Monday, December 28, 2009

La Sorpresa

Last week my school held parent teacher conferences. it's a new quarter and I finally have my own classroom. Because I've only had these students for a couple of weeks, I didn't make any phone calls home to arrange appointments.  The way our school works is you leave your door open and whoever can come has an opportunity to talk to a teacher. I wasn't surprised to find that most students who came to my classroom with their parents were doing well in my class and could count on some kind words from me. One student I didn't expect to see was Jaime, who has a well deserved reputation among students and faculty for vandalism and poor academic performance. His reputation had preceded him to my classroom where one of my faithful informants had told me that the damage done to some of the textbooks and the thermostat during the previous teacher's residence in that class had been done by him. For the last two weeks Jaime has been one of my best students.
It is the natural tendency of science to want to categorize in order to better describe and understand human beings. As Valdes looks back at the scientific attempts to partition students in terms of race, which is of course scientifically a "fuzzy concept", then in terms of IQ tests which Binet, the inventor of the test, did not think were a good predictor of intelligence and ultimately in terms of culture and socioeconomic status which are so complicated it seems these last two categories could be divided into infinitesimally smaller groups until you simply arrive at one individual. I think Valdes does a good job of understanding the potential differences of students of Mexican origin between first, second and third generation Americans and between the way in which they identify either to tradition or to the streets or to aspirational America or to all of the above. Jaime is an all of the above type of student. Like so many kids his age he is till working out what and who he is and with whom he will identify. 
It seems that the reasons children of Mexican origin may not perform well in school are numerous and varied. There are plenty (a highly scientific description) of children of Mexican origin doing well at my school. The reasons for their success are less varied, As Luis Moll and Norma Gonzalez point out (at the moment of this typing my spellchecker has no problem with the proper nouns Luis, Moll or Norma but cannot recognize  Gonzalez or Valdes), students who bring to school knowledge from home which is valued by the teacher and the student already feel more successful than those whose cultural experiences are not recognized. That expectation of success engenders more of it. 
I told my students on our first day together in my new class that everyone would begin with an "A" grade. I told them that whether or not they held on to that A would be up to them. Jaime took me at my word and has worked hard to hold on to his A. Jaime's dad was incredulous when I told him Jaime was an excellent student. He told me in Spanish that he was surprised and could hardly believe we were talking about the young man standing next to him.  The dad looked at me then looked around as if there might be a hidden camera somewhere. When I told Jaime's dad that I hoped Jaime would think about going to college, the dad shook his head as if I was suggesting that Jaime take a rocketship to Pluto. So Jaime has to contend not only with the low expectations of some teachers and classmates at his school but also with the negative expectations of his own father. From my own ethnographic observations this makes the father more unique than Jaime. Most of the parents of Mexican origin that I've met have been like the mom encountered by  Cathy Amanti and Deborah Neff, they value education highly and want good relationships with their kids' teachers.
Compton is like the Placita in South Eastern Los Angeles that Rocco describes, a place where even though Latinos make up the majority, the rules, customs and leadership do not reflect that majority. For that reason the Latino community in Compton is very close knit and can be distrustful of outsiders, which carries over into students' attitudes about teachers and teachers' expectations of students.  The complexity of these relationships is accurately comprehended by Valdes.  A Mexican American teacher can be wary or even prejudiced against a Mexican American student if that student dresses like a cholo for example.  In Jaime's case the outward appearance of a thug belies the potential within. Given the opportunity to recast himself he has become, at least in one class, a diligent student.

Love Other's Children as Thine Own

Throughout my time in public schools I've worked with kids who carry the stigma of being labeled "RSP" which stands for Resource Specialized. Since most of these kids are what Provenzo describes as "mainstreamed" in public schools, they spend much of their time in regular classes but are either pulled out of a regular class at different times or spend some of their class periods with a Special Ed teacher.  Well intentioned educators have set aside extra resources to help these kids. The kids themselves are often humiliated by the extra attention and special designation. In the sixth grade class I took over last year I had one such student named Domingo. Domingo showed special aptitude in math, sometimes scoring among the highest in the class and sometimes failing tests as he saw fit to do so. A few times a week at random times he would be called into the Special Ed teacher's room and sometimes she would sit with him in my classroom. He disliked her visits and being called out of the classroom equally as he would be called "dummy" and "retard" by some of the other kids after the visit or the call. He told me he didn't want to be in RSP anymore. I talked about it with his Special Ed teacher who agreed that Domingo did not need to be in RSP class. She said he was just lazy(this teacher had an existentialist approach to education). She told me his mom wanted to keep him in RSP because it meant automatic promotion to the next grade level regardless of his academic performance. Since Domingo never did homework, rarely worked in class, and received mostly F's, this made a certain amount of sense. For Domingo to escape his designation he would have to convince his mom to have him retested and re-diagnosed. The test he would have to take again he would be likely to fail again because it is designed for children with English speaking parents which he does not have.  These are the kinds of cultural biases that Harry and Anderson found with African American EMR students in California. So much of a student's life in public school is determined by a few random days of testing. Alfred Binet, whose testing techniques would spawn the IQ test, did not want the mental age scale used to measure children's intelligence because he argued that, "the scale, properly speaking does not permit the measure of the intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable, and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured."
When I was Domingo's age I went through a phase where I disengaged from the outside world. I became incommunicative, completely disregarded my schoolwork and dragged my feet across the school courtyard like a member of the living dead. I felt separated from my body as if I were working the controls from a remote location. Like Domingo, I came very close to having to repeat the sixth grade. Without delving too deep in to my own childhood psychosis, I came out of it and re-engaged but I know if anyone had bothered to test and designate me there was a time when I would have been in Special Ed as well. Fortunately for me, I was in a very progressive private school which tolerated, if not encouraged, eccentricity.
Being different is a luxury which poor kids can seldom afford. They are tested categorized and sorted so that they can be counted later like the rest of the state's property. Domingo and many others I have met and worked with are being punished by the taxpayers of the state of California for the inconvenience of their existence. Some taxpayers clearly resent the idea that when they have already paid the expense of an education for their own kids in a private school, they have to pay for the education of some stranger's children. If that is the case then they demand accountability at the state level. Accountability means testing and categorizing so that a child can become a series of numbers and acronyms. A child can be counted in a number of ways if he or she is in RSP and an ELL with a CST of 540 but an overall API of 450. 
If the parents of such a child cannot afford private school they might have another option if they are affiliated with a church or synagogue or mosque that has a school and if they are willing to expose their kids to a certain amount of religious inculcation in exchange for more individualized attention. Even if one is not of the expressed faith of the school, this could be a worthwhile tradeoff. For example, even though part of my family background is Catholic, the other part is Jewish and I attend a non denominational Christian church. Perhaps because of my love for everything I know about Jesus, I find the sight of a crucifix disturbing and a little offensive but I am willing to tolerate the sight of one in every classroom at LMU because of the quality education I know I'm receiving there. My father, whose family is very Catholic, and who grew up in a poor urban area, credits his parochial school education with saving him from the streets. He also has bitter memories of the corporal punishment and religious indoctrination he received there but all in all he believes he might have given himself to a life of crime instead of a life of the mind were it not for the Fathers and Sisters who educated him. 
I found it interesting that in Provenzo's description of the rise of Catholic Schools in America he described the need Catholics felt to create schools of their own in a Protestant dominated society but he did not consider the very Christian motivation for the rise of so many successful Catholic schools, to minister to the poor. Provenzo accounted for the political history of these schools but not for their intrinsic mission, to help poor kids.
As a teacher I feel as though my mission as an educator is inextricably bound up with my faith. The reason I chose this work has more to do with compassion and love than with an abstract concept of "social justice". Without the central belief that we ought to love our brothers as ourselves why bother with "social" or any other kind of justice?
Like Itard and his Wild Child of Aveyron I sometimes deal with kids who seem positively feral in their ways. Through no fault of their own, they have become wild by virtue of being left to fend for themselves in a wild place. If  kids with genetic disabilities are allotted federal resources through Law 94-142, why not kids who could easily be mis-diagnosed as Special Ed because of what they've already gone through in their young lives. Kids like these can seem ferocious but in truth they are the meekest of the meek and they deserve whatever help they can get from the church or the state or anyone who is willing to help.
Chris Ciampa

Juan Takes a Test

As I was subbing a Spanish class this week a student named Juan, who I've come to know from another class, walked in visibly frustrated. I was about to tell him to get back to the class where he was supposed to be when he approached me with his upsetting news,"They're making me take the ELD test.". Juan, whose first language was English and who is currently in an honors English class, was being made to take a test to place him in a class for English Language Learners. Last week Lourdes, who I've come to know in an honors Spanish class, was being made to drop that class to be placed in a Reading Intervention class instead. This week she was switched back to honors Spanish. A mistake had been made in both Juan and Lourdes' reassignment. I wondered if it could have anything to do with their Spanish last names and the fact that the administrators were of another race. The administrators at my school are largely African American. Assumptions are being made about Juan and Lourdes because of their race by members of another race who have suffered greatly from similar assumptions.
As Omi and Winant point out, race is a "fundamental social principle of social organization and identity formation.".  So based solely on race, Latino kids can be misundersto od by African Americans as easily as they can be misunderstood by whites and vice versa. I was once told by a Spanish teacher whose class I was subbing, "Don't worry, there's no black kids in the class.". The teacher who made this statement is Mexican American. He was alluding to the fact that some of the black kids in Spanish class can act out and be rowdy. This phenomenon can be directly attributed to McLaren and Willis' idea of resistance theory. The black kids are being made to learn Spanish in the same classes as latino kids for whom the task is usually easy. The changing racial demographics of the area where I work are at play in this behavior. The area was once predominantly African American and is now mostly Latino. The black kids feel squeezed by the increasing dominance of the largely Mexican student body and are understandably resistant. Both groups have been the victims of oppression by whites. Now they are being forced to struggle against each other for the limited resources in their district.
These conditions meet Omi and Winant's criteria for  "racial formation process". The race construct is increasingly global, applies across historical time and can be applied to a historical context. The administrators who now run the school are African American in the majority and came to power at a time when the district consisted of mostly black kids. The fact that they came to power at all was something of a revolution. It probably didn't occur to most of them that they would some day be deciding the academic fate of Latino kids whose foreign sounding names and different attitudes could be confusing to someone with limited experience in that community.
I know some of these administrators and like the Mexican American teacher, to call them racist would be an affront.  As Pollock points out however, not talking about race does not "eliminate racial categories from Californian's minds.". In this instance we cannot be colormute or this problem, like the staggering lack of resources for black and brown kids, will persist.
So where do I fit in at a school which long after Brown V. Board of Education looks more like it's fate was decided by Plessy v. Ferguson, seperate and unequal?  First, I know I have been the reciepient of the "invisible privilege"  Provenzo talks about in Chapter Ten of his book.  To be able to cross that border between myself and those whose lack of privilege has been all too visible, I have to be aware of this.  I am trying to be what Kincheloe and Steinberg call a "critical multi-culturalist", questioning my own assumptions and the assumptions adopted by one oppresed race from the oppressor to limit the opportunity of another oppressed race.  I want to talk about race and how it's perception can still affect the opportunities of students who may in some places be in the majority but have not yet been afforded majority status.  To leave race-based issues unexamined would be to allow, "racial dispariites in pre-college opportunities to proceed unhindered" as Pollock describes reversals of affirmative action which have been justified by the notion of removing race as a deciding factor in education. As for Juan and Lourdes and the Mexican American teacher and the African American students and educators at my school, they all have an advocate, a go-between and "border crosser" in me.  

The Dream and The Dream Deferred

Since I began my career in education a couple of years ago I have often thought about the disparity in resources and performance between my son's elementary school in Culver City and the schools where I have worked in economically disadvantaged areas of L.A. My son's school is the embodiment of Dr. King's dream, children of every color and ethnicity playing and learning together on a sprawling, modern campus. The school where I work this year and the one I worked at last year have far less racial diversity (students are almost entirely black or brown) and are by no coincidence overcrowded and have ramshackle facilities which cannot accommodate the student body. After reading Kozol's The Shame of The Nation and Spring's discussion of federal and state involvement in public schools, I found many of my own experiences mirrored by those of Kozol and some but not all of my questions on the nature and cause of this disparity addressed if not answered by Spring.
A few weeks ago, when I peeked into my son's classroom for his fist day of the third grade, I saw what I expected to see, a class size of exactly twenty students comprised of every phenotype and ethnicity imaginable. Amongst my son's classmates, many of whom he has known since he was in a Montessouri pre-school nearby, there are four white students, six black students (two of whom are from Ethiopia), three Latino students, three Asian students, 1 Pakistani student and three students like my son who are of mixed heritage. This composition is typical of my son's school and its surrounding district. A district where as Spring might have predicted, property values remain high even in a bad economy because people of every race move there for the schools. Next to one of the architecturally beautiful buildings where my son's classroom is located there is a vast well manicured field maintained by the city's park department but available for exclusive use by the school during school hours. Last year construction was completed on a science center, with brand new microscopes, bunson burners, computers and various other lab equipment that puts anything found in the high school where I teach now to shame. To think that an elementary school has far better science equipment than my high school is frustrating but success breeds more success and in Apartheid Schools failure becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. In the school wide performance tests administered by the state my son's school has a score in the 850s (out of a possible 1000). The new principal has a stated goal of raising that score significantly every year. The high school where I teach now has scores that hover in the 540s and the principal, who works very hard to better her students' lives and prospects for the future, would be happy if the scores could reach the district highs of mid 600s. 
Culver City schools are generally the kind of schools that Thurgood Marshall, Jonathan Kozol and others involved in the desegregation movement fought so hard for. They stand as proof that integrated public schools work and that they will propagate their own success by drawing working professionals and parents who place a high emphasis on education and can afford to buy or rent there to move to the district. Conversely, the segregated schools become traps of poverty where as Kozol puts it, "residential segregation is a permanent reality.". People who can afford to move away do so and those who are left must either lower their expectations for their children's future or suffer broken hearts. In many cases I have seen, both are occurring at the same time.
I was struck by how similar Kozol's description of the California schools he visited was to what I had seen first hand. The overcrowding he described as "legendary" in California continues. Last year during a rain storm, one of my best middle school students had to quickly move to another part of the room, already densely packed with students, as water streamed in through a hole in the roof, drenching her and her homework. This year many of the ELD classes I teach are in trailers in the back of the school. My English Language Learner kids feel a special humiliation as they pile into one of these trailers. They are already aware of the segregated status of their school as the schools they see on TV and in movies like "High School Musical" bear no resemblance to where they are. Add to that the fact that they are even further segregated to trailers in the back of the school and one can imagine the predisposition they have to hear anything a teacher or any other representative of the school may have to say. The Content Standards and Assessment Data which are required to be posted in every homeroom serve as a reminder to anyone who bothers to read them of the majority of students' dismal performance on tests which seem made for them to fail. Last year when I held a long term position we dedicated roughly two out of the four months I worked there to passing upcoming standardized tests which as both Spring and Kozol point out are culturally biased and put my students, many of whom never had the advantages of pre-school or well educated or English speaking parents at a distinct disadvantage. The fact that the fate of public schools in California are so closely tied to these test scores seems like an attempt to kill public education for the poor since as W. James Popham, quoted in the Spring article points out "affluence of a child's family or a child's genetic inheritance" is really what is being tested and not the overall performance of the school.
The high school where I teach now is comprised of many highly trained and competent teachers and administrators. The chair of my English department is a Harvard graduate with several advanced degrees who after more than twenty years as a teacher remains committed to helping students make it to college and succeed in the wider world. I question some of the Obama administrations ideas tied to teacher performance because it suggests that the problem with Apartheid schools lies with the teachers and not with the Apartheid system itself. Kozol put it best when he described one California school as having "Likable children and hard working teachers and unconscionable overcrowding." That is the biggest problem as I see it. Many teachers I know lamented the bailouts of AIG and GM with so little investment in the education of the poor of our society. The Republican notion of choice is a false one. For many of the kids I work with home schooling or private schools are simply not an option. The next available choice would be daily cartoon marathons or a life on the street. There is one Republican platform idea I would endorse. As cited in Spring, "to identify and eliminate ineffective programs." If that includes the elimination of No Child Left Behind then I'm all for it.
by Chris Ciampa

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tent Cities

In late October of 1929 when stocks which had been grossly overvalued began to plummet and eventually crash, many in America, including newly elected Republican president Herbert Hoover had no idea that the stage had already been set for the Great Depression. It took Black Monday, October 28 followed by Black Tuesday, October 29, when the bottom finally fell out of the stock market, for wealthy investors, CEO's and bank presidents to understand the plight most Americans were already in.

In 1929 a minimum living wage, enough to eat and keep a roof over your head was $2000 a year. At that time 60% of Americans were earning less than $2000. A staggering 42% were earning less than $1,500. When the crisis finally came to a head at the end of October of that year, Hoover, espousing the classic Republican philosophy that government should not interfere with big business, opposed government intervention. He would later change his tune, sponsoring large federal projects like the building of the Hoover Dam but by that time it was too late. At the height of the depression, 12 million people, roughly 25% of the nation, were out of work. 20,000 companies and 1,616 banks had gone bankrupt. In once prosperous New York City, people began living in tents in Central Park. Tented communities, called Hoovervilles, sprang up across the country.

A few months ago in Reno, Nevada, a former boomtown, local residents began to notice a tent city which had sprung up on the outskirts of town. Over 150 people are now living in tents less than a foot apart from each other on a dirt patch slated to be a parking lot for a Reno homeless shelter. Most of these people recently lost their jobs. Some are new arrivals to Reno who moved there hoping to find work and found instead that no one was hiring.

As the number of houses in foreclosure has risen to 60,000 in recent months, similar tent cities have sprung up all over the country in cities like Los Angeles, Seattle and Athens, Georgia. Its no wonder that John McCain, who can't keep track of the number of houses he owns, is so out of touch with these Americans. Perhaps if McCain had only one tent to count he would not have insisted for so long that the economy was strong.

How can a man who has endured so much personal suffering be so immune to the suffering of his countrymen? Perhaps its because McCain has surrounded himself with corporate lobbyists who have run his campaign the way too many modern corporations are run, focussing on short term goals at the expense of the truth and a long term vision. Top aide John Green and national finance Co-chairman Wayne Berman were both lobbyists for the faltering mortgage giant Fannie Mae.

Daniel Gross of Slate Magazine estimates that the proposed government bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will cost taxpayers 32 billion dollars. Other economists put the price tag closer to $200 billion.

Like McCain, Herbert Hoover was insulated during the Great Depression. He was advised by corporate titans like Henry Ford. His Secretary of the Treasury was Andrew Mellon, one of the richest industrialists in the country. These men were part of the wealthiest 5% of the country whose corporations enjoyed a 62% increase in profits during the 1920's while industrial workers, whose productivity increased by 32%, only received a 10% increase in wages over the course of the decade. This inequality led to a dwindling middle class who were less and less able to purchase consumer goods, throwing more companies into bankruptcy and more people out of work. Sound familiar? It should.

George Bush appointee, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, another corporate tycoon, insisted the economy was "strong" until it began to melt beneath his feet.

At the height of the Great Depression in 1932 the well intentioned but clueless Herbert Hoover, in the face of 12,000 people losing their jobs every day, told the country,"Prosperity is just around the corner.". It wasn't.

Last year, precipitated by the bursting of another speculative bubble, this time in the housing market, formerly respectable banking institutions, having made irresponsible loans for short term profit, began to crumble leaving their investors and the American taxpayer holding the bag, an empty bag. Over the course of this fiasco John McCain has repeatedly told the country that the fundamentals of our economy are strong.

In March of this year the federal government, fearing a wider economic disaster, put up $30 billion to keep investment bank Bear Stearns afloat. A few days after the damage of the sub prime mortgage crisis was becoming clear McCain said it was his "firm conviction" regarding the American economy "that the fundamentals of it are strong".

On Monday, September 15th amidst the implosion of financial giant Shearson Lehman and the worst downturn in stock prices since the crash of 1929, Senator McCain said he still believed the economy was fundamentally strong. He went on to qualify and explain his answer, saying that he was referring to the innovative American spirit and resilience of the American worker.

Indeed, it must take an admirable amount of perseverance to wake up each morning in a tent, having lost your job and your home and still go out and look for work as most inhabitants of the new tent cities are doing.

What are the other fundamentals of the American economy to which McCain has so often referred? Employment is one. Americans have experienced seven consecutive monthly declines in employment. In the last few months 600,000 people have lost their jobs. Homeownership is another foundation of our economy. Over the last year home foreclosures are up 55%. 17% of all homes for sale in the U.S. are repossessed properties.

This year the "fundamentally strong" U.S. economy has experienced the worst twelve months of inflation in three decades. While the cost of food is rising, real wages throughout the country are declining. New York University economist Mark Gertler says, "This has been the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. There is no question about it.".

On September 18, in a flip-flop similar to the reversal of his position on offshore drilling, McCain admitted the economy was in "crisis". Now he wants to postpone his debate with Barack Obama to devote his full attention to the crisis but McCain can't divert the attention of the American people away from his own culpability in all this.

On October 22, 1999 while former McCain financial advisor Phil Gramm was sliding the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act down the American people's gullet, a bill which repealed the oversight of financial institutions which had been in place since the end of the Depression, McCain was giving a presidential stump speech attributing the nation's prosperity (in 1999) to "a lack of regulation".

The Gramm sponsored, McCain supported legislation removed the oversight of financial institutions allowing them to create loan "products" that were irresponsible and dangerous to the American people. A similar deregulation bill sponsored by Gramm allowed Enron to self report, a practice which led to the collapse of the energy power house and sent thousands of unsuspecting Americans to the poor house.

A week after the proposed 85 billion dollar AIG bailout and a few days before the 700 billion dollar bailout proposed by Henry Paulson and supported by George Bush, Sarah Palin said that the problem with the economy was that government needed to "get out of the way" of big business. How much more out of the way could it have been?

Unlike Palin and McCain, Senator Obama has always been in favor of government oversight, not only of financial institutions but of congress itself so that members like Gramm and McCain can't secretly enrich themselves the way Gramm did with UBS bank and McCain did with Charles Keating.

In 2006 Obama introduced legislation that would have created a Congressional Ethics Committee staffed with former members of congress from both parties and former judges to monitor ethics violations by lawmakers, staff and lobbyists.

Obama rightly believes that if this type of oversight had not been removed by the Republicans, the American taxpayers would not be called upon by many of the same Republicans to burden our grandchildren with more debt, 700 billion worth this time in order to bail out an out of control banking sector. Obama favors oversight, not socialism. Socialism is keeping banks that would have collapsed under the weight of their own avarice and stupidity propped up with the American people's money.

Last year, before the collapse, Obama introduced comprehensive legislation to fight mortgage fraud and abusive lending practices. His Stop Fraud Act provides the first federal definition of mortgage fraud. Obama's other policies all support disclosure and ethical practices while granting mortgage holders a tax credit and 95% of Americans a tax cut.

Obama's 50 billion dollar economic stimulus package which would put money in the pockets of hard working Americans instead of irresponsible CEO's seems modest compared to the 700 billion proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former Goldman Sachs CEO, to buy the lousy debt of formerly towering, currently cowering financial services companies.

Not surprisingly, the bailout proposed by Paulson and President Bush does not provide any federal oversight other than the fact that Paulson will be spending the money. The idea, championed by Paulson that he remain accountable only to himself as he bails out his former banking buddies would be merely offensive if it were not for the fact that under the current proposal the burned investors in these firms get no money back. That makes the Republican proposal downright execrable.

Herbert Hoover would be spinning in his grave. Perhaps Hoover and McCain are not that similar after all. Hoover was a deeply principled public servant who, though misguided, tried hard to bring propriety and fairness to the White House. Hoover also canceled private oil leases on government lands....

the Driller

The following sources were consulted for this essay:

John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash: 1929, Donald J. Mabry, The Historical Text Archive, Frank Freidel, Harvard University, The Flint Journal, Yahoo News, BBC News, FOX News, Slate Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain Forfeits

If this were a prize fight the ref would have called it already. McCain clearly wants to postpone the debate because he cannot run from the single issue Americans care most about, say it with me now, the economy. The notion that to postpone the debate will somehow benefit the American people is to presuppose that John McCain can do anything to help the American economy. He must instead claim at least some of the responsibility for our current damage since he was part of the first wave of deregulation in the Reagan era that fostered unmonitored, unsound investments which eventually led to the collapse of 747 Savings and Loans.

As a ranking member of The Senate Commerce Committee he could have done something about the next wave of deregulation pushed through by Phil Gramm but instead supported this legislation which removed oversight from Enron and the rapaciously greedy banks who now want to burden the American taxpayer with a 700 billion dollar bailout that does nothing for stockholders while ensuring the snake oil salesmen at the top of the scheme walk away with truckloads of money in tow.

And then there is the fact that McCain played power forward for the Keating Five, muscling savings and loan regulators on behalf of big campaign benefactor Charles Keating who could sink a bank faster than a brick in a bathtub.

No amount of political maneuvering will change the McCain record on giving corporate greed carte blanche to wreak havoc on our people. So, if he doesn't want to debate this issue lets just call it a forfeit and allow Senator Obama to have the forfeited air time as well.

Perhaps MCain genuinely wants to clean up the mess he helped to create. Lets hope he still wants to do so when Barack Obama is president.

To ensure a victory for the american people and not for the banking billionaires who believe they are entitled to even more of our money, please visit

and find out how you can get involved in this historic election.

the Driller

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Drill Baby Drill

On January 28, 1969, at 10:45 in the morning, oil started oozing out of a crack in the sea floor 5 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara. The crack was caused by a pipe extraction from a 3,500 foot deep well operated by Union Oil. The oil company had been granted a federal waiver to get around costly government standards and as a result used a sub standard pipe casing which directly contributed to the ensuing catastrophe.

Eleven days later, when the leak was finally capped, 3.4 million gallons of oil had spread across 800 miles of ocean, killing everything in its path and spoiling 35 miles of shoreline. Only one oil spill in our nation's history caused more damage, the Exxon Valdez.

Last week, at the Republican National Convention, a chant arose from the crowd which swelled into a resounding chorus that filled the hall for several days, "Drill, baby drill!" As I listened to the enthusiastic crowd I wondered who among them had thought about offshore drilling for even a minute before they began chanting.

Perhaps we Americans consider ourselves experts on petroleum because we use more of it than any other nation. That type of conceit is like your local life guard believing he can captain a nuclear submarine because he's spent some time in the water. Achieving energy independence is a complex issue that can not be distilled into a sound bite or a slogan.

Most industry analysts agree that it would take at least ten years, maybe more, for oil companies to obtain permits, procure equipment and do the exploration necessary to get the oil out of the ground. Even then, the amount of new oil produced would be too small to affect world oil prices.

According to Robert Kaufmann, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University, the United States could only produce an additional two to four million barrels of oil a day which would not be enough to shift the balance of global supply and demand in a world market that now consumes 86 million barrels a day. We can only guess what world consumption will be in ten years when we might be ready to bring our offshore oil to market.

By that time, while many oil fields will be depleted, oil producing nations can easily keep supply constant by limiting capacity if they know the US is producing more. In other words our production of domestic oil will never affect the price of oil on the world market. As Kaufmann points out, "There's nothing on the supply side that we can really do to disrupt OPEC's ability to influence prices."

The larger elephant in the room that the Republicans do not want to discuss (despite their love of elephants) is the idea of peak oil production. It is a geological fact that most oil wells throughout the world are very near or have passed the point at which they are most productive. Once this point is reached at any given oil well, less and less oil comes out of the ground until the amount in the well is so diminished that the cost of extracting the last few drops becomes more than the oil is worth.

The United States reached its peak of oil production in 1970. Since then we have had to import ever increasing amounts of oil from the countries that make up OPEC. These countries have either passed or are about to reach their peak of oil production as well. The simple fact remains that while world oil consumption increases at an alarming rate the amount of oil to be consumed is finite and shrinking daily. No amount of drilling in our oceans or national parks will change this fact. Barack Obama knows this which is why his energy policy, while allowing for some exploratory drilling, puts a much greater emphasis on finding and developing alternative energy sources.

John McCain is aware of the above stated facts as well. So why has he reversed his support of the federal ban on offshore drilling and become its champion? Since his pronounced flip-flop a few months ago, McCain has received roughly two million dollars from major oil companies including Exxon, Chevron and Hess. Whether McCain is now in the pocket of big oil or there is some other reason for his pro drilling stance, one thing is clear, John McCain can no longer claim to be a friend of the environment.

Its true that technology and industry standards have improved since the disaster in Santa Barbara. A National Research Council report found that the amount of oil spilled in U.S. waters had dropped from 3.6 million barrels in the 1970's to just 500,000 barrels in the 1990's. 500,000 barrels. That's 21 million gallons of oil that we know spilled into U.S. waters during the 90's. Since the majority of offshore drilling is now done on the east coast this issue ought to be of particular interest to voters in Louisiana and Florida.

As far as environmental concerns go, spillage is just the tip of the oil slick. When oil is brought up from the ocean floor, toxic substances such as mercury and lead are also discharged back into the ocean. The water pumped up along with the oil contains benzene, arsenic and other pollutants. Even the exploration that precedes drilling which depends on seismic air guns has been known to harm sea mammals.

Of course sea mammals can't vote, especially the dead ones, but what about fishermen? Priscilla Brooks, director of the Ocean Conservation Project at the Conservation Law Foundation, which successfully fought a proposed drilling lease on Georges Bank in the late 1970s says, "Today we think offshore oil drilling could be the final straw in the unfolding collapse of New England fisheries.". I'm guessing the fishing lobby hasn't made any significant contributions to the McCain campaign.

According to Mark Davis of Tulane University, who studies the current environmental impact of offshore drilling in Louisiana, the canals which were dug in the coastal wetlands to transport oil and equipment to and from the oil rigs have contributed to major coastal erosion. These canals and the resulting lack of marshland have removed a vital natural buffer against storms and helped to amplify the damage wrought by hurricane Katrina.

Last week, as hurricane Hannah threatened to ravage the already beleaguered Louisiana coast, the Republicans, in an effort to appear compassionate postponed major activity in their convention until they knew more about the effects of the storm. When the coast was clear the chanting began. What were they cheering for? A process that has already weakened Louisiana's defenses against hurricanes. Drill baby drill? How about think baby, think.

the Driller

the following sources were consulted for this essay: The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Washington Post