Saving The Court?

The recent decision by the Supreme Court regarding “Obamacare” will be dissected and discussed ad nauseam so I hesitate to add fuel to the fire. However, there is an interesting aspect of the decision that was recently picked up in a Yahoo news story that suggests Chief Justice Roberts’ decision to side with the liberal members of the Court may have “saved” the Supreme Court. Quoting Terry Moran, the story begins

Chief Justice John “Roberts rode to the rescue of the Obama health care plan, and maybe rode to the rescue of the Supreme Court, as well,” says Moran, who has been covering the Supreme Court for many years.

Given the blatantly partisan nature of the Court in recent years — since at least Gore vs Bush, the Court was in danger of becoming not only predictable, but positively anti-constitutional. It is clear that the Founders, following Montesquieu and Locke, saw the Court as an essential element in the balance of power between the legislative and the executive branches of the government. Locke, of course, saw the judicial branch as a part of the legislative branch and thought the third branch should be the war-making arm of government, which is an interesting thought. But Jefferson and Madison followed Montesquieu’s revision of Locke’s view in regarding the judicial branch as separate and apart from the legislature. So it came to be.

But when the Court continues to side with the party that appointed the majority of its members, it ceases to fulfill its function. Speculation now suggests that this was the thinking behind Roberts’ decision: to restore the Court to its original purpose. Let us hope so. As a Bush appointee, it was a virtual certainty that he would side with his conservative fellow-members to overthrow “Obamacare.” This has been the pattern of late. But this did not happen and as a result the Court may have restored some of the confidence the citizens of this country need to have in it in order for it to have the effect it was designed to have at the outset. Polls recently suggested that people were losing confidence in the Court and that assuredly hampers its effectiveness — though one wonders if members of the Court pay any attention to polls.

Whether this is the case or not, it is refreshing to see the decision come “out of the blue” in this case — regardless of where one stands on Obamacare.  And if Roberts did in fact act to “save” the Court he is to be applauded. But if, as has been suggested, he let this decision slide so he could rule against abortion when it comes up, then it’s simply politics as usual: judicial activism, Certainly not what the Founders had in mind. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. In the meantime, we can be pleased that the Court got it right this time.

Teaching As Work

I live in a rural area where people seem to think as the voters in Wisconsin apparently think: teaching is not really work. Teachers “work” a short day and have all summer off. This attitude leads them to think teachers are overpaid and angers them when teachers announce that they can’t make ends meet. I taught at the collegiate level for 41 years and things at that level are quite different from the K-12 level where things can get really nasty: I never had to deal directly with angry parents who thought I was doing a lousy job of teaching their children. At the college level we were always dealing with a more select group of students out of high school and I never (seldom?) had to face a room filled with vacant stares. I honestly don’t think I could have stood it. I take my proverbial hat off to all K-12 teachers!

Even at the college level, where I taught 12 hours a week (a fact that has come under considerable scrutiny of late, though at the collegiate level that is considered a heavy load) a couple of independent studies showed that faculty actually spend an average of 62 hours a week on the job. How so? Those four different courses (i.e. 12 hours) take about 24 more hours of preparation (not to mention the years required to get the degree that makes teaching possible in the first place). In addition, there are quizzes and papers to correct, students to advise, office hours  (a university requirement –being available to students where some of the best teaching actually takes place). There are also the dreaded committee meetings and miscellaneous out-of-class duties that always seem to crop up at the last minute. Though my university didn’t require it, I was also very much involved in writing papers and books, directed the honors program, chaired a department,  and happened to coach women’s tennis for fifteen years. But the latter was on top of my academic duties. The thing I remember most about teaching is that I always took the job home with me at the end of the day and on weekends I was busy preparing for the coming week. My wife pretty much raised our two sons on her own, I regret to say.

I only taught briefly at the K-12 level — in a private school for one year and the students were all hand-picked and very bright, so it doesn’t count! Those who teach at the public school K-12 level have many of the responsibilities I mentioned above (including the coaching, or driver’s ed, which many teachers do just to make ends meet) and a longer day in the classroom. In addition they are expected to raise the children, teach them how to behave, discipline them without ever touching them and brace themselves for the flack that invariably comes with reprimanding a child who then goes home and complains to Mom and Dad.

Yes, teachers have the summer off. But many of them, in my experience, have to find other work to supplement their meager salaries unless they are fortunate enough to be married to someone who works year-round. I had several friends who did carpentry work and odd jobs during the summer; others found part-time work at local businesses.

Those who work a 40 hour week and are lucky enough to leave the job behind them when they head home at the end of the day should count their blessings. And they should not resent the fact that those who teach the young complain from time to time (it’s a wonder they don’t scream!). They have their hands full — given the tasks I mentioned above and the inevitable stress that goes along with a room filled with kids who are generally wishing they were somewhere else. Come on, folks. Give ’em a break and loosen up your money belts: they deserve what they earn. And more.

As one of my blog buddies recently noted, other countries have stolen our playbook. Depending on what study you read, America has fallen in the ranks of math and science education to 23rd and 27th in the world. The rankings may vary a little by source, but our competitive position is near the above positioning. The US cannot remain competitive when countries like South Korea, China, India, Singapore are eating our lunch on education. As I mentioned in a comment to this blog, none of these countries eat as much of our lunch as Finland where teaching is one of the most sought-after professions of all because teachers are paid well and are given their heads to teach as they think best.

As long as we deny teachers what they have coming to them, we will fail to attract the best minds to the profession. There are a great many excellent teachers in our schools, but that’s an accident. Teachers at present in this country are saddled with a sluggish, top-heavy bureaucracy and fed on a thin pabulum of educational “theory” focused on the vapid notion of “self-esteem,” and forced to take “methods” courses that teach them nothing. We should address all of these issues while at the same time raising the salaries of the profession and making it more attractive. In a word, we should make it our policy to attract and retain the very best people to a profession that is vital to the continued growth and prosperity of this nation.

Who Would Have Thought???

It’s a special day and deserves a special post: I was wrong. The Supreme Court did the right thing in the recent decision to uphold “Obamacare.” There is hope for us all. This has always been the strength of the U.S. Constitution — an independent non-elected court that would decide constitutional issues. But this Court seemed to be subject to political pressures and has made several poor decisions — including but not limited to “Citizens United.” But this decision shows real promise.

The key vote was that of Justice Roberts, a conservative, who was expected to vote along party lines. He surprised everyone by voting with the liberals on the court. The following excerpt from a recent story about Roberts’ about-face is interesting and may help us understand why this might have happened:

While we may wait decades to know for certain, it does seem plausible that Roberts may have been partly triggered by a desire to prevent the court from being seen as overtly political. Polls showing public respect for the Supreme Court at a quarter-century low reflect the growing view that the justices pursue partisan agendas.

If this is the case, then it does bode well for the future of this Court. It decidedly should not be a political entity: it is designed to be a legal entity that is above politics. With this decision, there is hope that this is now the case.

You Gotta Love It!

(I have decided to break my pattern of daily posts — not counting the blogs I re-blog — by writing about an incident that is about to happen. I have decided to do this because writing about what is about to happen seems to be in fashion these days. If I mistake the signs and portents, I will write an apology.)

The recent story about Mitt Romney’s ready response to the immanent Supreme Court decision (due today) on Obamacare, as it is called, was most interesting. It says, in part,

No matter how the Supreme Court rules on President Obama’s health care law on Thursday, Mitt Romney already has a response to the court’s decision: Obamacare was a “bad policy” that diverted the president’s attention away from the more important issue of getting the nation’s unemployed back to work.

What we have here is a response to an event that has not yet occurred in a news story about something that is not yet news! You gotta love it! We now live in an age in which things happen before they happen (hence this blog!). We don’t even need to wait to see what happens; we can simply read about it beforehand and then go back to watching sit-coms on TV. Wonderful!

But we all know (a) what the Supreme Court will (has) decide(d) on health care. They will almost certainly rule against the “mandate” which will pretty much make the matter a dead issue. And we also know that (b) Romney will turn this (and any other issue) into an attack on Obama’s “failure” to deliver the country from an economic mess that his predecessor left behind — though the latter element of the story will be carefully ignored.

It is true that politicians have become predictable. But it is also true that the central issue in this election is not the economy — contrary to what you may have heard — but national priorities. We simply cannot continue to do “business as usual” and must begin to consider alternatives to our unmitigated thirst for “things” and our determination to live in a grand style while others around us, and the earth itself, suffer from neglect.

The good news is that we can do both at the same time: we can inject life into a tired economy by putting our efforts into renewables and clean energy (there’s a sleeping giant out there ready to be wakened) thereby putting people back to work while at the same time we help bring the earth back to life and restore our own sense of worth. Now THAT would be newsworthy!

Going For The Green

I have never done this and don’t plan to make it a practice. But a recent piece in the Sierra magazine caught my eye and in the spirit of re-blogging, I want to pass it along verbatim. It shows once again the lack of conscience exhibited by large corporations as they pursue the almighty dollar. The article is titled “Greenwashing Golf.” I will omit the parts that don’t seem pertinent.

“. . .For a mere $200 and a self-report of green virtue — no independent on-site inspection required — some 2,300 U.S. [golf] courses have tried to hitch themselves to one of the world’s most respected environmental brands: Audubon.

“The golf industry has long been hammered for wasting oceans of water, using toxic chemicals, and bullying local communities. Then along came a New York group called Audubon International (A.I.) which shares only a name with the renowned bird-focused environmental group and which offers to ‘certify’ the environmental stewardship of golf courses. Courses now happily attach the famous name to scorecards, signage, and offers for duffers to play on ‘Audubon approved’ links and to buy McMansions beside ‘Audubon golf sanctuaries.’

“‘It’s patently obvious what A.I. is trying to do,’ says National Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold. ‘It’s deliberate obfuscation.’ A.I., however, won a court judgment that the Audubon name is generic and that there’s no confusion in the marketplace. Yet, admits California golf course owner George Kelley — whose course is A.I. certified — ‘If they called themselves the XYZ Environmental Golf Company, they would not have had anywhere near the success they have had.’

“A.I. is funded by DuPont, cement maker LaFarge, Disney, and the U.S. Golf Association. Now founder Ron Dodson wants to certify chemical refineries, shopping malls, highways, even cars. Says Dodson, ‘We would not discriminate.'”

In this case “discrimination” would be a good thing! But what is most appalling about this story is the deceit, the underhanded attempt on the part of the golf courses and the corporations who support this effort to appear environmentally responsible when in fact this is not the case. Ignoring for a moment the horrible record large corporations like DuPont have in their treatment of the environment, golf courses are, as suggested above, some of the worst polluters in the country. But my objection, like those of so many others, will fall on the closed ears and minds of those who run these four corporations (and others like them) and who only see where they can make even more money. Brace yourself, you may soon be living near an “Audubon approved” Walmart.

The High Court

In its recent decision not to allow Arizona’s stiff immigration laws (with one exception) Justice Scalia wrote a “scathing” dissent that chastises the President and the Federal government for repeated failure to deport illegal aliens — despite the fact that more “illegals” have been deported under this Administration than any previous Administration. But what truly boggles the mind in Scalia’s dissent is the fact that he seems to want to fight the Civil War all over again. Note these comments:

Arizona’s entire immigration law should be upheld, Scalia wrote, because it is “entitled” to make its own immigration policy. At one point, he cites the fact that before the Civil War, Southern states could exclude free blacks from their borders to support the idea that states should be able to set their own immigration policies.

Scalia dismisses with a wave of his hand the government’s position that immigration is a federal matter since we need to be on friendly relations with our neighbors to the North and South and individual states could stir up a hornet’s nest. But that is the heart of the government’s position and it is the reason the Court decided to throw its weight behind the government — for the most part. But Scalia insists that the states themselves should determine what the immigration laws are to be — a view that echoes the thinking of the most devout of the Southerners in the mid-nineteenth century (if not today).

Scalia’s entire dissenting opinion sounds like paranoia: fear of illegals and the “evil” (his word) they do by taking jobs from the citizens of Arizona. But the notion that an appeal should be made to the rights of the states prior to the Civil War pushes his reasoning beyond the bounds of intelligibility and makes one wonder about the soundness of his mind. This Court as a group leaves so much to be desired, but one always hopes that the members will exhibit some glimmer of good sense every now and again.

One might argue that in overthrowing the laws of Arizona the Court has in fact shown good sense. The problem is they have allowed the “papers please” law that allows Arizona police to detain suspected “illegals” with “reasonable cause.” What this means, of course, is that it gives the police almost unlimited power under the law and it will almost assuredly promote racial profiling — though the police have been cautioned not to fall into that trap. Come on! Get serious: give the average policeman the right to stop and search anyone who strikes him or her as “suspicious” — and detain them for an undisclosed amount of time — and you are inviting abuse of power.

The real fear here is fear itself (with apologies to F.D.R.). The country seems to be in a paranoid state fueled by constant rhetoric about the “war on terror” and the blatant jingoism that surrounds public celebrations such as “fly overs” and flag waiving at sporting events; this atmosphere now allows the country to exhibit its full force with impunity: the end justifies the means. If we ever could, we can no longer claim the moral high ground, as Martin Luther King would have it. We can now kill suspected terrorists abroad with drones; after ten years we still have nearly 200 untried prisoners detained at Guantanamo (including children, apparently); and we can now legally detain for an unspecified time suspected “illegals” at home. I hesitate to use the word but we seem to be inching closer and closer to Fascism, though most people don’t seem to much care.

Courage of His Convictions

Most historians give Jimmy Carter poor grades as a president. Whether or not one agrees, one would have to admit he has shown himself to be an outspoken defender of human rights and a man determined to make his world a better place than he found it. Thus, though he may not have been the best of presidents, since leaving office he has shown himself to be the best of men in an age when there are very few we can point to with pride and say with conviction, “he (or she) is a good person.”

But the latest step he has taken shows not only his exceptional concern for human rights — not just the rights of American citizens — but also the courage to criticize a standing president from his own political party in an election year. As ABC News recently reported, Carter has written an op-ed piece for the New York Times in which he takes Obama to task for violating human rights in allowing (ordering?) drone kills that have taken not only the lives of terrorists, but of an unknown number of innocent victims as well. He also faults Obama for failing to act on his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo. As the report states, quoting Carter,

“Instead of making the world safer, America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends.” The news story continues as follows:

While the total number of attacks from unmanned aircraft, or drones, and the resulting casualties are murky, the New America Foundation estimates that in Pakistan alone 265 drone strikes have been executed since January 2009 . Those strikes have killed at least 1,488 people, at least 1,343 of them considered militants, the foundation estimates based on news reports and other sources.

In addition to the drone strikes, Carter criticized the current president for keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention center open, where prisoners “have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers.”

Assuming that President Carter has his facts straight (and we are in no position to know, though we might suspect that as a former President he would be privy to information the rest of us are not) these charges are alarming and deeply disturbing. We might have expected these sorts of actions of his predecessor, but we had hoped that this President, the President of “Change,” would bring a new moral order to the White House, if not a new political order — that he would take the moral high ground. Instead, he has disappointed those of us who expected (hoped?) for better.

It is true, as one of my fellow bloggers said in an earlier blog (May 12, 2012), that we do not know all the whys and wherefores that go into making decisions at the highest levels in this country. It is certainly the case that as soon as Obama began to deliver on his promise to close Guantanamo he met with stiff resistance. And the drone kills may have some sort of strange rationale that I simply cannot fathom. And while it is true that the “war on terror” started years after Carter left the White House, nevertheless he does have credibility and never loses sight of the wider canvas. He knows it’s not all about elections and politics — or even “the economy.” We need to listen to what he has to say and take him seriously.

“Defense” Spending

You have probably seen the chart here. It is making the rounds on Facebook, and it is alarming — not because our country now spends seven hundred billion dollars on the military, but because of the sharp contrast between this country and the rest of the world (including China!). Our priorities are clearly skewed.

Contrast Between The U.S. and The Rest of The World

In an election year when we might do well to do some deep thinking bout our priorities and about the huge debt we are passing along to our grandchildren it might be wise to consider this chart. We all believe the economy is “the problem,” or most of us seem to do so. It’s not. It’s the fact that we are throwing money into the black hole of the military (in the name of “defense”) while the nation goes deeper into debt. Meanwhile we refuse to pay more taxes while we cut and slash needed social programs, our infrastructure falls to pieces, and our health care system falls behind the rest of the developed world.

Though the military has had the lion’s share of the budget for years, the “war on terror” has given them virtual carte blanche. It is worrisome. It’s one thing for the money to go toward building “drones” that are sent into dark places and kill indiscriminately. That is a moral horror story. But perhaps we can rationalize it, together with our world-wide military presence, on the grounds that these things are keeping us safe from terrorists. Perhaps. But, as we all know, the amount of waste in this part of the budget alone is almost certainly enough to bail Greece out of its present economic woes — though you never hear those calling for tax cuts suggesting that the military budget be cut. No sir!

I recall a few years ago we got a little money at the University where I taught and it was decided that we would resurface two tennis courts with “omnicourt” and if they worked out we would resurface four more. These synthetic courts were terribly expensive and as it turned out we never could afford the four new ones and settled for two courts that were elegant but seldom used. The company that resurfaced those two courts left our town after installing the courts and headed for Omaha where they were scheduled to resurface 12 such courts for the officers at the Air Force base in Bellevue, Nebraska nearby. The tennis courts were located close to the golf course as I understand it.  I am also told the armed forces spend a small fortune in soft balls each year.  All in the name of “defense spending.”

These are anecdotes, of course, and anecdotes don’t prove anything. But they sometimes do tell a story: they reflect a mind-set, and in this case reveal the sorts of waste of taxpayers’ money that are typical — not only in the state’s revenue in the case of our two pathetic tennis courts, but the nation’s tax revenue in the case of the waste on frivolous,  needless luxuries in the name of “defense.” I daresay we could multiply these examples a  thousand-fold and it would give us a headache — especially when our kids aren’t getting an adequate education and the poor and the sick in this country are about to be abandoned, while the military grows fat. We really do need to reshuffle the deck. Someone isn’t playing fair!