Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Rhode Island Teachers Fired, With Cause

25.02.2010 (7:48 am) – Filed under: Education ::

Every teacher in what is demonstrably the worst-performing school district in the state of Rhode Island – which is to a Texan little more than a glorified county, in truth – has been fired.

The state’s tiniest, poorest city has become the center of a national battle over dramatic school reform. On the one side, federal and state education officials say they must take painful and dramatic steps to transform the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

the Central Falls school Board of Trustees, in a brief but intense meeting, voted 5-2 to fire every teacher at the school. In all, 93 names were read aloud in the high school auditorium — 74 classroom teachers, plus reading specialists, guidance counselors, physical education teachers, the school psychologist, the principal and three assistant principals.

Did all of these educators deserve to get the axe? I doubt it. But their collective, unionized decision not to comply with the recommended steps to remediate the school district made the outcome a just one.

Listen, there’s a recession on and you’re saying to your boss that you’re not going to do what’s necessary to get your job done? That’s a foolish, foolish thing to do – in any profession. It’s also the inevitable result of unearned Entitlement Syndrome.

Hopefully the best of the Central Falls teachers will be back at work soon, for the kids’ sake, and hopefully they’ll be bolstered by new, qualified teachers who are willing to work to bring the district up to par. 

And hopefully smug Arne Duncan, who wields his power from Washington like a blunt-edged hammer, will learn that, if he really wants the best and brightest working in the field of education, that salary talks and his B.S. will only make good teachers walk.

(Unfortunately I don’t have much time to write about this now; I hope to delve into it a little deeper at a later time.)

Global warming? I think not. I…

23.02.2010 (1:31 pm) – Filed under: My Tweets ::

Global warming? I think not. It is snowing in Central Texas again, with March just right around the corner. Snow day, anyone?

Texas Man Blows Stack, Slams Plane into IRS Building

19.02.2010 (6:23 am) – Filed under: Politics,Taxation ::

What made Joe Stack, 53, a computer programmer with a history of trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, write a lengthy diatribe blasting the government in general and the IRS in particular, then deliberately take to the air and crash his private plane into an office building housing the IRS’ “office of last resort”, killing himself and another person believed to be an IRS employee?

Rage.

To an observer such as myself, Stack’s actions don’t make a lot of sense. Whatever the man’s beef with the feds – and there are many legitimate reasons to have one – going out kamikaze-style, while vivid imagery, can have only one ending for the pilot, a painful death.

Further consider that the U.S. government, while having grown far beyond its Constitutional authority, is still relatively benign by comparison to other nations, even western ones. Why then does it so enrage a fringe element of society such individuals come to believe that homicidal attacks of revenge are their only recourse against it?

Injustice.

Here’s part of what Joe Stack had to say just before he dive-bombed the IRS building, killing a person believed to have worked with the agency:

image

Obviously Stack either didn’t take the time to sew the threads of his logic tightly together or he wasn’t fully capable of it. Nevertheless, he raises points that have been discussed in many homes and office buildings around this country of ours since the house of cards Wall Street built began to crumble a couple of years back.

What enrages arguably deranged individuals like Stack and ordinary Americans like myself and many others, including the much-maligned Tea Party crowd, is relative injustice of life as a working citizen of this country.

In absolute terms, Americans live the easiest and most enjoyable lives of any people on the planet. Opportunity abounds here and the vast majority of us live comfortable lives in which the most oppression we have to deal with is an overbearing superior on the job. Compared to those living in Ethiopia or Sudan or even relatively civilized countries like Egypt or Turkey, we have virtually nothing to complain about.

Yet we perceive injustice because the federal government has grown in the last century from an entity that was unable to levy a national income tax to one that seems to find it both necessary and desirable to expand its influence into virtually every aspect of private life, including the recent trend toward spying on Americans’ private communications and controlling our medical insurance programs.

As any student of psychology knows, the actuality of a person’s situation is not so important as his/her perception of that situation. Thus Joe Stack.

In truth, government is out of control in this country. Barack Obama’s brief reign in the presidency is the textbook example of what the Founding Fathers of this country were guarding against: a wasteful, bullying, confiscatorial federal government that does exactly what 51% of Congress wants it to do with no regard for the consequences their inept economic and social programs will have on future generations.

The question is not whether Stack had just cause to rebel but whether more will follow in his footsteps. I think not in great numbers. Despite the ruinous fiscal policies of the last 2 administrations, it is still possible for a hard-working American to do well and create a prosperous life for his/her family. So long as that’s true the government can rest easy that the masses will take their revolt little farther than the ballot box.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, there’s a Joe Stack lurking inside many Americans and the powers-that-be should beware lest he come out in full force against them, destroying the rest of us in the process.

Let’s pray that our leaders recognize, however, the finite and fast-approaching limits to their power.

More than that, let’s take our beef with the feds precisely to where the battle should be joined – at the aforementioned ballot box. Vote the current crop of tax-a-lot-and-spend-more-than-that Congressmen out of office. Elect new representatives who will cut spending, eliminate the wasteful bureaucracy, balance the budget, and reduce the deficit.

It’s our choice and our right to control what the people we send to Washington do. Exercise that right and there won’t be any more Joe Stacks. Fail to do so and he’ll be back with a vengeance.

Pelosi: “Jack Murtha. We will …

16.02.2010 (11:13 pm) – Filed under: My Tweets ::

Pelosi: “Jack Murtha. We will never see his like again.” Thank God for HUGE favors! 🙂 http://bit.ly/cMylme

It’s Too Late for Ken Starr to Regret Monica-gate

16.02.2010 (10:17 pm) – Filed under: Politics ::

Ken Starr, the new president of Baylor University, will always and forever be best known as the dogged prosecutor of President Bill Clinton. His new job brings him back into the spotlight for the moment where the old questions continue to haunt him. Asked if he regretted the work he did as the independent counsel investigation Mr. Clinton, Starr had this to say:

"Oh, I am. Absolutely," he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos today. "Who’s not sorrowful for the entire chapter in American history."

It may surprise readers of this column that I think Starr should regret both his participation in the persecution of Clinton and the degree to which he carried out his orders.

"The law is the law.” Says Starr. But applying the law without the filter or restraint of common sense is a sure-fire way to create injustice, as in the Clinton perjury case.

Perhaps it is unfair to criticize Starr for his role in the affair, pun intended. After all, he was not the one who sprung “the question” on Clinton while the president was on trial for allegedly sexually harassing Paula Jones. And perhaps Mr. Clinton deserved the fines and the legal smack in the chops he received for other activities for which he was not on trial.

Nevertheless, Ken Starr could have examined the matter he was charged to prosecute, found it frivolous – which the Monica Lewinski scandal certainly was – and refused to participate in the Republican-led dog pile that all but ended the Clinton administration. But he didn’t.

We’ll never know what might have happened if Starr had acted thus. Left alone, Clinton might have been able to govern the country effectively during his last 2 years in office. Perhaps he would have pursued known terrorist Osama bin Laden more aggressively, a real possibility given that the 9/11 mastermind was in the CIA sights on more than one occasion during Clinton’s presidency. Or perhaps not.

We’ll never know for sure. But one thing is certain: There is little more Starr and the Republicans in Congress could have done to create a vacuum in presidential leadership between 1998 and 2000 than they did and that’s a travesty given the insignificance of the matter over which Bill Clinton was charged.

Things We Dare Not Do (and What That Says About Society)

12.02.2010 (8:05 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Free Speech,Justice,Society ::

Despite being married, 23-year-old Alyssa Branton was stalked for months by a much older man who recently shot her dead outside her office building after she refused his advances. Despite providing more than 70 pages of documentation detailing Roger Troy’s bizarre and unwanted behavior, Branton was denied the restraining order that might have saved her life by a Florida judge. His reasoning? She hadn’t provided proof that Troy was a menace.

Evidently for some judges a victim’s knowledge of the danger she’s in doesn’t become proof until the murder is on the books. Judge Moxley, a former prosecutor, should have known better than to allow Troy to harass Ms. Branton unfettered. Her death is the direct result of his failure to intervene on her behalf. When did it become wrong to protect young, beautiful women against perverted, violent older men? That fear of wrongly limiting Troy’s rights caused Moxley to rule as he did is conjecture on my part, yet why else would he fail to execute his duty to protect Alyssa Branton?

Significantly, the Branton case is but one example of society’s impotence in the face of violent criminals. The failure to act to protect the defenseless from violent attacks has never been more evident than in the recent beating of Aiesha Steward-Baker in a Seattle transit tunnel. This brazen stomping took place in full sight of at least two Metro Transit system’s security guards who did nothing to stop the attack even after Baker was knocked down and was kicked repeatedly in the head and face.

Baker, who her attackers allege was violent herself, had repeatedly asked Seattle police for help that evening and was obviously hoping Metro security would protect her. Instead the men ignored her pleas for help and allowed the attack to escalate while they tried to talk the other girl out of her violent frenzy.

When did the idea that paid security forces are not allowed to use force to fulfill their basic duty become the rule that must be obeyed? The guards’ failure to act is an abomination and an abdication of their manhood. Yet they do not deserve the blame; rather, our system that is dominated by the ever-present fear of being sued in court is what created the circumstances that forbade them from interfering on Baker’s behalf. Such is duty and chivalry in the age of the liberal trial lawyer.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is actually increasing the scope of its police powers by obtaining personal cell phone call data, not only for matters of national security but also for routine matters such as bank robbery, etc. This is in addition to making increasingly sophisticated attempts to mine Internet browsing and email history.

The pattern is clear: Americans are discouraged, at risk of their freedom, from taking matters of their own personal security into their own hands even as local law enforcement fails to meet their needs for fear of making mistakes that might lead to public embarrassment or civil lawsuits. At the same time, the federal government is moving to make personal privacy a thing of the past.

Indeed:

the Obama administration has argued that warrantless tracking is permitted because Americans enjoy no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in their–or at least their cell phones’–whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers say that "a customer’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records"

The three cases I’ve briefly outlined above reveal a deeper pattern that we must strive to correct. Individual rights to privacy and personal security have, far from being protected by our system of jurisprudence, been diminished to the point at which Alyssa Branton was murdered in plain view of witnesses after the system failed her.

The cause of the system failure is clear, for the ability of both law enforcement and individual citizens to make judgments has been removed and a complex, legalistic web of process and procedure has been band-aided together in place of common sense and decency.

The number and type of actions that we dare not take has increased dramatically in the post-WW II era. Gone with such acts of courage and principle seems to be the American ideals of truth and justice. In their place, politically correct, non-offensive behavior is required and society has become a dimmer, less secure place as a result, at least for people like Alyssa Branton and Aiesha Baker. In contrast, the criminals who attacked them seemed confident enough in their right to act as they damn well pleased, didn’t they?

The FBI’s New Big Brother Plan

05.02.2010 (7:02 pm) – Filed under: Privacy,Technology ::

Privacy? Forget it now that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is at it again. CNET reports that the FBI is working overtime to ensure that Internet service providers (ISPs) will be forced to retain records of their customers’ use of the ‘Net for years after the fact and to make those records available to government agencies to use in criminal investigations.

In the last decade tens of millions of Americans have gotten online for entertainment, business, and even illegal purposes. Right behind them were the law enforcement officials of the FBI, CIA, and the rest of the other alphabet soup of the security apparatus.

Perhaps the highest-profile program the FBI implemented was called Carnivore, a massive Internet packet sniffer that could monitor the Internet traffic of crime suspects and ordinary, law-abiding citizens alike. The FBI defended the system, saying:

The Carnivore device works much like commercial "sniffers" and other network diagnostic tools used by ISPs every day, except that it provides the FBI with a unique ability to distinguish between communications which may be lawfully intercepted and those which may not.

As a software developer I can expertly state that, yes, the FBI could have been telling the truth. As an interested observer of the Bush administration’s tactics while running the War on Terror, I think it’s also safe to say that they were lying.

Now a new push is underway to make sure that more data than anyone dares imagine is kept on file, to be used against us.  While Greg Motta, the chief of the FBI’s digital evidence section, said that the bureau was not asking for the content data, such as the text of e-mail messages, be retained, there is no assurance whatsoever that the FBI would not retain its own records of such information and simply correlate that information with data provided by the ISPs.

Long-time readers will recall my assertions that telecom companies effectively had no choice but to turn over phone records to the government in the aftermath of 9/11. Private corporations are not equipped to stand up to the feds, nor should they be. Regardless of Mr. Motta’s assurances, this latest information warehousing scheme, which is supported wholeheartedly by state policing and other agencies in addition to the FBI, will lead to similar compromises of individual privacy.

Some celebrated when Carnivore was shut down, but that joy was misplaced. The custom sniffer program was disbanded in 2001, only to be replaced by a more effective commercial product, a change that demonstrates both the greater effectiveness of the private sector and the government’s determination to gather all available information about every one of us.