Thursday, March 3, 2011

If you don't have anything nice to say...

Apparently the saying most of us heard as children, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," didn't get through to Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist church.

Phelps and his family have made a habit of protesting the funerals of US soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They believe that the deaths of these soldeirs are God's way of punishing the US for condoning homosexuality.

The big news this Wednesday was that the US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Church's right to protest under the first ammendment's protection of free speech. If you missed the story watch this video.

It is difficult to accept that the horrible things said by these ignorant, disturbed people are protected speech, but they are.

The Supreme Court was right to defend the protestors, because free speech is something that needs to be protected. When we restrict this right only because we dislike the speech, we run the grave risk of losing this right in important matters. That is why the court ruled as it did and why newspapers and other organizations supported the Westboro's case.

I am glad that the Supreme Court ruled as they did. However, I believe that deceased and active members of the armed forces deserve our respect. Homosexuals also deserve our respect. So, I'd like to make the following suggestion:

Don't sue this church, don't say they should be thrown in jail, don't (negatively) counter-protest,
don't simply complain and condemn there actions. Instead, do three simple things.

1. Ignore the Westboro church protestors. It is difficult, but these people are after their fifteen minutes of fame and if we stop paying attention to them and feeding their egos they'll go home.

2. Let active members of the military and the families of deceased service members know they have people who support them and want them safe. Channel the energy you would otherwise spend denouncing the protests into supporting the military personnel in your life.

3. Also let the homosexual individuals in your life know there are people who support and love them.

We won't be able to, and really shouldn't, force these irrational protestors to stop spreading their hateful message, but we can drown it in an outpouring of goodwill.

Because if you do have something nice to say, you should say it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Teach me how to budget

The recent state movements to incapacitate public sector unions are ridiculous. First of all, union workers are not making enough money that these cuts will actually solve budget deficits. Second, there are plenty of other ways to address the budget problems that have yet to be tried. Finally,taking away the right to collective bargaining does nothing to fix the budget but is simply a way to allow more to be taken from public workers in the future.

The worst aspect of this whole debacle, in my mind, is the affect it will have on public education.

Teachers are some of the most important workers in America. Education is vital to the US; after Sputnik we recognized education as an issue of national security. I would argue that it still is, in the sense of economic security and maintaining America's position as a global power. The United States would not be what it is today if we had not established a system of free public education.

Also, the problems in our current education system that politicians so often reference are not going to be solved by cutting pay to the employees of those schools. Impoverishing teachers does not help them teach.

The following episode of the Daily Show highlights just how ridiculous and hypocritical Republicans are being when it comes to this issue:

I sincerely hope that no one out there thinks teachers are overpaid or greedy.

I know what it takes to be a teacher about as well as one can without actually being a teacher: I am related to many teachers, my mom is a former teacher, my girlfriend's parents are teachers, I tutor grade school children, and I have coached youth lacrosse for several years.

The fact is on top of being vitally important the job of a teacher is also very difficult.

The worst part, however, is that the pay is inadequate. Public school teachers on average do not make much money, regardless of what statistics pundits claim to have. Public school teachers get by, but they do not have the lives Fox News seems to want us to think they do.

Even if Fox were right that teachers are rich with tons of benefits, that would be fine by me. Teachers have a difficult and incredibly important job, which is not reflected in their pay. But that is a discussion for another time; right now the issue is teachers retaining what little they have now.

It is true that many states are in a bad budgetary situation and that cuts and sacrifices are necessary. The problem arises when public union employees are being asked to shoulder more than their share of the sacrificing.

Teachers can and are likely willling to sacrifice somewhat; in my senior year of high school the teachers union at our school agreed to tough cuts so that the school could rectify its budget situation. Union bargaining is a two way street; unions will accept reasonable cuts. The attempts to force cuts and take away union rights to collective bargaining shows that the Republican governors and legislatures know that they are asking for unreasonable sacrifices.

Let's look at the people who are attacking teachers. The governor of Wisconsin recieves a salary much greater than Fox's inflated numbers for rich teachers, and recieves health and other benefits from the state. Members of the legislature recieve a salary and a per diem stipend for expenses during legislative work (If they are working that day or have work related expenses the state pays, $88 max per day in the 2005-2007 session). This is a lot different than public school teachers who often buy materials out of their own pockets. The salary for State Officials in Wisconsin can't be changed during their term, but in July the Wisconsin legislature will have a chance to live up to its ideals of budget cuts.

If the governors and members of the state legislatures (who are all paid by taxpayers) attacking public sector unions all agreed to take the same kind of pay and benefit cuts and lose their right to further reduce public union worker pay and benefits, then maybe they could justifiably impose this legislation on the unions. I'll let you judge for yourself the chances of that happening.