Category Archives: Politics

Do Not Defund the NEA and NEH

NOTE: The following is an open letter I wrote today to the board and staff of the Pickford Film Center, the non-profit organization where I serve as board president.
Dear fellow Board Members, fellow arts supporters, and members of the greater Bellingham community,
The Pickford needs your help. America needs your help. There is some indication from the White House that funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is in jeopardy. We need your help to take action to prevent this, not only for the Pickford’s sake, but for that of all arts organizations who do vital work in their communities around the country. I urge you to do what you can to protect and defend the NEA and NEH, because the arts and humanities are vital to our communities and to our democracy.
It appears that the current administration and congress plan to defund the NEA and NEH for some inscrutable partisan purpose, but the math is simple: these two endowments comprise a truly minuscule portion of the federal budget – each receives approximately $148 million annually. That may sound like a lot, but combined it is only four one-thousandths of one percent of the total federal budget. To put that in perspective, if the annual federal budget were an annual household budget of $50,000, the NEA/NEH portion would be only $2.00.
The expenditure is comparatively minuscule, but the benefit to communities is immense.
For example, since 2014, Pickford Film Center has received close to $20,000 from the NEA through the Washington State Arts Commission to support Doctober, our annual documentary film festival. In 2016, PFC received $7500 from the NEH through Humanities Washington to support Media Literacy workshops. In 2017, Pickford Film Center is currently scheduled to receive $10,000 from the NEA Art Works program to support all of our curated series and festivals.
All of this funding the PFC has received supports programs that are about inquiry, film history, foreign cultures, families, and children. These funds allow Pickford Film Center to bring in diverse films that might not otherwise be seen in this community, keep ticket prices low, raise awareness, and serve our community. They provide a vital link in distinguishing Pickford Film Center as an important service to our community. These funds enable ALL members of our community to participate in film and to have their perspectives broadened. Film has always been one of the most truly democratic art forms we have in this country, and Pickford Film Center exists to provide a forum for celebrating and advancing this aspect of our culture.
So please join me in a couple of three small actions that will help lend support for this vital piece of the federal budget, and feel free to forward this email to other arts supporters you know:
  1. If you can do nothing else, there’s a petition at the White House web site. Please sign it:
  2. Call or Write your congresspeople too, urging them to protect NEA and NEH funding in the federal budget.
  3. No matter what happens, keep supporting the arts and humanities. Whatever it is that you most enjoy, be it the cinema, the ballet, the symphony, the opera, the museum, the theatre … please keep supporting them as an audience member, an advocate, and (if you are able) as a donor. Our democracy depends on it.
Thank you.
Brian Sibley
President, Board of Directors
Pickford Film Center
Bellingham, Washington


A Letter to My Daughters

img_0944Dear Girls,

It’s Thursday November 10 2016, and the results of the election two days ago have thrown the world – our world – into a fair amount of chaos. It’s a tough time for America right now. I don’t know how to do this, really. I don’t know how to focus on getting back to running my company or to any sense of normalcy. But the one thing that has been a tremendous relief to me is to have this opportunity to be your dad. I decided to write this because, well, I’m a writer, and writing has helped me through some tough times. Hopefully, I can write my way through this.

Twins, you’re almost 15 now, and your younger sister is 11. It’s been a few years since that photo. I had hoped that you would not have to confront harsh realities like this election for a few more years. I had hoped that you could be little and innocent for a while longer. But I guess it snuck up on me. You’re growing up quickly. This election, and the campaign leading up to it, and the years that will follow, will force us all to grow up a lot more. So whether I was ready or not, it’s here. We’re in it. We have to keep going.

This election was very hard on me emotionally. I didn’t expect to feel so many things about it. From moment to moment over the last couple of days, I’m trying to just let myself feel whatever it is that I feel about it and what it means for our country, for the world we live in, for your future. Honestly, I have a different emotion about every six and a half minutes. I would love to feel an extended, deep, seething rage about it for a few hours right now. But I’m fluctuating between sadness, some rage, utter despair, tentative hope, shame, and a feeling of wanting to shield the three of you from this reality (even though I know you are prepared to face it with me).

First, you need to know: I am SO proud of you. I’m so glad that I’m raising girls. It has been the greatest gift of my life. Whenever I think over the last couple of days about what a privilege and an honor it is to be your dad, and how you’re dealing with this election, I can’t hold back a smile. Sometimes I start crying with joy. When I joke with my friends about how I feel like I’m raising a small army of feminist activists, it’s a sense of pride that warms my laughter about it.

When I realize what amazing strong women you will become, how you and your friends and the girls your age are going to become an unstoppable force for good, I know that our country is going to survive this. It’s going to be a lot of hard work. It’s going to be tears and heartbreak and triumph and joy in turns, for the rest of your lives. But I already know that you’re prepared.

Today, I’m just trying to revel in how proud I am of you. Tomorrow, we begin the rest of our lives. No matter what happens, and no matter who occupies the White House — or the state house, or city hall — I want you all to remember these things, because they will guide you in the years ahead:

  1. I know you have heard this before from me, enough times that it might even be annoying by now, but this is the big one: No one EVER has the right to treat you like garbage. Not anyone. Not ever. The president-elect has said some truly disgusting things about women, and he appears to have gotten away with it. Sadly, he’s not alone. There are thousands of men out there who believe that they have the right to treat women like crap. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to have to tell you that men will probably try to hurt you at some point in your life. Men have tried or succeeded in hurting literally every woman I know. All of them. It hurts to tell you that I know women who have been harmed so badly that their emotional scars may never completely heal. But you don’t have to accept that things will always be this way. You don’t have to stand for it. You can always say “no” to a man, no matter what he asks of you, and you don’t have to give him a reason. You don’t have to smile back at a guy because he smiled at you. You can always speak up if a man threatens you or another woman or girl or makes them feel unsafe. In fact, you have a responsibility to fight back wherever and whenever this happens. You have to stand up for each other as sisters, and to stand up for other girls and women. This kind of nonsense could end in a generation if women all locked their arms together, and locked arms with every man who believes what I believe (and there are a LOT of us). You can always call on me to help, and if I witness it myself, I promise you I will speak up without being asked. Having daughters has made me a better man, and this year’s presidential campaign has made it clear that even the best men (including me) have room to improve when it comes to respecting women. Oddly, the president-elect’s horrible behavior may have been a tremendous gift to the country, because it has inspired women to speak up, and inspired me and other men I know to change how we think about the importance of ending mistreatment of all women. So I’m committed to that deeply and personally now, in large part because of the three of you. And I will help you recruit other people – allies – to help with this too. We can change this. Little by little we can change this.
  2. Speaking of allies, they are super important. Not only do you need to seek allies (as I mentioned above) but you need to BE allies. And it doesn’t end with simply being allies to other women. You all have a responsibility to be allies with your LGBTQ friends too, no matter their orientation or gender. We live in the Pacific Northwest, and living in this particular city was a conscious choice your mom and I made, in part because we wanted you girls to grow up in a community that’s tolerant and safe, so your minds and spirits could thrive. I’m thrilled that you get to grow up in a place like this, where LGBTQ kids can be themselves openly in school, and I’m delighted that you’ve befriended some of them. These people need you. They need you more than you might realize. Because even though we happen to live in an amazingly tolerant place, there are still a whole bunch of places in the world where your LGBTQ friends are quite literally in physical and emotional danger, simply for being themselves. The world is not yet entirely safe for LGBTQ people, and they need us. They are going to need us for a very long time. We have to stand with them, we have to fight for them, sometimes we may have to even shelter them from harm. As heartbreaking as it is for me to tell you that, I know you’re three people who the LGBTQ folks can count on to be a friend, an ally, or even just somebody safe to sit with or talk to. Don’t underestimate how important even small gestures are. That stuff matters a lot, and all of my LGBTQ friends will tell you the same thing.
  3. It doesn’t end there either. You three are all white girls. One of the tradeoffs about living in the Northwest has been that you have not been exposed to much racial diversity in your lives. But the world, as you will learn when you grow up and leave home and travel on your own, is an incredibly diverse place full of amazing people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds. Our country, as you will learn over time, has a troubling, regrettable and sad history of treating non-white people like garbage. From old hurts like slavery and the systematic extermination of Native Americans, to the killing of African-American men and women by police that happens even still in 2016, this nation we love and call home has a lot of problems when it comes to equality. Just as I told you that no one has a right to treat you like garbage, and that you have to be an ally to LGBTQ people, you have a responsibility to first learn about people who look different than you, and about what they and their ancestors have endured. You have to listen to them. Then you have to not allow anyone to treat them like garbage, either. And you have to be an ally to them too. There is no such thing as “other people” – the problems and the struggles that any one group faces are problems and struggles that all of us face. We are all humans. Never forget that.
  4. There’s been a lot of talk about Democrats and Republicans in our house, on the news and probably at school too. Those are the two dominant political parties in the US, but are by no means a complete picture of what everyone believes when it comes to politics. There are more than 300 million people in this country, and probably roughly that many different points of view. Some points of view you will agree with passionately, others will profoundly shock you. Find your own point of view. This requires listening to people who may not agree with you. It requires believing in ideas and passionately debating them and defending them too. But never forget to listen. I have found (because I discuss politics a lot) that sometimes when you talk with someone who disagrees with you, the discussion breaks down very quickly over some small point of disagreement. And for many people, those disagreements end there, or escalate into a shouting match. As Michelle Obama said recently “when they go low, you go high.” I have found her words to be so validating. Many times in my life I’ve found that if you can avoid shouting, if you can listen, if you can take the high road – it is possible to get past disagreements and to find things you can agree on. That is how you can build a better world. When your mom and I got divorced seven years ago, one of the earliest and most important decisions we made was that we were going to set aside the differences in our marriage and do everything we could to stay focused on raising the three of you, even though that meant we’d be doing so in two separate houses. Your mom and I couldn’t stay married anymore, but she loves you every bit as much as I do. You may not realize it, but even to this day, she and I talk about you a lot, and we always work together to help you girls get what you need, and to help you grow up to become the women what we both know we’ll be proud of for the rest of our lives. I’m saying this because I want you to know that you’ve already experienced personally the healing of a divide like the one our country is going through right now. Your mom and I, through a spirit of collaboration on a greater goal managed to find a way to work together. If she and I can do that, I believe that anyone can. Keep your head up and your eyes on the bigger goals — that’s how you’ll know where you are and stay focused on where you’re going and fixed on what’s important.
  5. Get involved. Volunteer. No matter where you end up living or what careers you may choose, find a way to get involved and to make your community a better place to live. There’s always work to be done, and great organizations that need your help. I don’t care what the organization is, just do something that you can believe in. For me, that’s always meant volunteering with arts organizations, because I believe so strongly in the power of art, music, dance and storytelling to make our world more beautiful and to help us understand each other better. For some people, it’s serving food to people with no homes or money. For others, it’s walking dogs at the humane society. Some people coach kids’ sports. There are thousands of important causes and ways to serve your community. The important thing here is that you do it, and in a meaningful way. You all have so much to give. And there’s a bonus too: in doing this, you’ll meet some of the most amazing people in your life.
  6. Speak up. That’s a common theme here throughout all of this, obviously. But I want you all to write, to create, to work for change. That’s going to take many forms. You might need to write letters to the editor. You WILL need to send emails to your congresspeople and elected representatives. You’ll probably need to participate in demonstrations, marches and protests. You may decide to run for political office yourself someday. This country has still not elected its first woman president, so consider that one of your options as well. It could be one of you. But don’t keep your voices quiet. Speak up. The activist Maggie Kuhn said “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” Speak up for yourselves of course, but more importantly than that, I want you to speak up for the people who have no voice, or whose voices have been silenced or marginalized. This is what it means to be an ally. Use your voices. Nobody knows more than your mom and I what voices you have! Use them!
  7. VOTE! It seems hard to believe, but women didn’t always have the right to vote in the United States. People had to march and write and scratch and scream and fight (some people even died fighting) in order to make that possible for you. That’s a big responsibility. The three of you all are related to Susan B. Anthony (on your mother’s side), so you quite literally have an important family legacy to uphold. Just like your mom and I, Susan would want you girls to vote every chance you get. Vote in special elections, vote in primaries, vote in midterms, just register to vote and vote in every election you can until the day you die. Voting is your right, and it is your responsibility. This is your dad talking now, in my Most Serious Dad Voice, but if I ever find out that you did not vote in an election that happened after your 18th birthday, we’re going to have a serious talk.

I’ll stop here. You’re probably getting tired of it and rolling your eyes thinking this sounds like a lecture or something. It’s not. It’s just the thoughts of a dad who loves you more than you will ever know. I cannot wait to see what amazing women you become, and what great changes you bring to our world. You’re my three most favorite people, and I’m proud of you every day. I promise I will do everything I can to support you in all of these things above and anything else you need for the rest of my life, for as long as it is in my power to do so.




For our daughters and sons

Saturday December 15, 2012

Dear Mr. President,

As I write this, my daughter is asleep in the next room. She’s in the second grade. Tomorrow we’re going to a performance of The Nutcracker. She has a new dress, hat and shoes that her grandma bought just for this occasion. She sleeps tonight in safety and security, anticipating the joy and wonder that tomorrow will bring. And I know that tomorrow when I wake her up, she will never have looked more beautiful to me, never more precious. Her eyes will never be more blue, because of what happened.

My heart breaks for those parents in Connecticut who will not wake their daughters and sons this morning. To borrow from Abraham Lincoln’s famous letter to Mrs. Bixby, how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile them from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. I cannot imagine their horror, for it is, most truly, unspeakable.

Many people have said today that, “today we must grieve, and tomorrow or the next day we can talk about what happened, and why.” While I can understand — and even appreciate — the reasoning behind this sentiment, I cannot, and I will not, agree that we must wait to have a national discussion about the growing epidemic of gun violence in the United States. And I urge you and the members of Congress to do the same. Please do not wait to have this debate. And please, Mr. President: be strong. Something has got to change. What we saw today is not what James Madison intended when he wrote the Bill of Rights. It cannot be.

What we need now is to get real. We need to put aside the rhetoric of the past, and we must focus on a new future, one that represents the reality of today, and honors the memories of those sons and daughters who died needlessly. This is the greatest country the world has ever seen. And yet, for some reason I cannot comprehend, and I cannot explain to my daughter, we are killing each other at a rate much higher than every other developed country in the world. How can we be at once so great and so murderous? It does not have to be this way. How can we, as a free people, accept this much murder as the price of living in a free country? I’ve tried to understand it, but I cannot.

You and I have many things in common, and I’m sure we’d enjoy each other’s company. I’d very much like to share a drink with you someday. I’m sure we’d tell each other stories about the daughters we both have, who we’d do anything for. And I hope when that day comes, we can share that drink in a nation that has found a way, has seen the imperative, to prevent these mass killings from happening.

Our daughters and our sons deserve nothing less.


Brian Sibley (Bellingham, Washington)

Five Things You Need to Know About Obama’s Public Health Insurance Option

The choice of a public health insurance plan is crucial to real health care reform. Here’s what you really need to know:

1. Choice, choice, choice. If the public health insurance option passes, Americans will be able to choose between their current insurance and a high-quality, government-run plan similar to Medicare. If you like your current care, you can keep it. If you don’t—or don’t have any—you can get the public insurance plan.

2. It will be high-quality coverage with a choice of doctors. Government-run plans have a track record of innovating to improve quality, because they’re not just focused on short-term profits. And if you choose the public plan, you’ll still get to choose your doctor and hospital.

3. We’ll all save a bunch of money. The public health insurance option won’t have to spend money on things like CEO bonuses, shareholder dividends, or excessive advertising, so it’ll cost a lot less. Plus, the private plans will have to lower their rates and provide better value to compete, so people who keep their current insurance will save, too.

4. It will always be there for you and your family. A for-profit insurer can close, move out of the area, or just kick you off their insurance rolls. The public health insurance option will always be available to provide you with the health security you need.

5. And it’s a key part of universal health care. No longer will sick people or folks in rural communities, or low-income Americans be forced to go without coverage. The public health insurance plan will be available and accessible to everyone. And for those struggling to make ends meet, the premiums will be subsidized by the government.


1. “Words Designed to Kill Health Care Reform,” Huffington Post, May 7, 2009

2, 3, 4, 5, 6. “The Case for Public Plan Choice in National Health Reform,” Institute for America’s Future

PR folks: Would you represent Blagojevich?

I was asked a question this morning: “Would you represent Rod Blagojevich?” This brings up a very interesting point for PR people of all kinds. The troubled Illinois Governor is in the news again, this time because he’s skipping out on his state impeachment proceedings, which begin today. The stated reason for his absence? He’s upset that the rules of the state government prevent him from calling any witnesses to his defense. He’s annoyed by this detail, and is taking his case to the Court of Public Opinion: in this case Larry King Live, and other national broadcast outlets in New York.

As for the legality of anything Blagojevich may or may not have done, the courts and the senate will determine. In the Court of Public Opinion, the governor has decided that his only option remaining is self-defense. If you’ve been watching the news in the last three months, chances are that you have some opinion about his guilt or innocence. His appearance on Larry King Live tonight will either reinforce those opinions, or cause people to re-evaluate.

Regardless, the governor, guilty or innocent, is to be commended for his decision to talk to the American public about his side of the story. If he had acted sooner, he might not be in such a deficit of public approval. People expect a quick response these days, because they know they can get one. When a response is slow, people tend to presume guilt or assume the subject is being evasive.

Now back to the initial question: “Would you represent him?”

I believe that everyone is entitled to a competent defense. Very much like defense attorneys represent accused criminals every day, PR people can find themselves in the position to represent individuals or companies that have been accused of doing bad things.

If you were accused of a crime (regardless of your guilt or innocence), would you not want an attorney to represent you in the Court of Law? Someone with deep knowledge of the workings of the legal system who could present a case on your behalf?

Why should it be any different with the Court of Public Opinion?

What would you do?

Would You Privatize Defense?

Timothy Noah of Slate wrote this article yesterday about the case for socialized healthcare. It’s an allegorical tale of an America with privatized national defense. People who place a high value on defense (and have the money for higher premiums) would be able to afford the best defense plans, and the people with little money or inclination to put toward defense would have less expensive premiums, but higher out-of-pocket costs for paying the militia to defend them against attack. Those people living in cities that have already been attacked (Baltimore, Honolulu, Washington DC and New York) would basically be uninsurable, because the defense insurance companies would place them in a very high risk category.

Sound familiar?

This is the way the political left needs to start framing these discussions if they’re going to make people understand that healthcare, like national defense, isn’t a privilege. It’s a right. It’s a moral responsibility of the government to care for its people. Everyone, regardless of income, deserves the same access to heathcare.

In our current system, costs are skyrocketing. The system is broken, and needs to be fixed. We’re the wealthiest nation on earth, yet the only nation of its kind with this kind of healthcare system. What’s wrong with us?

Rummy-Nation …

Walter Pincus wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post about a $10 million per year bid that’s been released by the Pentagon that “calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.”

Rumsfeld has said many times (including earlier this week … see yesterday’s post on this blog) that he’s cranky about how much bad news comes out of Iraq. He often cites that the troops get far more bad press about things like Abu Ghraib and Marine soldier misconduct than they do about good things that happen like the recent announcement about the Medal of Honor recipient.

Donald, if you’re reading this (and I’m sure some one is), first of all: does this surprise you? It should come as no surprise to anyone that bad news sells a lot more papers than good news. Just pick up any newspaper in America. The stories about fuzzy puppies and acts of heroism are almost ALWAYS buried somewhere other than the front page.

Bad news sells.

You can’t censor the bad news to try to manipulate the public into believing that Iraq is going smoothly.

But you’re going to try. And in doing so, you’re going to waste $20 million. We’re not buying it, Donald.

And that goes for you, too. Dubya.

As of today: 2642 American deaths in Iraq.

Bad news, no matter how you look at it.

Feeling morally, intellectually confused?

Donald H. Rumsfeld, our Secreaty of Defense gave a speech Tuesday to the American Legion post in Salt Lake City. The text of the speech can be found here. 

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann wrote about Rumsfeld’s speech. Here’s an excerpt from Olbermann’s article:

The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday demands the deep analysis—and the sober contemplation—of every American.


Click here for the full article.




An Apple For Teachers

My boss writes a monthly political opinion column for a magazine called Northwest Business Monthly. He ran for state senate in 2004, as a Republican, though he now says that the Republican Party is frustrating to him. He calls himself a “moderate conservative.”

I don’t write a monthly column for anyone, I mostly just write this blog and discuss politics with my wife and anyone else who’ll listen. I’ve never run for public office (unless you count my unsuccessful bid for sixth grade class vice president — I think it was my philosophical unwillingness to promise Dr. Pepper in the school drinking fountains that ultimately spelled my demise). I vote Democrat, though I’d have to admit that the dems and most American politics are frustrating to me right now. I call myself a “big fat liberal”, but in truth I’m probably closer to center than I typically am willing to admit.

He and I get along very well. And while we have somewhat different politics, we have a mutual respect for each other. We welcome feedback from each other. We welcome debate. That is why today I must take issue with the two significant assertions he makes in his column in the June issue. One assertion is fairly miniscule. The other is very substantial.

The small issue: John Stossel should win some sort of “Journalist of the Year” award.

The Biggie: “Teachers are underpaid” is a myth.

I’m very upset that so many people continue to buy this notion. Teachers ARE underpaid. I’m going to show you why.

But first let’s deal with Stossel.

John Stossel of ABC’s “20/20” is a sensationalist entertainer who had frequently misled his audience (and been caught doing so). He’s not a journalist in my book. To wit: in February of 2000, he reported that commercially grown produce has no more pesticide than organic produce. Later that year, the Washington Post (a reputable publication, by most accounts) reported that the research upon which Stossel’s report was based had never been conducted. Read about it by clicking here. You can read more about Stossel by clicking here. Be sure to check the sources. They’re equally reputable. He deserves no such award.

Now let’s move on to the Big One. Stossel has written a few books, most recently one titled “Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity”. I don’t intend to read this book (and my boss hasn’t yet either, as he claims in his column). Stossel asserts the common claim that “teachers are underpaid” is a myth. 

When I got incensed about reading this in my boss’ column, I called a friend in California who’s a teacher. What follows is a fairly simple explanation for the fact that teachers are underpaid. It’s not my idea, and I won’t take credit for it, but it is important to understand nonetheless.

Here’s the scenario: let’s say you were to offer a teacher a babysitting/child care wage. For example, I pay my babysitter $4 per hour per child. If I had one kid, I’d pay her $4 per hour, two kids? $8 per hour and so on. Now on an hourly basis, this amounts to $1.15 less than the federal minimum wage. Since I live in Washington, she’s making over $3 less than the minimum wage. $4 per hour is a fair, market-driven wage for child care, and if I could afford to pay her more I would, and when I can afford to, I will.

We’ll offer our teacher $0 for vacation. Though most teachers have the summer “off”, they don’t collect paychecks during the summer. And most responsible teachers use the summer for lesson planning and cirriculum organization so their school year can beconsiderably more orderly.

We’ll offer $0 for planning, grading papers, email, calling parents, attending to extracurricular activities. That’s about 5 extra hours per day during the school year. We’ll call it 900 hours of unpaid work per year (5 hours per day TIMES 180 instructional days) –and that’s a fairly conservative. This amounts to a loss of around $3,600 if we are paying babysitting wage, far more (approximately $5,400) if you consider it overtime.

We offer $0 for the extra supplies teachers must buy every year because the school district won’t–on average, $1,000 per teacher–and far more if the teacher has their own computer.

Offer $0 for attending conferences, for taking classes and continuing to educate oneself as a professional. Not to mention the fact that continuing education is required by law. This amounts to roughly $1,000 per year.

Now let’s do the math, and see if this offer sounds good. For the purposes of the folowing examples, we’ll assume the following are true: an average class has approximately 30 students, the average teacher teaches 6 classes per day and that there are 180 instructional days in each school year. These numbers could all shift slightly depending on the district.

$4 x 30 students per class x 6 classes per day x 180 instructional days = $129,600.

At the Federal minimum wage, it’s $166,860.

To me that sounds more like the salary of the lobbyist in the state capitol who is lurking on behalf of the textbook publishers and standardized test publishers, bribing state legislators with campaign funds to adopt their educationally bankrupt, extraordinarily expensive products.

But we all know that teaches don’t make that much money. According to the State of Washington, a first-year teacher in this state who holds a bachelor’s degree has a base salary of $31,386, starting in the fall of 2006. Now let’s figure how much the taxpayers are paying per child, per hour, if the teacher is a first year teacher in the state of Washington. Let’s do the math again.

Annual base salary of $31,386 MINUS $2000 out-of-pocket per year for supplies and continuing education DIVIDED BY 180 Instructional days DIVIDED BY 6 classes per day DIVIDED BY 30 students per class … EQUALS:

90.7 cents an hour. And that doesn’t even include the opportunity cost of all the unpaid work that teachers do outside their work day.

Every Washington teacher and supporter of Washington teachers should be wearing a T-shirt that says in giant letters:


There’s probably a sweatshop somewhere in Bangladesh or Indonesia that pays better.

The idea that teachers are underpaid only works if you assume ALL of the following:

1. Teaching is easier than babysitting; hence the idea that having more than one kid at once should mean the taxpayers are entitled to some kind of “discount” per child.

2. Teaching is FAR easier than day care–because it is FAR less expensive. And conservatives want to privatize public education; in that situation, the amount of money reaching the classroom and the teachers would drop precipitously in order to line the pockets of the corporate bosses running the privatized schools. Superintendents and throngs of district administrators with mysterious unknown responsibilities are already draining the system of valuable dollars. In a corporate environment these would be the last to go if the budget had to be balanced.

3. Teaching should require no training at all, since it’s the only job where the employees have to pay to train themselves on the job.

If teaching were lucrative, politicians would do it.

If teaching were easy, then half of all first year teachers wouldn’t leave the profession within 5 years. You can read about it in the Washington Post.  Want to know why the education system is “failing”? That statistic tells the whole story.

Next time you meet a teacher, you should thank them for working for what amount to slave wages. Give them a big hug and offer to buy them lunch.

Next time someone tells you that teachers or overpaid, ask them if they’d be willing to work for 90.7 cents an hour.

And tell them to check their sources.

Opportunity In America

This morning, before she headed off to work, my wife and I had a brief conversation about the State of the Nation. My lovely wife, a tireless advocate for public assistance, mentioned to me another assault on America’s poor. This time, though, it’s in a time of national crisis. Hurricane Katrina killed thousands and uprooted millions. The government’s response to this crisis (especially that of the Executive Branch), and their proposed solutions, are sorely disappointing.

In today’s news, though conspicuously out of the headlines:

“Congress is working to extend Medicaid coverage for victims of Hurricane Katrina, but Bush administration officials are working against the measure, promising instead health care for evacuees and federal help for the states.” (source:, 9/22/05)

Don’t be fooled, folks. This is more of the same. In his speech last week in New Orleans, Bush Jr. proposed the creation of the “Gulf Opportunity Zone” (I suppose that Opportunity is all you have when you’ve lost everything).

Bush goes on to describe what the GOZ entails (EMPHASIS MINE): “Within this zone, we should provide immediate INCENTIVES FOR JOB-CREATING INVESTMENT, TAX RELIEF FOR SMALL BUSINESSES, incentives to COMPANIES THAT CREATE JOBS, and LOANS AND LOAN GUARANTEES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again. It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity; it is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty; and we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.” (source: White House press release archives, 9/15/05)

Excuse me? Am I missing something? Where’s the RELIEF? Where are the government grants, housing vouchers, a federal jobs program? If the administration gets its way, the so-called relief package for Katrina victims is coming in the form of tax relief and business incentives, not aid to the people on the ground whose lives were ripped apart. This explains why the Bush administration is working against Medicaid (maybe the last shred of public welfare remaining in this country) and other issues. They don’t believe in helping the poor, even when a disaster like this strikes. We can only hope that congress can prove more visionary.

These victims need HELP. They need food, water and shelter. They need jobs. They need financial assistance (real financial assistance) to reclaim what they’ve lost. They don’t need incentives to start businesses. They need to rebuild their lives. More incentives for entrepreneurs only help those with the MEANS to start a business, something families below the poverty line rarely have. The blind devotion to entrepreneurship as a cure-all for America’s woes is nothing more than a narrow, unrealistic and selfish belief in social Darwinism: the belief that if a person isn’t smart enough or capable enough to take advantage of America’s opportunities, then they don’t
amount to anything, they aren’t deserving of assistance. This is the same crowd who always says “We believe in giving people a HAND UP, not a HAND OUT.” The victims of Katrina NEED a hand out, folks. And our government isn’t doing enough.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Give Direct Aid. My wife and I have offered our RV as a donation to FEMA, who is running a program to provide trailers and motorhomes to people displaced by the hurricane. This program is hardly a long-term solution, but at least it’s some concrete form of assistance, considering the dreadful initial response.

Maybe the Administration is doing this because they see it as an Opportunity to keep the poor in trailer parks, while those of us who can afford it enjoy the housing bubble and get to decide between white or stainless steel appliances in our kitchen. “A concrete patio, or should we go with ceramic tile, honey? I’m not sure. Oh hell, let’s do both.”

This summer, my wife and I experienced a severe property loss. Our rental home was flooded by the city sewer system. Everything had to come out of the house and be replaced: all the floors, the drywall, the cabinets and appliances. Restoring the house will cost upwards of $30,000. But yesterday, we received a settlement check from the city which will pay for about 60% of the damage. Why? Because we had the means and the knowledge to pursue a claim. Even if the city hadn’t responded to our claim, we would have had recourse with our insurance company, but again, we had the means to recover our own losses. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that ours was a SECOND HOME.

Many of the homes in the most ravaged parts of the south have been in families for generations, and therefore have no mortgages, and for many, NO INSURANCE. If it weren’t required by a financing bank, and you had to choose between insurance and food for your kids, you’d opt out of insurance, too.

We suffered a loss, but it was minimized by the fact that we have the means to recover it.

It’s truly a shame that our President isn’t willing (or isn’t able) to use the Opportunity presented by Katrina to develop a vision of America as a better place. Look at a government with vision: in 1933 (I believe you all remember what was going on leading up to that time?), as emergency measures, federal money was given direct to individuals as relief through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. They didn’t stop there. The federal government directly hired people for work projects directly funded by the federal government: the CCC, the WPA, and the Civil Works Administration,
among others. This was called the New Deal.

The New Deal projects were direct responses to a national emergency. They worked by putting people back to work, (not asking them to figure it out for themselves, as the Bush White House is asking).

I didn’t think the Bush Administration was capable of doing it, but they’re using this National Disaster as an excuse to attack Medicaid, the last line of defense in health care for people who can’t afford it. They seem to want to create a society in which anyone without the means is out of luck.

How can that be good for America?