Category Archives: The Issues

Message to DNC and GOP: It’s about the Issues (NOT the Elections)!

Is Technology Taxing School Budgets?

As the Vermont school district consolidation debate rages on (H.883), I would like to focus for a moment on technology, and how it might relate to rising education costs.  Are recent technology mandates for new assessment rules impacting school budgets this year?  How sustainably has technology been applied to education since Act 60/68 began?

During the ongoing healthcare reform debate there have been reports indicating that one of the big drivers of rising healthcare costs is technology.  Technology can be a “mixed blessing”.  While technology has led to rising costs, it could also be used to lower costs, if implemented effectively.

Could technology, with its continuous upgrading of software, hardware, networks, spam filters, security patches, and ever-more tools be having a similar affect on our education costs?  Is technology a “mixed blessing” in education?  Are we effectively utilizing technology to advance learning and reduce costs?  Or are we merely chasing the latest trends, sales pitches, reform ideas, and making the willing IT companies more profitable?

I am not a Luddite by any means.  I’ve worked in the Information Technology field since 1977, mostly as a computer programmer, and with many types of databases.  I am very familiar with the constant churn of learning and adapting to new software and hardware, and occasional rehashes or mashups of previous tech ideas, but now with more “cutesy” names.  A friend of mine, a retired database admin, joked to me about “The Cloud”.  He said, “We used to call it a ‘Data Center’.”

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Detroit’s Slow-Motion Crash, America’s Race Against Time

When I heard the news Friday, July 19, that the City of Detroit is declaring bankruptcy, I was saddened, but not at all surprised.  Detroit has been under the jurisdiction of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, for four months.  Elected Mayor Dave Bing (and former Pistons basketball player), is effectively out of power, but he has been cooperating with Kevyn Orr during this transition.

Later the same day, President Obama made some heartfelt and personal remarks on race relations in America, in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial over the death of Trayvon Martin.  I see a connection of President Obama’s remarks to the racial history of metro Detroit, and how racial tensions were one of the contributing factors to Detroit’s decline over the decades.  Metro Detroit is one of the most segregated regions in America, north of Mississippi.  In some ways, metro Detroit is a Southern City trapped inside of a Northern State.

The City of Detroit could be compared to a slow-motion car crash, decades in the making.  Imagine a circa 1940 or 1950 Chevy cruising down Woodward Avenue, morphing into other vehicle models over time, up through a 2013 Chevy Volt (one of the few vehicles still manufactured in the City of Detroit), just before hitting a financial brick wall.  When watching those slow-motion crash test videos, you know what the outcome will be, but not exactly when the moment of impact will occur.

Although I moved away from metro Detroit in 1986, I grew up there and still have many family members living there, most of who work in the auto industry, or have since retired.  I travel to Detroit once or twice a year to visit my family.  At a young age, I was able to sense the racial and economic trajectory of metro Detroit.  I decided that I would eventually leave the area when I grew up.  I later moved to the Lansing area, before moving to Vermont.

I will try to describe Detroit’s slow-motion car crash in a nutshell.  Given the state of today’s U.S. economy, unemployment, declining middle class and racial tensions, I think there are lessons to be learned from Detroit’s situation.  Detroit has been the favorite punching bag of the news media and people in other states for many years.  But I see signs of what happened in Detoit decades ago in other parts of the country in recent times, even in Rutland County, Vermont where I have lived for 18 years.

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We Have Not Forgotten: Newtown Vigil, June 15, 2013, Brattleboro, VT

On June 15th, 2013, six months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a vigil was held in Brattleboro, VT to remember the students and teachers who lost their lives on December 14, 2012.

For each of the 26 names read aloud, a bell was rung. Also, in these past six months, 94 additional children age 12 and under have been killed, not to mention the number of teens and adults murdered in America. We have not forgotten. We cannot let our legislators in Congress and our state legislators forget these deaths.

Premature Death: Memories and Loopholes

On the morning of September 11th, 2001 (9/11), I remember where I was when I heard that a plane hit the World Trade Center.  I was driving along Route 103, commuting to work.  By the time I reached Chester, I heard another radio report, a second plane hit the towers.  I’ll bet many of you remember the details of that day, especially the thoughts and feelings you had when you learned of the second plane crash.

For a period of time, Americans came together and mourned for our 3000-plus citizens whose lives were taken prematurely.  Most Americans, at least initially, supported the War in Afghanistan.  But when it came to dealing with terrorism by invading Iraq in 2003, the American public became divided, yet again.

I remember where I was when I read about the young innocent children who lost their lives in Newtown, CT on December 14th, 2012 (12/14).  I didn’t find out until my lunch hour.  I had just logged out of my email, and then saw the headline.  “Oh God, not another shooting!”.

Again, the nation came together to mourn.  But when it comes to figuring out how to prevent, or at least minimize the amount of premature death that occurs in our country, we as a people find ourselves divided again.  If we are not pitted against a foreign enemy, we seem to turn in on our fellow citizens, our neighbors.

Speaking of premature death, many Americans (including myself) attended Good Friday service and remembered the story of Jesus’ Passion.  Twelve Fourteen was a “Bad Friday” for the families and citizens of Newtown, CT, and all Americans.  For Christians, on Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, overcoming death and (our) sin.  But can America as a nation turn the Newtown tragedy, and other gun deaths, into something positive?

This week is the 45th anniversary of the premature death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, TN by an assassin’s bullet, on April 4th 1968.  Within seven days after Dr. King’s assassination, the U.S. Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or national origin.

Since Twelve Fourteen, it has been 111 days.  Other than speeches, press conferences, hearings, devisive partisan debates and reader comment forums, things are pretty much the status quo, except for in states like Colorado and Connecticut.

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Sticky Subjects: Gun Debate and Maple Syrup

In addition to the issues of gun safety, suicide, domestic violence, mass shooting, and mental illness, etc. there is also the issue of gun trafficking and straw purchases:

Chicago Gets Its Guns Where It Used to Get Its Blues

Like the blues song says: “Down in Mississippi”.

Vermont doesn’t want to be compared to Mississippi, do we? I mean, Vermont was the first state to outlaw Slavery in it’s Constitution! But Vermont is just like Mississippi when it comes to guns purchased in Vermont ending up being used in gun crimes and murders in Boston:

Stolen VT Gun Ended Boston Man’s Life

Boston criminals get some of their Guns where they also get their Maple Syrup!

Premature Death: American Lives and Sensible Gun Legislation

Here are some things I’ve been pondering (well before Sandy Hook, and Tucson, AZ and VA Tech, but since 9/11):

If Americans are killed by box-cutter wielding foreign terrorists, most of our elected politicians know exactly what to do:

Invade the wrong country (Iraq).

If Americans are killed by other gun wielding Americans, most of our elected politicians know exactly what to do:

Run away from the NRA and Wayne LaLaLaPierre, blame video games and movies, and complain instead about drones.

How many Americans have been killed by drones on American soil since December 14th, 2012?

I don’t know, but maybe Sen. Rand Paul knows the number.

How many Americans have been killed or attacked by video game wielding Americans since December 14th, 2012?

Maybe a handful of people were beaten with an X-Box or PlayStation controller, who knows?

How many Americans have been killed by gun wielding Americans since December 14th, 2012?

Count as of March 7, 2013: (at least) 2,635 known gun related deaths (gun-wielding Americans killing other Americans), via crowd-sourced data collected from Slate and Twitter (@GunDeaths).

Gun Deaths in America since December 14th, 2012:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2012/12/gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html

America has a “PREMATURE DEATH” problem.  Too many Americans are dying needlessly while our politicians do very little, or are afraid to even debate the topic.  It seems that our nation’s leaders handle this problem differently if the murderers are foreign versus domestic.  Will an adult, sensible debate and vote on gun-related “premature death” happen in Congress?  Or, will any proposed legislation itself succumb to “Premature Death Syndrome” in Congressional committees?

Any political party or politician in 2014 and beyond who continues to claim that “they are better at protecting us” than their opponent party or candidate, is full of “Shaving Cream” (Benny Bell lyrics).

It’s The Honesty Problem, Stupid!

Last Tuesday evening I watched the PBS Frontline documentary called “The Untouchables”.  According to the Frontline website, this film “examines why no Wall Street execs have been prosecuted for the financial crisis”.  I encourage citizens to view this documentary (about 54 minutes), which can be seen online.

Lanny Breuer, who is head of the DOJ Criminal Division, was interviewed by Frontline correspondent Martin Smith.  Sadly, while a large amount of evidence was collected, the prosecutions did not go forward, because according to Breuer, it is difficult to “prove” criminal intent in these types of federal cases.

Martin Smith also interviewed people who had worked as “due diligence underwriters”, who explained how they would get a laugh out of mortgage applications where the incomes claimed by the applicants seemed way out of line for their profession.  For example, this “Fraud-bomb” quote:

“… it wasn’t uncommon to see school teachers claiming salaries of $12,000 a month on their mortgage applications, or electricians moving from $500 a month in rent to homes worth $650,000.  The only problem — their supervisors didn’t seem to want to hear about it.”

“Fraud in the due diligence world, fraud was the F-word or the F-bomb,” said Tom Leonard. “You didn’t use that word”.

I won’t comment too much more about this documentary, since you can view it yourself.  To me, this documentary points out that America doesn’t just have a spending problem or a revenue problem (tax system), or a debt problem.  As a nation, we have an HONESTY problem.

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We, … The People

I watched the replay of the 2013 Inauguration ceremony on C-SPAN.  The refrains that President Obama used throughout his speech were “We, … The People” and “Together”.

I liked the comma and pause after “We”.  Instead of the common phrase (or cliche), it made you think about We, Us, All of Us in this so-called democracy, Together.  United, “We”, … Will Stand.  Divided We Will Fail.

It’s up to us, We, … The People.

This is the line that I really liked from President Obama’s speech:

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction – and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service.”

Unless I missed it, the Presidents speech did not include direct reference to recent violent tragedies, like Newtown, CT, Aurora, CO, and litany of too many other shootings in the past year alone.

Correction (Tuesday): Yes, I missed it.  Actually, while typing this post late last night, I had forgotten the reference to the children of our country, including those from the “quiet lanes of Newtown”.  After hearing the clip on the radio this morning I remembered his mention:

“Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.”

Thanks to poet Richard Blanco’s poem “One Today”, for his reference and remembrance of the children lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Although they were taken from their parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and schoolmates, way, way to early, it seemed (to me at least) that Richard Blanco included them in “We, … The People”They are still with us in Spirit.

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Martin Had A Dream

As we celebrate this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King holiday, I would like to share the lyrics I wrote as a children’s song, an adaptation to the melody of “We Shall Overcome“.

In 1999-2000, a musician friend of mine, Linda MacFarlane, and I had a weekly children’s music gig at the Teacher’s Closet store in downtown Rutland, VT (has since closed, now is Cafe Tera).  For the 2000 MLK Holiday, I came up with some alternative lyrics to “We Shall Overcome”, that we played and sang with the children for that week’s gathering.  Later, Linda and I also used this song when we taught “Guitars In The Classroom” courses, in in 2002-2005, at the Rutland Rec. Dept.

The lyrics are below for you to read, or sing along with.  After that, the guitar chords to verse 1 are listed, in case you want to strum along (or have a friend play guitar for you).

Martin Had A Dream

To the tune of “We Shall Overcome
Song for children, new lyrics by Ron Pulcer (2000)
For Martin Luther King Day (January 15th)

Martin had a dream.
Martin had a dream.
Martin Luther King had a dream…
Oh, deep in his heart,
He did believe,
We could live in peace someday.

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Dreaming: Bing, King, Gip and Tip, You and I

Bing Crosby

As a downhill skier, I have always loved the crooner Christmas Carol by Bing Crosby, “White Christmas”:

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

As far as Christmas 2012, we only had a dusting of the white stuff.  But we did have a White New Year’s, thanks to a winter snowstorm from the Great Lakes to the Green Mountains and beyond.

That’s the good news.  The bad news was my sister’s family from Michigan was not able to come visit is and ski Vermont after Christmas.  They were planning on driving east on December 27th, which was the day of the snowstorm.  They would have been driving through the storms in southern Ontario, and New York.

But the other good news is that my wife and skied on December 28th at Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, VT.  It seemed that everyone in New England had the same idea and headed for the slopes.  They were dreaming of snow, and their dream came true.  Although the lift lines and wait times were long, this was good news for Vermont’s economy, which depends on tourism.

Dr. Martin Luther King

On Monday, January 21st, America celebrates both the Martin Luther King holiday and the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.  At this time each year, I like to listen to Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech from August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.  Here are some short excerpts from his speech that still ring true today (plus links to full transcript):

“I have a dream today.” …

“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning ‘My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!’”

“And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”

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