Teachers are the real patriots

These are tumultuous times. It seems every single day brings a rollercoaster of emotions over what is going on in our country.

A couple of days ago, I read this letter to the editor in the AZ Star that floored me.

Not only that it had been written, but that the Star printed it (hope they also sent it to the FBI). But after further reflection, I realized that it is better to shine the light on hate like this. It is better to understand the threat so that we can be prepared to counter it.

This guy gets so much wrong. I too am a veteran who served 22 years in the Air Force. I too took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”. But, I don’t equate defending the President with defending the Constitution. Not, when that President has told over 10,000 lies since taking the Oath of Office and not when he refuses to respect the Constitution himself.

What is most galling and actually frightening about this letter though, is that Mr. Theriot thinks that Democrats are the enemy, not the Russians who hacked our elections and continue to conduct cyber warfare against us daily to disrupt our operations and sow hate and divisiveness.

Ultimately though, I remain hopeful. For every Theriot, there are dozens of others like a group of teachers in Flagstaff who recently pushed back on an invite from the Arizona Chamber. Saying they “recognize the gesture of a Teacher Appreciation Dinner, we respectfully decline the invitation. We feel attending your dinner would be condoning the AZ Chamber’s many coordinated attacks on public education over the years. You see, educators have been pleading with the state of Arizona for adequate public education funding for an entire decade, and it seems that at every turn, the Chamber of Commerce has been there to block our efforts and work against us.”

There is much to be proud of with these almost 100 teachers’ not only taking the stand, but individually putting their names on the letter to the Chamber. In our hyper-polarized nation, it is increasingly difficult to take a stand. But, these teachers understand that, “if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” So, they stood and said “we cannot and will not ignore the Chambers’ agression toward public education funding, and we refuse to allow your organization to bask in the glow of a feel-good PR campaign while consistently working against the interests of educators and working families across our great state.”

The teachers were also clear that they “will always welcome any collaboration with the business community designed to achieve positive educational outcomes for all of Arizona’s children.” They aren’t closed off to innovations for the betterment of all students, they just aren’t going to accept a system that is increasingly stacked to benefit those who “have” over those who “have not”.

I’m guessing Mr. Theriot would be as aghast at these teachers’ letter, as I was at his. The difference though is that the teachers’ words are aligned with the Constitution and good old American values, not at odds with it. They are exercising their 1st Amendment Rights to call out hypocrisy, not promising the “wrath of Hell will descend” on fellow Americans. The teachers are also standing up for their public school students, not a President who is a pathological liar and of whom, Mitt Romney said he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection”.

Where Theriot said, “there are many retired military who will protect our president” (in spite of the Constitution one might surmise), the teachers called out the AZ Chamber for their work in scuttling a ballot initiative supported by the voters and for giving “enormous tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy instead of requiring them to pay their fair share for the benefit of all”. They also called out the Chamber for making “it a top priority to devastate educators’ retirement security by privatizing our pensions”, demanding “the Chamber of Commerce leave our retirement funds as the earned, defined benefit they are.

These teachers, standing up for those most vulnerable among us, are the real patriots. They know there can be no great democratic republic when there is no educated citizenry and that our public schools are the only ones that can address the problems we face at the scale demanded. Over 90% of America’s K–12 population attends public schools and that is where our singular educational focus should be. No. That is where it MUST be. Yes, to provide an engaged citizenry who can think creatively and determine fact from fiction.

The focus must also be on public schools to ensure our country stays strong. According to The American Conservative in 2018, one in three potential recruits are disqualified from service because they’re overweight, one in four cannot meet minimal educational standards (a high school diploma or GED equivalent), and one in 10 have a criminal history. In plain terms, about 71 percent of 18-to–24-year-olds (the military’s target pool of potential recruits) are disqualified from the minute they enter a recruiting station: that’s 24 million out of 34 million Americans. The article didn’t mention that the frenzied focus on high-stakes standardized tests and siphoning money from public schools have largely not improved achievement, but often robbed our students of opportunities such as physical education, art, music and more. Research shows curriculums must be robust to adequately develop all parts of the mind and to keep students engaged in school. Unfortunately, students in schools that are able to offer more, have plenty of other choices besides military enlistment.

Yes, we have much work to do. But, allowing ourselves to be divided and conquered, whether by Russia, partisan politics, or school privatizers is not going to help us get it done. To stay strong and prosperous, we must be true to what is referred to as the “immortal declaration”. From the Declaration of Independence, it states that, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

America is undoubtedly a long way from realizing this dream. But even the aspiration itself is one of the things that sets us apart from most other nations and is one that we should fight tooth and nail to achieve. As patriots, we must steadfastly reject the nightmare Theriot and others like him would have us embrace and continue to fight with all our power for this American ideal and the Dream it promises.

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Enough of Trump’s Sh*tdown

Ever since Trump announced his candidacy, up has been down, black has been white, wrong has been right. That trend continues as a man who is viewed by his supporters as a populist (seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people) obviously cares nothing about the 800,000 federal employees (about a quarter of all government employees) who are not being paid during this partial government shutdown.

This Trump Shutdown is now in its 16th day and some 420,000 government employees designated as “essential” (in some cases, the lowest paid) are being forced to work without pay. The New York Times writes, “This includes upward of 41,000 law enforcement officials [including FBI and DEA], 54,000 Border Patrol agents, and 53,000 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers”.

It can be no surprise that now some of those TSA employees have begun to call in sick in protest. According to CNN, “as many as 170 TSA employees called out [sick] each day this week” at New York’s JFK International Airport. At the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, “call outs have increased by 200%–300%.” And, union officials are predicting call-outs will increase when agents miss their first paycheck, forcing them to find other jobs to put food on the table, or pay their rent, or to stay home with their young children because they can no longer afford child care. What will happen is largely unknown though, since as TSA Administrator David Pekoske said, “We’ve never had a situation where officers did not get paid” since recent shutdowns have been of a duration that didn’t result in pay delay.

This, in a job where the annual turnover rate at some airports is already as much as 80%. About half of TSA agents after all, make less than $40,000 per year, and I for one, can’t imagine these jobs are the most fulfilling, stressless ever created. And, even if there are plenty of people to backfill departing employees, the on-boarding and training of replacement employees must be incredible and the instability and uncertainty caused by this shutdown aren’t going to help.

Reduced safety and security though, are the focus of airline pilots from Delta, United, JetBlue and others who have President Trump. “In a scorchingly fact-based letter” writes Inc.com, Captain Joe DePete of the Air Line Pilots Association (representing 61,000 pilots), wrote,

“I am writing to urge you to take the necessary steps to immediately end the shutdown of government agencies that is adversely affecting the safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system.”

He goes on to write,

“The nation’s airspace system is a complex transportation network that involves government and industry partnerships to function properly, and the disruptions being caused by the shutdown are threatening the safe operations of this network.”

Finally, DePete points out

“Mechanical inspections, drone oversight and new enhanced communications systems are all threatened. Worse, air traffic controllers, airspace system maintenance personnel and Air Marshals are working unpaid.”

And although a TSA spokesman said,

“Security effectiveness will not be compromised and performance standards will not change”,

eventually something’s got to give. As a veteran TSA official said,

“If you’re not seeing long wait times at airports, there’s something on the security side they’re not doing.”

Options airports may use to keep lines down include fewer random pat down security checks on passengers, giving passengers who have not been vetted for the PreCheck program an expedited screening, or the use of a procedure called “positive passenger bag match” to loosen standards for checked baggage.

This is a scary proposition, but it shouldn’t be the only shutdown consequence giving us pause. A Republican authored op-ed in USAToday.com uses irony in its lead stating,

“In the name of strengthening border security, Trump refuses to fund the FBI, TSA, Coast Guard and Border Patrol(!). You can’t make this stuff up.”

And the New York Times Editorial Board writes that, “Trump’s Shutdown is Not About Border Security”, but rather, that the

“800,000 federal employees, and the citizens who depend on them, are being hurt for an empty political stunt.”

After all, they write, Congress has already,

“on a bipartisan basis…been allocating more money for border security – although the administration has spent less than 10 percent of what [has been] allocated in the past year.”

That’s likely because Trump claims there can be no border security without a wall, and he isn’t willing to learn about why that just isn’t true. He even claims that “‘many’ federal workers have urged him to ’stay out until you get the funding for the wall.” I doubt very seriously this is true, since a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that “only a quarter of all Americans support the shutdown” and only 35% favor including wall money in a spending bill. More likely this is about Trump placating his base as Senator Lindsey Graham recently expressed on Fox News,

“If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president. That’s probably the end of his presidency.”

No matter the reason for the shutdown, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) says forcing employees to work without pay “is nothing short of inhumane” and has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration. A previous such suit was filed during the 2013 shutdown and a federal judge finally ruled in 2017 that, “the government had to compensate 25,000 federal employees for damages due to the 2013 shutdown because it was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act to make workers do their jobs during the funding lapse.“ Those employees have yet to receive their damages compensation, but AFGE is hopeful that the precedence set will expedite matters this time around.

Of course, federal employees aren’t the only workers in government that are affected by the shutdown. More than 40% of the federal government workforce in fact, are white- and blue-collar contract employees, and many of the latter, in lower wage jobs as janitors and security guards. These workers likely won’t ever be compensated for their lost wages. Likewise, small businesses that depend on the patronage of government employees (restaurants for example) won’t recoup the revenue they are losing.

Ultimately, no matter the outcome, the shutdown will hurt us as a nation more than help us. The longer it continues, the more important work will backup, to include business ability to “E-verify” immigration status of new hires and immigration courts to deal with their already overwhelming backlog. Experts also calculate the shutdown will end up costing us more than the $5B Trump wants for his wall. According to Time.com, Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul said the 2013 shutdown that lasted 16 days

“cost us more to shut the government down than to keep it open”,

a statement rated true by Politifact.

The costs incurred according to the center-right American Action Forum, include federal budgetary costs, forgone services, and economic disruption. The federal employees will after all, eventually receive their back pay; and there is cost associated with: shutting down and reopening offices, lost productivity, inability to collect permits and fees, and a lowered GDP growth (estimated at $2B to $6B for the 2013 shutdown.) And in 2013, we weren’t also paying for President ordered troops to the southern border to fight off the threat of a migrant caravan. The Pentagon estimated it would cost $72M to pay for the deployment through December 15, 2018. The administration is now considering  an increased presence there until September 2019.

We recognize when troops are being used as political pawns though, because we’ve seen it before, even on our homeland. As the Associated Press wrote last year, “When former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama deployed the Guard to the border in 2006 and 2010, they were pushing Congress to pass wide-ranging overhauls of immigration policy. Both overhauls failed. A 2011 government review estimated the Bush and Obama deployments cost at least $1.3 billion.

Whether it is federal employees not getting paid, or troops going on BS missions, enough, is enough. I’m sick and tired of the little guy always taking it in the shorts while the powerful play silly games. Here’s an idea. How about the American people demand Congress work without pay until this issue is resolved? What if every single one of us called our U.S. Representatives and Senators over the next few days and left them the message that they should lead by example and work without pay if they are going to continue to require essential federal employees do the same? Here’s a link to the contact information for members of Congress: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. It’s a small action, but as Margaret Mead said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Please let Mattis’ resignation be the wakeup call

President Trump’s capitulation to Turkish President Erdogan’s demand for U.S. troops to leave Syria takes me back to 1989 when I was assigned to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. It was during Operation DESERT STORM that I first learned about the Kurds and Turkey’s desire to destroy them. Even while we were busy securing a no flyzone to protect the Kurds, the Turks were using joint intelligence to go after them. I knew the Turks considered them terrorists, but hey…one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. My country had the latter opinion – back when we at least pretended to care about “little” things like human rights.

As a young Captain assigned to the 39th Combat Support Squadron at Incirlik AB, I was in charge of food service, lodging, furnishings management and the milk, laundry, and mortuary operations at the base. Initially a sleepy hollow, things heated up real quick when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

We received the execution order for Operation Desert Storm (to expel occupying Iraqi forces from Kuwait) on January 13, 1991, and the ensuing six weeks were the most satisfying of my entire 22-year career. My provisional squadron of 95 personnel and I were doing what we’d trained to do and everyone was committed to the mission at hand. At our level at least, there were no mixed messages. We were there to fly, fight, and win. It was hard work, but we believed in the mission and knew we had the full support of our commanders, to include our commander-in-chief.

Fast forward to today. Our troops now have a Commander-in-Chief who doesn’t care to learn the importance of our alliances and nor evidently, does he care about the real threats posed by our long-standing enemies. He has yet to visit the troops in a combat Area of Operations (AOR) and much worse, has no concept of the danger he puts them in by tweeting about troop withdrawals with no thought given to the process or the implications thereof. Remember, this is the guy who brushed off his lack of a specific policy to defeat ISIS saying,

“I have a substantial chance of winning. If I win, I don’t want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is.”

Evidently, he has no problem now with announcing his intent to cut and run. It should tell us everything we need to know that both Erdogan and Putin praised ”the Donald’s” withdrawal of U.S. forces. Trump is giving them exactly what they want.

General Mattis understands this and that’s why even after Trump announced his decision via Twitter, Mattis went to the White House to try to change his mind. It was of course to no avail, and Mattis was left with no choice but to tender his resignation. We should all be horrified it has come to this. Mattis is a highly respected, combat-tested, career soldier who has many times over, proven his dedication to duty and our country. This is a man who has been quoted as saying,

“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”

Yet, he has now been forced to recognize that his only recourse to the craziness coming out of the Oval Office, is to basically admit failure and resign in protest.

As reported on TheAtlantic.com, A senior U.S. national-security official who spoke on condition of anonymity said,

“Mattis is the last brake on a president that makes major life-and-death decisions by whim without reading, deliberation, or any thought as to consequences and risks.”

I couldn’t agree more with this statement. I don’t however agree with the rest of his statement that,

“The saving grace is that this president has not been tested by a major national-security crisis. But it will come, and when it does, we are [f*cked].”

This president HAS been tested by a “major national-security crisis”, continues to be tested every single day, and is found to be severely wanting. Although there are plenty of people who seem to think that a foreign power influencing our elections is just politics as usual, it is not political, nor is it usual. What it is, is sophisticated cyberwarfare and it should not be tolerated, not for one red-hot second. Not only has Trump tolerated it, he invited it and has essentially worked to provide top cover for it ever since he was elected.

Thus far, General Mattis had been successful at moderating Trump’s dangerous, knee-jerk tendencies. From Trump’s disdain for NATO, to his desire to strike North Korea and/or withdraw from the Korean peninsula, to his demand to kill Bashar al-Assad, and much more. Time and again, Mattis managed to talk Trump down from potentially disastrous decisions, smooth the ruffled feathers of our allies, and remain effective at providing top-cover for the troops.

Now as this last line of defense crumbles, we must see Mattis’ resignation as a serious wake up call. We, the American people, must demand of Congress, a co-equal branch of government to the Executive, to be the check on a president who would be king. Otherwise, as his malfeasance continues to catch up with him and the walls close in, he will become increasingly desperate to deflect blame by creating chaos. So much has happened in the last two-plus years that we never could have imagined. Is it really that unimaginable that this President would create a situation to grab more power by declaring martial law or, God forbid, launch nuclear weapons? Is it?