Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dear Susan Collins DBA Reasonable Republican

It is all about the tax code.

Unless the fight over tax breaks removes income taxes for those who earn less than $35,000, or adds grants for education and home windmills, please stop wrangling over them. Unreasonable Republicans, like Eric Kantor who persist in using the incorrect form of the word when describing "Democrat leaders," are wrong and and have misjudged what will help most of us.

When will the Unreasonable Republicans stop pretending that a few hundred dollars in the pocket of Edgecomb's Sheepscot River Pottery is going to make a difference to how many people they hire this summer, or how many people stop to buy Maine-made ceramics. The majority of Americans do not want the President's stimulus package held hostage by those who would do the bidding of the obscenely wealthy, one half of one percent of the population. As for the lip service given to supporting the middle class and small business, the best "job generator" will be universal health care.

(Images from the Americans Who Tell The Truth project by Maine artist Robert Shetterly)

Please return to the reason and confidence embodied by Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower and Margaret Chase Smith. Rather than continuing the craven taxation practices of the last 30 years, now proven not only ineffective but damaging to the economy, please adjust the return appropriately. Current tax policy made so much cash available to the gilded class that investment counselors had trouble finding diversified, smart, safe havens, thus currying the growth of idiotic (credit default swaps) and downright immoral (Madoff's Ponzi scheme) investments. Blaming those who bought houses they could not afford without blaming those who made cash for those loans available fails to address the whole problem.

The Unreasonable Republicans, John Cornyn, Rush Limbaugh Mitch McConnel, Eric Kantor and John Boehner to name a few, have been acting badly in the last couple days. Can the reasonable Republicans, like yourself, step up and use some moral authority to stop them?

Your new seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee gives you exponentially increased gravitas and makes your reasonableness all the more critical. Word is your influence helped three Republican colleagues on the Appropriations Committee decide to support the spending portion of the stimulus bill. For that I am grateful. The federal government must act on behalf of the people to save our economy from ruin.

I ask you to please consider excising from the Stimulus Package the tax cuts so popular with the Unreasonable Republicans and some of your constituents--though not a plurality. Please read smart economists like Kevin Phillips and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman who make a darned good case against tax cuts. Rather, they indict the relative tax freedom of the obscenely wealthy as the cause of many of our current economic ills.

Consider my situation. When my mother died in 1998, half of her two million dollar estate went to the federal government, and a goodly portion to two states, Maine and Texas where she lived. My sister and I split the remainder, bought modest homes and invested the what was leftover. Those investments have shrunk to piddling suggestions of their former selves. Both of us work in public service. She as a Marine Patrol Officer; I am a teacher who took a few years away from teaching to raise my young son and attend grad school.

Now, as I attempt to return to full time teaching (I will stifle a rant about how American public policy fails to encourage women to take time off to raise their children), I do not regret the taxes I have paid in 35 years of employment, or even the onerous Estate Tax. I resent that our infrastructure is not better, our schools are not more vigorous, our public transportation is a joke, in part because, as Phillips points out, while the incomes of the wealthiest families in America have grown exponentially, their tax rate has shrunk to that of my neighbor the home builder. How is it that the Mellons and the Morgans pay the same rate as a contractor in Midcoast Maine?

Senator Collins, you have minions who can do this math better than I. However, I know in my head and heart that one half of one percent of the population should not be protected at the expense of the rest of us.

We must return to the path of that Reasonable Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower. His highest tax rate was 91 percent. Reagan was wrong. This grinding, as yet far from finished debacle proves it. Progressive tax reform is essential to this country's recovery; it is critical to our identity.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Accepting Obama's Challenge

Yesterday, Jon Robbins, my sophomore English teacher and husband of the pastor at Sheepscott Community Church, told me a story about what happened to him after he heard President Obama's Inaugural Speech and its challenge to work toward solutions on our own. Jon said he had run his errands and was on his way home when he approached St. Patrick's, the Catholic church in Newcastle. A large sign advertising a blood drive beckoned. "I gave blood," said Robbins.

The President's speech "had an effect," said Robbins. Now, I am sure Mr. Robbins has given blood before. I failed to ask. For all I know he gives blood every month. This probably was not an earth shaking move for this classically educated English teacher who now binds books by hand--complete with gold-edged pages. His point, I think, was that the President's speech had an effect, however humble.

Though I wish I could say I have made similar moves, humble or not, today I saw a local opportunity for someone trained in the trades to make a difference in a seriously Obama-ish way.

In Bath, the state's first Regional School Unit, RSU 1 is "seeking a student centered instructor with knowledge of new, electrical alternatives, including solar and wind." Now is the chance for someone with these critical skills to help the community, state, nation and globe in one fell swoop.

This is when I wish I had fewer liberal arts and frou-frou skills. I mean, can a lovely pliƩ and a well choreographed dance effect much positive change in an economic disaster? Actually, I believe they can. However, that does not keep me from envying those with more practical, Whole Earth Catalog skills. (I can can, though--and not just the dance.)

This Bath vocational school work, helping teenagers get some semblance of a useful trade as we move away from fossil fuels, seems nearly as important to the world as the work of my public service heroes, Doctors Without Borders. No, whomever takes this Bath job will not be dodging bullets from the Janjuweed or risking Ebola virus in the Congo. However, he or she will almost certainly have to bob and weave with the dissonant rhythms of adolescence and institutional learning, motion that when repeated sometimes can make one feel under attack and a bit ill.

Whom do we know who could give this job the weight and attention it deserves? We know a lot of people you and me. For more information go to the Maine teacher job website.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

President Obama Beautifully Slaps Limbaugh and the GOP

If I had my druthers I would probably flog a diary a day from DailyKos. Today, I give in to the urge. (Translation: the house is a mess and I should be vacuuming.)

Here is a piece noting President Obama's--it feels so good writing that--recent advice to the GOP to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh if they want to "get anything done." What I love is that this suggestion has the excellent quality of insulting both Limbaugh and the Republican Leadership, as noted by Kos poster freelunch.

Another smart commenter asked who supports Limbaugh and in an effort to turn the diary into one of action, I linked to another Kos diary with a reasonably updated list of sponsors. A few months ago, when I tried to get the list of local advertisers from Portland's WGAN560, our local Limbaugh station, I was quizzed about my motives as if I were one of bin Laden's lackies.

Sadly, I simply have not been able to bring myself to listen for more than a moment or two, even in the name of gathering intelligence for a letter-writing campaign.

We have got to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Heart(wood) and Soul

Elise "The Scorpion" Voigt from Heartwood's spring '08 production of the original work "Gilgamesh."
Steve "The Body" Shema as Gilgamesh in "Gilgamesh."

On a recent January night in Damariscotta a dozen well-fed souls traipsed through the outerspace-like chill to find Tennessee Williams' southern sensibilities of the Wingfields in the latest production of "The Glass Menagerie." After a sumptuous supper on Water Street we hid the remaining food from the surprisingly cagey resident Labrador Retriever, and walked the five minutes to Skidompha.

After the play Heartwood Theater's director Griff Braley called the family "dysfunctional." The production's superb acting, tight pacing and sensitive staging allowed the famously difficult relationships to take center stage in Skidompha Library's intimate lobby.

Go. The play is up into February. It is winter in Maine. Where else are you going to see professional level drama disguised as local theater? Dixie Weisman, Elise Voigt, Kevin Kiley and Steve Shema are great. They listen to one another and know what they are doing. Braley's productions are famously well-paced. This group of actors takes his direction to heart and gives the audience the gift of transparency. The words and story take precedence.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Teach Your Teachers Well

After spending a few hours yesterday investigating the teacher shortages in this country, I am incredulous that someone ostensibly employed to increase the number of available qualified teachers could be obdurate about how and where in Maine to take one of the five most popular teaching methods classes. These are classes without which one cannot teach; they are essential to certification.

After telling me there was no way I could take her program's course, this woman had no idea where, other than her program, one might go in the state to take such a class.

The feds display incredible duplicity when they say schools must hire highly qualified teachers and then not be fully prepared to help qualified teachers get more qualified. Nowhere in the Maine university catalog or online is there a social studies methods class this spring--except the one I am barred from because I am a certified teacher.

Undiplomatic may be the kindest way to describe the University of Southern Maine administrator who explained to me that there are no social studies methods classes for me to take. This woman, who helps run a program to train teachers, sounded positively imperious when she asked, "How did you get certified in the first place?" It was as if she could not believe I would want another certification.

Only after an e-mail that I thought clear enough, and about five minutes on the phone did she fully grasp that I am a teacher certified in two subjects, English and Phys Ed, with 12 years experience and great recommendations, who has spent the last five years replenishing teacher mojo in graduate school and work in other fields, who, gasp!, has the audacity to want yet another certification, this time in social studies. Because of my graduate work and because I am already an experienced teacher, all I need is a methods class. She replied finally, "We only offer methods classes to our students," meaning USM enrollees studying to be teachers.

Toward the end of our conversation she argued with me about how I came to know that her program offered a methods class at all. "They're hidden, our students can't even see them." I told her the class was listed on the Maine Street section of the University site, and still she failed to believe me.

Only when I pointed out that the school was missing out on my tuition and the school where I work would be missing out, did she even consider passing my e-mail on to another bureaucrat for further consideration. He declined the option, calling me a non-matric, sending me and my cyber inquiry packing.

All I know is it is a darned good thing I like obstacles.

(Image from Rousseau's "Emile")

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Roundabout Way

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Christmas shopping and a quest for a replacement for my dead Airport wireless router has taken me to Augusta, our fair capital city, a couple times recently. Could someone tell me what is up with the Cony rotary?

Having lived in England for a while as a kid, I think rotaries, or roundabouts as the Brits call them, are the bees' knees. They're ecological and fast. No one has to stop unless absolutely necessary, saving both fuel and time.

The trouble is, the ones with more than one lane are counter-intuitive. Drivers going around farther than one exit are expected to dive into the center lane, drive 'round, signal and squirt out at the right place. Actually, the counter-intuitive-osity appeals to me, too.

Since there are two two-lane rotaries in Augusta, it is easy to tell the drivers who took driver ed somewhere free from similar traffic patterns. They have a panicked look on their faces as they circle the rotary in the outside lane, endangering the people who expect the outer lane to be empty or at the very least taking the same exit.

Lately the entrance to the rotary next to what used to be Cony High School, the one on the east side of the Kennebec, has three, count 'em, three lanes. The geniuses at MDOT have posted signs about six yards before the rotary's entrance explaining the concept of a rotary, long after a driver ought to have made a decision about which lane to take.

Apparently the logic is that the far right lane takes the driver east, out Cony Street, the middle one heads up Route 9 past O'Connor GMC to Waterville, and the far left lane points drivers to the rotary's center lane to spin around to either of the bridges crossing the Kennebec. Great in theory. Is it just me who thinks it would have been nice if some clue could be offered before driving past the high school parking lot?

Now the drivers circling the outside lane look closer to traumatized, their blanched faces and knuckles can be seen from space, and those of us following the rules on the inside lane have to use the eyes in the backs of our heads. Oy.