“It’s A Wonderful Life:” Teachers’ Edition

If you were not around, would things go to hell?  If you were not on the scene, would there be chaos, dysfunction, and violence?  Would the world suffer in your absence?  Would your community?  If your steady hand and calming voice were not available, would those who depend on them degenerate into victimization and abuse?  Are you that important?  Could you really be that necessary?

If you’re a teacher, the answer is yes.  Don’t take my word for it:  listen to the Governor of Kentucky, who regards teachers as a bulwark between society’s children and disaster.  The Governor was concerned when thousands of Kentucky teachers gathered in a mass protest at the state capital, part of a national cri de guerre against penurious (primarily Republican) governance that mortgages the future by starving schools and cheating our kids.  The teachers were not in the classroom that day, and Governor Matt Bevins panicked.  Who was taking care of the children?

“Do you know how many hundreds of thousands of children today were left home alone?” said the Governor, answering his own question.  He told a gathering of reporters what evils the teachers’ absence would spawn.  “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them,” he declared, without irony or evidence.  “I guarantee you somewhere today a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were home alone because a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them.”

Democrats as well as his fellow Republicans promptly informed Bevins that he was conducting a head-first exploration of his own digestive tract.  The Governor then fumbled his attempt at an apology by stating, “Clearly a tremendous amount of people did not fully appreciate what it was that I was communicating.”  He’s not really a donkey’s hindquarters, you see – he’s just under-appreciated.  Presumably, the good people of Kentucky will express their appreciation at the ballot box next year.

While the Governor intended his remarks as criticism of the teachers and their job action, he could not have conferred a more powerful endorsement of their value.  Is there higher praise than hearing that you are indispensable?  If the Governor believes one day without teachers would lead to kids being sexually assaulted and otherwise harmed, what would the world be like without teachers?  Bevins is an accidental Clarence Odbody to the George Baileys of the teaching profession, assuring them they are not only valued, but priceless.  The Bedford Falls without George Bailey was a dismal place where good men became derelicts, honorable men became bullies, a child died unnecessarily and integrity was abandoned.  Absent one decent man, the little town degenerated into a flashing hell-hole of gambling, drunkenness and depravity.  Without George Bailey, Bedford Falls boiled over and became Pottersville.

There’s not much of Frank Capra’s America left, but there are still George Baileys among us, many of whom dig into their own pockets for school supplies, the occasional meal for a kid who would otherwise go without, maybe even items of clothing for the less fortunate among their charges.   That’s before they work after dinner grading papers and exams, preparing lesson plans, and contacting parents who need to talk to them.   If you want a 40-hour, 9 to 5 work experience, don’t go into teaching.

Unfortunately, there are Henry Potters among us as well, political leaders who view public education as an expense, not an investment.  They claim they can cut taxes without affecting educational quality and, when their schemes fail, send the collateral damage to prison.   Bevins is a Henry Potter.  So is Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, the Cold Stone Con Man who tried to buy teachers off with a one percent pay raise, then ignored their marches and demonstrations until he caved in and promised a raise he doesn’t know how to pay for.  Arizona teachers aren’t buying it.  Even if Ducey finds a way to pay for his promised raises (nine percent immediately, followed by two five percent increases by 2020), there is no guarantee Arizona’s Legislature and its Potterish Republicans will go along.  And neither Ducey nor the Legislature have addressed class sizes, outdated books, failing roofs and plumbing systems, and the need to upgrade technology in Arizona’s schools.  They say nothing about adequate pay for counselors, monitors, bus drivers, custodians, maintenance workers and clerical staff.  The teachers intend to hold their feet to the fire until they do.

Perhaps teachers in Arizona and elsewhere can parlay Bevins’ fears into some good, old-fashioned political blackmail.  Remember the famous “National Lampoon” cover showing a frightened dog with a gun pointed to its head and a caption that read, “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine We’ll Kill This Dog?”  How about, “Pay decent wages and fix our schools or we’ll walk out and leave your kids to their own devices?”  Governor Bevins said that will result in children being sexually assaulted, exposed to drugs and even poisoned.  Nice kids you have there – hope nothing bad happens when we’re not around.  Engage the Henry Potters at their level; let them know who they’re dealing with. Tell them: Don’t spit into the wind, don’t run with scissors, don’t pet stray dogs, don’t tug on Superman’s cape and never, never try to lowball the people who care for, instruct and inspire your kids. 

There’s no future in that.

© 2018 by Mike Tully


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The Question Every Abortion Opponent Should Have to Answer

Cathi Herrod likes to tell people how to live their lives.  She is the President of the Center for Arizona Policy, a lobbying organization of officious moralists with outsized influence in the Arizona legislature.  The Center’s mission is to promote and defend “the foundational values of life, marriage and family, and religious freedom.”  That’s code for banning abortion and birth control and hating on gay people.  Herrod, who has led the group for a dozen years, says she envisions an Arizona where “human life is protected and defended from its very beginning to its natural end.”  The “very beginning” language means opposition to most, if not all, forms of birth control.  The “natural end” language apparently includes state-sponsored homicide, since neither Herrod nor the Center have expressed discomfort with capital punishment.

Their primary raison d’être is opposition to abortion.  Since the right to terminate a pregnancy with some limitations is enshrined as a Constitutional right, Herrod and the Center currently resort to abortion opponents’ preferred tactics of restricting access to abortion providers and shaming women who elect to terminate their pregnancies.  A bill currently working its way through the Arizona legislature falls into the latter category.

 Senate Bill 1394 is ostensibly a data gathering measure, which is hilarious on its face, given that Arizona legislative Republicans value data about as much as Beethoven valued a kazoo.  The bill was crafted by Herrod and the Center, although some of the language was so indigestible that even the Arizona House coughed it up.  The original bill, which passed the Senate nearly intact, expanded upon information that providers are required to submit to the Department of Health Services.  While the facility is not required to identify the woman having the abortion in either the existing legislation or Herrod’s proposed expansion, the current inquiry is fairly intrusive.  Besides asking the name, nature and location of the facility, current law asks for the age of the woman undergoing the procedure, along with her educational background, race and ethnicity, marital status, history of earlier pregnancies regardless how they ended, and a general question about the reason for the abortion.  There is no evidence the data gathered so far has impacted public policy.  The State is just being nosy.

Nevertheless, Herrod and her truth squad from the Center want to expand that last general question into a vast array of inquiries into things that are none of their business.  They want women to answer whether the reason for the abortion is for any of the following:

  • economic reasons.
  • the woman does not want children at this time.
  • the woman’s emotional health is at stake.
  • the woman’s physical health is at stake.
  • the woman will suffer substantial impairment of a major bodily function if the pregnancy continues.
  • the pregnancy was the result of rape.
  • the pregnancy was the result of incest.
  • the pregnancy resulted in fetal anomalies.

They also want providers to ask about “relationship issues, including abuse, separation, divorce and extramarital affairs.” Who knew defenders of family values could be so lecherous?

Herrod’s bill includes a series of questions about complications, including sepsis and “postprocedure” infections.  That list remains unchanged in the revised House version, even though medical complications from abortions are rare.

The House modified the questions about reasons for the procedure, eliminating, among others, the invasive shaming question about relationship histories and extramarital affairs.  They expanded on health inquiries for both woman and fetus and retained language referring to rape and incest.  The House added questions regarding whether the woman is being coerced into having the procedure, or whether she is a victim of sex trafficking or domestic violence.  Representative Eddie Farnsworth, a Gilbert Republican who authored the amendment, explained the legislation is about “getting information.”  Representative Daniel Hernandez, a Tucson Democrat, took that to heart and suggested two other questions asking if the woman had access to affordable health care or “adequate comprehensive sex education.”  Capital Media Services reported that Hernandez noted the debate’s underlying theme was that additional information would lead to fewer abortions.  He said the questions he proposed would lead to fewer unintended pregnancies, which in turn would reduce the number of abortions.

Unfortunately, logic is a protocol unrecognized by Arizona legislative Republicans and Farnsworth rejected Hernandez’ amendment.  “Sex education is not a health-care issue. Having access to contraception is not a health-care issue,” Farnsworth told him. “It’s a pre-health-care issue.”  Given Farnsworth’s definition, vaccination is not a health care matter.  On Planet Farnsworth, having a disease is a health care issue but preventing disease is not.

There is one question that should be asked, not of women having abortions, but of Herrod and the other fetus fascists who want to force women to give birth against their will:  since you are responsible for the child being born, what will you pay to support it?  If anti-abortion fanatics eventually get their way and outlaw abortion, any child borne involuntarily on account of their efforts is at least partially their responsibility.  What are they willing to do to ensure the child receives adequate housing, nutrition, clothing, medical care, and education?  Will they pay for postnatal care for the mother?  Will they help with school supplies and transportation?  Will they help with daycare expenses?

The Center’s website does not address these issues and Herrod’s bio does not hint at any interest on her part.  Their concern for the child’s welfare is discarded with the placenta.  Once birth takes place you’re on your own, kid.  If you wind up dropping out, sitting in prison, or even strapped to a death gurney, oh well.   That’s life.

© 2018 by Mike Tully


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A Dress Rehearsal for Tyranny

The image is riveting and unsettling, a video mashup from Deadspin that starts with a pair of local television news anchors reciting a statement about “responsibility,” then adds another pair of anchors from another community in a split-screen, then cuts to another pair, then another and another, all robotically parroting the same script in different communities.  At the 35 second mark the video builds a mosaic, each tile a screen shot from yet another local newscast, painting the screen with one talking tile after another until 30 tiles fill the screen with an ad hoc chorus of 47 local anchors reciting the same script.  Altogether, nearly two hundred cities and towns watched local news anchors echo the script like well-coiffed hostages.

Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns the stations and is responsible for the chorus, defended the action as a “corporate news journalistic responsibility promotional campaign.”  Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vice president of news, characterized the stunt as a “well-researched journalistic initiative focused on fair and objective reporting.”  It’s not; it’s a dress rehearsal for tyranny.

As Michelle Goldberg points out, suppression of independent media and support for propaganda outlets is a favorite weapon of modern dictators, such as Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  The late Hugo Chavez forced the sale of an influential television station to a political ally after lodging a false accusation against the station, which had been critical of Chavez.  Presidents Xi in China and el-Sisi of Egypt rely on a controlled news media.  Freedom suffocates when autocrats suck out its oxygen.  The oxygen is the independent press.

What does this have to do with Sinclair?  Aren’t the “hostage tapes” more a clumsy stunt than a threat?  Why are they harmful?

This is why:  they are a field test of a powerful new weapon:  federal control over the content of local news outlets.  Local television newscasts are Americans’ favorite source of information according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.  In two of the survey periods, nearly half the respondents said they watched local television news “often,” far more than any other category.  Looking at it another way, between 10 and 15 percent said they “never” watch local television news.  The range for cable news:  18 – 22 %.  Network evening newscasts were ignored at a similar rate as cable:  17 – 25%.

The importance of local television transcends viewership numbers.  Not only is it watched more often, it is considered more trustworthy than other sources.  “There are many reasons for this,” wrote Josh Stearns for medium.com. “Local news is viewed as more proximate, more relevant, more accountable, and more motivated by a shared sense of concern for the community.”  He added, “Local journalists are our neighbors.”  The path to the hearts and minds of America leads through local news channels.

The studies cited by Stearns reveal a vulnerability, one also found in a recent study by Monmouth University:  distrust of the media.  Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, characterized the finding as “troubling,” noting, “Confidence in an independent fourth estate is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy.”  “According to the public, fake news is the result of both outside agents trying to plant fabricated stories and the editorial processes of mainstream media outlets that disseminate false narratives,” said Murray.  “The perception of this problem couldn’t be more pervasive.”

That “perception” is chum in the water for Donald Trump and Sinclair.  Trump routinely insults and disparages American journalists, from whipping up animosity against them during political rallies to, most recently, mocking them during a news conference with leaders of the Baltic nations.  As for Sinclair, this is from the statement the news anchors were ordered to read:

“(W)e’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.  More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.  Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.  At (name of Sinclair station) it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth.”

In other words, “all the others are lying to you, but you can trust us.”  This echoes Trump, who rails against media outlets that criticize him while praising two in particular that support him:  Fox News and Sinclair.  He’s using the power of the government to help Sinclair spread his message by bending the rules to allow Sinclair to purchase another 42 stations.  That would extend its reach to nearly three-fourths of the viewers in America.  Meanwhile, Trump’s administration is trying to block a similar merger that includes CNN, which Trump hates.  Hurt the critical outlets, help the friendly ones:  right out of Putin’s playbook.

Speaking of Putin, don’t overlook Sinclair’s Russian connections.  All Sinclair stations are required to air pro-Trump propaganda by Russian-born Boris Epshteyn, a pugnacious fellow who was arrested in a bar fight in Scottsdale in 2014.  More problematic is Sinclair’s employment of Kristine Frazao, who recently produced a segment about the so-called “deep state,” a conspiracy whose existence is confined to the imagination of Trump and his loyalists.   Sinclair hired Frazao from RT, an outlet controlled by Putin and the Russian government.

Is it overreaction to regard Sinclair as a danger to American democracy?  Perhaps, but it’s hard to overlook hiring a veteran of a Putin propaganda outlet and imposing authoritarian control over local news outlets.  If Sinclair isn’t a potential agent of a tyrannical takeover, then why is it rehearsing for one?

© 2018 by Mike Tully


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