Robert Byrd, RIP

Posted June 29, 2010 on 10:51 am | In the category Iraq, Robert Byrd, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“If I wanted to go crazy, I’d do it in Washington, where they wouldn’t know the difference.” Senator Robert Byrd

Robert Byrd was a man of considerable contradictions. A former member of the Ku Klux Klan, he voted against major Civil Rights legislation in the 60s and voted against confirmation of Thurgood Marshall for the Supreme Court. But later he became a prime fighter against the Republicans’ farce of the day – its “Contract with America”.  He collected billions in “pork’ for his state of West Virginia and   remained a social conservative for much of his tenure.

But this writer’s only personal memory of Senator Byrd is more than enough for him to have earned my enormous respect. During the Democratic Convention held in Boston in 2004 Byrd spoke at the First Parish Church in Cambridge and riveted the crowd with a powerful speech in opposition to Bush’s rush to war in Iraq. His principled opposition failed to carry the day but for at least one hour we had the opportunity to hear a man of conscience deplore an already planned war that would lead to hundreds of thousands of American and (mostly) Iraqi deaths, millions of Iraqis forced from their homes, and actual and committed costs to America of up to $3 trillion, all leading to a semi-free Iraq closely aligned with Iran.

America’s rush to an unnecessary war has left us militarily and economically weaker  with our national reputation sullied. Byrd predicted this and spoke forcefully in opposition to the war, no doubt aware that his was a lost cause. One excerpt from his speech that day catches the full flavor of his remarks that turned out to be, alas, prophetic:

“The foundations of our government have suffered. The liberties enshrined in the  constitution of the United States have  now  been designed by a presidency that is bent on a ruthless pursuit of power. A President that sees himself above the law … a presidency that relies on secrecy and manipulation in order to advance its own partisan agenda. It is the Constitution of the United States that has been undermined, undercut, and is under attack. It is the American people’s liberties that are in jeopardy.”

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School Daze: America Commits to Dumbing-Down

Posted June 23, 2010 on 8:21 pm | In the category Economy, Education, Taxes, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

Facing budget deficits with little or no hope that the federal government can bail them out (nowadays bail outs with public money are reserved for private corporations like Goldman Sachs, AIG, etc.) cities, towns and states are faced with a Hobson’s choice; raise taxes or reduce services. And in almost all cases the people opt for the latter.

Concord Massachusetts recently decided to turn off street lights in certain parts of town unless the nearby homeowners would pay a special fee of $17 a month per light. By calling it a fee they obviously avoid the “T” word.  Boston has eliminated 58 library staff positions and proposes closing several branches, and a town in California is now charging a fee for ambulance service  – to be paid in advance as a hedge against needing it later.

But America’s schools are taking the biggest hit and cities and towns are coming up with strategies that range from bizarre to simply inexcusable. Many schools are dropping “less important” courses like art, civics, physical education, foreign languages and music. Others are charging fees for what used to be important services – school buses, sports programs, school clubs – even books! In Utah the possibility of simply eliminating the 12th grade has surfaced for consideration. Other areas are moving from a five day to a four day week. But the typical approach is to simply reduce the number of teachers, consequently increasing classroom size and reducing teachers’ ability to provide the kind of one on one instruction that can make the difference between success and failure.

In some areas citizens are raising funds outside the tax structure to provide additional support to their children’s schools; increasing the disparity among schools in different socio-economic districts, and excusing citizens from a basic responsibility to support the education of  our future  citizens. It is clear to many that in short-changing our children we are contributing to a serious decline in America’s ability to compete in the global economy and to move toward a higher quality of life. We will reap what we sow and at present it looks like a lot of weeds in our future.

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World Cup, Bring it on – G8 and G20 meetings, Send them to Baffin Island

Posted June 15, 2010 on 12:13 am | In the category Africa, Canada, Economy, Sports | by Mackenzie Brothers

The Canadian government is spending 2,5 billion dollars (yes that is a b), instead of the originally budget 20 million dollars (yes that is an m) to provide security for the upcoming G8 and then G20 conferences, first in backwater Ontario and then in Toronto. Having learned nothing whatsoever from the catastrophic Greek government’s philosophy of living beyond its means, Prime Minister Harper has decided to impress the world by following suit. One of his most creative ventures is to spend who knows how many millions to create an artificial lake with real Muskoka chairs .(i.e. Adirondack chairs in deep south parlance) for the economic wizards of the world to relax in deep in black fly country. Apparently no one told the Alberta-born primo that there are countless lakes up there that you don’t have to build. Then there’s the 8 million dollar fence set up in central Toronto to mimic the Berlin Wall. Nobody told him that Baffin Island is comparatively black-fly free and easily isolated at a thousandth of the price – and it’s certainly also more interesting than Toronto for those sightseeing tours.

The World Cup of Soccer on the other hand is taking place in South Africa, and plenty of those same western experts who will leave Ontario after a week of sound and fury signifying nothing (pace Copenhagen) and had been predicting a disaster in primitive Africa, can settle down before their tv sets and watch a very big public event in which even South and North Korea are both participating . As far as my brother and I can see, the only violence has been in the incessant horn-blowing of the capacity rainbow-coloured crowds. We’re sure there has been some real money spent on security for the month of the tournament in South Africa, but nothing like the absurd amounts being spent for a week in Ontario. So what gives? Can’t we either send those suited economic chaps out onto the soccer pitch in short pants to duke it out for economic bragging rights just like Monty Python sent out the Greek and German philosophers against each other in one of their most compelling skits. In the end they could even exchange shirts and make sweatily embrace the previous enemy. And if they refuse, send em to Baffin Island.

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