Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Two Separate Rebukes, Eric Atalig and Bruce Bateman

This was my response to Eric Atalig's race base attack in the Tribune.

Samuel Johnson once noted that “Patriotism is the last refuge for scoundrels,” a wise quote everyone should ponder as racist statements dressed up in the guise of patriotism, like those of Eric Atalig, get published in the local newspapers. Mr. Atalig never discusses the crux of my argument, which is that the United States has been nothing but benevolent to these islands. He brings up, and is correct about, the unrelated point of the unjust treatment of African-Americans and Native Americans. African and Native-Americans certainly do have grievances that are, and should continue to be, addressed. None of those things apply to the CNMI.

Probably the number one factor that separates the CNMI from the truly destitute islands in this region is the enormous amount of federal dollars that gets pumped in by U.S. taxpayers, who are largely unaware of the sweetheart tax deal the CNMI gets. It would take about a day for a demagogue like Bill O’Reilly on Fox News to have people furious about it. Places like Puerto Rico don’t want to become a state, and thereby get senators and voting representatives, because that would mean residents would pay the same taxes that all the other states have to pay, and the elected minorities, and their groupies, can’t abuse the system as easily as they do here and there. They wasted so much money in Puerto Rico that they had to close the schools last year!

Perhaps Mr. Atalig can’t see this because he views things through a “failed politician” perspective. People like Mr. Atalig often get elected, or if not as in his case, become hangers-on or appointees of those that do, and do the bidding for the people that ignore the power plant, waste money on Rose Bowl floats, give tax breaks to garment factories, never raise the minimum wage and use the third world to bloat the labor supply and make sure local people can’t get a job that pays a living wage in the private sector. For dessert they go on government funded trips to Hawaii and the Philippines to party it up, keep people’s land prices artificially low with Article XII so a few rich local families can buy it all up on the cheap, and then pass out a few crumbs to the normal people and hope the party continues. Now the party is ending and they’re hostile, so they try to stir people up by bashing Americans and immigrant workers for thinking maybe they should get more than $3.05 an hour after ten years at that rate. Plus they want to defend a racist system where someone born here can’t own land, such as my sons, who committed the crime of being Filipino-American. If you are born in a place, live there your whole life, and aren’t indigenous, like my sons, then let’s just change the meaning of the word. The world grows increasingly international, but a few scoundrels can’t accept it.

The next step is to talk nonsense about imperialism, as if raising the minimum wage to something human and denying a cheap maid is imperialistic, which is the real basis for why these crackpots are upset. And as for submerged lands, stop letting the hotels dump their sewage into the lagoon and I’ll be more sympathetic. Who is more devilish, the abusers and their enablers, or those who try to put a spotlight on the abuse? I wouldn’t be surprised if they hold their “$3.05 is great money/keep our cheap maid” rally in a phone booth somewhere and still have room to do jumping-jacks since virtually no one thinks higher wages are a bad idea. How nice it would be if the views of the majority were represented -- not just the views of the rich and connected.

I know what it is like to have embarrassing leaders. As an American traveler, people sometimes want to view me through the prism of dupes and incompetents like Fox News or George Bush. That is why I’m quick to realize that racially inflammatory blowhards like Mr. Atalig are the rare exception to the very welcoming and friendly local people of these islands, perhaps the kindest people I’ve encountered in six years of living, traveling and working overseas. I think Tina Sablan’s profound letter and new leaders like Cinta Kaipat giving office money for police uniforms instead of picnic tables and parties, are clear illustrations that people have had it with the mediocre, failed system we have, and no amount of stirring up faux patriotic feelings via immigrant and mainlander bashing will work this time. George Miller and Nancy Pelosi aren’t the problem, keeping people dependent on a flawed and dying cheap labor/government handout model is the problem.

Finally, the numerous local people fleeing this mismanagement and heading to the states aren’t “guests” in the U.S., and I’m not a guest here. I’ve made better readers and writers out of almost 1,000 island residents since I’ve been here. I’ll stack that up against your job of serving a few rich and powerful people and appealing to the worst instincts in others – all to protect a failed model that serves a small minority while life gets much worse for the majority of the indigenous people because of these policies!
This is in response to something Bruce Bateman wrote about PSS. Links are in the first graph.

It was good of Bruce Bateman to admit his blatant statistical mistake regarding per pupil spending in the CNMI, but in claiming his conclusions are still valid, I wonder if Bateman's sour grapes led him to drink too much sour wine.

A more sober analysis of his comparison about the per pupil costs and effectiveness of the private schools versus public schools would reveal an obvious point: the public schools must educate everyone -- including those with expensive special needs like autism, mental retardation, etc. Private schools can and do rebuff these students due to the high cost of educating them. The speech and physical therapy specialists, among others, that assist the most vulnerable members of our society won't be found in the private schools, and they won't have to be flown to Rota and Tinian, either. In a March 2002 report, the Special Education Expenditure Project calculated that in the 1999-2000 school year, the per student cost for students eligible for special education services was $12,474, or 1.90 times the $6,556 per student cost in general education

Private school students generally come from a wealthier background, have more educated parents giving these students improved academic modeling, and these parents are also more likely to be involved in the schools. Countless studies reveal home life has more influence on academic performance than the classroom teacher. It also doesn't take too long on any educational database (I'd recommend http://www.eric.ed.gov/) to find research showing the relationship between poverty and poor academic performance.

Teachers in private school tend to make the bargain of a smaller salary for smaller classes, fewer discipline problems and more academically motivated students as a quality of life issue. Often times these teachers have spouses in more lucrative careers that allow them this career freedom. New York just offered housing stipends and other financial incentives to get teachers to work in the poorest, most violent and challenging schools. Private schools wouldn't attract many teachers at the salaries offered with a class full of juvenile delinquents, which is a social problem far more rooted in broken homes and income disparity than the public schools. School budgets revolve around faculty costs, and since trust fund academy doesn't have to offer urban incentives to hire its faculty, these costs are held down, which shows the silliness of Bateman's comparison.

Far from getting poor results, given the geographic isolation, life support economy and stagnant salaries, I feel PSS does a remarkable job. I can assure Mr. Bateman that the meager taxes he pays here aren't going to a custodian to clean the classrooms -- the students and I do that. It doesn't provide a stipend to coaches or advisers -- we do that for free. When the paint loses it sheen, teachers often pay for that and students often throw on their painting clothes after school. And just to make sure there is maximum efficiency, my classroom is packed full of 30 students, and I have no preparation period. Most teachers do lesson plans and grade papers on their own time. When it is time for a salary increase, it is simply ignored, or teachers are told there is no money in the budget, or you started in the wrong year or how about a ten percent pay cut instead.

So no, Mr. Bateman, your conclusions aren't close to correct, and perhaps you should stick to subjects you know something about instead of needlessly insulting teachers and administrators with deceptive comparisons and failed right wing dogma about privatization as a cure all for society's ills.

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