New GOP Congress to Destroy Canadian Border

Google Maps 2015-01-28 06-30-07Need to make an IKEA run? How about a show on King Street, an exhibit at the A.G.O., or maybe just a really good pizza here, here, or here? You might want to knock things off your Ontario to-do list if Congressional Republicans get their way.

Although temporarily pulled for being too weak, the “Secure Our Borders First Act” (HR 399) would impose unprecedented restrictions on leaving the United States via our border with Canada.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, controls at the Canadian border were strengthened, and travelers were required to produce proof of citizenship in order to enter the US. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was enacted to try and balance security and freedom to travel. A tattered birth certificate or simple driver’s license was no longer enough – now you need a Passport, NEXUS, or enhanced driver’s license. While arguably improving security, it added cost and time to crossing the border.

Congress’ latest idea is to require biometric testing – e.g., fingerprinting or iris scans – for people departing the United States via the northern border. Every person in every vehicle would be required to exit the vehicle and provide biometric information. As you might imagine, the impact that this would have on routine cross-border visits for business, tourism, or just shopping, would be catastrophic. It would quite literally shut the border down, and it would deal a devastating blow to the western New York economy, which relies heavily on Canadian shoppers and cross-border traffic for jobs and tax revenue.

The “Secure Our Borders First Act” is billed in national media as being a Republican bitch-slap at President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. But the affect on the Canadian border isn’t some inadvertent accident – it was a deliberate amendment brought forward by freshman Republican congressman from Syracuse John Katko. As the Finger Lakes Times reports,

Newly seated Rep. John Katko wants the nation’s northern border to get the same attention as the one down south. Katko, R-24 of Syracuse, introduced legislation last week to require the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a northern border threat analysis. The bill is Katko’s first since he took office earlier this month.

“As a former federal prosecutor on both the northern border in New York and the southern border in El Paso, Texas, I’ve seen first-hand the issues our nation faces countering drug trafficking and potential terrorist acts,” Katko said in a press release. “While great attention is justifiably given to the challenges of securing our southern border, ensuring the safety of our vast northern border is critical to our nation’s security.”

Katko’s district includes the Lake Ontario shoreline in Wayne, Cayuga and Oswego counties, which is part of the international border with Canada…Katko said he also added an amendment…to the Secure Our Borders First Act authoriz[ing] the deployment of the same type of technology and resources on the northern border as it does for the southern border.

The Secure Our Borders First Act also includes the language from Katko’s stand-alone bill. “I’m committed to enacting tough border security to ensure the safety of upstate New York and the sovereignty of our nation,” Katko said. “Requiring timely assessment of the threats posed by illegal entry on both the northern and southern border, and adequately responding to those threats, is crucial to making that happen.”

The Secure our Borders First Act would allocate $10 billion for border security. It has come under fire from both sides of the aisle, with some Democrats arguing that it does not offer real solutions and some Republicans arguing that it represents a prelude to amnesty.

Add to that criticism the fact that this is a fundamentally idiotic, pointless, and harmful piece of legislation. You picked a doozy, Syracuse. Requiring biometric testing upon departure from the US would require the construction of inspection booths on the outbound lanes.  Requiring every occupant of every vehicle to exit and provide biometric information would be time-consuming and accomplish absolutely nothing.  Every effort to better integrate the WNY economy into that of Southern Ontario would simply vanish. Erie County sales tax revenue from Canadian shoppers would plummet and put more pressure on WNY taxpayers.

The Peace Bridge’s Ron Reinas told the Buffalo News that this proposal would kill border crossings. Congressman Higgins reacted similarly:

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, predicted that people would simply stop crossing the border because of the biometric testing provision, which would require the government to take fingerprints from or do iris scans of everyone in every vehicle leaving the country. “This job-killing bill would effectively close the northern border and cripple key components of the U.S. economy, including manufacturing,” Higgins predicted.

When Rep. Higgins offered an amendment delaying biometric implementation until Homeland Security could determine whether it would impede border traffic, Republicans shot it down.

Republicans on the committee defended the measure, saying biometric tests at the border would go a long way toward securing it by giving the federal government a way of checking which foreign visitors had overstayed their visas. Currently, foreigners who travel to the U.S. from many countries must have a visa, but there is no system in place to discover when they have overstayed those visas. The biometric inspection system would create that system by giving the government a way of cross-referencing biometric exit data against the list of visas the government issued. Some 49 percent of the undocumented immigrants in America simply overstayed their visas, rather than entering the country illegally, said Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. “This would give us a way to eliminate almost half the illegals that are in this country by knowing when they left and when they did not,” said Duncan, who noted that four of the hijackers who perpetrated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had overstayed their visas.

There’s no exception made for citizens of Canada or the US, who don’t need visas to visit each other’s countries. Because a small percentage of visitors to the US on tourist visas stay longer than they’re allowed, we will effectively shut down the Canadian border. This is bad government, and it introduces exit controls rivalling what the Warsaw Pact countries concocted pre-1989.

It’s also a breach of contract with the Canadians, and completely unnecessary. The US and Canada share information on who is crossing the border. When you enter Canada and the agent takes your passport, that information is transmitted to the US, and vice-versa. We don’t need to construct a new infrastructure and biometric testing to secure the Canadian border. When did we abandon that careful balance between security and liberty?

…the provision appears to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the “Beyond the Border” agreement between the U.S. and Canada, which aims to make crossing the border easier, not harder. What’s more, the Beyond the Border agreement appears to offer the U.S. a way of knowing who is leaving the country without installing a new biometric inspection system. “The Beyond the Border Action Plan committed Canada and the U.S. governments to put in place entry-exit information systems at the common land border to exchange biographical information on the entry of travellers, including citizens, permanent residents and third-country nationals,” said Christine Constantin, spokesperson for the Canadian embassy in Washington. “The system would allow a record of entry into one country as a record of an exit from the other.” Currently the system exists for exchanging data on third-country nationals, permanent residents of Canada and lawful residents in the United States at all automated points of entry, Constantin said.

Our local Republican Congressman, Chris Collins has absolutely nothing definitive to say about any of this.

…while he thinks the nation needs tough legislation to crack down on illegal immigration, at the southern border, he has concerns about the biometric inspection requirement. “If implemented wrong, this could potentially create problems for the Western New York economy,” Collins said. “So, I will be working with my colleagues to protect Western New York from any negative economic impact.”

Potentially? This is a WNY killer. How could this be implemented “right“?

When the bill was pulled, the Buffalo News noted that Collins proposed an amendment not dissimilar from Higgins’ own.

Under Collins’ proposed amendment, the requirement for biometric tests would not move forward until after completion of a demonstration project aimed at testing whether the mandate would create traffic chaos. Collins’ measure would mean that the biometric requirement would move forward only if it “has not resulted in increased wait times at any border crossing that was participating in such pilot program.”

Calling himself a “doubting Thomas” on the proposal, Collins said: “What we want is just to make sure that anything we do, number one, works, and number two, doesn’t cause undue delays at our northern borders and for folks coming to Bills and Sabres games and going to the Galleria mall. We can’t have backups at the Peace Bridge or Rainbow Bridge or any of the others that would dissuade Canadians from coming into this country and also inconvenience Americans.”

It was never introduced because the GOP pulled the bill, but while Collins gives himself credit, the real reason might have to do with ultra right-wing Congressmen from the deep South believing the whole thing is too milquetoast. If you tend to believe in conspiracies, it might be reasonable to suppose that this whole thing is designed deliberately by Republicans to do harm to blue border states like New York.

Asked about Collins’ alternative, Higgins said he was concerned that the results from any biometric demonstration project might not tell the story of what would happen at every border crossing. “This doesn’t take into account the fact that every single border crossing is different,” Higgins said. A spokesman for Collins said, though, that the legislation calls for three demonstration project sites rather than just one, meaning that problems could well surface somewhere during the testing. Higgins also noted that the biometric requirement appears to be redundant at the Canadian border, as the U.S. and Canadian governments have agreed to exchange exit and entry information about travelers as part of their “Beyond the Border” initiative to make border crossings easier. “Why isn’t that being taken into account?” Higgins asked. “Is it ignorance? Is it arrogance?”

Higgins hits the nail on the head. This proposal is completely pointless. It adds an unduly restrictive anti-immigrant act to our grand security theater.

As I argued in this article, we should be making our border with Canada work smarter and better. Restricting the market for labor, goods, and services is silly, and there are ways to free up cross-border traffic while addressing security issues.

Requiring every occupant of every IKEA-bound and Galleria-bound vehicle to provide fingerprints or an iris scan upon exit from the United States is pointless, redundant, theater, expensive, and would reverse and devastate WNY’s fragile and tentative economic recovery. I can understand how some throwback fascist southern xenophobe might decide that exit visas or fingerprinting might be a great idea for the Canadian border, but we’re talking here about New York congressmen who should know better than to destroy their own districts.

The text of the bill where Congressional Republicans seek to ruin the western New York economy is here. To call it a disgrace is a collossal understatement, and the only one who gets it is Congressman Brian Higgins. Your liberty and wallet are under Republican attack.

(Side note: the voters in NY-26 dodged a huge bullet last year).

The Tragic Pointlessness of Sheldon Silver’s Fall

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Read this. Then ask, when do they go after the rest of them?

SHELDON SILVER, the defendant, has engaged in and continues to engage in a secret and corrupt scheme to deprive the citizens of the State of New York (the “State”) of his honest services, and to extort individuals and entities under color of official right, as an elected legislator and as Speaker of the New York State Assembly (the “Assembly”). […] These representations were and are materially false and misleading. In truth and in fact, SILVER has obtained millions of dollars in outside income as a direct result of his corrupt use of his official position to obtain attorney referral fees for himself, including from clients with substantial business before the State, and not as a result of legitimate outside income SILVER earned as a private lawyer.

There’s no doubt that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is widely reviled by people who pay even light attention to Albany politics, and likewise no doubt that Albany politicians fear or begrudgingly respect him. He rules the majority Assembly caucus with an iron fist, ruthlessly punishing dissidents and has survived a couple of pretty serious coup attempts. He has a long memory and doesn’t forget past insults or slights. He is, in short, a political survivor who wields extraordinary power within a dysfunctional, third-world style of governing that New York’s electorate has tolerated for years.

Netroots website “The Albany Project” was recently brought back from the dead, and it’s no zombie. The writers there have been relentless – just crushing the details and repercussions of the Sheldon Silver downfall. Here is the federal complaint:

US v Sheldon Silver Complaint

We can start with the obvious – the powerful Speaker of the Assembly was indicted on federal corruption charges last week, and the FBI took him into custody. There wasn’t a perp walk, but there’s a now-iconic picture of Silver – hands cuffed behind his back – seated in the back of an FBI agent’s car. He looks frail and elderly in the picture – nothing like the criminal monster, as his critics describe him. The outcry demanding his resignation – as speaker and from the Assembly – came quickly, but New York being New York, some people came to Silver’s defense. All of it is tone deaf. New York Mayor Bill deBlasio said Silver is a good man. The “Working Families” fusion Party praised Silver and reminded everyone of the presumption of innocence our system guarantees. Even Republican former Senate President Joe Bruno, who spent a decade fighting off corruption charges, came to Shelly’s defense.

After all, Silver was perceived as being a progressive check on what many on the left consider to be Governor Cuomo’s center-corporatist tendencies. Without Silver there as one of the all-powerful three men in the budget negotiations room, deBlasio and the WFP are somewhat adrift.

The charges against Silver share the same common denominator – that he misused his power, and used his official position to corrupt ends. Turn back to Joe Bruno – the problem isn’t necessarily that Bruno broke any laws, but that the things with which he got away were completely legal. But the federal prosecutors hone in on “honest services” fraud. 

SILVER agreed with others known and unknown, including a co-conspirator not named herein (“CC-1″), to use the power and influence of his official position to induce certain real estate developers with significant business before the State of New York to retain the law firm of CC-1 in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret bribes and kickbacks paid to SILVER by the law firm, which were masked as legitimate income earned by SILVER as a private lawyer.

In addition, Silver failed to report other outside income including fees from unnamed law firms and referral fees from physicians. At least one physician who had side deals with Silver received state grants arising out of the 9/11 attacks. Silver’s law firm’s dominance as a plaintiff’s asbestos/mesothelioma firm is astonishing. The feds seized about $3.8 million from Silver around the time of his arrest.

Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on public corruption was looking at outside income when it was disbanded, and Albany politicians spent $1 million quashing subpoenas seeking to uncover that income.

The arrest of Sheldon Silver, alas, is not the win New Yorkers need. Sheldon Silver isn’t the disease – he’s a symptom. The disease is a corrupt and corruptable system that puts too much power in too few hands. The disease is a state government that does not operate so much as a deliberative democratic representative body as much as a three-man junta. Everything bad about Albany flows from that fundamental structural, systemic dysfunction.

Sheldon Silver’s conviction – if it ever happens – won’t fix anything. On the contrary, it now serves as a handy distraction. Zephyr Teachout literally wrote the book on public corruption, and she calls on New Yorkers to seize the Silver arrest to fundamentally reform the way campaigns are funded in New York State. After all, corruption is the natural outgrowth of greed and power, and she calls our current system “legalized bribery”. Within that system, Silver is masterful. Literally millions of dollars flow to his campaign committee.

Silver’s arrest has, at long last, disgraced Assembly Democrats who called last night for his resignation as Speaker, as opposed to the temporary step-down he offered. It’s now safe for Assembly Democrats to fight back. That’s swell.

But Silver’s downfall only treats one of the symptoms, rather than curing the underlying disease.

Albany is broken, and the boffins at NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice have spent over a decade laying out the ways in which New York’s government is undemocratic and dysfunctional, and has set forth specific reform proposals to help return the government to the people. Everything from Sheldon Silver to three men in a room to the NY SAFE Act – whatever your specific complaint might be – is a symptom of that underlying disease.

The people we elect to state government – regardless of party affiliation – have done little, if anything, to address the root causes of the symptomatic problems on which they run their campaigns. They have a vested interest in keeping things opaque because we’d probably be aghast at what really goes on. Full disclosure of campaign financing, limits and full disclosure on independent expenditures, public financing, and redistricting reform should be on the table. Furthermore, the Brennan Center went into great detail about the fundamental lack of any semblance of deliberative democracy taking place in Albany.

Arresting Shelly Silver is a start. As malefactors go, he’s a big fish. But until Albany politicians re-discover the fact that they are there to serve the people, rather than their own personal greed, power, and ambition, we will have more dysfunction, more graft, more theft of honest services, and more Sheldon Silvers time and time again.

As New Yorkers, it behooves us to recognize and differentiate between the symptoms of the disease, and the root cause, and direct our energy at the latter.

Reactionarying the State of the Union

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I confess – it was the first State of the Union I’d missed in years. Jet-lagged from a quick transatlantic trip to mourn the loss of a dear relative, I didn’t make it past 9:15.

Like the vast majority of Americans, I learned about the SOTU that which American major media think was important. Obama got in a zinger. Free community college. A focus on strengthening the middle class.

I also learned this about the SOTU, from my congressman, Chris “ObamaPelosi” Collins:

“Once again, President Obama used his annual national address to double down on divisive political rhetoric and unrealistic ideas. Rather than focus on policies that brighten the future of the middle class in a sustainable manner, the President has instead, sabotaged success and pitted Americans against one another. The President continues to advocate class warfare, and divide our country. He has repeatedly demonstrated that his idea of a bipartisan solution is his way or the highway.

Know thyself, Collins.

“What the President failed to address was that this past election, the country spoke loud and clear about the direction we need to take. The result was the strongest Republican House majority since the 1920s, a Republican Senate majority, and Republican control of 68 out of 98 state legislative chambers. Americans recognize that Republicans are focused on creating an environment friendly to job creation through comprehensive tax reform, energy independence, entitlement reform and a patient centered health care system. The President needs to accept this new reality, and find a way to unify the country as we move forward.”

Collins’ staff likely crafted that carefully and well in advance of its delivery or release. Let’s examine it, alongside what was discussed in the President’s speech.

Once again, President Obama used his annual national address to double down on divisive political rhetoric and unrealistic ideas.

I’m a big fan of “ideas”, whether they be realistic or not. For instance, it was pretty unrealistic for President Kennedy to declare that by 1969, the US would land a man on the moon and safely bring him home. Indeed, the very notion of “America” as it was founded and constituted was pretty unrealistic for its time. “Unrealistic” is seldom the opposite of “good”, when modifying the word “ideas”. “Divisive political rhetoric” isn’t really something a politician “doubles down” on – it’s what they do. Mr. Collins’ statement is no different. Pot calling the kettle black, one might say.

Rather than focus on policies that brighten the future of the middle class in a sustainable manner, the President has instead, sabotaged success and pitted Americans against one another.

The big announcements from the 2015 SOTU were things like free community college for any American kid who needs it (with certain pre-requisities);  Congress should lift the failed Cuban trade embargo;  Congress should properly authorize and fund the fight against Daesh; Obama will veto Republican moves to restrict abortion rights, repeal Obamacare, hinder immigration reforms, or authorize the Keystone Pipeline; Congress should help the President overhaul business taxes, conclude trade deals, and fix crumbling infrastructure; we should combat climate change, reform our immigration system, and enhance competition for cable and internet service. Congress should raise the capital gains tax from 23.8 to 28% and eliminate a tax dodge that the wealthy exploit. pass paid leave for workers, as well as more generously fund education, child care and retirement savings for the middle class. These would be financed by tax increases on millionaires and fees paid by large banks and investment firms.

In other words, President Obama wants to incrementally raise taxes paid by the well-to-do to help the poor and not-so-well-to-do get educated, insured, and employed.

I didn’t see it, but a correspondent advises that Collins went on WGRZ and claimed that Americans pay the highest taxes in the world. If that’s really what he thinks, he’s ignorant. If it isn’t, he’s just lying. Our tax burden doesn’t remotely come close to being the highest in the world. Aruba is the highest, followed closely by the Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Denmark. Just lies.

The President continues to advocate class warfare, and divide our country. He has repeatedly demonstrated that his idea of a bipartisan solution is his way or the highway.

This is one of those things that Collins’ base likes to hear – that socialist Kenyan Indonesian racist n0bummer is waging class warfare, because he expects the rich to contribute more to help fund America’s international wars and its domestic attempts to help the middle class. They loved the wars – they just don’t want to pay for it, so they throw around “class warfare” while advocating for policies that disproportionately help people with millions – like Chris Collins – and do palpable and real harm to the middle class. The real war has been the war waged by the rich against the poor and middle class, and if we’re going to demand an end to that war, we should at least be consistent.

Make no mistake – Chris Collins is accusing President Obama of waging “class warfare” because he wants to repeal things like the trust fund loophole, which helps the rich and does nothing for anyone else. He wants to block tax credits for average working families because employees don’t matter – only “job creators” do, and then we can continue to follow the false and discredited dream of supply side / “trickle down” economics.

What the President failed to address was that this past election, the country spoke loud and clear about the direction we need to take. The result was the strongest Republican House majority since the 1920s, a Republican Senate majority, and Republican control of 68 out of 98 state legislative chambers.

And the country spoke loud and clear when it re-elected President Obama and rejected Collins clone Mitt Romney. Since the tea partiers to whom Collins panders love to think themselves constitutionalists, let’s talk about divided government and the power of the veto.

But even worse, those sentences look like something Buffalo News political columnist Bob McCarthy would have written – all horse race, all the time. For instance, the people in the 27th district had no legitimate choice in November, but in NY-26, they resoundingly rejected the craven hatemonger in favor of the thoughtful, intellectual incumbent. So, the “country” didn’t speak loud and clear about anything because Congress is divided into separate districts, and the people in those districts each voted a certain way.  But if Collins is suggesting a switch a party-dominated parliamentary system, let’s roll with that.

Americans recognize that Republicans are focused on creating an environment friendly to job creation through comprehensive tax reform, energy independence, entitlement reform and a patient centered health care system. The President needs to accept this new reality, and find a way to unify the country as we move forward.”

There were tax reform initiatives in the President’s address. The unemployment rate in late 2014 outperforms what Mitt Romney promised would happen under him in 2016, and if we hadn’t cut the hell out of public payrolls, the rate would be lower still. In fact, private employment growth has been record-breaking. Seriously, the news in December was great – 2014 was the best year for creating jobs since 1999 – the drop in the unemployment rate from 2013 to 2014 was the most dramatic since 1984. Wages were up, and the construction and health care sector were outperforming others.

Wait – health care?! I was told that Obamacare was going to ruin our health care system. I do, however, applaud Representative Collins’ apparent change of heart and support for a Medicare for all – the only type that could truly be “patient centered”, as it would take private insurance out of the health care delivery equation.

I understand that Chris Collins’ job is to throw shade at President Obama and librulz, and that his base in an overwhelmingly Republican district is hungry for this sort of jejune red meat. He’s just doing what he was elected to do.

Lie, and protect the millionaires.

Assemblyman DiPietro: Shoot First, Ask Questions Never

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Last week, we examined Assemblyman David DiPietro’s hatred of Muslims and Islam, his deliberate and admitted ignorance to anything resembling facts, and just how allergic he is to knowledge and learning.

DiPietro took to Facebook and WBEN’s airwaves to expound on how an elementary school in East Aurora was busy indoctrinating 3rd graders in jihad, or something. The books in question – Nasreen’s Secret School, and the Librarian of Basra – are set in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. They teach young kids about different cultures and about how knowledge and education are things that need to be protected and fought for in places less enlightened than the US. By any measure, they are excellent books that teach a valuable lesson.

According to DiPietro, he:

Just talked to an irate parent. Parkdale school in East Aurora is teaching third graders(8-9 year olds) about the Koran, Mohammed and the Muslim faith. It is MANDATORY reading for Common Core! The teacher would not let the parents see the book until after they asked 3 times and threatened to go to the principal!!! The reading is all done in school and the books can not be taken out of the classroom! MORE TO COME!

More to come? Here’s more. While my pieces took down the underlying ignorance and bigotry, the East Aurora community weekly harvested some facts.

The Advertiser’s Kristy Kibler interviewed Parkdale Elementary School Principal Colleen Klimchuk, who said,

I wish Mr. DiPietro would have called me or popped his head in [my office] … He was misinformed and posted inaccurate information,

You don’t say. An elected official would go to Facebook and 90 minutes’ worth of talk radio and present inaccurate information based on misinformation? Who would be so irresponsible?

“To what extent are they Islamic books in terms of expressing or explaining the ideas or ideals or tenets and beliefs of Islam?” Bauerle asked DiPietro toward the beginning of his appearance on the radio show. DiPietro answered that he had not read the books, and one caller asked if he thought it was irresponsible to “incite a hailstorm before getting all the facts.”

DiPietro said no, because it was an important issue that should be discussed, that he trusted the parent he had spoken to and said he intended to talk to school officials and “get a lot more information shortly.”

David DiPietro and WBEN’s Tom Bauerle and Tim Wenger would be this irresponsible. But that’s not all. As DiPietro and Bauerle weaved the story through manufactured memes like “Islamic indoctrination”, they really caught their stride as they assailed Common Core as the catch-all bogeyman for everything sinister. So, DiPietro pivoted:

… mentions that the parent had said the two books “have been basis of the curriculum for weeks,” which prompted Bauerle to liken the school to a cult.

“Now if this was just one book out of 20—every week they’re doing a different book—fantastic,” DiPietro said. “But it’s not, and that’s where we draw the line.”

A 3rd grade class was dictated by Obama and Common Core – which sounds a lot like “communism” – to read Nasreen and Basra for “weeks?” Like a “cult”? Could that possibly be true? Of course not – consider the depraved sources.

However, Klimchuck said the two books that have caused such a controversy are just that—single pieces of a nine-book Common Core module for third grade. The class focuses on each book in the unit for one week, besides a main book—“My Librarian is a Camel: How Books are Brought to Children Around the World”—that gets about two weeks of attention. The two Winter books were both discussed in October.

“[The unit is about] the power of reading, and the courageous efforts people go through to access education … this whole unit is all about becoming a better reader and how that will help you succeed in any walk of life,” Klimchuck said.

Other books in the module include “Rain School,” a book that talks about education in Chad, Africa; “Thank You, Mr. Falkner,” which touches on a student with dyslexia in modern-day California; “That Book Woman,” about a traveling teacher in a rural Appalachian area of the United States; and “Waiting for the Biblioburro,” about

Here is the module itself. Had DiPietro bothered to – ahem – educate himself by contacting the principal or the teacher and getting both sides of the story, as well as a copy of the module, before taking to WBEN’s airwaves to spread hysteria and lies, then he’d at least have been acting as a responsible adult. What he did instead is present lies and misinformation based on ignorance and prejudice.

I challenge any fair-minded person to review this Common Core 3rd grade ELA curriculum and tell me it’s wrong or improper or unreasonable, much less some sort of socialist indoctrination.

Taking another tack, DiPietro thought that he found a constitutional argument, throwing “separation of church and state” back in the liberals’ dumb, evil faces. Wrong.

…public school students would never be allowed to read a book that references Christianity.

“If that had been God talking to Jesus Christ [in the introductory quote], we would have the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] up our butts so fast, Tom—we would have people screaming to keep religion out of our public school,” he said.

Klimchuck said a school’s role is not to teach religion, but to discuss issues of similarities and differences between cultures if they come up in discussion.

“Our role is to expose kids to everything—our role is not to teach religion,” Klimchuck said. “There are books that reference religion. A child in second grade made a comparison of [the myth] Pandora’s Box to Adam and Eve—we said, ‘yes, it’s a very similar story.’ We talk about differences—the theme is respect for everyone.”

Respect for everyone: a concept that’s anathema to knee-jerk reactionaries like David DiPietro. “Shoot first and ask questions later” is why the NY SAFE Act exists.

Now, what about DiPietro’s claim that parents were forbidden access to these books?

“I have a really hard time believing that,” Klimchuck said, adding that both books were on display during Open House in September and brought to a PTO meeting, and that one class had been given a homework assignment to take the book home and read it to their parents.

She said the only reason she could think of that a book wouldn’t be allowed home is that if there weren’t extra copies and the book was currently in use in the classroom. She also mentioned that the books in the unit were discussed each day during the week, and since some children were forgetting their copies at home, the teacher said to leave them in school during the week.

The books, in other words, were everywhere and available. But even if the books were not available to take home, there’s got to be some alternative, right?

Klimchuck said she invites any parent that has concerns about the curriculum to come into school so they can sit down in the library and go over the book together.

According to Klimchuck, East Aurora began using the Common Core Module that includes the two Winter books in 2012. That year, an introductory letter went out at the beginning of the year to all third grade parents, explaining the two books and why they were chosen, how teachers talk to the students concerning reading about difficult issues like violence and war, and how the books are meant to tie into the social studies curriculum.

Teachers also integrated articles from “Time for Kids” and Scholastic, Inc.’s “News for Kids” connecting the stories to Malala Yousafzai, a real-life Pakistani teenager who was targeted for speaking out for girls’ rights and whose life has connections with the situations portrayed in the two books. Klimchuck said that year, she had one parent raise additional questions, but no other feedback.

You’d figure that there was a huge outcry over these books to get a sitting Assemblyman not only involved, but to expound on the radio against reading, right?

This year, one parent, Lisa Hilliard, spoke at the November School Board meeting about her concerns that “Nasreen’s Secret School” was too violent for the age group to which it was being taught, and that it contained inappropriate materials. She also said she was having a hard time getting responses from her daughter’s teachers…

…Klimchuck said she replied to the parent who spoke at the meeting with a letter that included the unit’s book list, copies of the aforementioned articles the children read with the unit, and copies of district policy explaining how to request that the superintendent review objections of instructional materials. She also apologized for the delay and said the November snow storm that canceled school for a week and parent-teacher conferences might have caused the teachers to take longer than usual in responding.

One parent raised a concern, and it was promptly addressed. Any outcry since DiPietro’s nonsense started?

Since DiPietro’s post, Klimchuck said she’s only received two or three calls from parents requesting clarification of the books, but nothing else.

“What this is telling me, is that next year we’ll be even more proactive,” she said. “We’ll make sure we send out the [introductory] letter,” and have all the classes bring the book home for homework, she added.

When Bauerle’s show called her office and invited her on to speak on behalf of the district during the Assemblyman’s interview, she declined, saying she’d rather speak to DiPietro directly. She said she and his secretary have been in touch to set up a meeting, which will hopefully occur by the end of the month.

Unlike the career politician, the professional school principal declined to turn her school and its ELA curriculum into a spectacle.

“I’m disappointed that misinformation was posted,” Klimchuck said. “It incited anger and misinformation, and it turned into this disrespectful … and disturbing thing.”

Next time you wonder why teachers and school administrators earn a living wage with nice benefits, consider the children they have to deal with. Children like David DiPietro, who combines ignorance with a lack of impulse control, to embarassing effect. DiPietro out-earns most teachers, and enjoys the same state health and retirement benefits, but I must have missed his call to reduce and eliminate these perks. Being a tea party guy is all well and good in theory, but in practice DiPietro is a statist taker/moocher.

At a bare minimum, we should expect our elected officials to be informed and responsible. David DiPietro appears incapable of those basic character traits.

By the way, what did DiPietro tell the reporter from the Advertiser about all of this? How did he explain himself?

The newspaper left several messages for DiPietro on his cell phone and at his district office in Albany, but he did not return them by this publication’s deadline.

He’s a coward, to boot.

L’Obamaphobie

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On Sunday, there was a huge rally in downtown Paris in honor of the people slain during the week in attacks by jihadist madmen. It was a strong show of support for the principles of pluralist democracy and freedom of speech, including the freedom to offend and ridicule.

The United States Government was not visibly represented at the rally.

This has resulted in two astonishing domestic right-wing memes. One is predictable: Obama is a national disgrace. The second was unforeseen: America’s right wing suddenly like France.

It wasn’t always thus. In 2003, France had the foresight and bravery to oppose the United States’ disastrous invasion of Iraq. In response, some Republican forced the House cafeteria to re-name French Fries “Freedom Fries”, because – duh – France hates freedom. It was America’s right wing that invoked a crack from a cartoon to deride the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”. American right-wing Francophobes have repeatedly derided France as being a bunch of anti-American, anti-freedom cowards. One t-shirt from a decade ago declared, “First Iraq, Then France”.

Now, all of a sudden, it is safe even for conservative Republicans to feign respect for France. After all, now there’s an empty Champs-Élysées leading directly to Place de l’Obamaphobie.

This anger at Obama not going to Paris to march in the unity rally is completely fake and homegrown.

This rally in Paris isn’t about Obama and it isn’t about the US. If our participation would have misdirected attention from the rally’s purpose to something different, then it’s better the POTUS not go. American Ambassador Jane Hartley - whose mission is to represent American interests, citizens, and values in France – marched in the demonstration.

This wasn’t a state funeral or some summit meeting with the G7. This was a street demonstration.  Think Kennedy in the open-top Continental, but there’s no getaway car. The President doesn’t generally do “impromptu”, and he definitely doesn’t attend a street demonstration in a foreign capital. Even if he did, the security would be ridiculous.

When the President does his inaugural parade, he’s in an armored Cadillac. He gets out only when the Secret Service says it’s safe to do so, and even then, he’s flanked by more security than you or I can imagine. But we’re supposed to believe that he can just stand at the front of a cordon of world leaders in downtown Paris on a Sunday, and the already-beleagured Secret Service would just go along with that? This was a rally with 3.7 million people. Hell, if it’s so important, did you go?

The bottom line is: never let an opportunity to hate Obama get in the way of facts; there’s no winning.

Secretary of State John Kerry wasn’t there – he was in India on a previously scheduled visit. But in 2004, the Republicans blasted Kerry for “looking” too French; now he’s not French enough? Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was at the Paris Charlie Hebdo rally, but in 2013 his government complained to the UK about an editorial cartoon Israel considered to be anti-Semitic. Russia sent its foreign minister – Putin’s Russia, which has implemented media censorship and harassment that is closer to pre-Glasnost Soviet actions than with any nominal support for political satire or freedom of expression.

The White House said Monday that it should have sent someone with a higher profile to the march. Why? Whom would that appease? Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio? Not the French, for sure – a quick scan of Paris papers on Monday reveals that France wasn’t so much worried about why Obama wasn’t there, but instead why several world leaders were. More to the point, Reporters Without Borders issued a scathing criticism of the characters who marched in Paris ostensibly in support of press freedom.

On what grounds are representatives of regimes that are predators of press freedom coming to Paris to pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo, a publication that has always defended the most radical concept of freedom of expression?

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the presence of leaders from countries where journalists and bloggers are systematically persecuted such as Egypt (which is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RWB’s press freedom index), Russia (148th), Turkey (154th) and United Arab Emirates (118th).

“We must demonstrate our solidarity with Charlie Hebdo without forgetting all the world’s other Charlies,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“It would be unacceptable if representatives of countries that silence journalists were to take advantage of the current outpouring of emotion to try to improve their international image and then continue their repressive policies when they return home. We must not let predators of press freedom spit on the graves of Charlie Hebdo.”

The authorities have announced the presence of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra, UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Gabonese President Ali Bongo.

“Obama marches in streets of Paris with leaders of oppressive regimes” would have been the right-wing meme in the alternative universe where Obama attended the march. The cover of Liberation focused on Netanyahu visiting the Kosher supermarket that was attacked, noting that some media reported that Netanyahu came to Paris uninvited. Liberation only noted that American media were criticizing Obama’s no-show; it did not echo any actual French sentiment along those lines. Le Monde noted how former French Premier Nicolas Sarkozy “shook protocol” by getting up to the front of the line. It also focused on the French debate over whether they should implement something like our “Patriot Act”. Le Monde noted that Obama wasn’t at the Paris rally, but covered his visit to the French Ambassador to Washington.

Had Obama gone, these people with their fake outrage would have been sharing some semi-literate Breitbart or Twitchy piece about how that uppity Obama and his fat wife and stupid kids used Air Force One to go to a thing at a place.

The people angriest about Obama not going to march with the Gabonese, Malian, and Palestinian heads of state in Paris are the ones who would criticize him for doing just that if he had gone. France isn’t mad; it didn’t necessarily need Obama to be there, and the feigned outrage over his absence comes from one particular sentiment that had no business being part of that rally – American chauvinism. We don’t always have to make everything about us.

The people most vocally feigning anger at Obama not marching in Paris are the very people who viscerally hate Obama’s very existence. They blame him for not going because what – he supports terrorism? Because he’s a seekrit Moozlim and supports the jihadists?

Let’s dismiss it as the nonsense it is.

Hate Radio in Real Life

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Yesterday afternoon, after my kid got in some epic sledding, we stopped in at our local coffee shop for some hot chocolate. This coffee shop is all decked out in a sort of eclectic-ish, faux-Nepalese decor, and it was pretty empty, except for a guy working on his laptop and two middle-aged guys seated at the table behind us.

The four of us were warming up and chatting when the conversation behind us became suddenly audible. “I’m telling you, Obama is deliberately ruining this country” said the guy who was facing our direction. “We’re going to end up just like France if this keeps up”, he continued. There was some more generic Obamaphobia before he launched into a diatribe about how immigrants like the Irish and Italians never “strapped on bombs” like these “people from Yemen” coming here now, who even have their own supermarkets and whatnot.

I am not about to get into an argument with ignorant stranger 1 and 2, so at that, I just told my family I couldn’t listen to this conversation behind me, and got up to leave. I might have repeated that as I came back to get them after I threw out my trash. Worse than second-hand smoke, I was escaping the effects of second-hand hatred.

But seriously, I’m obviously not going to argue with some stranger in the hippie-ish coffee shop, but I didn’t want to listen to anti-immigrant, racist, ignorant garbage. It’s like when you’re listening to WBEN to get the traffic and weather, and then the host comes back on and the topic is whatever Tim Wenger skimmed on Breitbart that morning. So I did what I usually do – I turned the dial. Only in real life, by leaving the coffee shop.

I mean, I could have explained to this guy how the US has absolutely nothing culturally, nationally, politically, racially, or ethnically in common with France. I could ask, “what’s so bad about France, anyway?” I could have suggested that this guy read up on France’s colonial history and ask himself why it would have Arab Muslim immigrants who were poorly assimilated into an otherwise homogeneous nation-state. Perhaps I might have pointed out how other immigrant groups had histories of violence (the Mafia, the Westies), and even their own ethnic groceries (Guercio’s, Redlinski’s, Hoowa), yet no one finds any of that to be indicative of ingrained, genetic homicidal behavior or refusal to assimilate. As this guy moaned about those violent Muslims, I could have mentioned how many mass killings have taken place at the hands of Christians – everything from the pogroms to Eric Rudolph to Srebrenica to the Spanish Inquisition to the Army of God/Christian Identity/Christian Patriot types.

The conversation at home, however, was better than that. We talked about the Christmas break and the summer ahead, and how we’re going to the Detroit car show for the first time in several years. We talked about things having to do with the excitement and love of life, fear and hatred.

So, what do you do when a Limbaugh show breaks out in your neighborhood coffee shop?

There’s Petty, Then There’s Small Town Petty

clartownhallIn 2013, Ronald Kucinski, Jr. circulated petitions to run as a Republican for the Clarence Town Board. Apparently, his bid didn’t have the support of the town committee. Kucinski’s petitions were challenged, and thrown out. He was understandably upset about it, and sent a letter to the editor of the Clarence Bee, expressing his displeasure.

So you want to run for office and get into the world of politics? You have ideas, you have guts and the determination?

I gave it a shot only to be defeated by my own party. This is what I found out:

The “good-old-boy network” is alive and well in Clarence. We are fortunate to live in a country where anyone can run for public office. However the political machine here in Clarence does not believe in a Democracy where the residents choose their candidates.

Clarence Republican Committee chair Dan Michnik, incidentally, works at the county Board of Elections. He also picks up a small stipend from the town.

But Kucinski’s wasn’t the only letter the Bee published on the matter.  There was also this one, sent in by Beverly Campochiaro.

How self-serving that a small number representing the Republican Party can dictate whom they want to win, whether or not they are doing what’s right for the town.

This is a democracy, and we are entitled to more. The fact that the Republican Party makes that choice for us is unacceptable.

We had a qualified candidate ready, willing and able to serve the residents of Clarence. But the good ol’ boys were not going to let that happen.

Many residents took a stand regarding the school budget. Maybe it’s time to take a stand regarding our local politicians.

Let’s not look at this upcoming election as party versus party. It’s not about that; it’s the first step to make a change. With each election, we need to get involved and tell our local party leaders enough is enough.

Campochiaro’s letter was arguably stronger than Kucinski’s, and there’s a connection here; Campochiaro happens to be Kucinski’s mother-in-law.

Campochiaro is also a longtime member of the volunteer board of the Clarence Youth Bureau. She helped found it, she’s volunteered for 9 years, she’s a former chairwoman and secretary, and heads up a great speaker’s series. By all accounts, she’s a hard worker, well-liked by the kids and her colleagues, and has never had a problem there.

That is, until her son-in-law tried to run for town office.

The Clarence Town Board is 100% Republican and an all-male revue. At a working session last week, it voted 3 – 2 to not recommend Ms. Campochiaro’s re-appointment to the Clarence Youth Bureau.

Word of this vote got out, and members of the Youth Bureau board and other concerned parties undertook a letter-writing and call-in campaign to change the Town Board’s mind.

It should be noted that the town board maintains a liaison with the Clarence Youth Bureau. Most recently, it was Robert Geiger, who was one of the two “no” votes and who respects Campochiaro’s work. The other “no” vote was from Bernie Kolber, who has strong personal feelings against Campochiaro for her “good old boy” cracks, but nevertheless could not allow those feelings to cloud his judgment or direct his vote. The liaison who served prior to Geiger was Peter DiCostanzo, who was instrumental in this attempt to oust Campochiaro from the Youth Board; a board which, incidentally, already has a vacancy the town can’t fill.

I spoke with Campochiaro earlier this week, and she notes that, once the letter-writing campaign started, and the media began digging, the December 29th vote suddenly became “preliminary”. Councilman Pat Casilio, who voted against Campochiaro’s re-appointment on the 29th told me an email that “no final decision has been made yet”. (Supervisor Hartzell and Councilmember DiCostanzo did not reply to an email sent January 5th asking why they voted against reappointment).

For her part, Campochiaro is aghast over this. She loves volunteering for the Youth Bureau and no one has had the decency to explain to her why it is that her reappointment to the Youth Bureau board, (which already has a vacancy), is being called into question. She says it’s like “defamation of character” to have a sort of scarlet letter around her neck – not convicted or even accused of any malfeasance – yet to be singled out as a disposable troublemaker. There’s not even the typical small town excuse – getting rid of one person to make way for a patronage hack.  After all, the position is unpaid.

Campochiaro believes that this is nothing more than blatant political retribution. She relates a story about a board meeting that was held at the Youth Bureau some time ago, which has 7 student members. There was a discussion held about a speaker who was going to talk about drug abuse among middle school students. Mr. DiCostanzo was the Town Board liaison at the time, and he said, “any kid that carries a backpack is using drugs or selling drugs.”

Nothing was said at the time, but that remark was a shocker. Just about every kid in that school district, after all, carries a backpack, so the comment was either stupid, or a bad joke. Campochiaro later corresponded with DiCostanzo, and chided him for his “inappropriate” remark, reminding him that he’s there to show leadership, to be a role model, and to support the kids and town. She told him that if parents heard what he said, they’d be appalled. DiCostanzo responded angrily – Campochiaro says he “ripped [her] apart in an email”, claiming that it was just a joke. No one found it funny.

Campochiaro contacted Supervisor Hartzell to make an appointment to meet with him about this issue. She soon thought better of it, and figured she’d let it go; she cancelled the appointment. However, Hartzell saw this and called her to find out what the problem was. She told him about DiCostanzo’s remark, and complained that he should be replaced as liaison at the next reorganization. According to Campochiaro, Hartzell was appalled by DiCostanzo’s remark, and at the next reorg, Geiger replaced DiCostanzo as liaison.

In the absence of any other rational explanation, Campochiaro accuses DiCostanzo of exacting his revenge for her son-in-law’s run for office, her letter to the editor critical of the town Republican machine, and for having the Supervisor remove DiCostanzo as Youth Bureau liaison. Incidentally, Hartzell was the third December 29th vote to reject Campochiaro’s reappointment. In the Clarence Bee, Steve Jagord writes,

DiCostanzo denied any personal ill will towards Campochiaro and in an email called into question her personalization of the decision.

“It is not a personal or political thing,” DiCostanzo said. “People who really know me know I don’t let petty politics affect my decision making.”

However, no reason was given for not reappointing Campochiaro. Casilio and Hartzell did not respond to requests for comment in time for this week’s edition.

The Bee also published a strong editorial chiding the Town Board for, in effect, discouraging volunteer participation. The whole thing has a chilling effect.

The Town Board met on Wednesday for its 2015 reorganization meeting. Councilman Geiger was reappointed as liaison to the Youth Bureau. Cooler heads prevailed, and Mrs. Campochiaro was reappointed to the Youth Bureau’s board.

During the allotted period of public comment on the town board’s reorganization agenda, Campochiaro thanked the board for reappointing her, adding that the last week had been a very trying one for her and her family. Addressing DiCostanzo, who couldn’t be bothered to lift his head or look her in the eye, Campochiaro responded to comment to the Bee, claiming that this wasn’t about personality. She said, “you know and I know that it is.” She hoped, however, that they could put this entire episode behind them and continue the good work that the Youth Bureau does for the town and its citizens.

To this day, however, not one of the three “no” votes has explained himself. Campochiaro is logically to conclude that they had allowed personal animus to influence their duties as town trustees. The smallest beam of light can work wonders.

Paladino: New Year, New Lies

Carl Paladino _ Flickr - Photo Sharing! - Google Chrome 2015-01-06 13.49.18Carl Paladino loves to send emails. In fact, outside of WNY, that’s sort of what he’s famous for. Anyone who was on the email list for his gubernatorial run gets these, but this one is special.

From: Carl Paladino

Sent: Monday, January 05, 2015 9:10 AM

Subject: FW: ACTION ALERT To FIRE John Boehner as Speaker of the House.

We’re off to the races, with everyone’s favorite cranky uncle Carl forwarding other people’s emails. But here, he adds his own two cents.

John Boehner is an establishment boy who was conditioned to think that you go along to get along. He’s a pro at the Washington 2 step. He was a complete bust on Benghazi never ostracizing Obama for the stand down order, the IRS, (the criminality of which just vanished in the night), the disaster of Obamacare, etc., etc., etc.

The Republican effort to turn Benghazi into a scandal is notable because it has been an utter and repeated failure. When efforts to blame the Obama Administration for lying to the public about what caused the attacks went nowhere, they pivoted to accusing the government of ordering troops to “stand down”.  That is the lie that Paladino is parroting in this email, and it’s an especially repugnant one.

The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee expressly considered and rejected the notion that any “stand down” order was issued.  Paladino is lying.

Ingrained in that carefully crafted lie is a central theme that Obama is the “other” – not “American”.  That he is so foreign in name, visage, heritage, birth, and religion that it is believable that he would have done anything short of personally ordering or directing the terrorist attack on the compound that killed four American diplomats. This endlessly repeated “Obama let Benghazi happen” lie has its roots in xenophobia and racism. It’s not surprising, then, that Paladino – who famously forwarded emails depicting the Obamas as a 70’s-era pimp and whore, Africans as apes, and an image containing the n-word – believes that the President would deliberately put American diplomats in harm’s way.

As for the IRS “scandal”, its “criminality vanished” because there never was any to begin with.

It’s time for real leadership. Send the establishment gang-led by Boehner and McConnell- packing. That is what the American people want. Grow a set balls. How could any representative of the people give any respect to a President who ordered his military to stand down and leave American soldiers on the battlefield.

All of that is [sic], by the way. I’m hard-pressed to remember an incident where Boehner or McConnell gave a whole lot of respect to Obama in the first place, but again – Paladino thinks that these two Republican Congressional leaders aren’t extreme enough.

Incidentally, the 246 Congressional Republicans held their vote for Speaker of the House on Tuesday. John Boehner won 216 – 25. Another Paladino / tea party victory.

How can any American family allow their child, father, or husband to put his or her life at risk and feel comfortable with the military leadership.

You know, the Commander in Chief is a black man. First one, ever.

Wake Washington up. If it is to be Jeb Bush and business as usual, forget about 2016.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. If Jeb Bush is the nominee, forget it.

The American people want the lying and scheming Obama politically destroyed.

When was that? In 2008, or 2012? The irony of Paladino – in this missive – accusing anyone of being a liar is fantastic.

They want the likes of Gruber and the liberal elitist crowd to be gone from the landscape.

Gruber is the MIT economics professor who said something stupid about how Obamacare (Romneycare) was passed thanks to the stupidity of the American voter. In what way does Paladino want MIT professors whom he hates, or with whom he disagrees, “gone from the landscape”? Which landscape? “Gone” how? He was never an elected official. He’s not on any landscape, except MIT’s.

They want a strong military, respect from the rest of the world and a domestic policy that encourages achievement and is fair to all. They want leadership they can be proud of.

Our military is the most expensive thing in the federal budget. We throw money at it like there’s no tomorrow. What, exactly, does Paladino think is so weak about it? The fact that it’s been mired in two Asian land wars in the last 14 years? What part of the domestic policy discourages achievement or is unfair? Obama is well-admired domestically, and our country is respected by some, and disrespected by others, same as it’s ever been.

One thing is for sure – Americans do want “leadership they can be proud of.”

That’s why, since 2011, the title of Governor of the state of New York has been held by Andrew Cuomo.

New Yorkers know a disgrace when we see one.

The Books that Assemblyman David DiPietro Wants to Ban

With respect to Librarian of Basra and Nasreen’s Secret School, the craven, ignorant opportunist David DiPietro alleged that:

The teacher would not let the parents see the book until after they asked 3 times and threatened to go to the principal!!! The reading is all done in school and the books can not be taken out of the classroom!

Luckily, we have the internet. And Google. And YouTube.

 

Someone needs to run against – and defeat – this imbecile.

David DiPietro’s Jihad on Learning

Assemblyman David DiPietro of East Aurora has declared a holy war on book lernin‘. ‘Specially that Moozlim kind. (It’s not the first time, either. DiPietro was convinced Obama was a seekrit Moozlim back in 2010).

Just talked to an irate parent. Parkdale school in East Aurora is teaching third graders(8-9 year olds) about the Koran, Mohammed and the Muslim faith. It is MANDATORY reading for Common Core! The teacher would not let the parents see the book until after they asked 3 times and threatened to go to the principal!!! The reading is all done in school and the books can not be taken out of the classroom! MORE TO COME!

This has quickly become a cause celebre (that’s French) among the tea party anti-learning set.

I have a third grader in a public school, and neither the Koran, Mohammed, nor the Muslim faith is MANDATORY ALL CAPS reading under Common Core or any other standard, so I immediately know DiPietro is lying. What are the books, you ask?

Nasreen’s Secret School is a children’s picture book, described thusly:

Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared.

In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness?

Based on a true story from Afghanistan, this inspiring book will touch readers deeply as it affirms both the life-changing power of education and the healing power of love.

A review from the “School Library Journal” describes the premise thusly:

Grade 2–4—This story begins with an author’s note that succinctly explains the drastic changes that occurred when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996. The focus is primarily on the regime’s impact on women, who were no longer allowed to attend school or leave home without a male chaperone, and had to cover their heads and bodies with a burqa. After Nasreen’s parents disappeared, the child neither spoke nor smiled. Her grandmother, the story’s narrator, took her to a secret school, where she slowly discovered a world of art, literature, and history obscured by the harsh prohibitions of the Taliban. As she did in The Librarian of Basra (Harcourt, 2005), Winter manages to achieve that delicate balance that is respectful of the seriousness of the experience, yet presents it in a way that is appropriate for young children. Winter’s acrylic paintings make effective use of color, with dramatic purples and grays, with clouds and shadows dominating the scenes in which the Taliban are featured, and light, hopeful pinks both framing and featured in the scenes at school. This is an important book that makes events in a faraway place immediate and real. It is a true testament to the remarkable, inspiring courage of individuals when placed in such dire circumstances.—Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ END

Interestingly enough, “Librarian of Basra” is the other book in question.

“In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.'”*

–Alia Muhammad Baker

 

Alia Muhammad Baker is a librarian in Basra, Iraq. For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books. Until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library–along with the thirty thousand books within it–will be destroyed forever.

 

In a war-stricken country where civilians–especially women–have little power, this true story about a librarian’s struggle to save her community’s priceless collection of books reminds us all how, throughout the world, the love of literature and the respect for knowledge know no boundaries. Illustrated by Jeanette Winter in bright acrylic and ink.

 

And

Starred Review. Grade 2-4 – When war seemed imminent, Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian of Basra’s Central Library, was determined to protect the library’s holdings. In spite of the government’s refusal to help, she moved the books into a nearby restaurant only nine days before the library burned to the ground. When the fighting moved on, this courageous woman transferred the 30,000 volumes to her and her friends’ homes to await peace and the rebuilding of a new library. In telling this story, first reported in the New York Timeson July 27, 2003, by Shaila K. Dewan, Winter artfully achieves a fine balance between honestly describing the casualties of war and not making the story too frightening for young children. The text is spare and matter-of-fact. It is in the illustrations, executed in acrylic and ink in her signature style, that Winter suggests the impending horror. The artist uses color to evoke mood, moving from a yellow sky to orange, to deep maroon during the bombing, and then blues and pinks with doves flying aloft as the librarian hopes for a brighter future. Palm trees, architecture, dress, and Arabic writing on the flag convey a sense of place and culture. Although the invading country is never mentioned, this is an important story that puts a human face on the victims of war and demonstrates that a love of books and learning is a value that unites people everywhere. – Marianne Saccardi, Norwalk Community College, CT

 

The theme in both books is the universal importance of education and knowledge, even in the face of adversity or outright hostility. I can’t think of a better lesson to teach young readers than that. To use real stories about real kids to convey that is moving and powerful. These are books that I will go out of my way to acquire and have my child read, because of the irony at work.

Books. Education. Knowledge. Having and accomplishing these things in the face of war or religious fanaticism. Nasreen isn’t a book about religion, it’s about fighting religious extremism. Basra isn’t a book about religion, it’s a book about the importance of reading; protecting your culture and heritage. It’s heartbreakingly anti-American to condemn and ban these books, with these themes.

Both Basra and Nasreen are on the recommended book list for grades 3 – 5 under the National Catholic Educational Association. Nasreen teaches “justice”, and Basra teaches “courage”.

DiPietro is on local AM radio this afternoon concern-trolling about how these books mention Islam, and that’s wrong because Christian and Jewish mentions are forbidden. Like “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

David DiPietro and other book-killers like he are tantamount to the religious fanatics in Basra and Nasreen who would deny books, knowledge, and an education to the protagonists. Unable to see beyond his own limited and prejudiced worldview, DiPietro is seemingly seeking to withhold these important and age-appropriate stories from local children because the protaganists are of the Muslim faith.

As we learned in Clarence in March 2014, the books aren’t the problem, it’s the book banners. Tyrannies ban books.

(Join Banned Books Week on Facebook if you believe in freedom of education and expression; freedom to learn).

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