September 2009

 A new high school opening in Loudon County, Va.  next year and  named after the Tuscarora Indian tribe has left the principal to negotiate a political minefield as she chooses the school’s mascot.

Once upon a time before the politically correct thought police took over the landscape choosing a mascot was a fun and easy exercise.

But now the principal faces the challenge of finding a name that will evoke school spirit and pride while at the same time avoiding offending any and all ethnic groups and minorities.

The principal  Pamela Paul-Jacobs told the Washington Post last week that in choosing a mascot that  she wanted to pay respect to the Tuscaroras’ heritage and didn’t want to create controversy.

That controversy meant that names like Squaw, Warriors and Indians were out before anyone had a chance to vote.

After the school board in Montgomery County, Md where I live outlawed Indian names as mascots in 2001 Poolesville High School was forced to drop their beloved mascot after 50 years to become the Falcons.  My old high school which was also known as the Indians for the first 30 years of its existence is now the Warriors after re-opening after being closed for nearly 20 years.  I’m sorry but as happy as I am that the school has been given new life, I will always be an Indian.

How did we get here?  Well one reason is that activists on the issue received the backing of the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Society who have jumped on the anti-Indian mascot bandwagon by claiming there is a  growing body of research showing that the mascots create a hostile learning environment for Native American students and hurt their self-esteem.

This is another case where the feelings of the majority are being ruled by the supposed feelings of the minority.

For those at schools that have resisted the call to drop their Indian named mascots they see the names as evoking pride and honor. 

I know that when I was going to high school that it never occurred to me that the name Indian was demeaning to anyone and none of my Native American friends ever complained about the mascot.   Our mascot evoked  not only a sense of pride but one of what I’ll call toughness.  In sports you want an edge and as a athlete I would have more fear of an Indian or Warrior than a Falcon or Clown.

Paul-Jacobs thought she found a winner in the name Tribe as it conveyed a sense of family and people coming together for a greater cause, the collective group.

But fearing the PC police she decided to consult with Teresa Morris, founder of the Coastal Carolina Indian Center and a descendant of Tuscarora Indians.

Morris told Paul-Jacobs that she was honored that the school community chose the name Tuscarora but felt that was as far as it should go fearing people showing up to a game wearing war paint and making Indian chants which would be disrespectful.

Rather than the Tribe Morris suggested the state bird which is the cardinal.

Won’t that offend bird lovers who might worry that the mascot will be a meaner looking bird?

In the end Paul-Jacobs decided to drop Tribe from the list and instead will choose from Timber Wolves, Huskies and Tigers.

Political correctness run amok.  You betcha!

On Wednesday night president Barack Obama told the American public that the economy is recovering and that things are better than they were seven months ago when he assumed office.

One of the statements he made to back up his claim was that home sales were increasing.

Yes it is true that home sales are on the rise but according to the National Association of Realtors Pending Home Sales Index the increases are being driven by two factors:-lower priced homes and an $8,000 federal tax credit that will expire on November 30th.

Home prices across the nation have dropped steeply partly because of the bursting of the housing bubble but also in large measure due to foreclosures (which exert downward pressure on home prices)  that as of August were up 18% from the year ago period and are at near record levels.

The NAR estimates that 2 million people will take advantage of the tax credit resulting in an additional 350,000 sales that wouldn’t have taken place without the credit.  That sounds good but according to taxpayers paid $45,000 per additional house sold when you factor in the total of the expected credits the government will issue.  Plus since they were for lower priced homes the impact on the economy will be minimal.

So even though home sales are increasing they are largely being driven by factors other than an improving economy as Obama claims.

The president is either ignoring or unaware of a ticking time bomb that will only put further pressure on the economy and home sales, interest -only loans.

According to an analysis of interest-only loans done for the New York Times there are 2.8 million active loans worth $908 billion.

A little more than half of those loans will reset within the next two years and provide a severe test for both the housing market and the economy as the interest-only provision expires and principal is added to payments

Estimates are that depending on the size and term of the loans the resets will increase mortgage payments anywhere from 20 to 75 percent.

That will push many homeowners to the brink as home prices have fallen dramatically during the recession and incomes have stagnated at best leaving many borrowers owing more than the house is worth.

As Yogi Berra said “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

The clock is ticking away on this bomb and growing a little louder every day.

An effort to evaluate public school teachers in New York by the Department of Education through the use of reports has seemingly failed as most of the teachers have never received them.

According to the New York Times the city distributed 12,000 reports for any teacher that taught fourth through eighth grades for the last two years to see how well they did in educating students.

The reports which are not going to be released to parents uses standardized test scores to determine how much teachers have helped students improve year over year and whether they are successful with particular groups that were previously identified as struggling.

At the urging of the teacher unions the state legislature last year passed a law prohibiting the use of standardized test data in tenure decisions.   The unions also managed to get the city to agree to not make the reports public.

The school system recently graded the schools and gave 97 percent of them a grade of A or B.   At the same time the teacher reports rated 20 percent of them as “low” performers  and 60 percent as “middle”  performers.  There is a real disconnect here.

One of the reasons that the teachers haven’t received their reports can be summed up by the attitude of Odelphia Pierre the principal of Public School 129 in Harlem.  Pierre told the Times that she was worried how the reports would affect morale and told the teachers they could view the reports if they wanted.  She added that she didn’t want the teachers to be “distracted” in the middle of of the year.

She sounds like she is applying outcome based education standards to her teachers where high achievers are slowed down until the lower achievers have caught up so that the underperformers won’t have their feelings hurt.

If Pierce wants to be a a good administrator then she needs to use the report along with some other criteria to evaluate her staff and weed out the laggards who aren’t helping the students progress and succeed rather than continue to carry them and provide a substandard education.

In addition the legislature should show some backbone and rescind the law that prevents the reports from being used in tenure decisions and the city should release the reports to the parents.  They have a right to know of the teachers they entrust their children to are doing a good job.  With 80 percent at the middle to low level it doesn’t look like that is the case.

The Obama administration is hailing the success of the $3 billion cash for clunkers program that saw nearly 700,000 people trade their older gas guzzlers in for sleek new energy efficient models.

If one were to judge the program solely on the basis of how many cars were sent to the scrap heap and the short term boost that the new care sales gave to the beleaguered auto industry then maybe it was a success.

But the program was a spectacular failure as a way to implement environmental policy.

According to Michael Wara an assistant professor at Stanford Law School and a faculty fellow at the university’s program on energy and sustainable development the program cost the government $200 to $400 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions avoided.   Compare that to the recently passed climate change bill in Congress which pegged the cost to be $28 per ton by 2020.

Wara’s most conservative estimate has the cost of carbon dioxide avoidance at $201 per ton but that is based on the assumption the clunkers would have been driven another 100,000 miles each.  With many of the cars barely running that is an unlikely scenario.

If the cars could have lasted another 50,000 miles the cost would double to $402 per ton  or  $303 per ton at 75,000 miles or more than ten times the cost estimate in the climate change bill.

Just like the climate change bill which will impose huge costs on businesses and the public to reduce greenhouse gases the cash for clunkers program has proven itself to be yet another wasteful government program that was promoted as both an economic stimulus and a way to help save the environment.

In the end our children and grandchildren will pay the price of this clunker of a program for generations to come.