The Poky Little Pundit


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NO ON I-1240! (yes the shouty all caps are necessary).

Hands up if you are bored of the election. Yeah, me too. And I don’t want to be just another voice shouting into the wind – but I’m gonna be anyway because if even one of you reads this and votes no on I-1240, I have served a purpose. I found out just yesterday that MY OWN MOTHER voted yes on this initiative, which led me to write this post.

If it is true that “we all love teachers,” as Bob Schieffer said in last Monday’s debate, pay them some respect now by listening to them: “The state’s entire education community — the Washington PTA; the associations that represent principals, superintendents, and school board members; and the teachers’ union — has united in opposition to I-1240,” Mari Taylor wrote in a Seattle Times Op-Ed. Voting yes is like giving the finger (or two, if you are British) to every teacher you ever had.

Don’t be drawn in by the cute little apple logo! This is NOT a solution for our public schools.

Check out the brightly colored, attractive document shown on the left. You received it in the mail because Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos (who have possibly never set foot in a public school) have contributed millions of dollars to fund the campaign to instate charter schools in Washington state, though three times voters have rejected these initiatives. Don’t be drawn in by the pretty pictures! Throw it out NOW and vote no on I-1240. I’ll make this as simple and as painless as possible:

1)   Charter schools perform, on average, worse than state schools. We’ve heard this number time and time again. But one more time, just for good measure:

According to a Stanford University study, 17% of charter schools do substantially better. But 37% do worse! 

There’s NO concrete evidence that charter schools improve our children’s education. None. This should be the only evidence you need. But for those compulsive reader types, here’s two more reasons:

2)   By diverting money away from state schools and into an unknown quantity, charter schools jeopardize the education already taking place in current public schools. All schools have fixed costs. And if we’ve got money to make whole new schools, surely we have money to revitalize our current failing ones? Rather than re-packaging the same product, how about we take the money that would be used to make a whole new school and fund programs in the old one?

3) Charter schools, though funded by public money, will be privately run. It will authorize out-of-state, private operators to take charge of Washington state children’s education, with no input from voters and virtually no accountability.

Many of you who operate outside the public school arena might be thinking: Well, what is the answer? My local school is terrible. What can a parent do? Other than the obvious (pay more taxes), invest in your own public school. Volunteer your time. Be a better parent. Support teachers in whatever way you can and stop blaming us for the demise of education (a bit like blaming soldiers for the prevalence of war).

One of the most annoying parts about being a teacher (after terrible pay and grading) is that everyone considers themselves an expert in the field because they, like, had one once. Most voters have no idea what is going on inside public schools, so you will have to rely on people like me who have spent our entire lives in them: Vote no on I-1240.

(Did I change your mind, Mom??)


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“The hope of the earth” and the American ego

Anyone who has lived for longer than a year in a different country knows that, by default, you become the physical embodiment of that country.

I lived and worked in two different countries for a decade, enduring comments from British students such as, “How come, like, you ain’t fat?” or “You was a cheerleader, wasn’t you? Admit it!” More often than not, it was embarrassing to be American because people leveled the entire country’s flaws at me. And I lived abroad during the Bush administration!

But Monday’s debate was particularly humiliating, because sitting beside me, in the form of my husband, was a *gasp* foreigner who, funnily enough, had an interest in America’s foreign policies. This is how the debate sounded to him: America. Fuck yeah.

In the last and final presidential debate, just 33 minutes in, the dead horse known as the economy was beaten yet again while foreign policy somehow transmuted into growing American jobs. We are, after all, the “hope of the earth,” according to Romney. (The earth meaning the Middle East and Israel. Duh.) I’m certainly not the only pundit to mention the narrow global scope probed by the candidates – and being the pokiest, I am also four days late to the party. I offer only my candor and my status as a n00b for you to laugh at (and occasionally with).

Uh-merica: We are ‘one great nation’ that fails to even imagine life outside its borders.                  (Anyone else think the identikit American flag lapel pins are totally weird?)
Win McNamee / Associated Press.

I grew up in America until I was 20, but sometimes I struggle to define myself as purely American – perhaps because I authentically saw the world from a different viewpoint. For an entire decade, I was shrouded from the American media machine and, thus, unindoctrinated by the ‘Isn’t America great’ unofficlal task force. I saw that the world carries on at its own clip, with little regard to what America is up to. No one – I repeat, no one – knows who Kim Kardashian is outside the 50 states. And that is a great and noble thing.

For us to actually be “a torch of freedom and hope and opportunity,” we must own up to our own role in the earth’s demise, and admit we are not the its nucleus. And Romney must learn why he cannot use a flat ‘a’ to pronounce Iraq or Pakistan.

I have provided a tiny, little cheat sheet that might help those of us who doubt America’s dominion over the earth. Yep, that’s right:  other world leaders. Many people around the world are following our election – the least we can do is brush up on some of the elected officials elsewhere, with a few pictures thrown in for fun. (For a comprehensive list, click here.)

UK – David Cameron. Germany – Angela Merkel. Australia – Julia Gillard. China – Hu Jintao. Canada – Stephen Joseph. France – Francois Hollande. Syria – Bashar Al-Assad. Pakistan – Raja Pervez Ashraf. Russia – Vladimir Putin. Israel – Benjamin Netanyahu. Mexico – Felipe Calderon. India – Pranab Mukherjee. Brazil – Dilma Rousseff. Saudi Arabia – Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. South Korea – Lee Myung-bak. 

Chancellor of Germany (and a ginger!)

China’s President

Australia’s Prime Minister

Brazil’s President

Syria’s President

The UK’s Prime Minister


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The Voter’s Pamphlet Scavenger Hunt

I was substitute teaching a few days ago (gotta make cash while I write) and I visited the school newspaper staff, whom I advised for six years until this June. And I decided to tell one girl – very bright and politically active – about my idea to run for office. Her response shocked me. It went something like, “That’s a terrible idea. You don’t know anything about politics.” Keep in mind, please, that this girl is 17 years old. Her comments haunted me for days – not because I thought ‘Wow, she’s right, I shouldn’t run’ but because her immediate response was to shut me down.

This is the attitude I encountered all the time as a teacher. Young people’s knee-jerk response was, invariably, ‘no, I can’t.’ With a school system that routinely tells them no (or how high they may jump and at what time), it shouldn’t be surprising. I am a big believer in the ‘maybe’ or the ‘why not?’ What, exactly, is the downside of attempting to make a change in our society? And why shouldn’t it be me? One look inside your Voter’s Pamphlet will show you that pretty much anyone can run for office – so a better question is: Why isn’t it you?

A cup of coffee, a pen and a brain are all you need! (Brain not pictured).

Some people are so ignorant that they refuse to vote on those grounds, or else they rely on The Stranger to dictate their views (I’m gonna be honest – I’m talking about myself just last year. The Stranger is brilliant). But this year, I tore open my voter’s pamphlet, eager to literally make my mark. It is a testament to 11 years spent correcting shitty essays that I could read this document without wanting to give it to my 3-year-old to use as toilet paper.

I was under the misapprehension that in order to do anything in politics, one had to be a lawyer. Or have an advanced degree in amazingness. Or at least graduate from college. But I am, in fact, better educated than Paul Ryan, or the Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Or Senator Maria Cantwell. That’s not to say I am particularly amazing – but what they have, I can easily obtain: knowledge and experience. Perhaps one of the reasons why the political arena fails to attract  the best candidates with the best qualifications is because they are performing a thankless task for very little pay. Luckily for me, I’ve been doing that for years.

So while I gad about ‘obtaining,’ let’s have a little fun. I’ve devised a scavenger hunt for my fellow Washington Staters to encourage you to pick up the book and look at what’s inside.

Find the candidate who:

  1. Has a degree in dental hygiene
  2. Uses the phrase ‘Heart to God, Hand to Man, Brings Healing to our Land’ 
  3. Lists Coach of Renton High School Golf Team as professional experience
  4. Wants to ensure this century will be another American century
  5. Favors totally eliminating illegal immigration
  6. Calls herself ‘a work horse, not a show horse’
  7. Headed up a complete home make-over for a single mom
  8. Will return 10% of his salary to the Treasury if elected
  9. Played the French horn in the Rose Bowl 
  10. Has only a high school education (there’s two!)


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How my gums relate to Obamacare

On Monday, I endured a dental procedure where strips of skin were pulled from the roof of my mouth to place around my receding gum line. No, I do not smoke. In fact, I am meticulous in my dental hygiene. So how does this happen to people?

You have a baby, that’s what. Yes, among the millions of other things no one tells you before you procreate, you can get ‘pregnancy gingivitis.’ Basically, the baby leaches nutrients out of your body to such an extent that your gums recede, leaving your nerves exposed until you can scrape together $2000 to fix the problem.

But wait! This ain’t no pity party! And don’t worry – I’m getting to a point. And that point is about the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). My surgery Monday wasn’t fun, and I look like Marlon Brando from The Godfather right now, but I was able to get it fixed because I have health insurance. I will not have nerve damage because I have health insurance. Currently, 32 million of my fellow Americans do not.

We know, in a broad wishy-washy sense, that our present health care system has flaws. We know we need to do something different. But do any of us REALLY understand what Obamacare means? What it’s all about? A simple Google search turns up a great deal – but none of it in the kind of CliffsNotes package many of us need considering we are working, studying or raising families while we educate ourselves in order to vote. So here’s some bare bones (according to The Economist – the least partisan source I found):

If you vote for Obama, then by 2014, the Affordable Care Act will:

  • eliminate insurers’ restrictions on pre-existing conditions
  • establish state-run health care exchanges (where people can choose their own plan)
  • mandate all Americans to buy health insurance (but subsidize for those with incomes of 100%  – 400% of the poverty level)
  • expand Medicaid to those with incomes of up to 138% of the poverty level

 

If you vote for Romney, you will vote to repeal this act and replace it with…something else. He has not made his own vision clear (read more here). But we do know he would like to give more power to individual states, promote competition, and give consumers more choices. In addition, he wants to:

  • Allow individuals to buy insurance across state lines
  • Give tax breaks to those who opt to buy insurance on their own
  • Give states a set amount for Medicaid

 

The Economist sides reluctantly with Obama. So do I. There are flaws in Obamacare, such as possible increases in taxes to cover the cost. The mandate is annoying. Neither of them directly address the fact that 18% of our GDP is spent on healthcare  (compared to, say, Canada who spends 11%). But I hope I am not alone in my willingness to be taxed so that others do not die for lack of care – even if that system is not perfect.

As I was researching this post (and judiciously procrastinating as all writers must), I glanced at the Sunday Review which boasted an article by Nicholas Kristof about Obamacare called “A Possibly Fatal Mistake.”  And in that amazing Kristof-y way (who doesn’t love this guy?), he puts a compelling face on the issue and pulls at the heartstrings. And I think heartstrings are underrated in terms of how we make our political decisions. I don’t want to start all over again, and I don’t want to just wait and see what Romney’s team comes up with (though no doubt it will comprise binders full of women).

Voting for Obama means 32 million people will gain access to health care in the very near future. Sounds good to me.

“We are the only democracy — the only advanced democracy on Earth — the only wealthy nation —

that allows such hardship for millions of its people.” – Barack Obama


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A viable third political party

Four years ago, when I was harboring a mass of moving muscle under my skin now known as my son, George, everyone wanted to know: What are you having?

And I remember saying to my friend, Lucy (who tolerates my nonsense with aplomb): I wish there was another option.

Isn’t it weird that we continue to evolve but we still only have two choices? Boy or girl? I wracked my brain trying to imagine the third choice – but could not escape the image from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World of the ‘freemartin.’ I hate it when other people’s ideas are so good that you cannot think of your own. The origin of the term relates mainly to cattle, and whilst I do not care to associate myself with those of the bovine persuasion, I like the idea of something a little androgynous, a little hip.

Dumb and Dumber

I feel the same way about political parties. Everything cool comes in threes. For instance, I was the third child in my family. I taught my students to make ‘lists of 3’ when studying rhetoric. There’s the Three Blind Mice, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, the Three Musketeers. Three makes for interesting discussion. Three makes for debate.

I want a third political party. It would be like the Democratic party, only Republicans would like it. And then we would all live happily ever after. You can see the flaws in my plan here. Maybe all those folks who say they are ‘fiscally conservative’ but support equal rights and don’t want poor people to die from lack of health care could start up a party. The RWH (Republicans with Heart).

The Newsroom: I love this show, but I don’t think I’m alone in picturing him dancing around in a pale blue tuxedo every time he appears on screen.

I’m only joking – but seriously, I know there are moderate Republicans out there (like Will McAvoy on “The Newsroom”) – so why aren’t they speaking up? Are they now, officially, too embarrassed to come forward and be part of the discussion?

You are needed, members of RWH! Speak up now!


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The 17 percent problem

I spent some time today hanging out on www.womenincongress.house.gov. You can kind of guess, if you are really clever, what that website is about. (BTW, all the information listed below is from there. I’m no plagiarizer.*)

No doubt some of you are thinking I already know this stuff. Yes, this should be basic information, and yes, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know it. So if you’re like me, and you haven’t given much thought recently to the dearth of women in politics, here’s some numbers to make you think: Hey, I have a vagina! More than half of the world does too! I should get involved!

There are 17 women, out of 100 possible spots, currently serving in the Senate.

(Of those 17, 12 are Democrats and 5 are Republicans.)

Double X’in it up in Washington State: Patty Murray, in the foreground, and Maria Cantwell are U.S. senators I actually voted for!

There are 78 women, out of 435 possible spots, currently serving in the House of Representatives.

(Of those 78, 54 are Democrats and 24 are Republicans.)

In total, there are 95 women, out of a possible 535 spots, currently serving in Congress.

That means women make up roughly 17% of Congress.

I’m not great at numbers (okay, I’m terrible), but I *think* there might be room for more women here. Just ten years ago, there were 76 women in congress – which means if we want to keep progressing at our current rate of 25%, we need to add 24 female members to Congress in the next 10 years. Get going, double Xers!

I love these ladies! Currently, 17 women serve on the U. S. Senate.

*I feel obliged to note that, in an attempt to fact-check myself, I encountered FOUR different sets of numbers regarding women in the House of Representatives. The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) reports 73 women, This Nation reports 76 women and the Congressional Research Service reports 75 women. Fox News agreed with my original source, but differed on the number of Democrats to Republicans (53 to 25). If anyone can tell me the ACTUAL NUMBER, I would be delighted to report this!


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My first ever fundraiser

Last Thursday, I attended my first ever political fundraiser for Washington state Attorney General candidate Bob Ferguson. I was invited to attend by my good friend, Sumeer Singla, who is passionate about politics and has been supporting local politicians for 18 years.

Bob Ferguson, Democratic candidate for WA state Attorney General, speaking at Linda’s Tavern on October 4th.

I don’t know what I was expecting – celebrities? A long speech? Hors d’oeuvres? Basically, we all had some drinks and chatted. I met the candidate. I thought (in my old way of thinking): Yeah, I’ll probably vote for him because he’s a nice guy and a democrat.

And then he started speaking. In just five minutes, he had me utterly spellbound – firstly, by my own ignorance of the issues at stake and secondly, how simple the choice is to support him. He struck a chord immediately by showing me how voting for his opponent, Reagan Dunn, could eliminate choices for women. And that is NEVER a good thing in my mind.

In brief, the state Board of Pharmacy requires owners to fill prescriptions for Plan B contraception. Pharmacy owners in Olympia sued the state because they disagreed with the ruling. The case is now in the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals. To read more about this case, click here.

Enter Reagan Dunn, who stated in an interview on the radio recently that he hopes the plaintiffs win! Regardless of what Dunn thinks, it is the duty of the attorney general to defend the law – which clearly demonstrates that a) he doesn’t understand the job and b) he doesn’t agree with our state’s laws. Ferguson clarified that he plans to defend state laws regardless of his own political views.

Sometimes, it feels like local politics isn’t relevant to me. In just under an hour, I realized that it was. And that I have better reasons to vote for Bob Ferguson than his party affiliation or the fact that he’s a nice guy.

(I think it’s also important to give a brief shout out to Colleen Ferguson, who was at home taking care of 4-year-old twins while he championed women’s rights. It takes two!)