Filosofa’s State of the Union Address

Yesterday, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, sent a letter to Donald Trump strongly urging that he either reschedule the State of the Union Address or deliver it in writing, in the wake of the ongoing government shutdown, which entered its 26th day on Wednesday, and which has affected nearly 800,000 federal workers. Pelosi cited critical government agencies in charge of overseeing the event — namely U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security — that have been hobbled by the shutdown.

Under the circumstances, it is highly unlikely that Trump will, in fact, deliver a State of the Union address in person on Friday, 29 January.  So, it seemed prudent, just in case I am asked to deliver it in his stead, to go ahead and write my own speech … Text dividersGood evening Ms. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans.

Ms. Pelosi graciously invited me to fill in for Mr. Trump in giving the State of the Union Address tonight, for with the government shutdown in its 39th day, the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security are stretched far too thin to provide adequate security to attend this address to Congress.  It was determined that far fewer people want to bump me off than Mr. Trump, so my safety seems not to be at risk and thus I am here to deliver the speech to Congress and the Nation tonight.  Mr. Trump’s speechwriters worked very hard to provide me with a written speech, however, I seem to have left it back at the hotel, so luckily I have written my own.

This is called the State of the Union address because the purpose is to inform the American people how the country is doing, and where we are going, what we plan to accomplish in the coming year.  Let me start with how we are doing.

America is more divided today than at any time since the end of the Civil War years.  We have problems, folks – serious problems.  As I mentioned today marks the 39th day of the partial government shutdown that is affecting everyone in one way or another.  You, the people of this once-great nation are losing confidence, and understandably so, in your government.  Investors are losing confidence and it is being reflected in the dropping stock market and also in the job market.  Consumer prices are on the rise.  The food you buy to feed your families costs more than it did a month ago and there is a very real danger that meat and produce may be contaminated, since the U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn’t sufficient staff to continue food safety inspections. 

Apart from the government shutdown, we have a plethora of other problems that we seem unable or unwilling to address.  Perhaps the most critical one is that of the environment.  Since the rollback of past environmental regulations that were intended to cut back on carbon emissions, it was reported earlier this week that carbon emissions in the U.S. have increased by 3.4%, not decreased as they needed to.  This is a problem, not only for the United States, but for our neighbors, Mexico and Canada, as well as the rest of the globe. 

The other critical problem facing the nation is that we have lost the trust and respect of our allies, which leaves us in an extremely vulnerable position.  We abandoned our allies when we announced our intent to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, when we exited the Iran nuclear agreement, and more recently when we announced that we would pull all U.S. troops out of Syria, leaving our allies holding the bag.  In addition, our threats to pull out of NATO, our unwarranted criticism of our allies, high import tariffs, and seeming attentiveness toward our adversaries further have our allies wondering whether they could depend on us in case of an emergency.  This is a dangerous situation.

Here at home, we face other problems.

Last year we saw a number of mass shootings in the United States.  113 people were either killed or injured in school shootings alone, and young people are asking us why we don’t do something, why we don’t pass laws to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental problems, of people who are known domestic abusers, why we don’t have stronger gun laws in this country. 

The nation is torn apart by the debate about immigration and a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico.  Border states are particularly torn, for such a wall would limit, if not eliminate trade and tourism between our two countries and would almost certainly cause further political and economic unrest. 

Our education system is failing our young people.  They are not receiving the education they need in order to succeed, to become the next generation of leaders, of scientists, of historians or great inventors.  Instead, we are training them only for specific jobs, thereby severely limiting their options.  

We have fallen far behind other Western nations in the development of renewable energy sources, have become far too dependent on fossil fuels which are causing more damage and destruction to the environment every day.

Bigotry in all its forms is at an all time high in our nation today.  Racial tensions are the highest they have been since the 1960s when people died to gain Civil Rights for African-Americans, for all people.  Rights are being taken away from the LGBT community.  Women’s rights are being trampled.  Muslims are discriminated against openly in public.

Our elections are no longer fair, for almost every state has gerrymandered districts, newly imposed voter identification laws that discriminate against the poor and minorities.  Polling places in poor districts are closed, or in some cases the hours dramatically reduced, making it impossible for a working person in one of those neighborhoods to vote.  Foreign entities have interfered in our elections, often skewing results.  Both domestic and foreign lobbyist firms have influenced elections and now have some of the people sitting in this room tonight in their pockets. All of this has led to voter disenfranchisement and apathy.

And healthcare … drug prices are obscenely inflated in the United States, as are insurance costs.  The ACA has been chipped at to the extent that many can no longer afford their health insurance.  People are sick and dying for lack of money. 

I wish I had better news to report, but frankly, ladies and gentlemen, our nation is in a sorry state today.  I cannot speak for Mr. Trump as to any plans for the coming year, but I have given you a rundown, in brief, of the State of the Nation.  And on that note, I thank you for your time this evening.

The Conversation — Part III (Conclusion)

This is the third and final part of my series about … anything and everything!  I’ve really enjoyed this, felt like I was actually chatting with Mary all the time.  I hope you guys feel free to chime in on any aspect or topic addressed here.  As with the first two, Mary’s comment is in normal text, my responses are in blue.

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And none of this mentions the third world countries and the horrible living conditions and poverty and starvation that are in their daily lives. And we think this will change?

No, sadly the situation in the third world countries is likely, with the effects of climate change, to become far worse in the coming years.  It would take the cooperation of all the industrialized nations and their willingness to work together to help those in poor nations, to make a concerted effort to combat the loss of arable land, to help find solutions to provide potable drinking water, and to help them become economically stable, not to mention providing a wide array of health services.  All of which is a pipe dream, when the industrialized nations cannot even agree on the simplest of concepts.

Some may say I’m pessimistic, but I feel I’m realistic. Maybe it’s just the way of Mother Nature. We are the destroyers and the only ones who can bring about a possible eventual return of a healed planet, when we are gone and nature can flourish once again in peace.

Until recently, at least a few of my friends said I got on their nerves with my optimism.  But that optimism has faded with the things I have seen from the human race in the past few years.  Like you, I consider myself neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but rather, a pragmatist, a realist.  The reality is that the human race is not living up to its potential, and in the process of destroying the planet, we are also destroying ourselves.  There is still time for us to start listening, learning and trying to change, and there are signs that some are, but unfortunately not enough.  I liked a comment Robert Vella made on Part I of this series … that we have to find a way to make Joe Blow feel like he is part of the solution.  When we figure out how to do that, then perhaps there will be hope.

And although the environment is of the utmost peril to fix if at all possible, something must be done to change people’s minds about the validity of science and the scourge of racism.  Education, to me is key. The two things that work against it are far right religion and racism pure and simple.

You are spot on!  Education is the answer to both of these things … making people realize that science is not a hoax, and that all people are equal, regardless of skin colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identification, height, eye colour, language, culture, etc., etc., etc.  And education begins where?  In the home.  We can blame the Department of Education for a lot, rightfully, and we can blame the colleges for not stepping up to the plate, but we, as parents and grandparents, have the most influence over our children in their early, formative years.  Racism breeds racism, bigotry is carried from one generation to the next.  The question, then, becomes … how do we break that cycle?

Future generations could maybe slowly reverse this environmental damage through scientific research and new technologies, but not if science is not taught and respected.

I think that if we wait for ‘future generations’, based on what I have read of the IPCC and NCA reports on climate change, it will be too late.  We have to convince governments and industries that if we don’t act now, the human race won’t survive, and it won’t make a damn bit of difference how much money they had or how large their investment portfolio, how many rooms in their mansion, or how many trips to the Riviera they took.  In truth, I suspect that those who claim to deny a belief in the science behind climate change know that they are being obtuse, know that the science is real, but are just too stubborn to act, for it might require sacrifice on their part.  And some of the extremely religious, I imagine, believe that their god will not allow anything bad to happen.  Blind faith, they call it.

Wars will continue as long as politicians and big business makes money off of them.

Agreed.  Many profit greatly from wars, especially arms manufacturers.  Others lose their lives, their sons, their husbands …

Racism and bigotry in the US will continue as long as religion castigates other non Christian beliefs and lifestyle choices.

Bigotry in all its forms will continue as long as people believe, whether because of religion or society, that they are somehow superior to others based on some irrelevant criteria.  We keep fighting the same battles over and over, thinking that we’ve finally learned something, and then, a generation or two later, we fight the same battles again.  It’s the fatal flaw of the human race.

And thus concludes this three-part series.  I hope you found it interesting, found some food for thought, and maybe even shared your own opinion on some of these topics.  Special thanks to maryplumbago for sharing her thoughts, and for agreeing to participate in The Conversation.

Links to Part I and Part II, in case you missed them:  The Conversation — Part IThe Conversation — Part II

The Conversation — Part II

This is Part II of the series I started yesterday afternoon, in response to a very thoughtful and thought-provoking comment I received from friend Mary on Tuesday.  Mary’s comments are in normal text, mine are in blue.  The conversation continues …

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1When I look around and see the support trump still has after 2 years, I believe it is hopeless … truly. I do hope I’m wrong, but I have a feeling. 2Education is not getting better, 3politics are even more corrupt, greed is rampant, 4our government supports killers over their own intelligence agencies, selfishness is rampant, 5far right religion is out of control with their end times desires and pushing their own special brand of bigotry, 6fires being blamed on not raking leaves, wars without end, 7the real fake news (Fox and their ilk) are taking over the simple minded and on and on…  Let me take these one-by-one:

  1. Trump’s support is still the minority. His approval ratings have never, since his first week or two in office, come above about 43%, and typically run in the mid-to-high 30s, lower than any other president in modern times.  The thing about his supporters is that they are loud and obnoxious, have radical and hateful ideas, so, as the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”.  They are given the attention of the media, making them seem much larger than they actually are.

  2. Education has been in decline for more than a decade, though I agree that under Trump it is certain to decline further. Betsy DeVos would make college available to only those in the upper 1% of the income bracket and would siphon funds meant for public schools serving the many, into charter and religious schools serving only the elite few.  The problem, however, traces to parents who prefer their children to be schooled in a skill or a trade, so that they are prepared for a specific sort of job when they leave school, rather than receiving a liberal arts education that gives them a broad scope of knowledge, and most importantly, teaches them to think, to ask questions, to find solutions to problems.   Thus, the future leaders of this country, as well as the future scientists and inventors, will likely come only from among the very privileged.  It is a problem, certainly, but not one without a solution.  The solution is that we, as parents and grandparents, must step up to the plate, must demand that our children be given the same opportunity as the children of the Koch family. And we must motivate our children, for today’s youth is the future of this country.  Spend time with them, teach them what they need to know, teach them to reason, to ask questions, not to simply accept the easy answers.


  3. Yes, Mary, politics are as corrupt as they have ever been. The first thing that needs to be done is to take the money out of it.  Citizens United was the single worst decision ever made in terms of campaign finance, and even a few Supreme Court Justices have since regretted their vote.  It has left the door wide open for large corporations and lobbying groups, such as the fossil fuel and arms industries to buy members of Congress.  Today, it isn’t about the candidate’s platform and ideologies, but rather about how much money he can bring in.  I would personally like to see a system where donations are made to a central organization and divvied equally among all candidates.  Not going to happen, but it’s the only way we can ensure that our elected officials are truly representing us, We The People, and not in the pockets of the wealthy, industries, or the NRA.  Another suggestion I have is that we expand the current two-party system to either make it easier for an independent to get on the ballot, or to have a multi-party system such as many European nations have.  The United States is the only nation that has a duopoly, a two-party system where all power rests with those two parties.


  4. It appears that it is Trump’s decision alone to support Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and to ignore the evidence of his role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Members of both parties in Congress are displeased with this decision and I cannot imagine that any other president would be so unwilling to listen to his own intelligence agencies, but Trump … well, he thinks he knows more than anybody else.


  5. The far-right religion, the evangelicals, as a whole are a problem for our nation only to the extent that the government and the courts allow them to be. Trump promised his followers that he would nominate justices to the Supreme Court that would be willing to overturn Roe v Wade and Obergefell v Hodges, and thus far he has seated two such judges.  It is to be hoped that he does not get the opportunity to nominate others, and that the rest of the court has respect for the decisions of past courts.  Our laws call for separation of church and state for good reason.  Ours is a secular government and has no right to interfere in any religion, but by the same token, religions must not have the right to determine law.


  6. I agree that Trump’s response to the forest fires in California was abominable. The good news about that is he surely didn’t make any friends or find any new supporters in that state!  The only thing he did do was prove his own ignorance, as if we needed further proof.


  7. Trump’s close ties with Fox News are indeed worrisome, especially when he is said to call Sean Hannity for advice! And to add insult to injury is his demonization of the legitimate press, calling them the “Enemy of the People”.  I must admit that, while I see the danger quite clearly, I am at a loss as to how we can make people think for themselves, make them wake up and realize that Fox News is naught more than state-sponsored television that panders to Donald Trump.  I think we must rely on the organizations that are established for the purpose of being the watchdogs to monitor freedom of the press, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and hope they do their job and get the word out. 

And once again I am at over 1,000 words, so I shall stop here and wrap up with Part III later today.  Please feel free to join in the conversation with your own ideas!  And thanks for not throwing those rotten tomatoes!  🍅 🍅 🍅

Link to Part I in case you missed it:  The Conversation — Part I

The Conversation — Part I

On Tuesday night, as I was responding to comments on my post titled This Is Not A Game!!!, about climate change and the recently-released NCA climate change report, I came across one comment that provided so much food for thought that I knew I could not do it justice in a single, quick response.  The commenter is our friend Maryplumbago, and she has covered almost every single topic that is relevant to our nation today.

I asked and received her permission to use her comment as a foundation for this post.  Mary poses so many ideas and questions, that I’m afraid I stepped onto my soapbox and didn’t know when to step down, so this is Part I of … either two or three parts, depending on when you guys start throwing rotten tomatoes at me and yelling for me to step down!  While I have not left out a single word of Mary’s, I have taken the liberty of rearranging the order of her points in order to be able to break this into more manageable parts.  Mary’s original comments are in normal text, my responses in blue.

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So many thoughts here …

I believe, as do reasonable people, that climate change is real and that we contribute to it and have been warned about it for many years now and it’s coming close to being too late.

The problem is reasonableness … most people are apathetic to it and care only for their own selfish lives and not beyond that. Others think it’s all a hoax and buy into trump’s idiocy and republican greed for profit at any cost.  

I think that certainly greed and profit play a huge roll, but when you drill down to the level of the individual, resistance to change and convenience are the two driving factors.  Try telling John Doe that he must trade in that big gas-guzzling SUV for a more environmentally friendly car with better fuel-economy.  Try telling his wife that she must recycle her trash, segregating plastics from paper from metal from glass.  Try telling them both that they should forgo their vacation to Florida this year, eat less meat, carpool to work, or turn down the thermostat and wear a sweater.  They will not be happy, for it is an inconvenience, and one they don’t feel they deserve. 

Then there are the fewer reasonable ones … but what can we do? I’m afraid the answer is nothing.

Well, we cannot sit back and accept that there is nothing we can do.  I don’t pretend to know the solution, but a couple of things come to mind.  First, people typically tend to wake up and change their attitude really quickly when they are personally and directly affected.  I think that the more we publicize such catastrophic events such as the hurricanes of the past two seasons, and the devastating wildfires in California for several years now, but especially this year and last, it must make people stop and think, “what if that was me?”  Education … repetition … keep hammering the message home.  And, of course, it would be greatly helpful if our federal government would tell the truth for a change and stop pandering to the wealthy fossil fuel barons.

When you see lines blocks long for a lotto ticket, crowds pushing and shoving on Black Friday in a Walmart, a racist winning a political race, hatred for immigrants, hatred for the “other” and on and on … do you really think things can get better? That people will change even after trump is gone? And this stuff is spreading to other countries.

There’s the quandary, isn’t it?  Trump is merely the manifestation of those things that have lain dormant, simmering just beneath the surface, apparently, while the majority of us had little or no idea.  The greed, the rudeness to get that last toy on Black Friday … are, I believe, all signs of people who are not satisfied with what they have, but always seek ‘more’.  The blame?  To some extent, I think the blame falls largely on advertisers who, in their efforts to promote their products, create the illusion of “need”.  This has always been the case, of course, but today it is magnified 1000-fold by the internet, by social media where viewers are bombarded by constant targeted ads.  If, for example, you’re just pondering, say, a new washer & dryer, so you go visit a few sites just to see what’s out there and at what cost.  The next day, you will be seeing ads for the latest and greatest in washing and drying machines on every website you visit, as well as your email box being filled with ads for the same.  Pretty soon, you’re convinced that your happiness depends on that new washer & dryer – the one with all the bells & whistles. There is truly no such thing as ‘internet privacy’, and the advertisers have free reign to troll you and then target you in their marketing plan.

The hatred for immigrants is based on fear.  I cannot explain that one well, other than to look back at the European settlers’ treatment of Native Americans centuries ago, and our treatment of African-Americans as slaves until 1865, both based on he fear of ‘other’.  That fear continued until … well, apparently it has never ended.  We thought we had made remarkable progress during the Civil Rights Era, and perhaps we had, but much of that progress has since been lost. 

I used to think that yes, once Trump was gone we could set about un-doing the damage he had done and the ‘great divide’ would begin to heal.  I no longer think that, although I firmly believe he is exacerbating an already tragic situation, instilling fear, supporting white supremacists and attempting to isolate us from our allies.  That does not, however, mean that I don’t think things can improve — merely that I think it will take more than simply saying “bye-bye” to Mr. Trump.  Ideally, we need a true leader to emerge and begin to heal the illness in this nation.  We need another Martin Luther King, or John F. Kennedy, a person who is strong, intelligent, charismatic, and understands the divisiveness of today.  A person who will work with people to allay fears rather than to create them.

To be continued … Meanwhile, feel free to join in the conversation!

In Case You Missed It …

Tuesday’s election was about more than the Senate, the House and the governorships.  Little attention was given to some of the ‘issues’ on that ballot, but a few are of major importance.


On gerrymandering …

Michigan, one of the most gerrymandered states in the Union, overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment which provides that future legislative maps will be drawn by an independent commission. At the peak of its effectiveness, in 2012, Michigan’s gerrymander allowed Republicans to win 9 of the state’s 14 U.S. House seats, despite the fact that President Obama won the state by over 9 points that year.  Granted, it is only one state out of fifty, but added to Ohio and Pennsylvania that have already made progress against gerrymandering, it is a start.  Remember that Rome was not built in a day, and racism in politics will not be defeated in a day, either.

On funding education …

Education funding has dropped drastically in recent years. Twenty-nine states were providing less total school funding per student in 2015 than in 2008!  In 19 states, local government funding also fell. In more than half of the states in the United States, the poorest districts — districts with the highest rates of poverty — get $1,000 less per pupil in state and local funding than districts with the lowest poverty rates.

On Tuesday, six education initiatives passed overall, in Seattle, Washington; Georgia; Maryland; Montana; and two in the state of Maine.  Four others were defeated in Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah.  Although Colorado is the 12th richest state in the United States, it ranks low in terms of its education spending. It ranked 42nd in spending on public education and 39th in per pupil spending.  The reason for its failure on Tuesday?  The funding for the initiative would have come from a corporate tax increase that was turned down flat.  Those investment portfolios are a lot more important than the education of our future leaders, yes?

On abolition …

Yep, you heard right.  The State of Colorado’s Constitution still had a clause left over from 1865 stating …

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The state tried to pass an amendment to remove this clause in 2016, but the amendment failed because the wording on the ballot was so confusing that people weren’t sure whether they would be voting for or against.  The state finally got it right this year with …

“Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution that prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime and thereby prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in all circumstances?”

It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support … 65%.  Um … so 35% want to keep the potential for slavery?  Sigh.  Some things just die hard.  It’s Colorado, the state that turned down increased educational spending.

Tough on guns …

The voters in Washington State deserve a two-thumbs-up and an ‘attaboy’ from us all, for on Tuesday, they passed one of the toughest gun regulations in the country with a 60% margin.  The measure will raise the legal age to buy semi-automatic rifles to 21. To obtain such weapons, people will need to pass an enhanced background check, take a training course and wait 10 business days after a purchase.  In addition, they will enact a storage law. Gun owners who don’t secure their firearms with devices such as a trigger lock or safe could be charged with gross misdemeanor or felony “community endangerment” crimes for allowing prohibited people (such as children) to access and display or use the weapons.

A group funded by the NRA (go figure) called Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms has announced its intention to sue in an attempt to block the measure.  Let us hope there are some sensible judges in Washington State.

On restoring voter’s rights …

Florida voters have approved a ballot initiative which provides former felons with the right to vote, re-enfranchising 1.4 million people.  I applaud this one with all of my hands.  I know there are many of you who disagree with me on this issue, but my thoughts are that a person who commits a felony is nonetheless still a citizen of this nation … he or she should still have a voice in the way the nation is run and who does the running.  The ‘punishment’ for their crime is, as meted out by the courts, imprisonment or probation, but does not include revocation of citizenship.  Especially when you consider how many convicted felons’ only crime was drug-related.  So, I am thrilled that Florida took the initiative and hope to see more states follow suit.

Last but not least …

The State of Michigan passed Proposal 1, legalizing marijuana aka pot, making it the first state in the Midwest to legalize pot for both medicinal and recreational use.  The proposal passed by 56%.  Two other states, Utah and Missouri, legalized it for medicinal use only.


There were other issues, initiatives, proposals and measures covered in Tuesday’s election, some important, such as Florida’s constitutional amendment banning both offshore drilling and indoor vaping, and several states’ proposals to limit a woman’s right to choose in abortion cases, and I will have more about those at a later date.  These were all largely overlooked in the feeding frenzy over the House elections, but now we can step back and see what else was either fixed or broken by voters.

The Right To Remain Silent …

India LandryLast October, 17-year-old India Landry was a student at Windfern High School in Houston, Texas.  For months, Ms. Landry had sat quietly in her seat, rather than stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as is required by the school.  Her silent protest had gone largely unnoticed until one day it came to the attention of the school principal.  On 02 October 2017, Ms. Landry happened to be in the principal’s office when the bell sounded to indicate it was time for the pledge.  Landry sat.  The principal, Martha Strother, told her: “Well you’re kicked outta here.  This isn’t the NFL.”

Ms. Landry was then told to call her mom for a ride home, else she would be escorted off the premises by police.  The school district released the following brief statement:

“A student will not be removed from campus for refusing to stand for the Pledge. We will address this situation internally.”

In 1943, in the Supreme Court case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Court ruled that students couldn’t be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance.  The rules at India’s school don’t specifically require that a student say the pledge but require students who don’t say the pledge to stand unless they have a note from a parent.

India’s reason for sitting was, “I don’t think the flag is for what it says it’s for, liberty and justice and … all that. It’s not obviously what’s going on in America today.”

During this same time, the Colin Kaepernick protest had led to a nationwide controversy, with Donald Trump ordering Vice-President Pence to leave a game “if any players kneeled”.  But India Landry’s mother was just concerned with getting her daughter back into school.  She repeatedly called the school, trying to set up a meeting with the principal, and when a meeting was finally arranged, Principal Strother told her …

“India must stand for the pledge to be let back in at Windfern.”

Strother said that sitting was “disrespectful and should not be allowed” and suggested that instead of refusing to stand for the pledge, India should “write about justice and African Americans being killed.”

Shortly after the meeting, India’s mother got a call from local CBS affiliate KHOU, asking for an interview about the “pledge controversy”.  Funny how bad publicity changes people’s minds, isn’t it?  Shortly thereafter, Ms. Landry received a call from the school principal saying that India could return to school and sit for the pledge.

End of story?  Not quite. Between India’s expulsion and the school backing down, Kizzie Landry, India’s mother, had filed a lawsuit claiming that the school violated constitutional protections of free speech, due process and equal protection.  The case has not yet come to trial, but on Tuesday, the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, decided to put his two cents worth in.

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Ken Paxton

“The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents have a fundamental interest in guiding the education and upbringing of their children, which is a critical aspect of liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. The Texas Legislature protected that interest by giving the choice of whether an individual student will recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the student’s parent or guardian. School children cannot unilaterally refuse to participate in the pledge.”  Hey, Ken … this “school child” was 17 years old, plenty old enough to decide for herself whether or not the flag represents any values today.

 

Mr. Paxton, by the way, is currently under indictment on three felony charges related to securities fraud that will likely go to trial sometime this year. But hey … he stands for the pledge!

There is a Texas state law that, in part, states:

Section 25.082  PLEDGES OF ALLEGIANCE; MINUTE OF SILENCE.  (a)  Repealed by Acts 2017, 85th Leg., R.S., Ch. 851 (H.B. 2442), Sec. 9, eff. June 15, 2017.

(b)  The board of trustees of each school district and the governing board of each open-enrollment charter school shall require students, once during each school day at each campus, to recite:

(1)  the pledge of allegiance to the United States flag in accordance with 4 U.S.C. Section 4; and

(2)  the pledge of allegiance to the state flag in accordance with Subchapter C, Chapter 3100, Government Code.

Landry’s attorney, civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen, believes Paxton’s involvement comes because it is an election year, and says he is willing to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court if needed.  While states are able to make their own laws in many areas, they are not allowed to make laws that contradict federal law, and this Texas law is obviously a direct contradiction to the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling of 1943.

You may remember the case back in February of Karen Smith, the gym teacher in Boulder, Colorado, who grabbed a student by the jacket, lifted him to his feet and dragged him out of the class because he did not stand for the pledge.

Let’s be realistic, folks.  The pledge is words … 31 words, to be exact … that children have been required to say during the school day for as long as anybody can remember.  But the children are saying the words by rote … they are only words until one stops to think about them, and when one does that, in light of the current state of the United States, it is, in my view, perfectly acceptable to say, “Nope … the words don’t match the reality”.  All you need to do is look at the last six words, “with liberty and justice for all.”  Even India Landry, only 17 years of age, can see that “liberty and justice for all” no longer exists in the United States of America.  Perhaps, until this nation finds its bearings again, the pledge of allegiance should be relegated to the annals of history.

Banned Books Week

banned booksFor those who might not have been aware, this week, September 23-29, is Banned Books Week.  Because I seem to have slipped back into the rabbit hole and cannot bring myself to write about any of the detritus swirling about in cyberspace today, I am instead writing about Banned Books Week.

What the heck, you ask, is Banned Books Week? According to the American Library Association

Banned Books Week 2018 is September 23-29. It brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restricted in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

Banned Books Week was launched in the 1980s, a time of increased challenges, organized protests, and the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content.

Banned books were showcased at the 1982 American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California. At the entrance to the convention center towered large, padlocked metal cages, with some 500 challenged books stacked inside and a large overhead sign cautioning that some people considered these books dangerous.

Today, Banned Books Week coverage by mainstream media reaches an estimated 2.8 billion readers, and more than 90,000 publishing industry and library subscribers. The Banned Books page remains one of the top two most popular pages on the ALA website.

Let’s take a look at the Top Ten Most Challenged Books for 2017 …

  1. Thirteen Reasons Why written by Jay Asher
    Originally published in 2007, this New York Times bestseller has resurfaced as a controversial book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. This YA novel was challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie
    Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curriculums because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
  3. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    This Stonewall Honor Award-winning, 2012 graphic novel from an acclaimed cartoonist was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”
  4. The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
    This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
  5. George written by Alex Gino
    Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
  6. Sex is a Funny Word written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    This 2015 informational children’s book written by a certified sex educator was challenged because it addresses sex education and is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
    This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
  8. The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas
    Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug useprofanity, and offensive language.
  9. And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
    Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.
  10. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    This autobiographical picture book co-written by the 13-year-old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.

I have read two of the books on this list, The Kite Runner and To Kill A Mockingbird.  Given that the majority of the books on the list are children’s books or YA (young adult), I have no real interest in reading those, but I do have some observations about the list.

No less than four of the ten books on this list are considered dangerous because they either address LGBT issues or contain an LGBT character or relationship.  Come on … it is the 21st century, we have come out of the dark ages!  If I still had a small child at home, you can bet I would be on Amazon right now ordering And Tango Makes Three!

As I said, I read The Kite Runner, and when I reached the end, I neither became a terrorist nor did I feel drawn to convert to Islam.  Who thinks up these things?  Wait … let me guess … white supremacist, heterosexual, male evangelicals.

banned books-3Thirteen Reasons Why has been challenged and banned for discussing suicide.  Well, guess what folks?  Not discussing something doesn’t make it go away!  Suicide among teens is a very real concern, for the teen years are a time of transition, a time when hormones are going crazy and life is confusing.  It happens.  Kids kill themselves.  Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away!  Parents rarely talk to their kids about suicide, fearing that an open, frank discussion might put the idea into their head.  Perhaps this book is just the ticket for giving kids a better grasp of how to deal with their problems, what to do when they feel there is no other way out.

And by the way … regarding #6 on the list … how does discussing sex with a child, “make them want to have sex”?  Isn’t that an idea that went out in the 19th century?  Methinks some people need to grow up … or perhaps evolve?

I was looking back through the past several years of banned or challenged books, and the 2013 list brought a bit of jaw-dropping mirth.  Here are the ones that made me roll my eyes or chuckle:

  • Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
  • Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (This one was banned because of ‘religious viewpoint’. Grrrrrrrrrrr)

A final observation.  Looking at these lists, and the reasons that specific books are challenged or outright banned goes a long way toward explaining the bigotry, particularly against the LGBT community, that we are seeing come out of the woodwork today.  A child who is shielded from all those who are slightly different in one way or another, whether the difference is skin colour, religion or sexual orientation, grows to adulthood without an understanding that it’s okay to be different.  I’m glad I took a few minutes to look into Banned Books Week, for I hadn’t previously given it much thought, and awareness is key.banned books-4

Sign Of The Apocalypse?

When I first began reading Hugh’s post, I inadvertently let out a primal scream, and after another paragraph, slammed the lid on my laptop, got up and reheated a small bowl of rice before I could finish reading the post. This may not sound like an endorsement for the post, but believe me, it is. Hugh has brought to light something that is happening today that has far longer reaching and outlasting consequences than any of the many abominations tied to Donald Trump. The subject? The re-writing of history, the replacing of facts with opinions. Please, please take a few minutes to read Hugh’s excellent post and think about what he is saying. Get your bowl of rice before you start, though. Thank you, dear Hugh, for bringing this to our attention, and for your generous permission to share.

hughcurtler

One of the more insidious movements in this country is that toward the rewriting of history– eliminating unpleasant facts from the history books. This movement is perhaps a part of the New History movement about which I have blogged in the past — the attempt to reduce history to a form of literature, giving special attention to minor historical figures that have been ignored in the past (probably with good reason!)

In any event, one does wonder why this sort of censorship is not only allowed, but encouraged — even by the Texas State Board of Education which has decided to erase any mention of Hillary Clinton from the history textbooks in order to “streamline” history. As a recent Yahoo news story tells us:

The Texas State Board of Education voted Friday to remove mentions of Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller from the state’s mandatory history curriculum . . .  The…

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I Never Run Out Of Snarky Snippets

An update on Mollie Tibbetts’ family …

Two days ago I wrote of Mollie Tibbetts’ murder, allegedly by a Latino who had been in this country for at least four years without legal immigration papers.  I reported that Trump was shamelessly using Mollie’s death to promote his quest for funding for his wall and other border security proposals.  The Tibbetts family, however, is not sitting still for that.

Mollie’s father, Rob Tibbetts, gave her eulogy on Sunday …

“The Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans…. As far as I’m concerned, they’re Iowans with better food. The person best equipped to help us through this is Mollie. So let’s try to do what Mollie would do. Let’s say what Mollie would say.”

Another relative, Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, released an even stronger statement and placed the blame squarely where it belongs … male entitlement …

“Especially for those of you who did not know her in life, you do not get to usurp Mollie and her legacy for your racist, false narrative now that she is no longer with us. Yes, [Rivera] is an immigrant to this country, with uncertainty to his legal status. But it matters not. [Rivera] is a man who felt entitled to impose himself on Mollie’s life, without consequence. He is a man who, because of his sense of male entitlement, refused to allow Mollie the right to reject his advances — the right to her own autonomy. Mollie was murdered because a man denied her right to say no. Our national discussion needs to be about the violence committed in our society, mostly by men.”

I haven’t heard Trump mention Mollie Tibbetts for a couple of days now … without the support of the Tibbetts family, his plan to politicize Ms. Tibbetts’ death for his own ignoble purposes loses its legitimacy.


Bad news for those with student loans …

Mick-Mulvaney

Mick Mulvaney

When Trump chose Mick Mulvaney to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget and Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), his choice reflected his ongoing policy of picking the worst possible candidate for the job.  One of his first acts was to fire all 25 members of the CFPB’s advisory board.  Then he refused to request funding for the CFPB.  Earlier this year, for no apparent reason other than a whim, he changed the name and announced that the agency would go by the name “Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection” (BCFP).  Confused yet?  I suspect that was the intent.

In May, Mulvaney ordered a dramatic restructuring of the agency, essentially ending the operations of its student lending office.  Seth Frotman was the student loan ombudsman for the CFPB (I shall continue to call it by its original title, for I am too damn old to play these little acronym games). Mr. Frotman’s job was evaluating tens of thousands of student loan complaints, returning millions of dollars to borrowers, and assisting in lawsuits against for-profit colleges and student loan services.  Mr. Frotman resigned his position yesterday, which I am quite certain did not disturb Mick Mulvaney nor Donald Trump, but it should greatly concern any of us who have or are likely to incur student loan debt.  Mr. Frotman was the guard dog who ensured that students were not defrauded or saddled with unfair, unsubstantiated debt.

Mr. Frotman is not going quietly, however, and his letter of resignation makes clear the abuses by Mick Mulvaney.  The letter is long, but you can read the entire thing by clicking on the link above.  Here are a few excerpts:

Seth Frotman

Seth Frotman

“It is clear that current leadership of the bureau has abandoned its duty to fairly and robustly enforce the law. The current leadership of the Bureau has made its priorities clear—it will protect the misguided goals of the Trump administration to the detriment of student loan borrowers. By undermining the Bureau’s own authority to oversee the student loan market, the Bureau has failed borrowers who depend on independent oversight to halt bad practices and bring accountability to the student loan industry. You chose to leave students vulnerable to predatory practices and deny any responsibility to bring this information to light.”

The elimination of the student lending office means that students who are victims of unfair lending practices when borrowing to pay for their college education no longer have any protection, any recourse.  It is the not-so-humble opinion of this writer that this is yet another way to help the rich get richer (many of Trump’s cronies are lenders) and the poor get poorer.  It is also likely to keep some students from being able to go to college, which as I have mentioned before, I believe is part of this administration’s goal.  A less educated society will fall for the lies, not see through the smoke and mirrors, and kneel in submission to their mighty king Trump.


A bit of good news … um … maybe

North Carolina has voted for a republican in 9 out of the last 10 elections, and Trump won the state by a 3.67% margin in 2016.  I don’t know about you folks, but there is no doubt in my mind that most states’ district maps are gerrymandered, and south of the Mason-Dixon line, heavily drawn to favour the Republican Party.  North Carolina is no exception.north carolina gerrymandered mapYesterday, a federal court struck down North Carolina’s congressional map, calling it an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.  Score one, right?  Not so fast, Pancho!  We are just ten weeks out from the November mid-terms.  Remember that ol’ saying that “the wheels of justice turn slowly”?

This is the second time this case has come up this year.  In June of this year, the case went to the Supreme Court, who vacated the decision, ordering the district court to retry the case.  Which is what led to yesterday’s decision.  A three-judge panel found that Republican state legislators had violated the First Amendment and the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when they drew congressional lines that favored their party. Ten of the state’s 13 House districts are held by Republicans, despite the state’s political competitiveness.

So, what happens next?  The court will appoint a “special master” to draw a remedial map.  Meanwhile, the court gave the North Carolina State Legislature three weeks, until September 17th, to propose their own “constitutionally compliant” map.  The problem of time is obvious, but it is not the only issue.

North Carolina has already held its 2018 congressional primaries.  Try to envision the utter chaos of candidates trying to figure out where their district is, what ground it covers, who their potential constituents are.  And imagine the confusion on the part of the voters trying to figure out what district they are in, who their candidates are, and where the polling places are.  Under the best possible scenario, this has to lead to mass confusion.

And to add one more plot twist, the case may well be appealed to the Supreme Court … again.  Stay tuned for more fun and games, folks.


And thus concludes the bits ‘n pieces for this morning.  Have a wonderful day!Political toonTruth isn't truth

Is This Any Way To Treat A Kid?

School has been back in session in most areas of the country for less than two weeks now, and while I am thankful that thus far there have been no school shootings (at least none that I’m aware of), I am furious over the blatant discrimination against kids … little kids … by two private parochial schools, one Catholic and one Christian.

CJ Stanley is a six-year-old African-American boy who was happy and eager for his first day of school on August 13th at A Book Christian Academy in Orlando, Florida.  Look how happy he looked …CJ Stanley-happyBut then … the school’s administrator, Sue Book, wiped that smile right off CJ’s little face when she sent him home for having long hair, or more likely for having dreadlocks.

“I still have the same rules I always had. The girls wear skirts, the boys wear trousers, hair above their ears and off their collars.”

The school is very small, only about 50 students and a half-dozen teachers. It was founded by Sue Book’s husband, Reverend John Butler Book, a man who believes a woman’s place is in the home, women should wear dresses, and who once wrote that he is “trying to save Central Florida from the same fate as Sodom, both inside his school and out.”  I fail to see what a little boy’s hairstyle has to do with anything relevant to education.

CJ StanleyCJ’s father wisely told the school, after a few attempts to reach some form of compromise, to remove his son from their roster, for he will not have anything to do with the school.


Faith Fennidy is an 11-year-old African-American student who attends Christ the King Parish School in Terrytown, Louisiana.  Faith’s school resumed on Monday, August 20th, and as was the case with CJ, she was sent home because of her hair style – she wore braided hair extensions.


Faith FennidySchool officials told Faith on the first day of school that her hairstyle did not align with school policy. So, the next day Faith changed her hair, spending a “considerable amount of money in the process”, but still the school officials were not satisfied, and Faith was told to pack her belongings, leave, and don’t come back.  It should be noted that Faith has worn the braids she began school with for the past two years … at the same school … but this year she was told they were “unnatural”.


For the past week or so, my dear friend David and I have been having a conversation about parochial schools and whether they should even exist, whether they do more harm than good.  We are both of a like mind that education should be about … well, education … academics.  The Constitution calls for what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “a wall of separation between church and state”.  The forbearance of religious schools, it seems to me, violates that ‘wall of separation’.  In the past, I didn’t think much about religious schools as being a bad thing, for I spent most of my youth attending Catholic schools.  But, with the recent evidence of massive abuse of children by priests and others in Catholic schools that has been going on and hidden from the public view for years, and then these cases of blatant racism that would not be tolerated in public schools, I think it may be time to re-think, reconsider the role of parochial schools in the U.S.

These two children did nothing wrong.  They were wearing their hair in the manner that many in their culture do.  I have heard the arguments on both sides that this was racism bordering on white supremacy, and that it wasn’t racism, but merely “Christian” rules.  Whichever it was, it was wrong.  It was discrimination.  It had absolutely nothing to do with education.

The U.S. education system ranks 15th in the 2018 Global Education Report, below …

  1. Russia
  2. UK
  3. Singapore
  4. South Korea
  5. Canada
  6. Ireland
  7. China
  8. Japan
  9. Sweden
  10. Finland
  11. Denmark
  12. New Zealand
  13. Israel
  14. India

It is time for us to focus on teaching our young people about history, literature, mathematics and science and leave the religious education to the parents and churches, if they so choose.  It is time for us to dedicate resources to public schools where children go to gain the foundation for their futures, where they go to learn to think, rather than allocating precious resources to vouchers for parochial schooling. This is not a ‘Christian’ nation, but a secular one where all religions are welcome, but no single religion is favoured over others.  I can see absolutely no value to a religious school to begin with, but when they ignore Civil Rights and feel that they have the right to discriminate against children based on no more than a cultural hairstyle, it is time to say, “Enough!!!” Parents:  if you don’t like it, then homeschool your children.  At least you will only be imposing your beliefs on one child, not an entire school.

Meanwhile, my heart breaks for CJ and Faith who got a first-hand lesson about discrimination at such a young age. Shame on those who taught the lesson.