look for others who can do the situation must more justice.

The brutal truth about America’s healthcare - Americas, World - The Independent
In the week that Britain's National Health Service was held aloft by Republicans as an "evil and Orwellian" example of everything that is wrong with free healthcare, these extraordinary scenes in Inglewood, California yesterday provided a sobering reminder of exactly why President Barack Obama is trying to reform the US system.

The LA Forum, the arena that once hosted sell-out Madonna concerts, has been transformed – for eight days only – into a vast field hospital. In America, the offer of free healthcare is so rare, that news of the magical medical kingdom spread rapidly and long lines of prospective patients snaked around the venue for the chance of getting everyday treatments that many British people take for granted.
Related articles

* Leading article: The healthcare debate comes back across the Atlantic
* Christina Patterson: The big problem with the NHS isn't funding
* Rupert Cornwell: America needs to cool down
* Second MEP defies Cameron with NHS attack
* Stephen Foley: ObamaCare is bad news for Big Pharma

In the first two days, more than 1,500 men, women and children received free treatments worth $503,000 (£304,000). Thirty dentists pulled 471 teeth; 320 people were given standard issue spectacles; 80 had mammograms; dozens more had acupuncture, or saw kidney specialists. By the time the makeshift medical centre leaves town on Tuesday, staff expect to have dispensed $2m worth of treatments to 10,000 patients.

The gritty district of Inglewood lies just a few miles from the palm-lined streets of Beverly Hills and the bright lights of Hollywood, but is a world away. And the residents who had flocked for the free medical care, courtesy of mobile charity Remote Area Medical, bore testament to the human cost of the healthcare mess that President Obama is attempting to fix.

All the Kings Men are Insurance Company Executives and Hicks

Write. Don't call. Don't email. Write. Write every senator, representative, and any one of any useful power in the intimate health care circle in the White House. Write them today.

I have never felt so disappointed in my government in my life. When the time has come for Congress to stand up and fight for all Americans they have caved to the pressures of the elite. Without oil to win, provincial countries to plunder, or votes to be purchased they are turning their backs and covering their eyes on the common need. I feel I should sew a label onto my lapel that reads Second Class Citizen so I can appropriately be shamed when I go into public for being a person without the means for private health care.

To all those who have decried that the poor are poor by choice and should be entitled to suffer I have this to write to you

Just tell 'em you're gonna soak the fat boys and forget the rest of the tax stuff...Willie, make 'em cry, make 'em laugh, make 'em mad, even mad at you. Stir them up and they'll love it and come back for more, but, for heaven's sakes, don't try to improve their minds. ~Jack Burden from All the King's Men
And to all those who have spread the malicious fear, half-truths, and outright lies of government run health care while truly knowing the hurt and harm it heaps upon your neighbors

Now listen to me, you hicks! Listen to me, and lift up your eyes and look at God's blessed and unfly-blown truth. And this is the truth. You're a hick, and nobody ever helped a hick but a hick himself! ~Willie Stark from All the King's Men
Democrats Signal Embrace of Co-op Plans | 44 | washingtonpost.com

Health Care
Democrats Signal Embrace of Co-op Plans

By John Amick

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius signaled on Sunday a willingness from the White House to embrace insurance cooperatives as the main plank of health-care reform rather than pushing for a public option in the final version of legislation being debated in Washington and throughout town halls across America.

Quotes from Movie All the Kings Men :: Finest Quotes

Now listen to me, you hicks! Listen to me, and lift up your eyes and look at God's blessed and unfly-blown truth. And this is the truth. You're a hick, and nobody ever helped a hick but a hick himself!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Xenophobia Breaks Out Across Colorado

Speaking of Greeley students understanding mathematical relationships, it gets really depressing spending a Saturday afternoon reading the commentaries around the state on health care. Obama is in Grand Junction trying to raise the quality of debate amongst the provincials. Below the BBC has made an easy visual to chart the comparisons between the US system and three others. I thought I'd try a more mathematical approach to help squelch the xenophobes as everything I am writing comes up screaming my disenchantment with the perceptions people are willing to show they believe as fact. You can still dispute numbers but it gets less emotional. The arguments are limited.

Note that the day you are born in Singapore you have a better life expectancy. As a child I remember Singapore being a place my dad wouldn't buy things from because the quality was questionable. Now Singapore leads a comparison on certain health statistics.



I understand, being American, that we like to think we have the greatest, most magnificent, tremendous, biggest, bestest, most significant," everything in the world. But then again it isn't only my ego that participates in this society. The reality is that excluding better ideas that have better performance for more people is, well, a major risk factor behind the disease called xenophobia.

It is a horrid, horrid, horrid disease. Did I say horrid? Make that deadly.

I am growing weary of the health care debate and the tactics deployed. How you re-educate the over-forty crowd on doing the basic math? On unwinding the political complexities? How do you reeducate the over-forty crowd on the dangers of twisted perceptions of ideology? I have noted the young are not turning out for these rallies in any significant numbers so I focus on my own generation. The generation fed buzz words like socialism, McCarthyism, videos on nuclear explosions, and liberalism to fuel the power of the political elite. Now those words, these labels, taken out of context, have come back to haunt us all.

I fear the slippery slope if Congress does not include a public option. It will be difficult, at least for me, to have any faith in a system of government which has shown that it has compromised the throat of America by allowing the fangs of monster insurance industries and accompanying profiteers to thrive permanently embedded in American citizens' pockets. Insurance isn't an option any longer. It has been made a legal necessity to survive and operate in a manner expected by civilized society. The only option not to participate in having your blood sucked through the insurance tube is to be wealthy enough to cover all catastrophic events or poor enough to live under a bridge and own nothing at all. In essence the Lord of the Realm owns all the means of production and the Lord of the Realm isn't government.

If Congress fails in its duty to protect its people, all of its people, then the Insurance Industry will be known as the Lord of the Realm. Congress will be proven to be the jesters who dress up and dance for the Lord when called upon. The foolish plebeians will be, and are, the citizens with the pitchforks and hayforks who believe they will be saving something special for themselves by undermining the public option.

Legislative power should not be bought and sold to the highest more powerful bidder. This era of Congress should be known as the Blagoveckian Era.

This nation belongs to the people. All of the people. All of the time. We need to remind Congress who is in power here. Write. Call. Speak out. The mob can't win this one or we all lose.

BBC NEWS | Health | Healthcare around the world
Healthcare around the world

Healthcare figures


The Parable of Biting the Prada Apple--Math Reform In Greeley Schools

Last night my brother's child sat down to dinner after her second hard day back at school. She has been nearly impossible to live with all week she has been so excited. She has her heart set on being a geologist-archeologist-princess-rock star when she grows up. We've had many conversations on how important math is to her ideal. Tonight, she was seated at my famous Friday night table. The Friday night where I prepare the most grand meal my strange creative mind can assemble. Tonight I prepared her dinner.

I whipped off the apron and purposely sat her smaller plate down last as I took my own seat.

On her plate was a half-eaten beautiful red juicy apple and some macaroni-in-cheese. She looked at the chicken, rice, raisin, oyster sauce burritos on the adults plates and then at her own. She looked at me--delicate blue eyes seething at amused green ones. She looked at her mother, sullenly, seeking rescue from the strange Aunt thing across from her. No one said a word. She, my niece, looked back at me again certainly wishing I could be transported to another planet where they punish people for putting old apples on little girl's plates.

Instead of disappearing, I sipped my wine, spread the cloth napkin in my lap, and prepared myself for the ensuing game of Torture By Math.

To begin I pointed out to my extremely bright nine year-old niece that the apple is the one she had taken two bites of an hour ago but hadn't finished. I particularly noted this had happened after she had been reminded dinner would be served within the hour and she had proclaimed herself famished and in need of sustenance before dinner. There were other "lesser" apples around the kitchen but of course and they were offered to her. But she fancied the big red juicy new apples placed in the basket earlier that day and made her demands very clear.

I went on to add that the macaroni-n-cheese represented something she would eat instead of the burrito filling she had stood over and sneered at while it was cooking in the pan. I noted gently that I needed to beg forgiveness for having been temporarily idiotic in forgetting that she was a little girl and wouldn't be interested in eating adult foods.

She sneered again, at me, and withered the down on the yellow duckies painted on her plate by pouting down at them.

Now I happen to love this little girl very much. And overall she is exceptionally bright and well mannered. A bit of a Princess in her household but she has the talent and brains to overcome that early branding. Hence, I set out to make a point to my niece, understanding her long term plans laid at such a tender age, that her plate was merely a mathematical equation rather than food. Thus I countered the blame for her plight was one of her own making not mine. And it was entirely because she didn't do the math.

Knowing that math is the one area where this District 6 educated child feels she does not do well I now had her full attention. (She despairs of not making adequate progress in math as much as I despair for all kids learning math in the semi-performing district.) Another sign of a quality child in the making she perked up. A Princess willing to put her emotional temper aside for the sake of new information can't all be a bad thing. Some day I must note to tell her about eating cake.

I proceeded to explain. The apple you have chosen cost $3. When you chose to eat that apple you removed the opportunity of every one else in this house to eat that particular apple. Everyone else, if willing to create a drama an hour before dinner and state they were dying of hunger as you did, would, once your choice had been made, have been left with the little green ones worth $1 apiece.

Now it is fine that you have made such a good nutritional choice and no one here would decry you eating a $3 apple to fulfill your hunger pains. But the problem is that you didn't really eat the apple. You just licked it a few times and took a couple of small bites.

"Do you see the problem with the apple now?"

"No."

So I continued. The problem is that this afternoon when I went shopping I changed $3 of my money into $3 worth of Apple. So that apple now is worth $3 of value. It is my gift to those who eat in my household that they could consumer $3 worth of apple that I am willing to share with them.

"Do you see the problem with the apple now?"

"No."

Again I continue. In making the choice to eat that apple and picking it up you have just eliminated the possibility that someone else here, around the table, could eat that apple. You have subtracted $3 worth of food value opportunity from every one else. Each of us, now, only has the opportunity to eat a $1 apple. $3 is more in value and $1 is less.

"Do you see the problem with the apple now?"

"Everyone is mad at me because I took the apple?"

I smiled this time. No, everyone at the table loves you dearly and wishes you the best. But when you considered taking that apple did you think about the value you were removing from every one else in the room or did you think only about your need to taste that big red juicy apple? Did you consider how the change you made by saying you would consume the apple changed in a very small way the way other people in the room would be eating today? Basically by making a single decision you changed several relationships other people had with the apple at the same time. Did you think about that?

"No." The pout returns.

Well that is why the apple is now on your plate when everyone else has a tasty burrito. So you can think more about how the apple on your plate effects other people in a mathematical way and make better decisions in the future.

"Do you see the problem now?"

"I didn't eat the apple and now no one else can either."

Bingo. You have almost entirely wasted a value of $3 not only for yourself but for everyone else too. by eating the apple you would have gained $3 worth of value and the adults here wanting to share good value with you to help you grow into a successful adult would be fine with making due with the lesser apple choices. It is about always keeping in mind how we effect each other and the world around us when we make our own personal choices. Everything has a relationship that can be based on math. People can get upset when you take value away from their plate, put it on your own, and then prove (by not eating it) you really didn't need that value at all. You simply wanted to capture it for yourself before any one else could. Bad math can start negative emotions flying around a room and doing damage.

To which my niece replied, "I'm sorry. But couldn't you have just told me to eat the apple? It hurts to think that hard."

"Yes I could have. But I love you enough to teach you the type of math skills you need to survive in this world." I replied.

To which my niece's beautiful and very loving mother with all her gorgeous Prada-wear, weighed into the whole conversation, by reaching over, taking the apple, and promptly eating it for her daughter.

The meaning of the parable gained voice when my brother leaned over to explain his wife's actions as he munched a bit from his burrito. "Maybe Greeley School District 6 is gambling that the children of Greeley will not need math and science to compete for survival in the future."

To which I replied... "You think?"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Greeley Colorado District 6 Mill Levy: Jane's Thumb Critique

The District Board has decided, formally, to put the Greeley Colorado District 6 school improvement mill levy onto voter's ballots this coming fall. While it is a pleasure to see the board president, Bruce Broderius, begin to come to terms with district image and reputation it is not yet clear $16 million dollars more going into the general fund is going to provide effective solutions. It is a beginning. But there are more questions to be asked and answered before the Board hits the Greeley streets to hawk this tax to the voters.

Jane's Thumb Critique on the "ups" and "downs" of the District's proposal follows. The Board has shown some improvement on answering surface questions and beginning to address some big picture issues but there is still more to go in the way of discussing accountable management practices, realistic student performance issues, and talking about that management elephant in the waiting room.

*The language above each critique below is taken from the Greeley District 6 Board's proclamation.

...TO BE DEPOSITED IN THE GENERAL FUND OF THE DISTRICT AND EXPENDED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES, INCLUDING:

Jane Thumbs Up: The money must be expended for educational purposes.

Jane Thumbs Down: Once this money goes into the general fund the final accountability that the $16 million raised is spent in exactly the way it was sold to voters gets a bit murky. It is a common discretion of General Fund uses. Let's say, for example, that there is already $16 million being expended from the General Fund that goes to all the categories of expenses listed below. When asked for proof of where this money has been expended it is a bit too easy to hand over the old list of expenditures and say that $16 million was spent on these items. Technically true, if misleading, unless the designation is new expenditures. Rather an easy distinction to request but one often forgotten once the ballot passes. Citizen committees assigned to oversight are a comforting idea but generally toothless if they are politically appointed citizens or gutless because the citizens do not have the management background to look for general funding manipulation. (See the blog Colorado Spending Transparency for more background). Of course, political oversight, may also leave open the discretion to spend this money on real places of need. These are the place that most voters never understand the need of, or approve, because voters tend to focus on emotional issues.

• PURCHASE TEXTBOOKS, COMPUTERS AND OTHER INSTRUCTIONAL
RESOURCES REQUIRED BY STUDENTS AND TEACHERS FOR HIGHLY
EFFECTIVE, HIGH-QUALITY ACADEMIC INSTRUCTION;

Jane Thumbs Up: Each student should have their own textbook. It is a sense of identity and it is a sense of pride in knowing the community cares enough about their education to support it.

Teachers should be trained and the rapid advance of technology into the classroom requires continual training--especially for the aging teachers who haven't been brought up in the technology world. Sorry for the age crack but it is true. Not a personal slight just a matter of circumstance.

Highly effective, high-quality academic instruction is a great buzz term for selling this deal to the public. Looking at the foundation and kicking the tires is even better. These terms imply a fiscal relationship in the purchasing process. The Board is indicating that management is going to make the most cost effective choice possible that produces high-effective, quality results. Therefore the assumption is that the Board has created a governance rubric that will allow them to follow up that management has done what has been indicated, and, the objectives have been met. Just what were those objectives anyhow? Specifically. I'd like to hear more about that rubric. Let's keep this in mind when those test scores get released the next three years.

Jane Thumbs Down: Textbooks are on their way out. Kindle and other technology programs that will replace the need for a textbook are on there way in. These are not deployed in Greeley Colorado yet so the Board's request still makes sense. But the Board should also keep in mind that it will need to come back in half a handful of years and ask voters for the money to change those textbooks into individual technology devices/readers.

Current training for teachers, from what I have seen of it this summer, is weak and often of a lesser value quality than it should be. Plus teachers often skip out on these trainings, talk, or snooze through them. The trainings, some of them, are not taken very seriously likely because they do not add quality and useful content to the teacher's repertoire. This can stem from a variety of causes including teacher burn-out and apathy towards management. On the other hand there is management's apathy toward paying for valuable content and lack of investment in making a high quality training plan that can be an issue also.

For example of low value content, the selected trainers are on a circuit and have a comfortable job security. So spending the first two hours of class making sure everyone in the room is introduced in a friendly congenial way may be a nice intro but in the meantime, with teachers in the room paid and presenter all paid, just how much does it cost the district to have their teacher's introduced to each other? (I have heard one instance of this particular abuse has been curtailed so let it serve as a past example).

Also, placing first-year teachers into course room training with fifteen-year experienced teachers may not produce the greatest benefit per dollar to the taxpayer. The entire concept of effective teacher training programs in District 6 may need to be closely reexamined for benefit return. The experienced teachers can tell you what they need and what is useful but that shouldn't be the only component certainly. Teacher's may not like having to go into intensive training during their summer breaks. Most are in mental health retreat mode so they can come back next fall. A good plan is going to consider all these factors first and then add in what the State guidelines require for additional funding. Innovate. Try something that works. It needs improvement.

I'd like to know what type of technology investment Greeley's Board is considering and who their consultants are, etc. Let's not repeat the entire Coca-Cola debacle again and sell the district's kids and teachers out to corporate interests. The overall management of District 6 doesn't instill confidence that these decisions are being made for the betterment of the educational performance of students It is much more likely that there is a strong foundation for political brownie points with the community and general ease of making the job of education easier for those working. (Which isn't a bad idea--again just not the one being sold to get the money). What are those outcome objectives for educational value again? Convince me that this management is credible. Please! Then I can go back to writing my specialized personal rants.

• SUPPORT COLLEGE, ACADEMIC, CAREER AND VOCATIONAL PROGRAMS
TO PREP ARE STUDENTS IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY FOR THE FUTURE;

Jane Thumbs Up: A priority to install, develop, and maintain if effective high end, high wage paying jobs are going to come into Greeley. People with effective education and/or experience want to know that their own bright little stars have an avenue for educational success in the area without having to drive to Denver to get said access. Feeder programs, considering the amount of established higher education vehicles we have in the community, just make sense to bond together a community relationship of healthier life-long learning processes and investment in our own community assets.

Charter Schools and advance placement programs will get the loudest most active community members off the political backs of the District Board and management. They will feel their kids are serviced.

Jane Thumbs Down: This isn't very helpful to the lower performers in the school district and those at risk of failure all ready. And this does seem to be the area where District 6 still needs to improve according to Schoolview.org.

I haven't seen anything in this dedicated proclamation that directly addresses the need for overall improvements in math or reaching out to those segments of the community whose entire best interests are likely not being served by the school system. Just buying computers and giving teachers additional inservice training does not create effective high quality math instruction and performance. It doesn't do much specifically for incorporating application of science and the arts either.

It does add informational access to Internet content. That, in and of itself, should not count as improvements in learning. Paying high quality well trained math and science teachers who know how to use computers might be a step in the right direction and then they can help train and service other teachers for integrated support in language, science, art, and technology. Okay, well anything approaching this type of plan, would be acceptable. I haven't seen anything like it.

Pumping money into the high-end performers does not serve the entire community. I don't think I can repeat this enough. It will please the middle-class parents stuck withmost of the bill that is true. But it will not fix what is broken in District 6. And once the higher end of education in this community is better served who is going to stand up and be an advocate for the rest of the system.

This attitude and strategic approach takes the heat off the Board for performing but may gut the quality of the system on the low-end performers so deeply that the District is left with some very broken barrio-type schools on their hand. Once abandoned these poor relatives to the magnet schools have the ability to fester more gang activity and youthful discontent and racial divisiveness within the community unless brilliantly, and I do mean brilliantly, managed. Hence gains made to bring new families and jobs into the city will be eroded. Do you, the Board, really want to go here just so your neighbors will be nice to you in the grocery store lanes again? Or do you have a plan for the lower end of the students we haven't seen yet that is effective?

• ENHANCE THE SAFETY AND SECURITY OF STUDENTS, STAFF AND SCHOOL
PROPERTY;

Jane Thumbs Up: I can't argue with this. Just don't make it a prison camp, k?

Jane Thumbs Down: I can say that by improving on the cultural relationships within the school district, bringing in higher quality teachers with better pay, and educating the public about the real issue with gang activity, school-bullying, racism, etc., it would lower the future need to expend on these resources. Effective progressive minded management can lower these costs. Putting locks on doors an alarms in classroom are bandages used once the problem becomes out of control. Treat the disease with our dollars so we need less bandages please. Training the parents on how to bridge the cultural divide is also a good idea--but I don't envy the Board that additional bucket load. Better strategic community-based planning can work--even if Fox News keeps making everyone scared out of their minds that their kid is about to be kidnapped, sliced and diced, or hit by a drunken bus driver--regardless of the real statistical chances.

• ACQUIRE, OPERATE AND MAINTAIN BUSES TO IMPROVE STUDENT
TRANSPORTATION;

Jane Thumbs Up: A regular cost required by every district as their population expands. Is District 6's population growing? What are the projections? We want our kids safe. Does this mean you will be paying bus drivers with the money?

Jane Thumbs Down: What proportion of these funds are going where? Why can't more kids walk--it is healthy. Oh that's right, the bullying and Fox News paradigm. Ride bikes? A bike safety initiative or more bike pathways--City Council might buy into this pie. Okay, well then what happened to the depreciation schedule? Why can't these buses be replaced? Just what operational expenses will be covered.
______________________________________

And there you have it. Keep asking the good questions and you'll have better accountability from the public servants. Throwing shoes at them during town hall meetings isn't nearly as productive.

Just my opinion folks. Keep those emails rolling in--they make the hamster work harder for lunch.

Monday, August 10, 2009

War: Leaches, Bankers, and the American Middle-Class

The rooster is sourcing out a new perch in the hen house. Dawn has arrived. For some time now, in my personal discussions with friends, I have made the argument that being poor in and of itself is a "tax" in this society. It is always nice to have some affirmation as I see more and more mainstream articles popping up about the systemic nature of modern poverty. Yes, Virigina, there really is a Santa Claus but he gets his mega cash flow for luxury goods in part by eating the meager rations off the table of the poor. And Robin Hood lost his popularity around redneckville ever since that "Men in Tights" thing.

Now the spotlight has been turned on again because suddenly the position of working man's enemy is up for grabs. The poor have lost pole position. And the government and the greedy rich are battling for first position.

Fees charged by American companies and private enterprise have been excessive for a long time. This tends to happen when the segment paying the bill is political milquetoast to argue against the highway robbery.

I had the pleasure of living with a roommate, a manager of the largest Bank of America branch in the area, about a year ago as he transitioned from college into his management position. Frequently he'd come home crowing about his monthly bonus. When queried it didn't take a genius to figure out that the bonus was largely based on hitting his fee targets from overdrawn accounts.

Naturally, being the lovable contrarian that I am, I noted that he was making his money on the backs of the poor whom the bank would never consider giving a legitimate cash flow loan to. Yet banks are required to service the poor. So astronomical fees to float a $2.50 overdrawing seemed fitting to the bank manager. Besides, he got to collect a healthy portion of the bounty. It didn't bother him a bit. Even though the man was living rent free at the time, claiming penury while drinking all the good wine in the house, deploring the need to pay off his student loans, it still did not make him think twice that a person of lesser means paying astronomical interest rates to get a $10 loan was inappropriate. Not in the name of profit of course but in the name of covering the banks risk. After all those fees were going into his bank account.

All to which I pointed out the poor, with credit checks, are trapped audiences the risk to the bank minimal. You can't just change your bank these days Toto. The Wicked Witch has monkey spies everywhere to protect the middle class from those wicked evil poor people living in munchkin land who ride in on a horse of a different color.

To see the London Financial Times covering the topic of fee raking (see the article at the end of the post) is indeed a sign of the times or a warning that the elite's brand image is in trouble. I can only hope this if it is a sign, it is not the only sign on what, traditionally, has been a lonely road.

In my world, after struggling for years to raise two loving children and go to college, I came out the ordeal, educated, but very aware of how the system has slowly been tweaked against the poor who yearn in America to be more. You kind of, at some point, begin to see yourself in the paint the community around you colors in. The poor serve as a blight on the middle class affluence of the neighborhood. The ranks close in to pull damage control. Nothing personal of course.

Your children get screened out of day care and scuttled by the side of the road when it comes to after school "enrichment" programs. When your kid itches their head in school they have lice and a bad parent rather than having engaged in a misfortunate misplacement of desks like the other twenty head-scratchers. The personal development programs get gutted from the public schools in the name of cost savings and then youth league athletic programs only let you have two years of grants to cover fees then the kid is "out" before they get to home base. The teacher sends home snotty notes when your kid doesn't upgrade to the binder with four holes rather than three or pay the 1/3 of your food budget needed to cover the arts program. The organic produce may look great but the canned pesticidal stuff comes home with you every time.

Gosh, with such a wonderful life, isn't it plain to see why the poor like wallowing in this life style, refusing to work, and longing to rob your house and steal your car? Definitely you should vote against their interests at any opportunity before they take over the world. Shrew the day the poor obtain political clout! Is it any wonder that the illegal drugs, used to blind the poor and ignorant from this turned-upside down reality, drives much of the crime the politicians use the fear of to pass legislation on? The very same criminal activity that somewhere, someplace, makes the rich richer, and the wealthier more elite. It is all in the name of profit after all. Somewhere someone is making a buck and raising their status with the right car, the right political donations, and the smart looking house. And in the center of those houses is an arsenal armed with legal drugs to keep the occupants with money safe from the ravages of the war on poverty.

Don't you feel better now? All snug like a bug in a dirty rug.

Of course the kids don't really mind all that much. They realize that poverty isn't a disease and that it is pretty cool you have parents who will still let you go play baseball in the street parking lot while your friends are stuck watching COPS on TV and waiting to be victimized by the next "poor drug fiend" in the neighborhood. But I digress as the stereotypes spill over in prime time money making deals.

This war is a war of the adults. The kids just get hit by the fallout to become the walking wounded.

It always was the adults with the pearly steel gates locking their drives and their politicians making legislation to protect "them" against the perception of "you" that I felt had gone to war. Of course it hasn't been a spontaneous war. It isn't a new war. But in modern times, I'd argue, it has been a convenient war. One political in its design and a duplicitous intent at its heart. And one that has gone too far and needs to be curtailed back into the boundaries of the true skirmish it has always been. Hopefully before the poor are legislated into genetic and digital nonexistence.

Frank Rich's brilliant comments on Obama Punking America shouldn't be taken casually. It the shot of the United Nations coming over the hill after one side has been thoroughly throttled and left to be fodder under the hooves of the elite feet. Basically the poor get pushed under the bridge, legislated to stay under the bridge, and then as the Barbara Enreich's column yesterday noted--arrested for being under the bridge. I thought it was going to be different in my new working class town of Greeley Colorado.

It isn't. Special interests have total control and the voters are all riding the same hay wagon of hate and fear--voting against their own long term self interest in the name of color and perceived social status.

The only force I know of to change the tide is education. Education of all the people. Education of the check and balances on the elite regulators and governors. But I am at a loss what to do when an entire community sees little value in educating any one other than their own. Or what to do when the community special interests seat management who seemingly make the decisions in the interest of "their own".

Poetically I like to bring up to my wealthier friends when we get into this conversation (which by the way always ends when my favorite Canadian once again reminds me "The poor in America don't vote." and I reply "And the almost poor vote with the rich.") that at one time the poor were seen with much less stigma in America. They were the working background, the labor, the farmers, the service workers trying to hold two board together with string and a paperclip so they could go out the next day and work to feed their families. What happened? How did we become so disconnected with the people we loved who worked so hard to achieve so much?

The subtle building of a mindset that wealth comes to the hands of the pious and good and appropriately colored happened. The radical social affirmation based on isolated cases that the poor don't work. They lay under bridges and do drugs stolen from the rich happened. Excuse me for a moment here while I get my insurance covered legal Prozac out of the bathroom, happened. The steel gates guarding culture more than wealth, happened. The overwhelming mass media representations that the poor exist only for a moment to knock down wealthier doors, steal and do evil things to prettier wealthier children, rob society of their savings with their unrelenting need for food, shelter, water and medical care, happened. The fear of the future--the robbing of the very soul of everything they, the almighty middle-class righteous, had worked so hard to obtain, has happened.

Cause and effect of course are not to be overlooked here...

The initial cry of insecurity, heard across the land if you held a politician's ear to a glass to a wall containing a community treasure chest, did not go unheeded. Men and women of the knowledge of this real weapon of mass destruction, when faced with using it, didn't blink a golden eye of shame in deploying said weapon. With the battle against the tide of red subsiding as the Soviet Union collapsed, McCarthism a distant memory before Rush reemerged on the scene, and closeted racism drawing its votes less in the North and more in the South, a new enemy was needed to keep the reigning feudal society of the Have's versus the Have-not's in place.

Desperately. And Thomas Jefferson be dammed. Except for a quote for political cover now and then.

Needed by those willing to do anything to gain those seats of representative power and keep the money and favors clinking into their own pockets. The poor. The have-nots. The lesser-thans. The Reagan Homeless. The Shelter Families. All became representatives of an America that couldn't quite elevate itself far enough above those "other" countries and create a decent quality of life for all. A small scab on the knee of America needing to be eliminated in order to finally achieve the height and breadth of the power that we, as the best in the world, deserved to be. All we can be.

Besides, since the poor didn't really want to work, and they enjoy being at the bottom of the barrel and being scraped off the soul of American Congress. It wasn't too far for society as a whole to leap over this segment of society and just try to forget that other humans, beside "them", exist. The perfect narcissistic juggernaut.

Just like the hormone stretching mind-boggling teenager, America began its ride into a young adulthood of narcissism. The Me-First generation emerged with the appropriate tacit leadership approval given--wealth became the new glory mill. Fewer competitors for status. Only those with wealth can possess it. Fuel came running to the fire in the form of the technology revolution and its instant millionaires plus excessive wall street growth. The Bonfire of the Madoff Vanity ignited.

So now, here we are in 2009, and all the bubble-gum has popped all over our proverbial national face. Turns out that the rich speculators of the finance world, the insurance industry, Congress, and Wall Street were the bad guys really looking to loot middle-class America before the poor got its mitts on the surplus. Oh and the poor are not to go blameless in my rant either. They missed the bus or refused to get on it. Unwilling, unable, too trained to follow the rules rather than to make shortcuts with dire consequences, I don't know. But for some reason they missed the bus ride on gaming the American middle-class. They missed that important right turn to taking a short cut on the road to status in America. Who'd have guessed--those icons of fear turned out to simply be interested in food, shelter, water, education, and, god-forbid, health care.

It amazes me how our bubble-gum-smeared face in the mirror on the morning after is looking rather different now. A jobless recovery, corporations across America shedding those middle managers they kept on during the technology boom, few and far between weak-hands reaching out to help, the great lilly-white backs of a blue-spined Congress turned from the pale cheeks of the common man and woman, those "thems" being turned out of the homes they so diligently protected from the scummy invasion of "us" now becoming "us"... and suddenly, slowly, being poor isn't such a crime any more when you look at it through a mirror. The hate and distance in the room are gone. Suddenly it is just the person in the mirror and the reality of the society standing around it. Behind it all a circumstance with external drivers disconnected to the dirty grimy souls of unproductive bridge dwellers.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall is it a disease or is it a circumstance? Or is it, just plain stupidity, after all.

Going beyond the mirror. People may not deserve a lot of pity and but they can sure use some help. Long over due student loan regulations are coming on board. Thank you President Obama. Long over due credit card regulations are coming on board. Thank you President Obama. Executive pay is having its toenails trimmed. Thank you Corporate Wall Street raiders for rolling over on your backs and allowing Congress to make a show of it anyway. And Obama is dropping in the polls. Thank you media for doing due diligence and putting pressure on Obama to change his evil outreach to the common man. Let's cover some more of these town halls stooges and hire more half-prozac-baked pundits for Fox News.

Now, in the meantime, could we please get those idiotic credit checks as an icon to end all icons of the true value of a future employee to stop? And maybe, as Barbara Ehrenreich writes, could we get a world where people who hand out food to those starving under the bridge do not get arrested? And, oh yeah, while your at it stop those insidious payday lending institutions that charge a 400% interest rate to the poor simply because, well, they can.

Let me go one step beyond my cheeky observations above. Could we please restore to the up and coming American generation the concept that they are something more than digitized data points on a chart of gold. Could we, together as a nation, make it so personal and corporate intent has meaning rather than being isolated from profiteering actions. Could some corporation somewhere rebrand personal integrity to the tribe and make it valuable again. Please? Could some Congressional power broker please stand up for what is right for humanity and dignity rather than what is best for profit and their own personal greed?

Could someone please paint the blue back into my black sky? It's dark down here towards the bottom of the pole and it has been lonely a very long time. Come down here and take a look for yourself and you might learn a thing or two.

Somehow when I see people yelling in these town hall meetings on health care "This isn't my America" I wonder just how much of America they have really seen and experienced beyond their own backyard. It isn't "your" America. It is "our" America. That is the WHOLE point.

Once you've experienced the stigma, the bias, and the discrimination of poverty as well as the power of being middle class you never forget the road connecting the two. It isn't the same road you see when looking down on it from the superhighway of privilege. The giant gaping holes leading to deep muddy dark trenches and the missing steps on the ladder are not the waltz in the park some tell it to be. The true tale of the trench warfare to status in modern America can only be seen from both sides of the war. Some lucky ones find a hand up now and then and point to how easy the climb out can be. Others just stay silent for they know no one sitting in the meadows above will ever understand the true reality of social class wars.

Somehow when I see people yelling in these town hall meetings on health care "This isn't my America" I wonder just how much of America they have really seen and experienced beyond their own backyard. It isn't "your" America. It is "our" America. That is the WHOLE point.

It would be really nice if this administration and the people of America looking into the-morning-after-mirror would repair the ladder and offer some hope that, as a society, we have matured and moved beyond the feudal system class wars we seem want to fix everywhere but home. The closer we all are together the less fear we make. The less fear we make the more powerful we become as an organized and well governed nation.

Divided we fall. And the politicians feed on our dead carcass.

Well I guess it doesn't matter the reasoning as long as the help comes. Perhaps someday there will be a cure for "them" versus "us" but I don't think I'll hold my breath waiting for it to come. For the here and now it is a case of the people, to whom the end has been applied to, justifying the means. If it gets the job done it gets the job done.

I have my own biases I am working on. I don't like politicians.

Leaches are leaches and they should be pulled out of the murky water and left to battle the sunshine for survival.

FT.com / Companies / Banks - Banks make $38bn from overdraft fees
Banks say that the fees compensate for the risk they incur when they pay on behalf of customers who do not have enough money in their accounts. “Overdraft fees are there for a reason, we take on a lot of risk,” a senior banker said. “It’s a service to our customers, they want us to pay their overdrafts.”

The highest overdraft fees were charged by the largest banks, said Mr Moebs. At banks with assets greater than $50bn – a group including Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo – the median overdraft fee is set at $33.

At BofA, a customer overdrawn by as little as $6 could trigger a $35 penalty. If the customer does not realise they have a negative balance and continue spending, they could incur that fee as many as 10 times in a single day, for a total of $350. Failing to repay the overdraft within a few days results in an additional $35 penalty.

BofA said that the bank was “committed to ensuring that our fees are transparent and predictable. We have a range of tools and services to give customers more control over their accounts and to prevent these fees”.

Chase has tiered overdraft fees – the first overdraft within a 12-month period is charged at $25, the second to fourth at $32 and the fifth at $35.

Barbara Enrenreich "Is it a Crime Now to be Poor"

In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more poverty. So concludes a new study from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which found that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with ticketing and arrests for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering or carrying an open container of alcohol.

The report lists America’s 10 “meanest” cities — the largest of which are Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco — but new contestants are springing up every day. The City Council in Grand Junction, Colo., has been considering a ban on begging, and at the end of June, Tempe, Ariz., carried out a four-day crackdown on the indigent. How do you know when someone is indigent? As a Las Vegas statute puts it, “An indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance.

Frank Rich: Is Obama Punking America

Yet there is real reason for longer-term worry in the form of a persistent, anecdotal drift toward disillusionment among some of the president’s supporters. And not merely those on the left. This concern was perhaps best articulated by an Obama voter, a real estate agent in Virginia, featured on the front page of The Washington Post last week. “Nothing’s changed for the common guy,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been punked.” She cited in particular the billions of dollars in bailouts given to banks that still “act like they’re broke.”But this mood isn’t just about the banks, Public Enemy No. 1. What the Great Recession has crystallized is a larger syndrome that Obama tapped into during the campaign. It’s the sinking sensation that the American game is rigged — that, as the president typically put it a month after his inauguration, the system is in hock to “the interests of powerful lobbyists or the wealthiest few” who have “run Washington far too long.” He promised to smite them.


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