Whopper Alert!!

In the ongoing anti-trust review of the AT&T / T-Mobile merger, AT&T has announced that they’ll hire 5000 new workers if the merger goes through.

You’d have to look awfully hard to find a merger of this scope where the workforce of the combined company actually increased post merger. One of the principle incentives for such mergers is to increase the per employee revenue. I’m sure with the focus on jobs being in the forefront of everything at the moment I guess AT&T figures this is a good strategy to apply pressure to the regulators considering the merger. AT&T knows they can say anything they want without obligation.

I’d bet my life this is a big whopper.


Morons Minding the Store

I’ve read any number of things worth commenting on today but the FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, gets the heads up for his ridiculous statement about the damage from hurricane Irene.

“The good news, based on these initial reports, is that there hasn’t been major damage to our communications infrastructure, except for damage along coastal regions hit hard by the storm,” he said in a statement.

How’s that? Everything is fine. Except where the hurricane hit. OK.

The extent of the damage wreaked on the East Coast’s communications infrastructure became more apparent on Monday as new reports trickled in to the Federal Communications Commission.

As of Monday afternoon, as the storm moved north, the commission reported that 44 percent of the cell tower sites in Vermont are out of service, more than a third are out in Connecticut, 31 percent are out in Rhode island, and a quarter are out of service in Virginia.

Meanwhile, the percentage of cell sites that are out of service in North Carolina declined slightly to 11 percent from 14 percent.

So far, Hurricane Irene has put 6,500 cell phone sites out of service, knocked out 210,700 landline phones, crippled two television stations, affected a million cable customers and taken 10 radio stations off line.

These numbers are larger than the ones reported Sunday afternoon by the commission, which at the time said 1,398 cell sites were not operational. That could be because many of the cell sites at the time were operating on back-up power.

But it also appears that the number of cable subscribers whose cable service has gone down has doubled from 500,000 on Sunday.

Nevertheless, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Sunday that in his opinion, the damage to the communications infrastructure wasn’t “major,” and that first responders were not impeded in their emergency communications.

“The good news, based on these initial reports, is that there hasn’t been major damage to our communications infrastructure, except for damage along coastal regions hit hard by the storm,” he said in a statement.

“The FCC remains on active watch around-the-clock to assess and respond to outages where necessary,” he said. “I have also spoken directly to the CEOs of wireless, telco and cable companies, and we are working to ensure continuation of service, and that service is restored quickly where needed.”

How Important is This?

The potential impact of Elizabeth Warren as a U.S Senator is incalculable to the progressive movement.

I’m not big on making campaign donations, I absolutely hate the system we have, but for this I think I could be convinced to contribute. I can’t speak for progressives in general but I think that maybe this feeling might be quite common and could in fact put Ms Warren in the senate.

This race will be pivotal in the upcoming election and may well set a record for political spending for a senate seat. What’ll make it interesting is the difference between Scott Brown and the republican mainstream. In these days of republican extremism, that there is even one moderate senate republican who wields any power at all is a notable exception. By current republican standards Brown more properly identifies with democrats than his own party. I’d have never thought there might be a heads up race of this nature in the state of Massachusetts or anywhere for that matter. Being Masachusetts is the very reason for this.

In the end though we have to have a democratic congress. Moderate repubs are nice but when push comes to shove they won’t vote for the majority middle class. On the really big issues repubs will make a sacrifice in order to pass crucial legislation and worry about the electoral consequences later.


Way Cool

Harriet Tubman conducted multiple missions as an Underground Railroad conductor, and she also participated in the Union Army’s Combahee River raid that freed more than 700 slaves.

Looking back on her career as a freedom fighter, Tubman noted, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

While awareness of the truth of corporatocracy oppression is by itself not sufficient to win freedom and justice, it is absolutely necessary.

I went right to the money quote from this article because I seriously doubt the idea can be better expressed.

There is far more in this particular piece than this so it’s worth a look. Lots of us here are broadly knowledgeable about the things referred to but it’s good to examine our own activities to gauge if what we’re doing can make a difference. Breaking down political action into these three categories or ideas is helpful.

This informs me that I need to start writing more again to my elected officials.

I noted an article at HuffPo today referencing the latest polling data showing congressional repubs having the worst polling numbers ever with the tea clowns doing equally as bad. They really screwed the pooch of late and have their backs against the wall. We need to capitalize on this by keeping up the pressure right through the fall of 2012. It’s entirely possible to flip the entire congress in a good way and keep Obama in office. Just as with Bush, the repub screwups have handed us a big opportunity. Now we have to make the most of it.

That Old Tyme Religion. Better Late Than Never.

The U.S. military is being overtaken by the religious right.

Here is another of those episodes that is a huge insult to deceased veterans and their families. It seems that certain groups are trying to force a christian burial service on members and their families. What really gets in my craw about this is the deceased members have given their lives to ensure religious freedom while at the same time persons of privilege, for political gain, who are unwilling to risk making a similar sacrifice want to take it away by scheming to promote a unique faith.

I have seen two articles on the topic of religion in the military of late. One is HERE discussing DOD taxpayer dollars being expended which explicitly supports christian faiths to the exclusion of other religions.

Did you know there is now a required Spiritual Fitness Test administered to all Army members. And you can fail it!! I guess for not being spiritual enough. And we have a $30,000,000 chapel at Fort Hood in Texas. Yes, that’s thirty million dollars. In the modern army smiting our enemies is truly a spiritual experience.

And this one today about burial ceremonies. LINK

Texas Legislators and Christian Groups Fight to Insert God Into Vets’ Funerals — Against Families’ Wishes
By Alex DiBranco, AlterNet
Posted on August 23, 2011, Printed on August 25, 2011

Shouldn’t veterans and their families have the right to decide whether religion — and what kind — is welcome at their own funerals? The Department of Veterans Affairs says yes. But three Texas Congressman and Christian military organizations want to strip away this basic right. Instead, they want to be allowed to impose unwanted Christian ceremonies on the military funerals of everybody who has served the red, white, and blue.

Following the Families’ Wishes

Three organizations — Veterans of Foreign Wars District 4, the American Legion Post 586, and the National Memorial Ladies — have filed a lawsuit against VA officials at the Houston National Cemetery for banning references to God in a recent service.

“It makes my skin crawl that liberals are attempting to drive prayer out of a funeral ceremony for our heroes,” Texas Rep. John Culberson told Fox News, which has given significant airtime to the controversy. “We’re going to fix this so that no Obama liberal bureaucrat will interfere with the funeral of a hero.” In addition to supporting the lawsuit, Culberson has threatened to stop the salary of the cemetery director who enforced the no-consent-no-God rule and to hold hearings in the fall investigating the VA’s anti-Christian stance.

Republican Texas reps. Culberson, Ted Poe and Michael McCaul portray the issue as denying American heroes the religious funerals they desire. In a post with the tongue-in-cheek headline “Texas Congressmen to force Christian prayer over my dead body,” American Atheists military director Justin Griffith accuses the trio of outright lying in order to use “military funerals for political gain.” The fantasy story they’re peddling certainly plays better than the truth: that they’re expending energy and resources fighting for the right to “use Christian themes, prayers, speeches without seeking consent in every single military veteran funeral statewide.”

While the VA couldn’t comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, it stated its support for the besieged cemetery director and provided an official statement slamming the broader accusations:

“The idea that invoking the name of God or Jesus is banned at VA national cemeteries is blatantly false. The truth is VA’s policy protects veterans’ families’ rights to pray however they choose at our national cemeteries. Put simply, VA policy puts the wishes of the veteran’s family above all else on the day it matters most — the day they pay their final respects to their loved one.”

If the VA has anything to say about it, it will continue to be up to veterans’ families whether or not to have a religious service — and whether the religion is Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or a multitude of other faiths. The VA further confirmed that the changes advocated would mean imposing religious prayer against the wishes of the family.

Meanwhile, the groups filing the lawsuit are playing the victim, claiming their religious rights are being violated and complaining about how difficult it is to be prohibited from imposing their God on unwilling veterans’ families. Marilyn Koepp, secretary of National Memorial Ladies, a volunteer group that attends veterans’ funerals, shares her woes with Fox News: “It’s very hard for me to be at the funeral of one of our veterans … and we just make that decision that we will say God bless you, and how can someone tell us, no you can’t.”

But the feelings of volunteers like herself, strangers to the deceased veteran and their families, don’t matter in this situation. It’s not a ceremony for their loved ones. They’re volunteering to attend and honor late veterans — and while this is a laudable act, it loses all of its positive impact if it involves ramming unwanted religious rhetoric down the throats of mourning family members.

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF), puts the narrative back on track by pointing out that “the true victims in this situation are the families who have lost loved ones, not the volunteers who want a government platform for their religious beliefs.” Moreover, though the blame for restricting religious influence may be targeted at the VA and the Obama administration because they cut less sympathetic figures than grieving relatives, it’s really the family members who make the individual decisions about whether to have a religious burial. It’s their rights that would be taken away if the VA was forced to change its policy.

“Most people would agree that it is wrong for anyone to impose their religion on a veteran’s family without their consent, especially during a deeply personal burial service,” the VA’s response statement continues, in a pointed jab at these meddling Christian groups. “Similarly, it is wrong not to respect a family’s request for a religious service. VA’s policy is in place to protect families – whatever their choice. Out of respect for the families, VA’s policy exists to prevent anyone from disrespecting or interfering with a veteran’s private committal service.”

What’s Your God Doing in My Government?

The groups and congressmen fighting to force God on all military funerals not only disrespect atheist servicemembers, they also stomp all over separation of church and state. “As an atheist and as a soldier, I care deeply about our Constitution being subverted like this,” Justin Griffith writes at the American Atheist blog. “I am shocked that Texas’ U.S. Reps are attempting to ensure that my funeral is going to feature a state-sponsored Christian message.”

It shouldn’t be too surprising, though: Griffith points out that Rep. Culberson previously co-sponsored legislation to allow teacher- and coach-led prayer to indoctrinate students in public schools. So this is nothing out of character for the congressman from Texas.

The post concludes: “Some politicians want to sneak religion into government, and they want to do it at my funeral on your dime.”

Griffith could not be reached by phone for further comment because he’s currently deployed on active duty. But Kathleen Johnson, former military director and now vice president of American Atheists, did have something more to say.

Johnson, a veteran who works in Texas, laments that when the issue of imposing prayer on military funerals has come up, the “knee-jerk reaction” has been to side with the Christian groups. She credits their success in selling an utterly deceptive framing for this response. “These Texas congressmen are sort of leading this charge in the publicity effort to frame this as a religious discrimination issue in which Christians are being discriminated against,” Johnson commented, “when it’s actually a religious discrimination issue in which everybody else is being discriminated against.”

Both American Atheists and MAAF stated that they have no problem with religion being included in military funerals at the behest of the family. “Full freedom if the family asks,” says MAAF’s Jason Torpy. “That should be it, end of discussion.” In the absence of family preference, however, the government must not cross the line into promoting religion.

Torpy points out that while the default is always that government speech is secular, the congressmen and groups bringing the lawsuit want religious underpinnings to be the default for all official services. He also rejects the claim that banning unwanted religion violates the free speech rights of the Christian groups’ volunteers. The Constitutional principle in jeopardy is separation of church and state: Torpy argues that volunteers’ speech becomes government speech when they decide to participate in the official service, and as such is beholden to the restrictions thereof.

And while it’s really Christianity Culberson and his ilk are fighting for, Torpy believes their rhetoric often uses non-denominational theist interjections in order to avoid drawing the attention of other religious individuals, who might also want to protect their own religious freedoms and loved ones’ burials against Christian encroachment. If it’s just atheists being discriminated against, Torpy says, “they feel they can get away with it.”

The Army’s Ambiguous Arlington Policy

While the VA is under fire for protecting the rights of atheist veterans to have an official military funeral free from religion, Arlington Cemetery, the only Army-run cemetery in the United States, is raising concerns for including religion in ceremonies against families’ express wishes.

MAAF president Jason Torpy recently presided over a ceremony at Arlington for decorated WWII pilot John Hormuth and his wife Mattie. With children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in attendance, the Hormuths wanted to be remembered in accordance with their beliefs. But even though the family was explicit about not wanting any religious components to their service, these wishes were not met. In particular, a volunteer from the Arlington Ladies blessed the mourning family and presented a religious card “on behalf of the chief of staff of the Army.”

The Army and the Arlington administration have yet to respond to the family’s demand for action to end unwanted religious intrusions or to MAAF’s request for comment. “The Chief of Staff of the Army should ensure that the Arlington Ladies are not praying on his behalf,” MAAF stated in response to this incident. “The Army should ensure that Arlington National Cemetery includes religious content only at the request of the family and only under the supervision of the chaplains. MAAF applauds the care and dedication of the Arlington Ladies and other similar groups, but their care must not come at the cost of government-sponsored religious speech that is against a family’s wishes.”

Unlike the VA, which appears to be doing the right thing by atheists, the Army has not released a statement defending the right of veterans’ families to have a service in accordance with their beliefs. While Arlington Cemetery does allow families to request a humanist speaker and no chaplain interaction, an inquiry about the policy on having a ceremony completely free of references to religion or God remained unanswered at the time this article was filed.

Atheists in Foxholes

The interference with military funerals represents a particularly egregious example of attempted discrimination against atheists and Christians trying to force their beliefs where they don’t belong. The insistence on dictating the terms of a veterans’ burial, superseding the families’ wishes, goes to a callous and disrespectful extreme, yet the problems atheists in the military face are hardly confined to funerals.

There’s also simple neglect or ignorance of atheists in the military. To dispel the myth, “there are no atheists in foxholes,” MAAF spotlights the service of over 200 open atheists on its website. MAAF also has a campaign to increase the number of military humanist chaplains and to certify lay leaders to support religious chaplains, to address a lack of counseling and morale-building services for non-theist servicemembers.

Unfortunately, the discrimination against atheists takes a far more active turn as well. Kathleen Johnson relates that during her military service, she was harassed for being an atheist by fellow servicemembers, emailed threats, and even told by an evangelical commander that anyone who didn’t subscribe to her Christian beliefs would be downgraded on their evaluation. Johnson said that in her 10 years as military director for American Atheists, she’s heard countless stories of ostracism and harassment, incidents which many atheists were afraid to report to authorities due to concerns about retaliation.

Then there’s the direct promotion of religion in other aspects of military life. Johnson pointed to the Army’s mandatory “Spiritual Fitness” test, part of a $125 million Soldier Fitness program, as an example. In a recent Talk to Action article, Chris Rodda of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) discusses the results of the organization’s investigation into this program and other methods of diverting Department of Defense money toward supporting religion. Rodda writes: “Paid for with taxpayer dollars are a plethora of events, programs, and schemes that violate not only the Constitution, but, in many cases, the regulations on federal government contractors.” Military money is thus funneled toward evangelical concerts (with Bible readings between Jesus-loving songs), private Christian retreats, religious youth programs, and more.

With this kind of behavior in the military, it becomes less surprising that chapters of national veterans groups would attempt to impose Christianity on all of their fellow servicemembers, even in death.

The “War on Christmas” Playbook

“War on Christmas” is a phrase that has been used by the Religious Right to claim that their most sacred of holidays is being destroyed by immoral secular liberals, who outrageously demand that employees say “Seasons Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Come Christmas time, if you listen to Fox News, you can usually hear dramatic stories of cashiers whispering their illicit greeting to shoppers to evade the notice of their managers.

This coverage usually leaves out the fact that companies are simply being respectful toward consumers who don’t happen to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Note the framing parallels with the current situation of prayer at military funerals. Christian groups, talking heads, and politicians jump on the bandwagon, selling it as discrimination against them and infringement on their religious rights, without any consideration for non-Christian beliefs. There’s no acknowledgement that being asked not to promote religion on the job doesn’t impact their ability to celebrate Christmas however they want in their private life.

Military funerals are much more serious than holiday shopping, and as government services, the promotion of Christianity is especially egregious. But it’s useful to recognize that this isn’t a new tactic — it’s just being adapted to a new venue.

Christian groups that want to push a religious agenda have figured out that an effective way to do so is by pretending to be the victim and heading off non-Christians’ complaints of discrimination by capturing that narrative first. And as American Atheist VP Kathleen Johnson indicated — this works. Once people buy into the narrative and feel the knee-jerk reaction that Christians are being wronged, it makes it more difficult to bring them around to recognizing the true victims.

It’s a topsy-turvy situation — and a testament to the Religious Rights’ prowess at narrative manipulation — when the strangers imposing unwanted religious ceremonies succeed in presenting themselves as the wronged party.

Alex DiBranco is an editor at Change.org.

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/152143/

Getting Dumber

Every time I blink something dumber than what came before I blinked happens. Like damn magic.

Now the push is on for a four day school week to lessen the money crunch faced by strapped cities and states.
That there are people who think this is a remedy makes me want to drink this whole bottle of wine I’m working on. What keeps me from doing that is I recognize it isn’t a remedy either.

Schools Nationwide Cutting Down to 4 Days a Week, Because Wealthy Refuse to Pay Fair Share
By Sarah Seltzer, AlterNet

Posted on August 22, 2011, Printed on August 23, 2011

I doubt there’s any student in the world who would object to having Fridays off. But when it comes to policy, the increasing number of American schools moving to a four-day week is not necessarily news to jump for joy about. In fact, it’s potentially devastating for parents, school workers and students all left in the lurch by budget cuts. And it’s happening more and more, as state and local budgets shrink to tiny levels and raising taxes on the wealthy is somehow considered verboten.

This anti-school thinking is evidenced by the fact that a leading right-wing businessman wrote an op-ed yesterday in which he questioned his taxes going toward the existence of a Department of Education. “Do we really need an energy department or an education department at all?” the American Enterprise Institute’s Harvey Golub wrote in the Wall Street Journal, while arguing, contra Warren Buffet, that taxes for the ultra-rich not be raised.

We need more revenue for education, Harvey. Just ask the growing group of parents who are stuck with their young school-age children on Mondays or Fridays because the schools can’t even afford to open that day.

The Associated Press reports that the Irene-Wakonda School District in South Dakota is the latest to move to the four-day week, bringing the state close to having one-fourth of its districts on the reduced schedule.

“It got down to monetary reasons more than anything else,’’ Superintendent Larry Johnke said. The $50,000 savings will preserve a vocational education program that otherwise would have been scrapped.

The four-day school week is an increasingly visible example of the impact of state budget problems on rural education. This fall, fully one-fourth of South Dakota’s districts will have moved to some form of the abbreviated schedule. Only Colorado and Wyoming have a larger proportion of schools using a shortened week. According to one study, more than 120 school districts in 20 states, most in the west, now use four-day weeks.

The AP notes that while district officials are quick to tout the fact that there’s no recorded difference in standardized testing and so on for the schools with the four-day schedule, “parents aren’t convinced.”

Last year, the Wall Street Journal ran a big feature on the movement toward shorter school weeks as well, including a map showing at least 16 states where the policy is allowed, including Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia and South Dakota. The piece’s author found that no conclusive data could be pinpointed explaining where test scores go when Friday classes disappear.

But education advocates expressed grave concern, saying teachers had to fight to keep students focused during the newly longer days, and Randi Weingarten of the AFT noted that implementing reforms and new ideas was more difficult with the four-day week.

To be fair to energetic local educators, there are some advantages in a reduced-day schedule, particularly for older students in rural areas with long commutes, according to this 2010 piece in USA Today and this 2008 Time Magazine piece on the growing trend in rural districts from Maine to New York to Georgia to the Southwest, and even Hawaii. The practice can allow teachers more time to prepare and students more time to rest. Going to doctors’ appointments, helping out around the family farm, and other reasons to skip school may lessen in frequency. And the remaining school days will by necessity be longer and involve more tutoring and activities, which could motivate students.

But it certainly isn’t a cure-all for budget woes. Educators from other districts where the experiment has been tried have also said it was hard to keep up the pace of the curriculum and some have eventually abandoned the schedule, saying it wasn’t worth the money “saved.”

Many districts that have the shortened schedule say they’ve seen students who are less tired and more focused, which has helped raise test scores and attendance. But others say that not only did they not save a substantial amount of money by being off an extra day, they also saw students struggle because they weren’t in class enough and didn’t have enough contact with teachers.

The best conclusion that could be drawn from the small amount of research and reporting that’s been done on the matter is this: pedagogically, there’s no formula and each school and population will see different results from the shortened week. So the real question remains, why are schools even pushed to make this choice?

Regardless of what works academically for each school, the idea that many are being forced to shut down because of budget constraints is disturbing to say the least–and that’s indeed the case for many of these schools, as the WSJ article notes:

Some schools, meanwhile, say they are turning to the four-day schedule as a last resort. In North Branch, Minn., school Superintendent Deb Henton said her 3,500-student district, facing a $1.3 million deficit, is simply out of options.

“We’ve repeatedly asked our residents to pay higher taxes, cut some of our staff, and we may even close one of our schools,” she said. “What else can you really do?” Despite a “lot of opposition” from parents, she said, the district is set to adopt a four-day week for next school year.
Indeed, one of the groups hardest hit is working parents, who have to scramble for childcare on the extra day, an extra-tough task during the recession when many may need the time to work or look for work.

Another group hit hard? Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance staff and others whose smaller work-weeks may in fact be the main reason districts “save” money on the four-day week: they’re gaining extra pockets in their budgets by cutting these staff members salaries by up to a fifth. This is hardly a rejuvenating measure, and combined with the hit to parents this loss of employment could certainly put a dent in small communities’ financial well-being.

And presumably, for the day off to actually help schools academically, the facilities would still be open on the fifth day. If bus drivers and other staffers aren’t around that fifth day because of budget cuts, then how can students get to school for extra help, or activities? It completely undercuts the point.

This lost day is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to school budget cuts. But it underscores quite drastically the way budget cuts are decimating schools’ ability to make choices that will best help students; instead, they’re left playing defense. Texas, which has many districts with the four-day policy, is a particularly egregious example of the toll budget cuts have taken on education.

A local columnist explained how the 2011-’12 school year is going to begin for young Texans:

The massive cuts to public education approved last spring in Austin also will have long-lasting and devastating consequences for the children of our state. CPPP estimates that Texas schools must manage cuts, on average, of nearly $1,000 per student just when the needs of our students are increasing. Although earlier this month HISD restored some funding to schools that had been previously cut, the severity of the reductions mandated by the Legislature won’t come to fruition for another year or longer. It is clear that dark times are ahead for the hard-working employees and families of Texas schools.
Paul Krugman made a similar point earlier this year when addressing Texas budget cuts, noting that the right-wing push to de-fund schools and hurt children will result in economic pain in the future: “The really striking thing about all this isn’t the cruelty — at this point you expect that — but the shortsightedness. What’s supposed to happen when today’s neglected children become tomorrow’s work force?”

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at sarahmseltzer.com.

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/152128/