Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Thou shalt not covet

It appears that Gentle "Jim" Day won't lose his auto repair shop, after all.

Day, the son of Arkansas sharecroppers, started from scratch to build up his own garage in what is now St. Louis' burgeoning arts district. For 20 years, he paid $1,222 per month on his mortgage on the shop at Olive Street and Spring Avenue. No sooner had he paid it off and taken title than he was told he would have to go.

You see old, noisy garages don't belong in burgeoning arts districts. It would be too upsetting for symphony and modern art patrons to be forced to walk past some mechanic in grease-stained coveralls installing new brake pads on a Hyundai. Or so believes Grand Center, a nonprofit charged by the city of St. Louis with redeveloping the area.

So with eminent domain powers in hand, Grand Center told Day they would be buying him out, and his property turned over to a private developer. In place of his garage would rise something more useful like, say, a "media box." What's a media box, you ask? Well, I'm not really sure, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch decribes it as "a design studio and residential units that would have some sort of 'multimedia component.'" Mere speculation on my part, but I envision workspaces where 22-year-old nerds play ping-pong and recline in massage chairs in between bouts of creative verve.

As it turns out, Grand Center board members voted last week to drop its eminent domain suit. So I guess Day can get back to fixing cars, and we can all let the matter rest, right?

Well, unfortunately, no.

The problem is this issue of eminent domain, which allows government entities to force individuals to sell their property for a fair price if the said propery is to be used for "public use." This legal provision is in our Constitution, and public agencies have used it to build the highways, schools, parks, lakes and other amenities we all enjoy. Sounds reasonable so far. The only problem, however, is that over the past decade, an increasing number of public entities, mostly municipalities, have vastly expanded their interpretation of that expression "public use." In essence, some believe that taking one's property and handing it over to a private developer for a privately owned business enterprise can be in the public's interest. The U.S. Supreme Court currently is pondering just this issue and might present a ruling any day.

Consider what some cities say constitute the public interest:

* In New London, Conn., the city has been trying through eminent domain to seize 115 properties in a waterfront area to be redeveloped into high-end condos and research facility for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
* In Mesa, Ariz., Ken Lenhart, the owner of a downtown hardware store, approached the city council with the idea of forcing Randy Bailey, the owner of a nearby brake shop, to use eminent domain to seize Bailey's property and sell it to Lenhart at the bargain basement price of $4 per square foot. Lenhart wants the land to relocate his store to a better location.
* Here in the St. Louis area, the municipality of Sunset Hills has condemned an entire neighborhood so a developer can build a "lifestyle center," currently the hot concept in retail, combining upscale retail with dining and entertainment.

These aren't isolated cases. The Castle Coalition, a group dedicated to fighting eminent domain land grabs, has documented more than 10,000 such cases in recent years. And I should say, the cities' position on this issue is not entirely indefensible. Most of these cases occurred in older suburbs bypassed and made almost obselete by today's urban sprawl monster. In many of these landlocked municipalities, the rationale goes, if some land can be redeveloped for upascale purposes, then the redevelopment will spread out, the city will blossom anew and the tax base will expand. Since there are usually no large undeveloped tracts to be had in such places, eminent domain is often the only means to providing sufficient land.

It's certainly understandable. Yet, it still stinks. In so many of these cases, certain individuals, either homeowners or business owners were deemed unfit for this new vision. Imagine having a lawyer knock on your door telling you to take a hike, that you don't fit the desirable demographic being sought. In so many cases, people have lost their homes and businesses of several decades.

It happened just blocks from my house here in South City. The bulldozers are already making way for a brand-new Schnuck's supermarket and Lowe's home improvement center to be joined by a so-far unnamed third big retailer. Along with an abandoned HVAC equipment factory and a current Schnuck's, about 20 houses and an athletic club face the wrecking ball. The city booted these folks out and sold the property back to a developer.

A real selfish side of me has welcomed the new retail. After all, it'll be nice having a larger, more-upscale Schnuck's nearby, and the idea of a Lowe's mere blocks from the house will be so convenient. On top of that, a real civic-minded side of me is glad to see new retail and tax base in a rustbelt city battered by 50 years of decline. Seriously, this is no small feat.

Yet I drive by the houses, which have only been vacated in the past few weeks. They stand empty and boarded up, graffiti already marring facades, weeds already in the yards. These were modest homes, but handsome, nicely kept and well-crafted, most of them 70-100 years old. In a few houses, entire generations of the same family had spent their whole lives. The athletic club, which had fielded baseball, softball and soccer teams since the 1940s, isn't searching for a new location; they're simply calling it quits. Thus a large part of my neighborhood has been ripped out. And there's the idea that my house was missed by a mere blocks.

I suppose one man's high-end development is another man's eviction notice.

In a case of strange bedfellows, liberals and conservatives alike have united against these highhanded grabs. You can learn more from these organizations:

The Castle Coalition: http://www.castlecoalition.org/
Reason magazine: http://reason.com/0302/fe.ss.wrecking.shtml
Here's a transcript of a story on this issue that appeared about a year ago on 60 Minutes:

Lagniappe, as they call it in New Orleans

David Brooks has a good column today on what happens when liberals and conservatives put aside the silliness and actually work together to do something good. Click here:

Monday, May 30, 2005


Memorial Day reflections


That's the number of American service people killed as of today in Iraq since the invasion begain in March 2003.

I wish I could list all their names and say something about each of them. Perhaps I could say something really poignant. Instead, I'll let you click here - http://icasualties.org/oif/ - and let you reflect for yourselves on what each of these men and women did in service to country.

Happy Memorial Day.

Friday, May 27, 2005


So what is a liberal?

Have you ever wondered where you stand on the political spectrum? Are you a disaffected? An Enterpriser? An Upbeat? Could you possibly be a Bystander?

In case you were wondering where you stand, you can take the new survey from the Pew Center for the People and the Press and find which of nine groups on the political spectrum you belong to. Click here here to take the test:http://typology.people-press.org/
To find out what all this allegedly means, click here:http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=242

I took the test and found out that I'm a liberal. Not a big surprise there, huh? But I was surprised by what the Pew Center has to say about liberals and where they fit into the electorate.

Did you know:
* Liberals make up 17 percent of the adult population and 19 percent of the electorate? That makes us the largest voting block of any of the nine groups identified by Pew.
* Our numbers have doubled since 1999? So much for that notion that liberalism is dead.
* We're the most educated of any of the blocs? Perhaps not a big surprise considering all those angry red-staters who think of us as latte-sipping bi-coastal eggheads.
* We make up the second wealthiest of any of the nine groups? Certainly flies in the face of that idea that if we'd make a little money, we'd be changing our tune.

Whether it's perception or reality, it appears that the idea that liberals are losers and weirdos, just a motley collection of old hippies and anarchists, is beginning to break down. The numbers certainly suggest it. All I can say is, it's about time.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Left side of the dial

I would like to think that the last presidential election proved St. Louis' credentials as a blue spot on the map, even if it lies within a red state. Yet turn on the radio and Rush and Sean and the whole gang of EIB/Fox talking heads reign on the airwaves. So much for the free market giving people what they want.

Elsewhere in America, however, liberals are speaking up and being heard on the radio. In spite of frequent and persistent rumors of demise for Air America Radio, the network now boasts close to 60 affiliates nationwide and can be heard anywhere on XM and Sirius satellite radio. Democracy Radio carries 95 affiliates. Even Clear Channel, known for its close ties to the White House and often viewed as the Death Star of radio mediocrity, has converted several stations to a progressive talk format. Apparently some big players have decided someone's listening in and there's money to be made off of angry liberals.

Oh sure, this movement doesn't yet come anywhere near approaching the conservative talk radio juggernaut. And many of these Air America affiliates are low-power, rather shoestring affairs. In Dallas, for example, the network is carried on an AM frequency that formerly hosted a mix of Hindi talk shows and Bollywood favorites. Yet, the fact that Dallas, perhaps the king of red cities, has an Air America affiliate at all is perhaps something to behold. It certainly flies in the faces of inustry naysayers who until very recently said progressive talk radio would never fly.

"It's always been around," Michael Harrison, publisher of industry magazine Talkers, told UPI. "Another myth is that liberal talk radio doesn't work."

It seems to be working quite well. So here's my gripe: Why can't we get progressive talk in St. Louis, where the whole damn metro area went for Kerry last November? A glance at Air America's listing of affiliates show that they're on the air now in rather un-blue places like Columbia, S.C., and Corpus Christi, Texas. Why not St. Louis?

I'm not saying that everything coming off the progressive airwaves is brilliant. I'm not a big fan Janeane Garofalo, and Air America's decision to add the freakish Jerry Springer to its roster just leaves me scratching my head. Seems about like handing over more ammo to the conservatives. And don't get me started on the far-left Pacifica network, which makes all of us liberals look plain foolish and silly. But a fix of Al Franken or Ed Schultz would certainly brighten my day.

I know I could get as much progressive talk as I could stomach if would just listen online. Like most people, however, I only listen to the radio in my car. Al Franken would certainly beat some overplayed crap by Elton John or the Eagles anytime as I'm driving around.

If you live in St. Louis and agree with me that we need some progressive talk, a petition is circulating. The other day, I saw only a few more than 400 names on it. We're going to need a lot more than that to give Sean Hannity some competition here in the Gateway City, so hurry and add your name now. Just click the link below:

If you DON'T live in St. Louis, odds are pretty good you can find some progressive talk in your local radio market. Click the links below to see what's available in your neck of the woods:
Air America: http://www.airamericaradio.com/
Democracy Radio: http://www.democracyradio.org/

Odds and ends

I had to laugh when I saw today's New York Times story about Sen. John Thune, South Dakota's conservative poster boy for GOP domination everywhere. He's the guy who defeated Tom Daschle last fall. Seems he's incensed the Base Realignment and Closure Commission has slated his state's Ellington Air Force Base for closure.

"I'm going to play whatever cards I have to get the best possible outcome I can for my base," he told hometown reporters at the Rapid City Journal.

Remember Newt's Contract with America? I remember their big pledge to the voters that if granted control of Congress, Republicans wouldn't play pork barrel politics like those Democrats who just want to bribe the voters. No sir, Republicans would be above all that.

I guess Sen. Thune didn't get the memo.

If you read my harangue yesterday on Kenneth Tomlinson's attempts to geld PBS into TV certainly not worth watching, you'll probably be interested in coverage on that issue on the Media Matters web site:

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Nonstop Riverdance, anyone?

There's a reason why invading armies seize the TV and radio stations first. And the Bush Administration practically has its tanks lined up with turrets trained on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Washington parent of PBS and NPR.

"The more compelling our journalism, the angrier became the radical right of the Republican Party," said Bill Moyers, former host of PBS' "Now" news show, at a media conference here in St. Louis last week.

Conservatives have hated public broadcasting for decades now; President Nixon was a sworn enemy and tried to co-opt it as a White House mouthpiece. Their complaints have been the usual whiny rant of media bias in a leftward direction. The American Spectator, known by all as a beacon of fair, balanced reportage, refers to PBS as "a government subsidy for obnoxious, deep-pocketed progressives and a jobs program for liberal journalists." Most of all, right-wingers can't stand that NPR and PBS are widely popular, and that polls show that more Americans trust them than anything the conservatives have come up with yet.

The issue has simmered for years but has just about boiled over with revelations that CPB's newly appointed chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, hired a consultant to play ideological bean counter and tally up the number of liberal versus conservative guests on PBS news and talk shows. This comes despite CPB's chartered mandate to shield PBS and NPR from political influence. Tomlinson has also axed the Friday-night news show "Now" from an hour to 30 minutes and has added conservative programing, including commentary by bowtied prepster Tucker Carlson and a panel of rather frightening Wall Street Journal editorialists led by Paul Gigot.

So are PBS and NPR left-leaning? For this liberal to deny it would be transparently dishonest. I still argue that "The News Hour" with Jim Lehrer is perhaps the fairest and most-balanced news show you will find anywhere. But look at "Now" on PBS. My wife and I laughingly refer to it as the "Angry Liberal Show" - but only in the most admiring way. Likewise, it's probably no accident that we liberals love "Frontline" and "Wide Angle." NPR seems somewhat more balanced than PBS, but still the leftward tilt certainly shows sometimes. So there, I admit it.

My question is this: Do we really want President Bush and his ideological lackeys ruling on journalistic ethics for the rest of us? I mean, here's a White House that was cranking out fake news releases for use on mainstream news broadcasts. Not only that, but these guys were actually paying at least tens of thousands of dollars to pundits to act as shills for the latest Bushian initiatives. Then there's the crumbling foundation of lies and dishonesty on which they built this never-ending war in Iraq. Now this same administration has appointed itself the arbitor of media fairness.

And look at liberal bias compared with conservative bias. "Now," while not necessarily granting equal time, at lesat has sought to give some airtime to conservative voices like Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed. I'm yet to see Gigot invite anyone who comes anywhere near approaching the political left. Furthermore, shows like "Now" and "Frontline" rely on a great deal of reporting and hard work. They carefully construct their arguments and back them up with a lot of compelling facts. The right-wing media so far has offered little more than unfiltered punditry and mess of hot air.

For years I've agreed with conservatives who have sought to end government funding of PBS and NPR. Newt Gingrich sure tried, and I'm sorry he didn't get his wish. It would have somewhat dulled the tantrum and allowed for a truly independent alternative news source. Instead, I believe the Bush Administration plans to do something worse, and that is to transform it PBS and NPR something worthless and silly. Oh, I don't mean a right-wing propaganda mouthpiece, although I'm sure it's been considered, but more like a benign distributor of inoffensive, yet mediocre, entertainment.

If you like all those crowd pleasers like "Riverdance," Suzy Orman and "Antiques Roadshow," you'll love the new face of PBS; it'll be like a never-ending pledge week. If you've ever visited one of those unfortunate cities where public radio offers little more than a mind-numbing stream of canned classical Muzak, then you've heard the future sound of NPR.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


What's your bag?

I suspect that few people other than the most burnt-out hippie have uttered that expression since 1976. But "What's Your Bag?" has re-emerged, at least this week as the title of a little game masked as a survey on PBS.org

The game was created in conjuction with last night's "American Experience" dealing with Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army. What's Your Bag allows you to step back into the late '60s and early '70s and ask what would you do in a given situation? The player is confronted with several scenarios and has to make life-altering choices. In the end, your destiny is labeled.

Here's how it played out for me:

Cousin Lily has had a transcendental experience and wants to drop out and learn with the Maharishi. What should she do?

Stay in school. I know for a fact that they subsist on basmati rice and bean curd at the ashram. If Lily were to give up her daily Whataburgers and pork steaks, she'd whither up into a little ol' alfalfa sprout.

It's 1967, and I've graduated from high school. My friend Allison has heard tale of far-out happenings in the Haight. They're even wearing flowers in their hair! Should I join her in Frisco or go east to college?

Go east, young man. I've always been partial to green ivy, as opposed to some of that other green stuff I hear those California kids are into.

My friend Ellen invites me to a demonstration on campus in favor of prisoners' rights. She's heard the fuzz might be there, and arrest is imminent. Should I join her or stay home?

Let's compromise. I'll stay home, but I promise to listen to my Johnny Cash albums. I'll even sing loudly along with "Folsom Prison Blues."

Things have gotten really ugly on campus. Guys with really big Afros have stormed Old Main and are occupying it as an armed camp. Ronnie Rayguns has sent in the National Guard, and the protesters are no longer in the mood to stick flowers in the soldiers' rifles. Should I mind my own business and keep workin' that slide rule like a good pupil, or should I transfer to some school where the Man is down with the Youth of America?

Again, a compromise. I'm gettin' the hell outta Dodge, but mainly because I don't think I look good in red, especially when it's pouring out of a gunshot wound. To be honest, I'm a big nerd, so I probably wouldn't have been at such a happening school, anyway. In real 2005 life, I'm a graduate of Texas Tech, basically a party school for apathetic shitkickers and frat boys. Try being a Young Democrat there!

President Nixon's coming to town. I get wind that some unsavory, long-haired types on campus might be about to greet him at the airport, and not with a show of enthusiastic flag-waving. Should I inform the police of this poetential breach of civil order or just let events take their course?

Suddenly, I'm feeling a little feisty. This is Tricky Dick, after all. Not only will I NOT inform the pigs, but I think I'll head out to the airport with a bag of tomatoes to pass out to the unsavory longhairs.

Phew! Somehow, I've managed to graduate from college, in spite of my Bushian academic performance. Like ol' W, I apparently have some connections. I can either cash in and let Daddy get me a sweet job, or I can use those connections to get a job organizing for Nixon's re-election campaign. What should I do?

Go for the money, baby! Besides, I've already made my feelings clear on Nixon.

One day after a three-martini lunch, stumbling from my Oldsmobile back to work at Weisenheimer, Lipschitz, and Finkelberger, I run into an old college buddy. Jacko was pretty darned wild back in our day at the U. Back then he had wild hair, and his beard was so long, it occasionally caught fire from falling ash from that wacky tobacky. But standing on the sidewalk, he's a new man with short hair, cleanshaven face and shiny new Johnny Carson suit. In fact, he says his name is now John, not Jacko. "The '60s are dead, man!" he declares. "It's now the '70s. All that protest stuff is out. Making money is in. We're not going to change the world, so let's just cash in." Do I agree with him or disagree?

I tell him how appalled I am with him. We had such vision in our days at the U, I say. We can't let that die. I urge him not to cash in, but to stay true and keep pounding the pavement, fist raised high, voice shrill. Then I return to my air conditioned office and close another leveraged buyout.

I realize how sad my existence is. Yeah sure, I have a trophy wife, a five-bedroom house with a pool and drive an Olds 98 with power windows and a real stereo that even has FM! Still, I'm empty. So I wasn't exactly out there yelling "Death to the pigs!" or "May the capitalist insect burn!" But I do feel that I owe the world something more. Do I continue grasping up the corporate ladder or do I find something more meaningful to do?

Finally, my conscience wins out and I decide to do something else like become a corporate lawyer who takes on the occasional pro bono case.

So what does the gamemaster conclude I've become as we enter the Reagan era? Well, I'm labeled a "community cornerstone," a Rotarian if you will, but a Babbit who at least gives some of his ill-gotten gain and precious time back to the community. So I can volunteer a few hours a month at the soup kitchen and still drive home in my Oldsmobile with my AC and FM blasting.

Now is there a point to this rambling discourse? Well naturally, and that is to point out that that was then, and this is now. Few liberals are as wackjob as what we saw 35 years ago, and few of us would ever think of doing any of those things we discussed above, except to maybe occasionally whisper, "F--- Nixon."

Indeed, the conservative revolution was a natural and understandable response to the gross excesses of the liberal activists of 1970. If I had not been 2 years old in 1970, I might be feeling pretty conservative.

Unfortunately, all these years later, the right continues to exploit the transgressions of the hippies, Yippies, Black Panthers, women libbers and Weathermen as if 21st-century liberals are out to collectivize all private property, kill all the cops and move everyone onto one stinkin' filthy commune with free love and all. In fact, most of us are as protective of our houses, cars and wives as anyone else. The time has come to quit holding us accountable for alleged guilt by association with the likes of Timothy Leary, Abbe Hoffman and Eldridge Cleaver.

We liberals are pretty harmless. It's those folks on the right you want watch.

Wanna play? Explore your inner bag by clicking the link below:


I'm glad to hear that we have at least 14 reasonable Democrats and Republicans who have figured out how to keep all the other crazies on either side of the aisle from going nuclear. For the sake of non-partisan fairness, let me echo the hope that Democrats don't overuse and wear out the judicial filibuster. Now if we can just figure out some other way of keeping Priscilla Owen on her side of the Red River.


Headline of the day from the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Stadium beer supply is safe, in spite of strike

Man, I love this town!

Monday, May 23, 2005


Filibuster this!

Pity the poor filibuster.

Who doesn't squirm with uncomfortable thoughts of this weasly, oft-abused end run around straightforward voting? In my own mind, I can't help but picture some circa-1964 cornpone demagogue from Louisiana sharing his favorite gumbo recipe and reading out of the Sears catalog as the minutes tick down on a landmark civil rights bill. With images like those, Bill Frist starts sounding pretty reasonable in his insistence that judicial nominees like Priscilla Owen get a vote. Yea or nay, Democrats, and if you insist on hiding behind your big mouths, then we'll blow your precious little filibuster to tiny bits. Right?

Well, maybe. But then again...

Perhaps there's a reason why the Senate has clung to this peculiar mechanism almost since the founding of the republic. You see, senators are a snooty bunch. They like to think they're above those hoi polloi Congressmen on the opposite side of the rotunda, who will rush into any damn fool idea like a flag-burning or gay-burning amendment . Senators, meanwhile, stand back, take a deep collective breath and argue the issues at length. That's saved us from rushing into some bad stuff we would have really regretted later.

A filibuster is yet one more means to preserve the deliberative nature of the Senate. The only way currently to stop a filibuster is with a vote of 60 percent of the members to invoke "cloture" or a ban on further debate over a certain issue. At one time a 70-percent vote was needed for cloture. At issue now is whether we're going to let Republicans to rewrite the rules to allow a mere simple majority. With that, the Senate would become just another clone of the House, where a tyranny of the majority hijacked by special interests can trample on anything and anyone.

And is there anything that needs more careful thought and deliberation than the confirmation of an appeals court judge? These folks are only one step below the Supreme Court and are faced with some pretty heavy cases that affect basic rights of all Americans. Not only that, but any president uses our lower federal courts as a sort of farm system for the Major League nine in Washington. It's very possbile that at least one Bush appointee will someday sit on the Supreme Court. The very idea should frighten the bejesus out of reasonable people everywhere.

Take Priscilla Owen, for example. As a Texas Supreme Court justice, her record on workplace issues is frightening, consistently favoring big business and snubbing workers like us in cases of wrongful termination, sexual harrassment and on-the-job safety. She has proven herself to be an enemy of the consumer, consistently taking big business' side against the side of average folks like you and me. For the sake of brevity, I'll refrain from citing specific cases and let you read about them in a report from People for the American Way by clicking on this link: http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=14175

To be sure, Owen has shown such strident activism that none other than our new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales - a former colleague of Owen's on the Texas court and a rather frightening specimen himself - frequently chided Owen in opinions as being too eager to legislate from the bench. Can you imagine if she were eventually to sit as one of the nine final arbitors of justice in America? This is why we need the option of filibuster. The mere threat forces any president to submit judicial nominees that the opposing party can stomach. The end result is a fairly moderate, reasonable Supreme Court such as we now enjoy. The alternative is a court of extremist justices serving only because a majority of Senators ramrodded the nomination through.

And Owen is just the beginning. Bush has an entire slate of right-wing ideologues he'd love to move up the ranks of our judicial branch. Senate Republicans are counting on winning this filibuster debate and the subsequent vote over Owen's nomination. If they can win this battle, then they can pack the appeals courts and Supreme Court with as many far-from-mainstream-thought ideologues as they dare. The end result would be a far-different America from what we enjoy today.


Mere minutes after I posted my rant about the charter school movement yesterday, I came across a package of stories on the issue in the Dallas Morning News, further proof that the problem isn't just unique to Missouri.

Click on the link below to read how charters have proven to be an intractable mess in Texas:

While we're on the subject, here's a link to a summary from the National Center for Educational Statistics citing a recent study of charter schools from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Here's the short version: Students at charters do less well than students at traditional public schools. To read more click the link below:

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Chartering a bad course

So there I was, a real-live participant in the Right's bold experiment to retake public education from the NEA and the secular humanists.

Really, it's all a blur to me now. I remember a pencil hitting me in the back of my head as I was writing something on the board. On numerous occasions I was called things that I can't describe on this family-oriented blog. I still have nightmares of this really big girl up in my face, hands on hips, head swiveling, keepin' it real.

The harder I think, the more vivid memories become, like the time a fifth-grader incited a near-riot when he told me, "I'm-a f--- you up," as I was escorting his sister to the office for some forgotten infraction. Oh yeah, there were also the assault charge I filed against another fifth-grader after he shoved me trying force his way back into a classroom from which I had banished him. Both offenders were allowed to return to school after an all-too-brief suspension.

Welcome to the world of charter schools, privately run institutions dreamt up by right-wing think-tankers in an effort to inject some free-market reform to fix our public education system. As the marketeers envisioned it, charter schools would compete against the public schools for students and receive the state's per-pupil allocation for each child enrolled. Unburdened by top-heavy bureaucracies, charter schools would reinject excellence into the system and thrive with disciplined environments and high test scores. The competing traditional public schools would either have to improve or close. And if any charters themselves failed, they could be closed much more easily than any public school. Or so the position papers stated.

But a funny thing has happened down here on planet Earth. Across America the research is mixed, but the concensus is concluding that charters do a worse job of educating students than public schools. Here in St. Louis, the charters are almost uniformly bad with test scores so low they barely register, tales of out-of-control discipline and rampant fraud and waste. Our city schools, as bad as they are - and believe me, they're pretty darned bad - outperform charters by a longshot on practically every indicator.

Which brings me to the reason I started dredging up all these bad memories I had managed to beat down. According to this morning's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, not only are our area charter schools a mess, we can't even close the darned things when they're deemed a failure. Out of 27 charters established in Missouri since the law permitting them was passed in 1998, only two have actually closed. About a third, including my old school, have lost the sponsorhip by a state university needed to operate, yet still continue to do just that. Across the river in Illinois, the picture is equally bleak. Most of these schools have learned they can litigate and legally maneuver into infinity.

And boy, does my old school need some closure. Imagine 1,200 kids, kindergarten through eighth-grade, jampacked in a building with only three small restrooms. Imagine, out of entire grade levels, the number of kids scoring "proficient" on the Missouri's MAP test in the single digits. Imagine cops herding handcuffed students out the front door and responding to calls to the school almost daily. Imagine a school that for at least three years had no library, playground equipment or a gym - not even textbooks its first year. Imagine a top school official indicted on charges he stole $22,000 from federal funds earmarked for nutrition programs.

Fortunately, there's a silver lining in this busted system. Oh sorry, not if you're a student or parent. But in typical conservative fashion, there's big money to be made here in warehousing inner-city kids whose parents were hoping for something better. Apparently you don't even have to teach them much. Hell, they're not really even kids to these coporate executives, who aren't shy about packing 30 of them into a room. Just think of them as little walking bundles of cash, courtesy of the taxpayers.

And now, thanks to the Ayn Randers who concocted this scheme and the politicians and bueaucrats who allow it perpetuate, we now have not only one broken-down education system, but two. Apparently, they're both here to stay.

And now for something completely different:

I think enough has been said about the Newsweek/Quran-flushing scandal that my erudite opinion is hardly called for. Instead I'll just applaud Frank Rich's column on the matter in today's New York Times and let you read it for yourself. Just click the link below. You'll probably need to register, but it's free.


Saturday, May 21, 2005


As if the world needed one more opinionated loudmouth

I can't believe I'm doing this.

Until about a year ago, I had never even heard of a weblog. And the more I heard about it, the less impressed I was with the very idea. What a bunch of crap, I thought upon learning that anyone anywhere could post daily personal reflections for public consumption. As if anyone anywhere else would give a rat's behind.

To be sure, I considered blogging to be the most self-absorbed, self-important waste of time for losers of all stripes. Now fringe conspiracy kooks could deny the Holocaust or rant about returning to the gold standard. Limbaugh dittoheads could mouth off screeds against Barbra Streisand and Jane Fonda. Star Trek geeks could write verse in Klingon. And wannabe urban hipsters could name-drop and show off pictures of their black-clad friends.

Yet, here I am, joining in as another voice in the cacophany. You see, I'm mad as hell, and I want to make a lot of noise.

We live in a country in which all but a small elite group are cheated by a government that caters only to the megawealthy and large corporations. We're getting screwed by grossly regressive taxes, the theft of Social Security, a governement bureaucracy actively indifferent to the needs of average Americans, and history's largest bottom-up redistribution of wealth. Too few of us seem to either know or care.

Some sell out their vital interests to platitudes and fake outrage over nonissues like school prayer, tenured radicals and wardrobe malfunctions. Others overestimate their position on the food chain; I make $80,000 a year, they say, so I must be a Master of the Universe. Still others aren't even tuned in, opting instead to focus their attention on watching Survivor, playing video games and doing God-knows-what-else while their family's future is at stake.

Meanwhile a right-wing alliance of corporate money, think-tanks and a vocal media propaganda machine have just about turned our country into an oligarchy. The bad guys are winning folks, and many of you don't even realize it.

I'm not sure what can be done. I know that offering up one more blog is but a pathetically small gesture. Yet I believe that if I make a little noise and you make a little noise and others join us, something really great could happen.

Maybe you don't give a rat's behind. Maybe you should.

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