Author Archive: dbkurz415

Gun Nuts Who Base their Views on 2nd Amendment Cannot Seem to Read

With an incendiary headline this post makes an an interesting point about Second Amendment Rights. promoted by Bill Orr

The recent round of protesters who continue to pester State Senate President Sweeney outside his home think they have the ‘constitutional high ground.’ They yell and scream about a lot of things, but mostly, about how the New Jersey legislature, by enacting over the past three decades a fairly strict regimen of gun control, are violating their sacred “Second Amendment Rights.”

Gunnies love to point out that the Amendment’s text contains the “right to keep and bear arms,” and alas, it does. But what they so frequently ignore, or at least, twist, is the opening phrase, written by none-other than James Madison, the Father of the Constitution. In it, Madison predicates that ‘right’ on being part of a “Well-Regulated Militia.”  

Republican Assemblywoman Donna Simon: Inane and On the Job

Cross Posted from My Blog: http://kurzglobe.blogspot.com/…

As the nation continues to pull out of the most devastating economic downturn in a half-century, New Jersey lags behind. From most credible points of view – statistically, academically, and though plain observation, The Great Recession never ended here. Instead, it continues to grind on under the completely inept, arrogant leadership of a largely absentee governor in hot pursuit of national office. Here in the Garden State, joblessness, poverty, deteriorating social services and a dangerous wealth gap continue like it’s still 2008.

Tip O’Neal, the late, great speaker of the House of Representatives once said “all politics is local.” Upon considering his famous phrase, I began to think how my local legislators (I live in the Princeton area, or District 16) are reacting to this ongoing crisis. The State Legislature is absolutely the most powerful governmental entity in this state – and any state. While frequently divided, if a state legislature has enough political will, I can quickly take the reigns of power and direction from a governor and make him or her bend to its will. Only the legislature has the power to raise taxes, spend money, and make law. Any governor, however much in possession of personality or constitutional authority, has little or no clout in the face of a determined legislature. And let it also be said that the New Jersey legislature has the ability to impeach and remove the governor or any of his appointees.

So with Christie on his constant interstate adventures, who is minding the store? Well, it’s not the legislature, and especially not the lawmakers in my district. And if I could point out any legislator who is more out of touch, more uninterested in directly tackling the state’s numerous and very serious problems, it’s Republican Assemblywoman Donna Simon. When it comes to politicians who seemingly operate on a form of cruise control to nowhere, she takes the cake.

Just consider three bills she’s either sponsoring or co-sponsoring in the current legislative session. Now before I go into the bills, allow me to explain why I’m not nitpicking. Proposed Bills mean a lot to legislators and their constituents. Bills are the only solid, tangible indicator of what a particular politician seeks to achieve. Legislators can make speeches and all kinds of promises during campaigns, but only through their bills do they really have any chance of implementing actual ideas. So these proposals really ‘count’ and ought to be considered as the most genuine reflection of what a politician is contemplating and has to offer.

Again, Simon’s interesting ‘trinity’ of bills amply demonstrate what makes her faulty clock tick.

First, there is A3104, or more straightforwardly (and I’ve named it) the “New Jersey Gun Control Repeal Act.” This bill is perhaps the most radical, most right-wing, most reactionary proposal of the entire legislative session. It’s right out of Alabama. The bill would effectively eliminate most if not all forms of gun control in the state. It would enable county officials to undercut gun control laws by having the power to issue firearms identification cards, but that’s not the most extreme part. The bill, if ever passed, would transform the New Jersey into a “shall issue” state for people seeking to get licenses to carry concealed weapons. Under the bill, any person qualified to purchase and own a firearm (again, which would be a simplified process on the county level) would be entitled to pack heat.

So basically, if Simon’s bill were brought to lawful fruition, New Jersey would quickly be transformed into another version of Florida, complete with nonstop daytime shootouts at convenience stores and weekly household massacres. Oh, and of course, there’s the ever-present possibility of another Newtown slaughter.

Firearms aside, Simon’s also turned her attention not to pressing issues like cancer research at Rutgers, or student poverty, but to one of the most imperative issues today: Parents who face the nightmare of a court ordering them to pay for their kids’ college education. Yes, she actually wrote a bill, A4070, addressing this predicament directly. It would bar N.J. courts from ordering any parents to pay for college. I’ll call it the “Good Look Kid, You’re On Your Own Act.” Though her party ostensibly champions the notion of “Family Values,” apparently Simon thinks that this personal form of parental betrayal ought to be enshrined in law itself. You can’t make this stuff up.

Then there’s the icing in the cake. A bill so perceptibly ridiculous, so hideously unnecessary, so completely silly, that it more than demonstrates her aloofness from the everyday concerns of residents. Again, does the bill fund our ailing highways and bridges? Does it enable the students of Camden to learn in a decent environment by requiring its schools provide heat? Is this a bill that aims to bring billions of dollars to Atlantic City so that coastal community doesn’t literally fall into the sea? Nah. Simon’s ‘best’ bill, A3012, bans bestiality. Yes, you read that correctly. Simon’s not concerned with the chaotic gun violence in Trenton. She’s apparently not losing any sleep over the horrendous, months-long delays for families applying for Medicaid. No, she wants to direct the state’s attention against the real enemy: people who French kiss their dogs. Now I’m not a person who advocates bestiality – but there was one time that my dog Dusty greeted me at the door and licked my face. So for all I know, depraved pet owners like me could be in Simon’s crosshairs.

Donna Simon. Yes, she’s thinking outside the box. Far outside of it. Really, miles away from it. She’s floating away from the box, to the point where it’s become a visible speck. Perhaps she’s laughing, perhaps not, but the joke is on us. As New Jersey continues to flounder, Simon and her pals remain focused on complete and utter nonsense. They get away with it because we let them.  

Why the Dems Lost Middle America and Might Never Win Again

Friends, this past election cycle was a devastating one for Democrats nation-wide. Really, we got trounced. Our butts were handed to us. The numbers speak for themselves. From the poor counties of rural Kansas to the stark plains of Texas, from the coal country communities of Kentucky to the streets of Harrisburg PA, we got crushed. So to my East and West coast Democrats who are wondering why – why people to whom it would seem opposition to Republicans and their policies would be a fundamental part of life, would possibly carry them to victory – you need to understand the new math in town. It’s been creeping up on us for a while, but now it’s arrived. It’s Energy – fossil fuel energy, to be precise.

For Boomers and Millennials here on the East Coast, we’ve been taught two overarching, nearly sacred ideas when it comes to Fossil Fuel energy. The first, and this has been ‘drilled’ in our brains since elementary school, is that we’re running out. We’re running out of Oil and Gas globally, nationally, and locally. The Second, of a more recent cast, is that Fossil Fuels are rapidly turning the Earth into a nearly uninhabitable, apocalyptic planet. Now here’s the interesting part: I’m not going to comment on the veracity of either assumption. That’s not what this short blog is about. It’s about how any Democrat worth his or her weight doesn’t stand a snail’s chance of winning any electoral race, from Senate to Dog Catcher, in any Midwestern state, Alaska or Texas if he/she strolls in and discusses carbon tax, carbon emission limitations, or declaring war on “Big Oil.”

America is a big country, and there is a new truth in the land. It’s a truth that is now as much of a factor in our economy as the automobile industry was in the 1950’s, or whale oil a century before that. America is on the cusp of becoming the world’s foremost producer and exporter of fossil fuels and related products. America is no longer some huge version of Industrial England. It’s becoming, economically speaking, a gigantic, colossal version of Saudi Arabia.

The Oil and Gas are not running out. No, to the contrary, they are bursting from our lands, being extracted by entirely new and arguably destructive technologies and methods. And this factor, coupled with the reality of a booming, energy-hungry South and East Asia, will potentially bring in an unprecedented amount of wealth to some of the poorest parts of our nation, an event not seen in over a century. The people of Bismarck, North Dakota and Louisville, Kentucky know this well. They see the changes in town. The new construction. The $20/hr wages at Walmart. They see jobs, jobs, jobs. And localities and counties see revenue, revenue, revenue.

Here in Depression-plagued New Jersey we don’t see these changes. We don’t venture into our nation’s interior much these days. We prefer to fly over it on our journeys west to California and beyond. But ignoring it won’t make it go away.

So, fellow Democrats and environmentalists, keep attending your public viewings of movies like “An Inconvenient Truth.” Keep watching your documentaries on how the Earth is slowly transforming into another version of the hothouse that is Venus. Continue to write your blogs that stipulate that if we continue to consume fossil fuels at the present rate, entire nations will find themselves submerged by the sea within the next few decades. You may be right; you probably are right. And that approach will win you accolades in our universities, it will win you new friends on the streets of Manhattan and San Francisco; it will win you standing ovations in the United Nations. But from now on, it won’t win you elections in most parts of the United States. No way.

Enough. It’s Time to Act To Face Ebola

Okay, enough with the calming down. This is not the beginning of a zombie movie. This is real, and we need to react as a nation, collectively, to meet the Ebola challenge. First, because this morning a nurse at the Dallas hospital which treated the first U.S. Ebola patient has tested positive for the menacing virus, even though she likely took every precaution to prevent transmission. Secondy, the U.S. has sent over 4,000 troops and personnel to the heart of the “Hot Zone” itself in West Africa to tackle the disease head-on.

I do not believe the government is lying to us, or is involved in some sort of elaborate genocidal conspiracy worthy of a Tom Clancy novel. I do believe that the Federal government is comprised of a bunch of people who, like the rest of us, are emotionally and tactically unprepared for the sea-change in attitude required to meet the Ebola problem.

Okay, so what can we do, now?

First and foremost, the President must call Congress into an emergency session to pass “The Emergency Contagion Act.” This Act would create an immediate, multi-billion dollar fund to reimburse hospitals and doctors who treat people with Ebola or with Ebola-like symptoms. The Act would explicitly state that those who seek and use medical care will bear zero fiscal responsibility for their treatment. This is the only way to convince people who show early symptoms of the virus to get the medical care they need – and we need, as a society. The Act would cover every breathing human being – rich people, white people, African-Americans, Latinos, Bavarians, illegal aliens, foreign visitors – everybody. Additionally, the act would cover vet bills for those whose pets are in need of examination and, in the worst case, termination for possible Ebola infection. Yes, dogs might be able to carry it, and they’re the biggest slobberers of all.

Secondly, Congress must pass immediately the “Manhattan Project Act for Ebola,” creating a multibillion-dollar program dedicated to the treatment and, eventually, the cure for this virus. Our medical establishment knows a lot about viruses, especially how to weaken them through a combination of medical ‘cocktails.’ We did this with the AIDS virus decades ago. But nobody ever got AIDS in a hospital setting by coming into contact with an infected person. Not so with Ebola, at least in some stages.

The president must get on TV and address the nation. He must be clear about what is happening in Dallas. He must state straightforwardly that we don’t know, in some cases, how the disease spreads, and that it is obviously more contagious than originally thought.

We can beat this, but we need to act quickly. We need, as a nation, to act boldly and recognize that there are times when “free market approaches” to a crisis are not going to ease or solve a major problem.  

Tragedy at Rutgers: Who is Responsible For Caitlyn’s Death?

According to local papers, around 3 a.m. last night at the Delta Kappa Epsilon house, on the campus of Rutgers University, a young female student, Caitlyn P. Kovacs was experiencing “severe distress” before being taken to a local hospital. The details are still a bit spotty; we do not yet know if she had already died in the house or died shortly upon arriving at the hospital. Either way, police are already stating publicly that they think her death was ‘alcohol related.’ This term is a bit of a loaded one, but in basic terms it means either a person has died of alcohol positioning or, because of their intoxicated state, died due to a fall or some other physical misfortune.

Years ago, an incident like this would have been considered a personal tragedy, primarily the fault of the deceased. Not anymore. Over the past two decades the state of New Jersey has passed a myriad of laws that have shifted the responsibility for such actions to the adult hosts, be they parents or a bunch of partying Frat boys. New Jersey’s ‘Social Host Liability Act’ and related laws additionally have added several serious criminal and civil penalties to such situations, from jail time to steep fines to both. And these laws in no way eclipse the right of victim’s families to sue for damages in case people are hurt or, as in this recent case, killed.

So assuming that this young woman, who was under 21, did indeed receive and consume enough alcohol to result in her untimely death on the premises of the Delta Kappa Epsilon house, it’s fair to say that a measurable degree of justice is due, and perhaps some real policy changes.

First, let’s talk justice. Again, assuming the above is true, I do not think it would be unreasonable for the victim’s family, in recognition of the pain they’re undergoing and the loss experienced, to take possession of the Frat House. Yes, you read that right. The Frat House, the object that lured their loved one to her death, ought to be legally seized and transferred to the victim’s family. What they do with it is their business. This approach has been an effective way to punish regressive civic organizations in the past, especially the Klan in Georgia. One of the reasons why the KKK is no longer an overarching, united national organization (it once was) was due to the lawsuits of its victims.

I am not calling for the physical dissolution of the fraternity, because people still have the right to associate with each other in civic organizations. If the Frat’s members chose to continue to do so, that’s just fine. But if justice is to be served, this fraternity ought to be reduced to a bunch of guys meeting over a campfire in the woods on a year ’round basis.

Additionally, this is a university issue. Rutgers has been trying extremely hard to increase awareness of the university’s profile, history and reputation. Millions and millions of dollars has been invested in public relations campaigns, Big 10 membership activities, athletics and the like. A tragic and completely preventable death like this one, along with the subsequent negative publicity, squanders much of that investment.



The University ought to completely reconsider its policy towards this Fraternity and others like it. Frankly, it ought to totally and completely disassociate itself from these kinds of organizations and societies. Groups that encourage underage drinking and this kind of havoc have no place in any sort of official relationship with Rutgers, especially one that might bring them specific advantages.

Caitlyn had her entire life ahead of her, and she died under the supervision of other adults. These Fraternities want all of the advantages of being independent adult societies with none of the responsibilities. Well, they do have responsibilities, the foremost guaranteeing that if someone enters their Frat house alive they’ll leave the same way. But Caitlyn did not.

 

Our Statistical Dreamworld Belies a Deteriorating NJ Poverty Crisis

Politicians and governments love words. Words can be powerful. They can motivate, inspire and promote. But they can also deceive. And it is primarily a level of deception, employed by a whole host of words, that is leading a major disconnect. It is the big lie that is right in front of us, and it can be summed up in a simple question: if the recession is apparently over (statistically speaking), why is the majority of New Jersey’s population suffering on a level unprecedented in living memory?

To tackle this important question, we have to take a two-pronged approach. First, we must see how we’re being deceived into thinking that life is improving when it is absolutely not. Secondly, we need to look at real, working models of how to bring the unemployed and underemployed genuine relief and a measure of security.

First, let’s tackle the deception. There was no “Great Recession.” It never began and it never ended. Recessions are typtically temporary economic phenomena, witnessed in cyclical fashion in all industrialized economies. We had one in the 1970’s. We had one in the early 80’s. It was a situation characterized by stagnant economic growth and a degree of unemployment. In every instance, the economy contracted, then within two or three years expanded again. Sometimes state and federal authorities helped things along; at other times it was simply the dynamics of our terrifying yet dynamic capitalist system that moved mountains. The economic situation that we’re experiencing now is approaching a decade in duration. So again, there was no “Great Recession.”

What is happening, what began as early as the first term of President George W. Bush, was a Second Great Depression. And it’s not over yet, not by a long shot. In fact, unless government steps in at all levels, this current, regressive economic state will become the “new normal.” In other words, America will become a Third World Nation, with an advanced developed lifestyle enjoyed by only a fraction of the population. Pictures of this way of life are available on the web; just go to Google Images and type in “Guatemala City” or “Karachi, Pakistan.”

The deception isn’t conspiratorial, its roots lie in traditional government methods. Its primary source is our current method of detecting key economic statistics, namely, the rates of unemployment and poverty. Current state and federal measurements of these two vital indicators are now so off the mark that even those of us who aren’t economists suspect that something’s wrong.

First, consider our ‘official’ unemployment rate. It doesn’t measure those people who have either dropped out of or been shut out of the workforce. It doesn’t take the underemployed into account. According to the Federal Government, the current rate hovers around 6.2 percent. From the point of view of any modern industrialized nation, that’s not too bad. Think about what this number means. For every 100 workers out there, this statistic stipulates that only 6 or 7 are out of a job. Yet to adults on the ground, we know that this number might as well apply to alien abductions in Nevada. Out of all the people I know, it would be safe to say that half if not more are either underemployed or not working. I turn on my television and see mostly ads for payday loans and access to black lung lawsuit settlements. So who is correct, my unscientific assumptions based on my own personal observations, or that of the government with its army of bureaucrats, statisticians and economists? I’m starting to think mine are.

And then there is the national poverty rate. Again, the government’s numbers are the stuff of pure fantasy. According to today’s Star-Ledger, for a family of four (!) the level hovers around $23,000 annually. Yet I have many neighbors, friends and family who make close to double that and are teetering on the edge of disaster after paying their monthly rent and utilities. I’ve got neighbors who tell me to be careful when pulling into my parking lot, not just because their kids are playing in the area, but because they haven’t been able to pay their auto insurance for the past four months. Again, when it comes to determining our economic state, who is accurate? Who is being deceived?

This week, New Jersey got its answer. The United Way, one of the state’s most respected and experienced charitable organizations, released a major report providing a more straightforward and accurate rendition of current conditions. The report said that 38 percent of households – which is almost half of the state – are “struggling to meet basic needs.” What are these needs? Medical care. Dental care. Child care. Transportation. Housing. You know, the basic features of life that make America a First World Nation. These struggling families – and their numbers are growing – are called “ALICE households,” the name standing for: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

Once this new standard is applied, the results conform “mysteriously” to what so many of us already see in the Garden State. For example, in urban Trenton, 76 percent of all households are at ALICE levels or below. In suburban seaside Wildwood, the number stands at 71 percent. In troubled Newark the number is 68 percent. These monumentally high indicators tell us that Third World conditions have already arrived, more or less, for an overwhelming majority of families in these diverse, radically different locales. But the Check Engine light is even on, and steadily so, in Princeton. A wealthy town filled with secure families, right? It’s got a 30 percent ALICE rate; 11 percent of households in that leafy university town are solidly below the poverty line.

As the ALICE rate increases, it sends an even more ominous message. America, and New Jersey in particular, is still a land of social mobility, but today, the direction of this mobility is moving inexorably downward.

This is the rate that we, as a political polity, should be using to correctly and accurately gauge our current economic and social state.

So what do we do about it? What can we do about it? We can’t wait for the economy to turn around this time, because this isn’t a recession, it’s a Depression. We have experienced this for almost a decade now, and it continues in New Jersey. If current trends continue for, say, the next ten years, we’ll lose an entire generation to debt, despair, illness and dysfunction. This slide is still in its early stages, and it doesn’t seem to be reversing due to the magic of the market.

What we need is comprehensive welfare reform and a complete reordering of our state’s political and economic priorities. We need to stop hating each other and reacting to the woes of our neighbors with glee or advice characteristic of the days of Western Expansion. We need to stop our war on our schools and teachers because they’re not the problem. We need to get our kids off the street. We need to increase access to job training and technology. No, I’m not calling for a communist revolution. Communism doesn’t work. I’m not calling for an oligarchic state, as it exists in Mainland China. That won’t work in the long-term either. What seems to work, what seems to keep societies from completely going off the deep end, can be found on a pleasant, green Island in the North Atlantic. Known for its experience with tidal waves of poverty, occupation and injustice, it seems to have developed a comprehensive, yet modest system to keep its people afloat in good times and bad. I’m talking about Ireland.

More on this in my next post.  

 

A Modest Proposal for Taking On the Illegal Immigration Menace

With the president putting off any major decisions on dealing with the nation’s illegal immigrant crisis until after the November elections, I believe that now is the time for good citizens to stand up and recognize the dangerous challenge that this growing, illicit population presents to the nation. This may sound like extreme talk, but I’m being modest here by stipulating that the time for mass deportation has arrived.

First, a bit of recent history. These immigrants have poured into our nation by the millions from mostly impoverished parts of the world, especially Ireland. They come here with little or no skills, zero capital, and with many children in tow. In fact, recent news reports have revealed that tens of thousands of these foreigners are actually minors, sent by their desperate, irresponsible parents over vast distances to make a new and dangerous life in America. These young people are pouring over our borders in greater numbers than ever!

We need some honest talk here, because a clear case can be made of that deportation is the only reasonable solution, as this population’s infestation into our homeland continues at an unreasonable and unprecedented rate. To build a case and support my conclusions I have itemized the reasons why the undocumented immigrant population (especially Irish, of course) poses as a genuine menace to all of us:

1. Look at our cities, especially here in New Jersey. Entire neighborhoods in places like Newark, Jersey City and New Brunswick are now completely dominated – overrun – by Irish hordes. The fruits of these newcomers can be seen on our very streets; many are now infested with gangs and roving groups of hungry children. They encourage the perpetuation of dilapidated housing as they continue to pay exorbitant rents to exploitive landlords. This kind of civic deterioration cannot go on!

2. These Irish do not speak proper English (many still cling to their native tongue, the incomprehensible Gaelic) and even when they do acquire the rudiments of our language, their speech emerges in the form of an unintelligible, corrupted, pigeon English.

3. All of these Irish are Catholic. How can we expect them to become good and loyal citizens when their spiritual life is centered on the dictates of the Pope in Rome? How can we expect them to obey and value the Constitution and our democratic values when all they know is religious authoritarianism?

4. Political incorrection aside, these Irish have a violent temperament. They are well known for establishing illicit gangs, brawling and cursing in public and taking to drink! It also should be noted that due to their illegal status, the Irish will rarely if ever inform or involve the authorities in times of trouble. After all, summoning a police officer for any reason could lead (eventually) to deportation. Rather, they choose to endure crimes against them and allow the wicked to prosper, making our urban areas more dangerous.

5. The Irish typically have huge families. These families are a clear drag on our public school and benefit system. Our public sector is audibly groaning under the weight that their needs present.

6. Most Irish adults have no interest or desire in becoming active citizens. Survival and sustenance are their only priorities. They are bringing their foreign-born children here. These children are growing up thinking that they are American, but technically they’re not, and are clearly subject to deportation. These children grow into dreamers, really, because they will never be accepted by the mainstream of American society.

7. The Irish are certainly bringing wages down as they are willing to work in conditions that most good Americans would demand a high paycheck to endure. I know this specifically because I see them everywhere, working in gardens, toiling as nannies, taking care of our elderly and even in the construction of our homes.

Again, I want to reiterate, this nation belongs to the good, hardworking citizenry that have lived in this land and loved it for decades. These foreigners have no intention of becoming authentic Americans, and their deliberate self-separation and bizarre foreign customs – not to mention the larger financial burden they create – endanger our national prosperity and security. These Irish will never integrate into the mainstream of American society. I fear for our future, I really do.

Next week I will continue my warnings on the growth of the illegal immigrant population; I will focus on the arrival of other foreign scoundrels such as Italians, Germans and Jews.

Daniel Kurz is a resident of Princeton, N.J. and a proud veteran of the War of 1812. He is also the vice president of the local chapter of the Garden State’s Know-Nothing Party.

Vote By Mail Is Here! Don’t Delay!

Over the past year the state government has spent a lot of money on a lot of really, really dumb ideas while citizens in need go wanting for things that, if ever implemented, would make our state a better place. Christie is spending millions of our tax dollars on state-funded lawyers to issue bogus reports exonerating him from his administration’s well-documented wrongdoings. His appointed bulldog/tyrant Cami Anderson is obliterating public education in Newark. Public sector industries continue to be purposefully strangled by an administration that values the lives and futures of wealthy supporters over the needs of the people. Our cities continue to deteriorate, drowning under waves of poverty, unemployment and crime. This problem in particular has gotten so bad that the mayors of most of the state’s cities have now created their own sort of de facto regional government to tackle it.

To add insult to injury, the Republican-led House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. continues to thwart all progressive ideas while purposefully bogging down the Obama Administration in ridiculous investigations like Benghazi and the like. Over the past two years House Republicans have continued their war on the Middle and Working Classes, declining to pass a minimum wage hike, refusing to extend unemployment benefits, and repeatedly attempting to destroy Obamacare. And Obamacare isn’t even that good anyway!

So my fellow progressives, it’s the Fall. It’s almost election time. It’s time to step up and vote. Yes, it’s a cliché, but this year you might not know that something is different. It’s been around for a few years now, but it’s not being advertised or promoted by our state government, as it should. In New Jersey, voters no longer need to bother with the logistical inconvenience of going to the polls. Every voter is entitled to vote by mail.

Gone are the days when voters who sought to attain an absentee ballot had to fill out an onerous form, justify their absence and send it in. A few years ago the Legislature overhauled this system by approving a streamlined application, easily available online, that takes three minutes to fill out and send in.

My wife and I have already done this in the past few elections, and it was easy-peasy. The ballots arrived weeks before the election; we filled them out and dropped them into the mail. We voted. For some reason, some ballots came with postage while others did not. I guess it depends on county funding for that, but no matter. We’ve all got stamps.

To do this for every election, one only needs to fill out an application once for all upcoming November polls.

All instructions, and a downloadable form, are available online from the NJ Department of State. Here is the link:

http://www.state.nj.us/state/e…

Do it. It’s so damn easy. No more going to the polls. No more waiting in line, or looking for parking, to trying to find a ride, or worrying about a cold November downpour. You get the ballot mailed to you, you fill it out and seal it, you put in any mailbox, and it’s done. Do it. It matters.  

The Education Reform Tsunami Has Left Destruction in its Wake

It’s been about five years now, more or less. Five years of this so-called “Educational Reform Movement,” spearheaded by self-proclaimed “mavericks” like former D.C. School Superintendent Michelle Rhee and now embraced by a host of her destructive admirers like Newark’s Cami Anderson, entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and others. These ‘reformists’ eagerly tore up decades – even centuries – of bedrock educational values and practices to embrace new ones. The promise was no less of a revolution, a ‘total transformation’ if you like. If we followed their advice and were willing to absorb the painful changes they recommended, our public schools, regardless of geographical or socio-economic setting, would be transformed. Gone would be the tired school model of old, with its emphasis on teacher-centered learning, student accountability and lecture. Replacing it would be a dynamic new model, consumer-driven, student centered, administratively powered…and it would produce the equivalent to an educational Heaven on earth. From it would emerge brilliant, creative, confident students, eager to engage in debate and Socratic dialogue, ready for day one at the best colleges and universities in the world.

It didn’t happen.

The reformers’ call for change varied by region, but their core beliefs were wrapped up in a few common concepts. Teacher tenure or any related form of institutional job security was to go. New evaluative tools for teachers would no longer take their content knowledge, style or experience into consideration; now the focus would be on how students responded to them. Every moment of every day was to be documented, quantified, reviewed and revised in a torrent of new paperwork floating between teachers and their administrators. And in the end, from teacher jobs to the very existence of any particular school as an institution, high stakes testing would determine all. Community building, intellectual curiosity, and the love for learning were out; fear, disruption, testing and constant contention were in. Again, reformers said that it would be messy, and it was, but as time marched on America’s students would emerge sharp, competitive, ready to work in today’s global knowledge-based economy.

Not happening.

And what is most curious are the studies. Educators, reformists and their opponents, love to point out studies. Studies come to all sorts of conclusions, and to be fair, it’s not difficult to find one or two that seemed almost predestined to back a specific design or approach. But what studies have not shown, what there is no evidence of, is this massive shift, this dramatic change in temperature, which was promised. Not one. In some districts test scores are a bit higher; in others, lower. But nothing revolutionary. Zilch. This reformist tsunami, like its real-world equivalent, produced a dramatic wave but left only destruction in its wake.

Believe me, I want to be proven wrong on this important point. I want to see some real, dramatic evidence that the disruptive changes implemented in our public schools did indeed produce revolutionary, seismic results. But there are none. Not a single ‘super school’ has emerged from this movement; in fact, what we’re seeing in places as different as the urban district of Newark to the rural districts of Central Florida is much of the same: careers wrecked, schools disrupted, students bewildered and institutions stripped of community spirit and memory. Insecurity, fear and fury now emanate from parents, teachers and students. Boards of education meetings have been transformed into shouting matches. Don’t take my word for it; even the ‘great reformer,” of Chris Christie, Cami Anderson, no longer bothers to attend any community-based meetings in Newark. Even she knows that her ideas are so absolutely bankrupt, so steeped in failure that she avoids any forum where she might face the very public she claims to serve.  

So why has this movement failed? Why has it wreaked complete havoc on our public schools with little indication of groundbreaking, progressive results? There are a great many reasons, but first and foremost is the flawed reformist belief that somehow schools can be magically separated from the communities that produce them. Reformists tell us that larger, complex issues such as poverty, unemployment, child neglect and abuse, crime, lack of technological access, child nutrition and student society can somehow be conveniently divorced from the day-to-day operations of any school and classroom. They stipulate that a single teacher can be held exclusively responsible for months and months of student academic outcomes, and that somehow the communities and families that produce them bear little or none.

Okay, so perhaps you’re thinking, if I’m so smart, if I’m so confident that the reformist approach to modern public education is so destructive, then what works? What is the magic formula that will indeed allow us to convert our students, every single one of them, whether they attend school in leafy Livingston or in the extremely mean streets of Camden into competitive Princeton applicants?  

I need time to ruminate on that one, but I think I have an idea. I’ll follow that up in my next blog.  

A “Welcome Back” Manifesto to South Brunswick’s Administrators

As South Brunswick kicks off a new school year, you can feel the excitement in the air. The aisles of Staples and its competitors are buzzing with parents and students eager to fulfill supply lists emailed and/or posted by their new teachers. Additionally, parents like myself are busy buying our kids new clothes, better technology and providing pep talks on the value of academic achievement and study.

Our students and teachers form the core of the vibrant community that we parents work extremely hard to sustain and support. Every class, every athletic contest, every school dance, every after-school event – we couldn’t do it without them. The community and its vitality just wouldn’t exist in their absence. It takes good students and passionate, diligent educators to make learning and creativity happen.  

All of this being said, you might have noticed that I did not add the term “administrator.” Administrators are part of the school community, to be sure, but they’re in a unique position that makes them very different than everyone else around them. Through the process of hiring, disciplining, managing and firing teachers they set the day-to-day tone for the entire school community. It takes years – even decades for a school district to build a working group of caring, effective, experienced and knowledgeable teachers, coaches, volunteers, etc. But what a school district can build in a decade, one or two administrators can wreck in six months. I’ve seen it happen.

While I am not speaking specifically about South Brunswick, from my perspective as an educator, parent and citizen, I’ve become wary of administrators. In my experience I have seen formerly superb, nurturing, achieving schools thrown into chaos at the hands of an ambitious, destructive administrator (or a set of them). I’ve seen good teachers silenced, intimidated and shown the door for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it was simply because an administrator didn’t like them, or that an administrator wanted to please another higher-up. Sometimes it was because an administrator considered an outspoken teacher a threat or a potential critic (typically, these are the most innovative educators as well). And while we all need to get along in any workplace, our schools are not typical workplaces. They are places where merit must win the day, because if it doesn’t, our entire educational investment will be squandered. And personally, we parents pay a lot of money for that investment.

For those parents and other residents who may not know, there is a lot of change going on in the administrative sector of education, and most of it is not good. Teachers are now held to new evaluation tools that, while originally intended to help them improve their practice, now provide administrators with greater leverage in getting rid of them, in increasing their misery, in making the professional atmosphere of our schools ‘toxic.’ Meanwhile, there’s been a titanic shift in paperwork in many districts that have led to an almost second job, albeit an uncompensated one, whereby teachers create, submit and correct endless unit plans, nonsensical “student outcome reports” and the like. None of these elements, not a single one, has contributed in my opinion to any improvement in classroom instruction.

So, with all of this in mind, I’d like to make a few short points to the educational administrators of South Brunswick, those leaders who command salaries that are frequently double that of our teachers:

1. You Work For Me. Yes, I know that sounds a bit, should I say, defiant, but make no doubt about it. As a town resident, taxpayer, and parent, you’re in my employ. My elected representatives have invested you with significant pay and power over the professionals that interact daily with my child. Even though I am not in the building every day, it is not your building. I pay for the instruction, the physical plant, the maintenance, the snow shoveling – everything. But most importantly, I pay for the community that provides the social, academic and developmental oxygen my child breathes. This community needs to be cared for and nurtured, not stifled, limited or intimidated – ever.

2. You Exist to Empower Our Educators. First and foremost, I am paying you to assist, coach, encourage, and of course, supervise the educators of our district. The fact that you can fire an educator is implied, but what is not frequently implied (and should be) is your core mission to empower them in their complex mission. I want our teachers to educate our children, to mentor them, to lead them, to challenge them, to help them grow. Teachers cannot do that if they’re in an atmosphere where you’re viewed as unstable, intimidating, sniveling or capricious. And if I found you you’re any of these, you’ll quickly hear from our community via email, letters and at Board of Ed meetings.

3. Avoid Obsessing with State Testing. Our testing culture has not lead to better schools or better educators. In fact, it is damaging the American mission to create the critical thinkers, leaders and innovators that our society was once known for. I understand there are some mandates that you must comply with, but do not let these mandates destroy the fabric of learning and support, as it has already in many of our nation’s schools.

4. I Am Holding You Responsible for Your Hires and Fires. Recruit and retain good people. Sometimes teachers have to be let go, and I understand that. But you hired the faculty, and if you’re going to fire someone, it had better be for a good, explicable, serious reason. I understand that specific personnel matters are usually held as confidential, but I’m not stupid either. If I see any pattern of teachers in their third year being fired, or if an otherwise talented, experienced educator being shown the door, my suspicions will immediately be raised. And frankly, if the statistics reveal that you’re firing something like 1 in 5 of the teachers that you’ve hired, I may ask why you are not being shown the door.

5. You Need to Lead. Administrators are paid to be leaders, and leaders in schools need to engage in community building. You need to reach out to teachers, parents and students, not rule by memo or email. You have to mingle and network. You need to cultivate a culture of inquiry, tolerance, calmness, collaboration, innovation and teamwork. If you operate like a tyrant, running our schools in an intimidating fashion, we’re going to find out.

6. Wow Me. I pay you a lot of money (did I mention that?). I want to see superb things going on in our schools. I want to see teachers fully supported in their instruction and professional development. I want to see theatrical productions, progressive social events, fundraisers and the like. I want to see you reaching out and forging relationships and creating programs with local hospitals, museums, businesses and universities. I want to see guest speakers and experts being brought into our schools and classes, sometimes directly, sometimes through teleconferencing tools like Skype. And I want you to provide regular updates, either via our website or through newsletters, on how you’re seeing this vision through.

7. Be Present. I want to see you at our events. You’re not a teacher. Teachers have papers to check and lessons to plan for. You’re an educational leader. Administrative team members should be present at events to encourage the community and cheer on students.

On Tuesday, I’ll be sure to carefully pack my son’s backpack with his supplies before sending him off to your capable care. To South Brunswick’s educational leaders/administrators I say: take good care of him, because I have my eyes on him…and you, too.