Guest Post: “The Wisdom of an American Teacher”

Here’s a Guest Post by an anonymous American Teacher who has posted here before. Please bear in mind, I do not endorse these opinions. I am presenting them to stimulate discussion only.

In the 1970s, intense pressure was brought to bear on public schools to include all students in the regular classroom.  Mainstreaming changed everything. Today, American schools favor what is called accessibility and inclusion.  The current order of things is taken for granted.  We are living in the unfortunate, extended afterlife of a dystopian experiment that has deskilled the American classroom.  While well-intentioned, mainstreaming students lowered standards for everyone.  It has been a change on a tremendous scale.  Education is no longer special when these students are put in the regular classroom.  It is time to abandon this project.

What is a special education student?  It has really come to be an indeterminate term.  They are a heterogeneous bunch.  We talk about them as though they are one entity, but they come in so many flavors:  the dull, the disruptive, and the dumb.  What no one wants to acknowledge about them is their abnormality.  Perhaps this point is so obvious as to be banal, but genuinely special ed students are ghastly.  Sometimes their ghastliness lies in their work; other times, it lies in their personalities.

A very basic yet simple question needs to be asked:  what is so special about special education students?  The answer: Nothing.  Nothing special is either visible or hidden in these students.  They are abnormal, irregular misfits.  Only the special can be called special.  We have become careless about this word, making it interchangeable with the abnormal. We have turned this word into just another well-meaning attempt at democratization.  Furthermore, we no longer interrogate the criteria by which we call someone special.  When even the ghastly are special, we have become dishonest.

I absolutely know that these students are not special.  I learn firsthand about these students every year in the regular classroom.  My heart races with distress in late August when I look at my roster and see all the abnormal students shoved in my room.  The difficulties with putting them there should be obvious.  With their outbursts and temper tantrums, their violations of social norms, they spark crises.  Sometimes it is hard to believe that these monsters are the creation of a beautiful God.  They are not able to conform socially.  They cast a shadow on the ability of everyone else to learn.  Their IQs tilt to the below average and they find it challenging to communicate and interact with others.  They need constant repetition; you can never give directions to them too many times.  I feel just a little bit glum when I look at their IEPs (individualized education plans) that lists all the ways the teacher must go out of his way to accommodate them.  When nearly half of a class gets extended time, preferential seating and their own study guides, the burden is not bearable.

Because mainstreaming is taken as a given, the misfits, instead of congregated in one place, are now dispersed throughout the school.  They feed into the classroom at unacceptably high rates.  Their numbers have way passed educationally possible levels, to the point where the classroom has become incoherent. I have had classes where forty percent of the students have been labeled special ed.  Sometimes I linger in the hall after the bell has rung, so much do I dread going in and dealing with the misfits.

Yet the school administration takes an unprecedented interest in these students, devoting faculty meetings and workshops to their needs.  State legislators also take a keen interest in them.  The normal student or the gifted student is no longer the driving force of the school.  He or she has become a distraction.

To be against mainstreaming is to go against the status quo; however, all of us have a duty not to look away from the uncomfortable: the abnormal have no place in a normal class.  Mainstreaming causes harm.

Putting these different kinds of misfits in the regular classroom has been an awful mistake.  The most important lesson to be drawn is that abnormal have gained more from all of this at the expense of the normal.  The casualty of mainstreaming is the normal student who now has to engage with the abnormal. Their right to a normal education has been sucked away from them.  They have been abandoned by the schools that they attend. Mixing the abnormal with the normal has proven destructive to the latter’s learning. We act as if there is very little we can do about it, yet there is a lot we can do to save the normal.

As mainstreaming has tapped into a huge parental population thirsting for services, parents have seized the government’s purse, putting their greedy hands in an expensive grab bag of accommodations.  Their kids get social workers, an IEP, a legal document which must be followed to the letter, a support class taught by a special ed teacher and a paraprofessional, and at least one meeting with administrators, social workers, speech therapists, and teachers a year.  It is easy to understand the allure of having your child labeled ‘special.’  When a child is labeled ‘special’, their services are endless.  When I first began teaching, many years ago, a severely handicapped boy was a student in my class.  Wheelchair bound, his senses, cognition, and obviously, motor-skills were severely impaired.  It was as though his mind was not plugged into his body.  Sometimes his arms jerked about.  He could not speak, read or write, yet he was taking algebra and biology.  He had his own bus bring him to school; his own aid do everything for him, from getting out his materials to taking him to the bathroom.  His parents, who lived in a home that at the time was valued at $700,000, sued the state for a $10,000 computer so that he could communicate.  The student was so cognitively impaired that the computer was useless.

People who cannot learn biology or algebra should not be in a biology or algebra class.  More important, they should not be allowed singlehandedly to derail a class with their flailing and moans.

Another year, I had a student with Turrets Syndrome in my class.  Not a day went by when he did not call out, “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.”  I ask you, is this desirable?  (I don’t know why these people cannot call out “I love you”, but that is another topic.)  His antics tore up the classroom.  The normal, talented students in my class were sabotaged by him.

Mainstreaming has achieved nothing except to remake the classroom, subjecting the class to the rule of the abnormal.  The normal can no more make normal progress.  The constant, uninterrupted disturbance of my classes, of teaching and learning, has to end.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this.  We can say no to this exasperating project and put the abnormal back in their own rooms where they belong.  When states across this country find themselves in financial straits, it is incumbent upon legislators to say no to the special education lobby and cut mandates that are unworkable.  If we stopped funding this waste with our taxpayer dollars, it would collapse.  The highest priority of a school should be education, not inclusion.  We should grant the gifted and talented the same seriousness we do the misfits, but their programs are the first to be cut.

It is to be expected that some will complain that removing the abnormal from the regular classroom is akin to a Nazi killing program.  To be clear, no one is arguing that the abnormal are unworthy of life.  They are just unworthy of life in a regular classroom.  We are not trying to determine who will live and who will die.  We are trying to create a high-functioning classroom.  After all, the misfits could be working twelve hours a day, six days a week for two dollars an hours at a factory in Chengdu.  They are not.

It is time to move past mainstreaming.  We don’t have to shove abnormal students out of sight while keeping them out of a normal classroom.  Abnormal students have no place in the regular classroom.  They can be educated to the best of their abilities in their own rooms.  A regular classroom cannot be maintained with irregular people in it. An alternative to mainstreaming has to be developed and that can only mean a separate classroom in some other wing of the building where abnormal people cannot infect the normal with their abnormalities.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: #MeToo: A Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure

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Then there was Eric Schneiderman.

After using his office as a bully pulpit to ride the #MeToo wave, the now-former New York state attorney general is yet another boldface male name to succumb to charges of extreme misogyny. Four of his exes say he subjected them to physical abuse, including choking and slapping their faces. Schneiderman claims the violence was BDSM-related fun for all concerned, just “role-playing and other consensual sexual activity.”

Students of political crisis management will see something less than an uncategorical denial of guilt in Schneiderman’s “serious allegations, which I strongly contest.” “Strongly contest” resides far on the denial-o-meter from “it absolutely did not happen” and closer to nolo contendere — which, considering that he resigned rather than stuck around to fight, it effectively is.

Schneiderman’s implosion followed the standard script of #MeToo: accusation leads to career loss. Only career loss. This is a radical departure from how American society deals with what are, after all, crimes: going to the police, filing charges, prosecuting in court. The legal system is getting cut out of the loop.

In New York, slapping someone’s face with the intent to cause physical injury is assault in the third degree, a felony punishable by up to a year in jail. Failing a documented sustained injury, prosecutors often downgrade the charge to a misdemeanor, either attempted assault or harassment. Former AG Schneiderman is having an unpleasant week. But he probably won’t be arrested.

More than a dozen men and teenage boys accused actor Kevin Spacey of sexual harassment (a tort), statutory rape and attempted rape. Prosecutors in Los Angeles and the UK are weighing whether to file rape charges, but so far the only actual sanctions have been professional, like Netflix’s cancellation of Spacey’s hit series “House of Cards.” Even so, rehabilitation may be imminent. Legendary director Bernardo Bertolucci already says he wants to work with the disgraced actor.

The only #MeToo casualties in serious legal jeopardy are the recently convicted mickey-slipping sexual-assaulting comedian Bill Cosby and predatory producer Harvey Weinstein, though Weinstein’s problems aren’t all directly attributable to the sordid behavior that destroyed his Hollywood empire. Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. is also investigating whether Weinstein misused company money to pay hush money to his accusers.

For the most part, #MeToo targets who stand accused in the court of public opinion for criminal acts will never face them in a court of law. Comedian Louis C.K. and PBS talker Charlie Rose are alleged to have committed indecent exposure (a misdemeanor that can get you 15 days in prison plus a $250 fine in New York, where Rose lived). Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore allegedly lured a 14-year-old girl into his car for sex, which would expose him to felony charges and 10 years in prison (but the statute of limitations has expired). If Today show star Matt Lauer used the secret Bond villain-like button under his desk to prevent a woman from leaving his office while he was hitting on her, that’s unlawful detention in the second degree, a misdemeanor that carries a one-year prison term. These men lost their jobs. But there’s no indication they’re in danger of prosecution.

#MeToo seems both too much and too little.

Too much, because the loss of hard-won career success is no small thing. On February 10, 2018, President Trump asked aloud: “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” Setting aside the hilarious incongruity of a person who kills with drones fretting over due process, Trump is correct in one respect: the #MeToo movement has claimed a lot of scalps in a very short time.

The president probably wasn’t thinking of Al Franken, but in his case the ratio of sanction — being forced out of the Senate — to seriousness of alleged offense — butt-groping — felt excessive to Democrats. As a liberal and self-professed feminist, however, the added charge of hypocrisy came into play.

If you were raped or sexually assaulted, however, #MeToo sanctions may feel like too little.

What even many thoughtful men fail to understand is that #MeToo is not, nor does it seek to be, a legal process. It is a cultural reaction to a legal system that fails women accusers. It is a workaround. It is a drive to change what constitutes acceptable behavior on a date, at the office, in the bedroom. It has nothing to do with due process — because due process hasn’t worked for women victims.

Victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment who want to hold attackers criminally accountable face structural challenges: embarrassment, fear that their attacker will hurt them again, a culture of slut-shaming that questions whether a woman “asked” for “it,” police personnel who discourage them from going forward and even threaten them with jail for lying, and the trauma of having to relive a terrible experience most people would rather put behind them. In part because of those obstacles about two-thirds of sexual assaults go unreported to police. 97% of rapists get away scot-free, a higher percentage than for other crimes.

Some women who don’t go to the police think the cops won’t do anything to help. They’re not necessarily wrong.

Any DA will tell you that sexual assaults are tough to prosecute. There is almost never a witness, so things come down to “he said/she said,” with two people giving differing versions of the same event. No one wants to see innocent men convicted of rape or sexual assault on the word of one person, the accuser.

The problem is, the legal system makes filing charges so daunting that the court system never gets a chance to adjudicate many cases. The accused are entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence. But accusers deserve access to the courts.

Many #MeToo cases involve sexual harassment, where the only legal redress available is filing a civil lawsuit. There too the hurdles are close to insurmountable for all but the most determined and/or deep-pocketed of plaintiffs, beginning with the simple problem that few lawyers take such cases on a contingency and ending with the inherent challenge of proving that the acts happened in the first place. On the other hand, there’s zero barrier to entry on Twitter.

            This is not to say there aren’t false accusations, or at least accusations that don’t rise to the level of reliability necessary for a conviction. The Columbia University “mattress” case and the University of Virginia/Rolling Stone fiasco come to mind here. Though some #MeToo activists urge us to “believe all women,” granting automatic credibility to any demographic or social category defies common sense.

What is necessary is for the authorities not to automatically believe every accusation, but to take accusers seriously and treat them with respect. Until that happens, those seeking justice for sex crimes will continue to make do with the clumsy, imperfect and startlingly extrajudicial process of cultural and professional shunning embodied by #MeToo.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Thanks to Trump’s Perfidy, Iran is Now on a Higher Moral Plane Than the U.S.

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            President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the nuclear weapons deal that President Obama cut with Iran brings with it a number of negative ramifications.

First and foremost, this unilateral act of reckless brinkmanship increases the chance of war. That’s unconscionable. By the way, Iran isn’t like Afghanistan or Iraq: it’s a big, modern country, half the size of Europe, with a real military and an air force that can defend itself.

Second, like many of Trump’s actions, the pullout is a policy decision based on a lie: by every reliable metric, Iran was keeping up its end of the agreement.

Third, the American decision will hurt the Iranian economy. Sanctions make ordinary people suffer. And they will increase, not decrease, support for that country’s religious establishment and the sectors of the government it controls. Ask the people of Cuba if sanctions and economic deprivation lead to regime change.

But there is an aspect of this “I’m taking my toys and going back to my yard” action that may have even broader implications than war and peace, yet receiving short shrift by the American media: Trump just put Iran on a higher moral plane than the United States.

Honor matters.

That’s especially true in international diplomacy, the art of mitigating and resolving conflicts between nations that often don’t share a common language, much less cultural or religious attitudes. When a nation as powerful as the United States, which has done more to shape the postwar international order then any other country – there’s a reason that the United Nations is in New York — behaves dishonorably, it establishes a precedent whose repercussions will reverberate long after the crisis at hand is a distant memory.

A core principle within high-level dealmaking is that regime change does not erase treaty obligations. A revolution can overthrow a government or a shah, an ancien régime may wind up on the trash heap of history, but other nations expect each successor regime to honor deals signed by its predecessor. Border lines remain intact, embassies respected, peace deals honored. In the real world, of course, stuff happens, as when Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic revolution and held staffers hostage for over a year. Still, the ideal remains. And the duty to live up to that ideal falls hardest on the biggest and most powerful nations.

One important aspect in which the Islamic Republic of Iran has respected the international order has been its commitment to honor the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty even though it was ratified by a government it opposed and violently replaced, led by the deposed Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in 1970.

Since the revolution the International Atomic Energy Commission has never found Iran in violation of the NPT. Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that the country does not want to develop nuclear weapons. In 2005 Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even signed a fatwa banning the “production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.” Most reasonable people believe the Iranians do not want nuclear weapons, only nuclear power.

Yet the West, led by the United States, has often accused the Iranians of using the pretext of nuclear power development and medical research as a cover for such a proscribed program. But positive proof of Iranian noncompliance — which admittedly would be difficult to obtain — has never been presented publicly. In 2014, Iran agreed to the Obama Administration’s “Joint Plan of Action,” which increased inspections and reduced the country’s stockpile of enriched uranium in exchange for gradual easing of economic sanctions.

Again, there is no reason to believe that Iran hasn’t kept its end of the deal.

Now here comes Donald Trump, killing the JPA for little apparent reason other than the fact that it was put into place, not by a previous government with a completely different political orientation as was the case for the NPT ratified by the Shah and maintained under the Islamic Republic, but merely a different president, a Democrat, Barack Obama.

Trump’s announcement was long on red herrings, pretzel logic and silly smears, and woefully short on evidence, much less proof, that there is any justification to gin up yet another crisis in the Middle East. Contrary to the facts, Trump even cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s clownish presentation of obsolete 15-year-old Iranian documents as “definitive proof” that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Netanyahu’s bluster proved nothing of the sort.

Trump says he wants to make a new deal. But who can trust him, or the United States, if the terms of an agreement can be changed on the political whim or after the election of a new president? Credibility and trustworthiness are hardearned; fecklessness destroys in an instant what it takes decades or even centuries to build up.

Now we are facing the ludicrous request by the leaders of Great Britain, France, and Germany that Iran continue to keep up its end of the deal despite the #USexit. Germany and Britain urged Iran to “continue to meet its own obligations under the deal.”

Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. Whatever happens next, though, the Iranians are not the ones tarnished by the dishonor of failing to adhere to an agreement negotiated by their own government.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Guest Post: The Life of an American Teacher

As always, the opinion of American Teacher are not mine, but are posted to stimulate discussion.

It took me just six months to realize that students have no interest in Sophocles or Beowulf. They don’t know who Epictetus, Montesquieu, and Locke were; and moreover, they do not care.  They are not driven to learn.  Education begins not with teachers, not with schools, but with desire, insatiable desire.  The generation that will replace us lacks desire.  The secret to their hearts is apathy.

This total absence of desire was crystallized one afternoon many years ago when I was helping a student with his paper.  I turned to look at the boy to make sure he understood.  He wasn’t looking at the paper.  He had not been listening.  He had been looking at the back of my head.  I stared at this shining example of apathy.  “Can I go pee?” he finally asked.  I nodded.  The past six months became clear.  I realized then that none of my students were fired up and that it was beyond my capacity, indeed any teacher’s capacity, to fire them up.  Any warm, fuzzy illusions that I still harbored about teaching teenagers were swept away.

That students found no interest in learning did not make me inconsolable.  Students taught me and I learned from them.  I learned to be deeply practical.  I learned to separate my job from my life.  I learned to swallow my saliva and withhold comments.  I learned that rules do not apply.  I learned to shape my own destiny and I came to believe that everyone, including students, shapes their destinies.  How burdened would I be had I not been such a quick learner.

I make a handsome living.  What with health benefits and life insurance, I make well over six figures.  I pay less than $50 a month for health insurance.

By contract, teachers work 185 days a year.  The reality is a lot less.  There are the sick days and personal days.  I take all of them.  Mid-term week and finals week, just sit there.  All the other testing days, whether mandated by the state or given by the teacher.  Field trips.

Movies.  Guest speakers.  Half days.  Snow days.  Delays due to weather.  Evacuations due to threats.  Assemblies.  Goof-off days like the last day of school and the day before Christmas break.  The list seems endless.

I have evolved techniques to get through the rest of the year.  Technology is my friend.  My classes spend Mondays in the computer lab doing “research.”  Some weeks, we need to do more research.

The Scantron machine is also a friend. After collecting the tests, I run them through the machine.  I don’t think that I’ve graded a test in years.  Ditto for papers.  I found a computer program that grades them for me.

I celebrate everyone’s birthday.  Cupcakes are cheap.  And they’re tax deductible.

It’s wonderful to have good friends.  One of my friends is an assistant principal, who makes out my schedule every year.  Every teacher has a duty, such as a study hall.  My duty is to help the assistant principal.  I go out and get coffee, breakfast, whatever she needs.  We sit and eat, gossip while she qvc shops.

I found myself discovering all sorts of little freedoms.  I use my prep period to run errands, go to the bank, pay bills, get some shopping done.  Sometimes, I go home and let the dog out.  Unless it is pouring outside, I take care of me during my prep.

I became sly and wily. I park my car in back of the school behind a dumpster.  Being able to sneak in late and sneak out early is worth the awful smell.  I shirk every responsibility that I possibly can.  Only if it is absolutely necessary and I need a spawn of Satan kicked permanently out of my room do I write a report.

What could be easier than all this?

I do this because it does not matter.  I could stay at school until ten o’clock every night, designing lessons and correcting papers and nothing would change because at some point, at the end of some very long day, it is up to students.  My students were a bad influence on me.  They have dragged me to their depth.  They and the parents, administrators, education professors, and politicians who abet them are the villains of this tragedy.

Listening to their vulgar, slang-filled conversations, I look at my students as a form of entertainment.  I hear about everything in their lives, from acts of physical intimacy to bowel movements.  At sixteen and seventeen-years old, their slates are still blank.  I do not believe that they have been endowed with complex brains.  There are students who sit in class, staring straight ahead, doing absolutely nothing.  I used to think that they were thinking deep thoughts.  Now I realize they think about nothing at all.  They are like old men in wheelchairs that you see in nursing homes.  One day I expect to see someone drool.  Their frontal cortex, that part of the brain which runs short-term memory, motivation, and attention, seems severely stunted.  I am convinced that our closest genetic cousins, the chimpanzees, are more mentally active than these kids.  Sometimes I give them little art projects where they can color.  Based upon my experiences in the classroom, I am no longer sure that I know human beings when I see them.  The ones that I don’t like I largely ignore.

I learned this all in just half a year.  The outrage at student apathy vanished.  I stopped trying to fix people and became happy in my impotence.  I’m just a teacher in a classroom.  If students do not see that education is in some sense a matter of survival, then I cannot make them see it.  It’s not my job to save people’s lives.  I am not a venal person.  I am a realistic one.

All of my teacher friends are like me, but not all teachers are like me.  There’s one teacher who constantly says to her students, “Thank you for the gift of you.”  You’ll never hear me say that.  Another one crouches besides her students as she talks to them. It’s not a pretty sight.  You’ll never see me do that.  Then there was the teacher running after the student who was walking briskly away from her: “Please, let me help you,” she beseeched the girl.  You will never see me plead with a student.  There was also the teacher who said to me, “While we’re here, we’re everyone’s mom and dad.”  I’ve never had a thought remotely like that.

Some teachers get genuinely upset at snow days or two-hour days.  “I have to get through the curriculum,” they gripe.  The only thing that perturbs me is having to make up a day in June.  I love delays.  “Twenty-minute classes are my kind of day,” I think.  We don’t have to make those up.

I recognize that my apathetic students are casualties of failed parenting and pedagogical practices.  When everything is handed to them, from food to study guides, students cannot be induced to work.  The more they are provided for and the more indulged they are, the more lazy they become.  Socialist-inspired handouts have killed desire in students.  Now, they don’t care.  So I don’t care either.  No one can be as invested in his education as the student himself.  My classroom just holds a collection of bodies.  Dedication is unnecessary when you are working with kids who don’t give a damn.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Remember When? The Border Wall Used to be a Left-Wing Thing

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Illegal immigrants, President Trump claims, are pouring over the border from Mexico into the United States. That’s not true now; notwithstanding the ballyhooed caravan of Central American migrants who recently arrived at a California crossing, illegal crossings are hitting historic lows. There’s actually a net outflow. But it was true until the early 2000s — which is when the left was calling for a border wall.

“Legal immigration should become safe, legal and commonplace,” I wrote in 2005 in response to George W. Bush’s call for a guest worker program for illegals. I opposed Bush’s plan because it would hurt American wages and job prospects. “At the same time, no nation worthy of the name can tolerate porous borders. We can and must seal our borders to prevent economic migrants, terrorists and others with unknown motives from entering the United States.”

It seems strange to recall, but support for stronger border controls was a common thread among both the populists of the America-First Pat Buchanan right and the labor-protectionist left that backed Bernie Sanders. Now the right, led by Mr. Trump, monopolizes the cause of economic nationalism — but recent history shows that there’s a even stronger, non-xenophobic for protectionism on the left. The problem is, Trump and Congressional Republicans haven’t been willing to make concessions to get The Wall (or a cheaper high-tech alternative to bricks, mortar and corrugated fencing with negative environmental impacts).

For their part, Dems have adopted a policy stance that thoughtful leftists recognize as nonsensical and ideologically incoherent.

First, mainline Democrats have been arguing, we should look the other way as foreigners enter the country unchecked because we need undocumented workers to take low-wage occupations — picking fruit, plucking chickens, making our hotel beds — that Americans don’t want. But that’s not only is not true, it cannot be true. Without undocumented workers, employers would be forced to offer higher wages for those tasks they couldn’t automate. Inflationary risks and agriculture sector disruption notwithstanding, raising wages for unskilled labor would create upward pressure on wages up the salary chain. Simple supply and demand. The removal of 11 million consumers, however, would depress spending on goods and services as well as sales tax collections.

The other pillar of Democratic immigration policy is so absurd that the party rightly refuses to articulate it: that border controls are inherently racist and xenophobic. No other country thinks so. You can’t sneak into Uruguay or Tanzania or the Seychelles without a visa (much less look for work) and hope for anything other than arrest and deportation. Controlling the flow of human beings into one’s country isn’t bigotry. It’s one of the fundamental characteristics of a modern nation state. One could sooner do without minting one’s own currency or issuing postage stamps.

Yet the status quo, a tacit open door at various crossing points, is all Democrats have to offer: more of the same lunacy.

The only reason the Democrats get away with their sophistry is that Trump’s comments about illegal immigrants during the campaign (Mexican rapists, etc.) were so vicious and toxic. On immigration, he out-crazied the Democrats. In power, the Trump Administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws has come across as gratuitously cruel.

Trump’s ban against visits to the U.S. by citizens of six Muslim nations said to be associated with terrorism was launched so haphazardly that families with visas and/or official refugee status were turned away at JFK airport after boarding planes in their home countries with legitimate documents. Refugees from Syria, where a civil war rages in part because one side was funded and armed by the U.S., have almost all been refused entry although most Syrians fleeing the war zone are doing so precisely because they are enemies of ISIS and other radical Islamist groups out to attack American interests.

News reports have showcased sobbing families watching relatives who came here illegally from Latin America but have lived exemplary, law-abiding (except for their immigration status) lives as entrepreneurs and parents, being sent to countries like Honduras where they fear for their lives. Trump threw the “Dreamers” — kids without criminal records who came to the U.S. essentially as luggage, with their parents — under the bus. Americans support borders, but not these kinds of deportations — and thus not this Wall.

You may have been born here. But there’s a good chance that someone in your family tree arrived at Ellis Island or somewhere else without their paperwork in perfect order.

Like any other country, the United States ought to vet everyone who seeks to enter its territory. We need less illegal immigration and more legal immigration. As we reduce unauthorized land crossings and overstayed visas, we ought to increase opportunities for foreigners to apply for legal visas with a clear path to a green card and citizenship. Unlike undocumented workers preyed upon by rapacious employers because they live in the shadows, legal immigrants can insist upon fair legal wages. Admitting them puts less downward pressure on wages.

We need a realistic approach to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently here. So what if we wind up “rewarding” people who technically broke the law? We left the border open, we hired them, we chose not to enforce our own laws. This is what happens when a rich country leaves open its border with a poor one. Those who committed serious felonies (far fewer than three percent) should be carefully evaluated to see if they are likely to reoffend after serving their prison sentences; those determined not to have been rehabilitated should be deported to their countries of origin.

The others should receive amnesty. Most of the beneficiaries of Ronald Reagan’s 1986 mass amnesty worked out fine.

Immigration hardliners worry that each amnesty is a precedent for the next one, but that will only be true this time if we again fail to secure the border.

If Republicans keep the House next year, Trump will get his wall — or groundbreaking on one before a future Democratic regime halts construction. With that outcome less than certain (to say the least), Trump could secure the assent of the progressive populist base of the Democratic Party if he were to throw in legalization of the straight-and-narrow illegal immigrants who are already here along with an end to his Muslim ban.

Republicans could point to a promise kept on border protection. Democrats could throw a bone to a restive base on economic nationalism without climbing in bed with Trumpian xenophobia.

A win-win. Almost like Washington in the old days.

Never happen.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: America is one of the Few Cultures with Insults for Smart People

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There was controversy about it, but the Inuit famously and really do have at least 50 words for snow. The Scots have 241!

The Sami people of northern Scandinavia and Russia use more than 1000 words for reindeer.

Sanskrit, the language of the Kama Sutra, offers 267 words for love.

Languages tend to evolve to reflect the cultural and practical priorities of the societies that speak them.

This linguistic truism came to mind recently when, as part of research for one of my cartoons, I turned to Google Translate in search of a French translation for the English word “geek.” There wasn’t one. Nor in Spanish. All the Romance languages came up short; Google suggested “disadattato” in Italian, but that’s different — it means “misfit,” or “a person who is poorly adapted to a situation or environment.”

A “geek” — “a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked,” according to Merriam-Webster — is decidedly distinct from a misfit.

You can tell a lot about a culture from its language. I had stumbled across a revealing peculiarity about American English: we insult people for being intelligent.

That’s not true about most of the rest of the world.

At least among Western cultures and compared to many others, we Americans enjoy the dubious distinction of having a high degree of linguistic diversity when it comes to mocking the smart and the educated (who, I can attest as the expellee-cum-graduate of an Ivy League school, are not always the same).

Bookworm. Brain. Brainiac. Dork. Dweeb. Egghead. Freak. Grind. Grub. Longhair. Nerd. Poindexter.Pointy-headed. Smarty-pants. Techie.

            Esoterically, doubledome.

You have to journey far away from the areas dominated by the Indo-European language group in order to find direct equivalents of words like “nerd.” On the other hand, languages like French are extremely rich in insults for stupid people: “bête comme ses pieds,” or “dumb as hell,” literally means “as stupid as his/her feet.” Apparently this derives from the fact that feet are the body part furthest away from your brain. More zoologically, “blaireau” (badger) refers to an idiot.

When you think about it — which, being American, we rarely do — it should come as little surprise to realize that few insults sting the French more effectively than being called stupid. France, after all, is a country with a 385-year-old parliamentary body composed of academics and other notables who rule on the usages, vocabulary and grammar of the national language, the Academie Française, and where one of the most popular television programs in history featured intellectual authors smoking like chimneys as they ruminated over the cultural and political controversies of the day, “Apostrophes.” After food and wine, the French worship the life of the mind.

The United States, on the other hand, elected Donald “Celebrity Apprentice” Trump over Hillary “I Have a 12-Point Plan” Clinton.

Bush over Gore.

Ike over Adlai. Twice.

As CUNY Professor Deborah M. De Simone notes in her essay discussing Richard Hofstadter’s classic Pulitzer-winning book Anti-intellectualism in American Life, the 2000 Democratic nominee’s IQ proved divisive: “Al Gore was both mocked and applauded for the depth and manner of his oratory while George W. Bush was both ridiculed and embraced for his unsophisticated vocabulary.” A reporter assigned to cover Gore’s campaign complained about getting stuck with “the government nerd.”

Bush wasn’t really stupid. The point is that he pretended to be, and rather convincingly. After losing an election in Texas, young Dubya had sworn, Scarlett O’Hara-like, never to get outcountrified again. Bush won reelection in 2004, in part because voters infamously told pollsters they’d rather drink a beer with him than with the more intellectual “French-looking” John Kerry.” (Talk about dumb! Bush was a teetotaler.)

Trump won the beer poll question during the 2016 presidential campaign. Like Bush, he doesn’t drink.

Europeans make fun of dumb people.

Americans elect them to high office.

Despite the rise of Silicon Valley and its technoelites, the Revenge of the Nerds in the South Bay has managed to line stock portfolios without moving the needle on America’s cultural values. Jocks still rule high schools that spend millions on new football stadiums while starving the arts. Faced with foreign policy crises, even “liberal” Congressmen reflexively endorse bombing over diplomacy in order to look “tough.” Scientific geniuses like the late Stephen Hawking are framed as cultural curiosities to marvel over rather than heroes to be emulated as are football players, rappers and movie stars (specifically buff men who act in action movies).

One can reasonably argue over which country, the United States or France, is superior in various respects. But how, as we transition to an information-based economy, can we doubt that elevating intelligence as a sociocultural ideal is, well, smarter than elevating buffoons?

Maybe it’s time to take a cue from our proudly pro-intelligence and pro-education cultural cousins across the Atlantic. Point at President Trump and other public figures whenever they say anything that sounds less than intelligent, and laugh at them. Not only for being racist, rude or insensitive — but just for being stupid.

Dumber even than their feet.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Support Your Local Cartoonist

I recently learned that I am about to lose one of my major cartooning clients. I am looking for work and scrambling to replace it. I represent a unique voice in American politics — an unapologetic leftie, totally independent, congenitally unable to sell out. I am loyal to ideas, not parties. I care about people, and how to make their lives better. I have an obligation to keep going.

I know you appreciate what I do or you wouldn’t be here. So I am asking, if you are not already pitching in, to support my work and point-of-view by visiting my Patreon page and committing to a monthly donation. If even 1% of the people who read this site made even a modest donation, I would easily be able to replace the income from my lost gig and focus on my work.

This is the new model of support for political cartooning and writing. Another way to think about it is, if you’re like me, you are only paying a small fraction of what we used to pay for newspaper and magazine subscriptions in the 1990s. So you’re already saving money on news, even if you do help your favorite content providers!

Thank you for reading this…

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ban Drones

Image result for sky full of drones           Ban drones.

Why not?

We have succumbed, in recent years, to technological passivity, the assumption that there’s nothing we can (or should) do about what an older generation used to call “progress.” But that’s not true.

War goes on, yet most of the world’s nations came together to ban landmines. Mines, humanity decided, were a horror we could no longer live with because their murderous potential remained long after the frontlines moved elsewhere, even after hostilities ceased, and mostly hurt civilians. Similarly, chemical weapons were banned after mustard gas scarred the World War I generation.

Here in the United States, societal consensus supports bans of hollow-point bullets that explode inside the body (they’re currently banned by the military), high-capacity magazines for guns, the bump stocks that came to our attention after the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, and semi-automatic assault rifles.

Weapons aren’t the only tech to which society simply responds: “Hell no. Just. No.” Human cloning has prompted calls for bans by those who believe we shouldn’t plow ahead without better understanding the potential downsides. Alcohol and cigarettes are banned for children. Lots of drugs are banned. Banning products is a well-established societal and political prerogative.

Drones should be banned too: military drones as well as recreational ones. We already have a substantial body of evidence that they are dangerous. Potential advantages, on the other side, seem relatively modest. They’re cool. I’ve played with them.

No one has sat down to consider, in a careful measured way, the pros and cons of unmanned aerial vehicles. Where, as our skies are about to turn into the Wild West, are the Congressional hearings and expert opinions?

If you stop to think about it, selling drones to any yahoo with $400 is a recipe for chaos. Launched from the roof of a Manhattan apartment building, a pervert’s drone can peep through windows. A terrorist, or merely a doofus, can fly one into the blades of a low-flying helicopter or into the engine or windshield of a plane approaching the airport. And they will. It’s only a matter of time.

The terrorism potential became evident in 2015 when a guy accidentally flew his Phantom drone onto the White House lawn. Loading one with explosives is easy. Or a gun—a father and son affixed a pistol to a drone and fired it remotely in the woods of Connecticut.

I’m even less sanguine about corporate and institutional applications. Whether it’s Uber and NASA’s announcement that they plan to launch flying taxis in Los Angeles or Amazon’s imminent fleet of delivery drones, I’m not sure I want to live long enough to hear buzzing drones where birds are supposed to sing, or see some dude’s dinner pass overhead. Maybe a sane compromise is possible, like limiting the gadgets to flight paths above major roadways. Why can’t we figure that out now, before the inevitable technological growing pains (aka deaths and injuries and overall crapitude)?

While it’s easy to imagine how drones can improve our lives—they have already found missing hikers in the wilderness, for example—it is impossible to overstate how creepy it would be to put them into the hands of law enforcement. Obama attorney general Eric Holder said in 2013, and no legal expert challenged him, that the feds have the right to launch military drone strikes against American citizens on U.S. soil. California cops used one to track a rogue LAPD officer a few years ago. Local law enforcement drones could catch speeders, scan for expired vehicle registration and inspection stickers (stationary devices already do) and use thermal imaging devices to conduct warrantless searches. And there will come a day, not in the distant future, when the same Cleveland police department that shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death for the crime of playing while black will type commands into an iPad that controls an armed drone that blows up more innocent civilians.

This is serious, major dystopian horror-show crap. Can’t we stop it before it starts?

Overseas, and thus far from the decreasingly vigilant eyes of our increasingly establishmentarian journalists, the Trump Administration is expanding the military drone assassination program Obama expanded after inheriting it from Bush. Formerly focused on killing young men and whoever happens to be nearby in South Asian zones like Pakistan, where studies show that 98% of the thousands of victims were innocent, the drone killers are ramping up in new places like Africa.

“The number of American strikes against Islamist militants last year tripled in Yemen and doubled in Somalia from the figure a year before,” reports The New York Times. “Last month, an armed drone flown from a second base in Niger killed a Qaeda leader in southern Libya for the first time, signaling a possible expansion of strikes there.”

Like the innately disconcerting notion of letting local-yokel cops run wild with facial-recognition-enabled autopiloted self-guided missile drones, it is impossible to overstate how self-defeating America’s drone program has been to U.S. interests. Unlike here, where the nearly daily attacks barely rate a mention in the news, people in other countries and especially in the Muslim world are well aware of the fact that the vast majority of victims are innocent civilians, including many women and children. (Even the “guilty” men who die aren’t threats to the U.S., but rather to the corrupt local governments we supply with arms.) Local populations in cities where drones patrol the skies are jittery and resentful. Many have PTSD.

True, drones eliminate harm to American soldiers. But we operate them in macho cultures that prize honor and courage. Our unwillingness to risk our sons and daughters in ground combat makes us look not just like aggressors, but cowards worthy only of contempt. In a war for hearts and minds, drones are propaganda suicide.
We’ve begun a new arms race. When a foreign country or non-state actor attacks us with drones, who will listen when we complain?

Even in the short run, drone killings don’t work. “Eliminating jihadi military leaders through drone operations could temporarily disorganize insurgent groups,” Jean-Hervé Jezequel, deputy director of the International Crisis Group told the Times. “But eventually the void could also lead to the rise of new and younger leaders who are likely to engage into more violent and spectacular operations to assert their leadership.”

A drone ban doesn’t have to be forever. But it should last long enough for us to figure out, as Donald Trump used to say on the campaign trail, what the hell is going on.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Guest Post by an American Teacher: Children From Hell

The following is a Guest Post by an anonymous American Teacher who does not want to be identified. I do not endorse the opinions expressed. I present them in order to stimulate discussion on an issue of interest to readers. Comments are, as always, welcomed. –Ted

I am not the norm.  In the free-for-all of other public school classrooms, there is all manner of dining.  Not in mine.  Food is for lunchtime and in the cafeteria. I do not allow students to munch in my room.  So when Dylan brought in a hoagie from Subway, a truly awful transgression, I told him to go to the cafeteria.  He ignored me, his body hunched in an obstinate fashion.  I told him again.  Students turn nasty when corrected. Dylan put the sandwich in the bag and chucked it at me.  My stomach lurched.  It is unsettling to have something thrown at you.  You can’t suddenly switch to having a civilized class.  And writing reports on students usually causes an uproar with parents. Students always have the last word and the version of the teacher gets scant attention.  With parents backing them, there is no price for students to pay.

I have met students like Dylan not just once or twice, but again and again.  These are the Children from Hell that it is my burden to manage and accommodate.

A false impression, that the Obama administration created the discipline problems in public schools that allowed for the likes of Nikolas Cruz to run amok, reigns among some on the American right.  It is true that Obama signed off on programs such as My Brother’s Keeper and used his power to investigate racial disparities in public school discipline; however, discipline problems were wreaking havoc in America’s schools long before he took office.

Sometime between when I graduated high school and when I began to teach high school, wisdom died.  The problems of the street and home entered the calm and boring classroom; student performance declined; the expectations of teachers were lowered.  The public schools changed direction because the bedrock of society, the family, was crumbling.  The younger generation depends upon the older to do the right thing, but today the moral authority of the parents is nonexistent.  In the absence of a sense of right and wrong, families stopped working with schools towards compatible goals.  They became adversaries.  Nothing is worse than a parent not supporting the school their child attends.

As any administrator will tell you, they can’t control the parents. All that they can do is go after teachers. Go after us they did.  We are saturated with workshops on classroom management and differentiating instruction. It is easy to see through the nonsense.

Mountains of gobbledygook have been produced on the subject of classroom management, the tricks that education consultants swear will get kids to behave.  By its very nature a political term, classroom management dictates the way people speak about student misbehavior in class.  Instead of the onus on the student to behave himself, the onus falls on the teacher to manage the class.  The public is seduced by the shift because it lets parents off the hook for their children’s misbehavior.   Administrators breathe the air of classroom management because they don’t have to discipline students.  They can send the teacher to a reeducation camp.  If the student does something wrong, the teacher is either not engaging enough or is not managing the students properly.  Maybe they are even looking at the student the wrong way and the student is feeling uncomfortable.  The same classroom management strategies are uncritically repeated in education classes and workshops year after year, but the information is of little use.  There are no tricks, just a teacher putting up with increasingly bad behavior.  Nevertheless, the rules of the classroom have been changed. It is no longer possible to say something critical of students. The term classroom management has even ensnared the teacher into believing that disruptions are somehow his fault.

At the time that the moral authority of the family lost its compass, we also began accommodating students, completely accepting their differences, from the socio-economic to the ethnic and cultural to the bad day.  A bad day can be very bad, very bad indeed.  It might simply mean that the student was concussed in a car accident the previous week.  The student may have trouble refraining from cursing out a teacher for the length of the concussion.  Or she may feel anxious about returning to school and need home-tutoring for a month.  Let me tell you, it is not easy being a teacher, having to accommodate all of these misfits…oops, I meant scholars.

When the moral authority of the family collapsed, dysfunction hit the schools. One thing that students never fail at is dysfunction.  Now it is up to the school to fix it. Upon arrival, students get to go to counseling, lounging in peach-painted offices instead of history class, sitting on soft cushions embroidered with flowers rather than upright in a chair in front of a heavy text. They can leave regular class and go to their own sort of personal AA meetings with a school psychologist or social worker.  Giving students this space, to ramble on about the problems in their lives, simply means the problems develop a stranglehold on them and their schoolwork never gets done.  To feel better about yourself you actually have to accomplish things.  Perhaps a little repression is not such a bad thing.  Maybe therapy should be illegal in the public schools.

Classroom management and accommodating students changed the political climate of education.  Expecting the school system to become the parent is an impossibly tall order, but as parents do less and less parenting, they more and more expect the schools to raise their offspring and then they want to dictate to other adults about how to do it. Parents want to be pleased and to please them you have to tell them what they want to hear or they are all over you like a rash.  These parents have broken the teachers’ authority and thrown the whole system of public education into question.

Although difficult to find, there are still mommies and daddies in the same home, but there are also parents who have affairs and leave home.  Others either have criminal records or are in jail.  Too many just want to be their offspring’s friend.  Because telling one’s child ‘no’ is absent from this parenting curriculum, lippy children are never out of print.  Children are not getting nicer and nicer.  It is not wonderful to be with them, particularly when they throw things at you.  The respectable and well-brought up do not come to us.  We are sent Satan’s spawn.

Perhaps it was the way that I looked at him, perhaps it was the tone of my voice, but nevertheless, that Spawn of Satan who chucked his food at me should have been compelled to say aloud, in front of his class, an apology.  Instead he was simply shuffled off to some other class.  No doubt the shuffle has left him with a scar.

Public schools have been manipulated into trying to cure familial problems; however, schools cannot mend the problems of dysfunctional students and their parents.  One institution cannot save the other.  And progress, new-fangled pedagogical and social ideas, is destroying us.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Distractor-in-Chief Trump Is Gaslighting Us Into Forgetting America’s Real Issues

Image result for distraction trump

Eight days before Donald J. Trump took his presidential oath before a crowd whose size the president still insists on fibbing about, I wrote a column titled “Life Under Trump—What Happens Now?”

“In a dictatorship, particularly where the despot is a megalomaniac in the vein of a Saddam Hussein or a Muammar Gaddafi, citizens obsess over the Great Leader’s every move. These days, there’s no better place to witness this phenomenon than the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan,” I wrote on January 12, 2017. I described how the founding dictator of that post-Soviet authoritarian state was manic, “constantly passing edicts and decrees about anything and everything that crossed his mind.”

“Whenever I visited Turkmenistan under Turkmenbashi,” I wrote back then, “the only thing anyone ever talked about – and this included ex-pats – was Turkmenbashi.”

Sadly, my predictions usually come to pass. As I expected, the United States remains a democratic republic but under Trump, everyday life has assumed some of the characteristics of an authoritarian regime, especially our obsession with Trump.

OMG can you believe what he tweeted?

            What the hell is wrong with him?

            How long can this go on?

            Trump’s antics have prompted two strains of pundit reaction. One, represented by the comedian John Oliver, urges us to “keep reminding yourself this is not normal.” Others argue for ignoring the Keeper of the Launch Codes, at least his tweets. Ever the contrarian, I subscribe to None of the Above.

You can’t ignore the President of the United States. He’s too powerful. On the other hand, chasing down and driving rhetorical stakes through a maniac’s barrage of nonsense is exhausting and futile. You feel like a character at dusk in a vampire novel — too many undead, not enough stakes, definitely not enough coffee. The proper tack is insipid: Keep Calm and Carry On.

            Here I offer my apologies.

For 15 months I have, like my competitors in the mainstream media, been reacting to Trump: to his tantrums, to his weirdness, and the incongruous hypocrisy of Democrats who complain about stuff Trump does that is exactly the same as what Obama did (mass deportations, bombing Syria). To paraphrase Walter White in the last episode of “Breaking Bad,” it was fun. I enjoyed it. And frankly, I didn’t think he would last this long. Trump was the Political Satirist Full Employment Act of 2016. I didn’t want to miss out.

But I’ve been remiss. I have always tried to be forward-looking, to change the conversation, to argue for what we Americans ought to be doing and talking about. Reacting to the agenda of our worthless political “leaders” was something I left to the mainstream idiots of the corporate media.

I snapped back to reality a few days ago after reading another piece about the booming economy. Never mind whether Trump is priming the pump before busting the joint or whether the good times are about to end with yet another recession. Things are humming now — so now, while the getting is good, is while Americans ought to be demanding that Trump and his Congress fork over big bucks to fix the country’s long-neglected problems.

Workers ought to be out in the streets agitating for a raise: a $25-an-hour minimum wage is literally asking for nothing, since it’s the same, adjusted for inflation, as it was in the 1960s. I say go for $50. While we’re at it, let’s set a $200,000-a-year maximum wage. No one needs more.

Universal health care: it’s time America joined the rest of the First World (and most of the Third).

Three out of ten American workers are self-employed. They ought to qualify for unemployment benefits when they lose work.

A high-speed national rail system is essential to modernize America’s infrastructure and bring it up to global standards circa 1990. Estimated cost: $500 billion. No big deal: Obama spent $800 billion on his 2009 bank-giveaway stimulus bill.

Then there’s stuff that wouldn’t cost a dime, like doing something about guns and gender inequality and police brutality.

Lack of money isn’t why we’re not addressing these issues. Trump recently gave $1.5 trillion in taxpayer funds to his rich friends (and his family). The problem is a lack of focus — because we’re all too busy focusing on the Lunatic-in-Chief.

It’s time to stop being reactive. This is our country. This is our time. These are our lives. It’s up to us to ignore the twitterstorms and the random rants and demand what is our birthright as Americans: the best possible lives we can afford.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)