Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Getting To Know The Tea Party People

It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt. Generally speaking, I don't believe that this is necessarily true.

An exception, however, is the wacky world of politics, where we often fall in love with a candidate, only to develop after the election a distinct dislike for the person we voted for. Such seems to be the case now with some of the Tea Party folks.

The two-year old Tea Party movement has lost its luster for many Americans who were attracted by rhetoric that promised less taxes and less government. Before the last national election, there was an oft-repeated Tea Party promise to trim $100 billion from the federal budget.

It all sounded oh, so good to millions of people back then; but after the election came the moment of truth. The $100. billion budget reduction figure was immediately reduced to, maybe, $61. billion in cuts--with the admission that the original promise couldn't possibly be kept. Soon after, the Bush tax breaks were extended so as to give the super rich an undeserved and unnecessary windfall.

Then came the attacks on unions, and deep cuts in education, and an array of ideas and proposals that would adversely affect the struggling middle class, as well as those who are living in poverty. There is still Tea Party talk about phasing out social security, eliminating medicare, and dismantling the Departments of Education and Energy.

But now, as the American people get a closer look, the Tea Party is begining to lose its charm. A poll just taken by the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation shows that the favorable rating of the Tea Party has dropped to just 32 percent--down another five percent since the first of the year.

The number of Americans who have an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party has risen in the last year from 26 to 47 percent. It would seem as though Americans are seeing the Tea Party in a different light, and that they no longer like the view.

We should emphasize that Tea party people are, of course, good people, and on the whole, conscientious citizens who do have some good ideas. But--there are, unfortunately, a few Tea Party politicians who are pushing some really scary plans and proposals.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Breaking News That Isn't

This information revolution that we are into is a wonderful thing. It has given us real time, 24/7 coverage of what is happening here in America, and around the world. Newscasts keep us abreast of the latest developments with accurate, reliable reporting.,

There is something, however, that has become a disturbing trend in television news reporting. It's the overuse of "breaking news". In days gone by, putting those words, "breaking news", on the screen meant that viewers were about to learn about something important that had just occurred.

Nowadays, however, "breaking news" is used to attract attention to just about any and every story--the truly important, but also, too often, an unimportant story. And "breaking news" is often used many hours after the story first broke.

We have added our voice to those complaining about this practice. If our opinions matter enough to bring about a change, we will let you know. Perhaps we'll call it "breaking news".

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor And Me

I never met Elizabeth Taylor, but I would have welcomed the opportunity. The closest I came was walking by her, and her husband at the time, Sen. John Warner, in Virginia Beach years ago.

One of the many articles about her passing this week describes her as "unavoidable", because for decades she was continuously on the screen and perpetually in the news. Her movie career spanned 60 years, from her debut in 1944, at the age of 12, in the screen classic, "National Velvet", to her final movie with the Flintstones in 2004.

I saw, and loved that first movie, and I was just one among millions of young men who fell in love with her, as she blossomed into a beautiful young lady, and an accomplished actress. Later, my work in motion picture exhibition provided easy access to her string of hit movies, and kept me abreast of her public, and her not-so-private life.

It's a little strange, I guess, feeling such sadness at the passing of someone that you have never even met. But Elizabeth Taylor was so "unavoidable" for so many years, that knowing she is gone is almost like losing an actual friend.

I wonder if there are others--perhaps those who tuned in to Johnny Carson every night for 30 years, or watched the news with Walter Cronkite for almost that long-- who know the feeling.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Publicity--Not Privacy-- For Red-Light Runners

An editorial in yesterday's Gainesville Sun cast a bright light on a mind-boggling legislative happening that would have otherwise been missed by many--including yours truly.

A Florida House committee voted last Thursday to repeal a law which allows cities and counties to photograph and ticket red-light runners. The law is regarded by most people as an effective life-saving tool. The Gainesville Sun editorial disagrees with the vote to repeal, and pleads with the legislators to "leave this law alone".

I side with the Sun, but I would have expressed my opposition to the repeal in stronger terms. I would have questioned the competence of any legislator who votes to repeal a law that saves lives.

I would have suggested that any such legislator so inclined might suffer from one of three impairments--lack of intelligence, or lack of common sense, or voting while under the influence of one of those smallish cigarettes with a unique, telltale aroma.

By now, some readers may be asking why this legislative committee wanted to repeal a law that saves lives. The answer is privacy. The ten misguided legislators who voted for repeal say that "the law invades the privacy of motorists".

Really? What right to privacy does anyone have who runs a red light, and in so doing, risks the maiming or killing of innocent motorists and pedestrians?

Privacy? No! Publicity? Yes! How about a photo of a "perp" walk, along with a mug shot, at a website--something already in use by many sheriff departments across the country. Being viewed by one's neighbors might be more of a deterrent to running red lights than the cost of a traffic ticket.

There is a little humor to this story about an otherwise very serious subject. I laughed long and hard when I heard the second reason given for repealing the red-light runners law. A repeal sponsor, Rep. Richard Corcoran, argues that the law has become "a revenue-raising opportunity for city and county governments".

Duh! Like in these troubled economic times and budget deficits, there's something wrong with raising money at the expense of those who break the law. But rather than take the time and space to explain to Rep. Corcoran why this law he wants to repeal is a good thing, I would simply direct his attention to paragraphs three and four in this column.

There is something a little scary about this story. If something so stupid is allowed to happen here, would a copycat politician try the same nonsense elsewhere?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Paddy's Day!

Today's column is a different kind;
Nothing like you would usually find.

That's 'cause the blogger who writes it himself,
Has been replaced for a day by a mischievous elf.

That's me--here from Ireland, to give Bill a break,
And it's only this one day off that he'll take.

But don't think his day will be all rest and fun,
From sunup to sundown he'll be on the run.

Throw in the parade,and then--here comes the rub;
he'll be expected to spend most of the night at a pub.

Then next day with red eyes (they're normally blue),
He will hear it so often, "What happened to you?"

But Friday he'll work--no more will he roam;
And this leprechaun will be on his way home.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

About Those Budget Cuts For Education....

So here we are, with myriad problems, and many questions about our future--and yet America remains, at least for now, the most powerful country in the world.

We have the largest economy, and we have the strongest military. But there is one very important area where we are not even close to being number one. Education. We have slipped badly, and the future does not bode well.

And now politicos at all levels of government are proposing deep cuts in funding for education, as a way to reduce budget deficits and address the national debt. They tell us it is imperative to put the ax to education, and other programs, so as not to burden our children and grandchildren. They seem oblivious to the harm they can do to future generations if they fail to adequately fund education.

Florida's newly-elected Governor has plans to trim the cost of education by 10 percent. His reasoning goes beyond the need to balance the budget. He wants to use the money taken from education to help offset his proposed elimination of the corporate income tax.

We could spend a lot of time, and a dozen or more paragraphs on Governor Scott's logic; but another Governor of Florida--former two-term Governor, Bob Graham, aptly describes Rick Scott's thinking in one word--"shortsighted".

Monday, March 7, 2011

Do Our Teachers "Get It"?

Count me as one of those who believe that a teacher's classroom skills, ability to communicate and motivate, and success stories, are more important than tenure; and that these attributes should weigh heavily in the hiring, firing and the rewarding of our educators.

Being a kindly, reliable teacher is not, in itself, enough. Whatever the subject or course, it is imperative that a teacher do whatever is necessary to help the student "get it". A passing grade doesn't always mean that the student "gets it".

I offer myself as example A. I consider myself to be of average intelligence, and to have been an average student. In most classrooms I would "get it"; but there were some where I never did "get it". Looking back, I think that a teacher had much to do with what I took away at the end of the day.

In junior high (It's called Middle School now), my math teacher, Mr. Keim, was a wonderful and brilliant man; but a poor teacher. Class time was boring, and though I passed, I didn't "get it"--the importance of, or the fun that can come from grasping mathematics.

In high school, I had a somewhat grumpy teacher named Lois Grubb, who taught plane geometry, but more importantly, she taught her students how to think through problems. At the end of a year with her, I did "get it".

There are other teachers I can now recall as being dedicated to seeing their students "get it". They were sometimes pushy and demanding, but they made the time spent with them interesting--and they got results.

As we see ever more facts and figures showing that America is falling behind other countries in educating our young people, I wonder if our teachers "get it". Insistence by some that tenure is sacred, and that we must hold on to the status quo tells me that at least some do not.

It seems to me that a teacher who takes pride in his or her profession and performance should welcome being measured and rewarded according to ability and success.

Friday, March 4, 2011

At What Cost Those Budget Cuts?

There are those who claim that slashing the federal budget by $61 billion is unnecessarily drastic, and that the projected savings would actually come at tremendous cost from the resulting loss of jobs. Their facts and figures make for a compelling argument that has me convinced they are right.

But there is additional cost to be incurred by trimming or completely eliminating programs to save that $6l billion. One such cost, which is seldom mentioned, is the lowering of our standard of living.

Example "A" is the targeting of America's network of poison control centers. The deep cut made by the House of Representatives reduces the allocation to the 57 U.S. poison control centers from $29 billion to $2 billion.

Those House members who are gloating over the saving of $27. billion on just one federal program seem completely oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Many of the poison control centers will have to close, and those that are left will be forced to operate with skeleton staffs, and cut services to a minimum.

Accidental poisoning is the number two cause of unintentional injury death in the United States--exceeded only by auto accidents. Regional centers are necessary because of each individual center having more familiarity with local poison threats, as well as the best health facility for each caller and case.

This morning a Google check on how this particular budget debate is going came up with some interesting comments by some of the legislators we Americans elected to Congress. Rep. Denny Rehberg, Republican from Montana, dismissed objections to "cutting" the poison centers as defending a program that simply has "an important-sounding name".

But Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat from Iowa, was more realistic, and a lot more compassionate, in putting forth a scenario where--in an emergency--a frantic caller gets a recording that says the poison control center is closed.

Haste makes waste, and so would it not be better to take a few more months, or even a year, to determine if all of the deep cuts are truly unavoidable? For what if the unemployment rate continues downward from today's unexpectedly improved 8.9 percent, and job growth accelerates, and the "Dow" continues to climb--will we have unnecessarily dismantled programs like our network of poison control centers?

And even if the economy doesn't rebound quick enough to alleviate the budget crisis, should we not forgo, or defer, much of that $6l billion in cuts, and reconsider the extension of those Bush tax breaks to our wealthiest two percent?