Okay, first things first: this would have been an ideal subject for my column running last week, on Halloween weekend.Unfortunately, deadlines—or “un-dead lines’—come and go with frightening speed.Besides, anything pertaining to zombies lately is hot regardless of the time of year.The AMC show “The Walking Dead” is setting ratings records (over 7 million tuned in to watch the program’s second season debut); Max Brooks’ book World War Z will soon be a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt, and zombie novels like Colson Whitehead’s Zone One are being devoured by readers faster than, well, zombies gobbling up human brains.
So why are zombies striking a popular chord nowadays?The thought-provoking Slate magazine article “First, Eat All The Lawyers” by Torie Bosch espouses the theory that the public’s fascination with zombies is a reflection of our soured economy and the economic fears of white-collar workers.As Bosch puts it, “The zombie apocalypse is a white-collar nightmare: a world with no need for the skills we have developed.Lawyers, journalists, investment bankers—they are liabilities, not leaders, in the zombie-infested world.”Bosch points out that, as in many post-apocalyptic scenarios, the strongest survivors in “The Walking Dead” tend to come from blue-collar backgrounds.The people handiest to have around have farming and mechanical skills, and are comfortable with guns and hunting.As proof, she points to one of the weakest characters—Andrea, a former civil rights attorney.According to Bosch, “In the zombie apocalypse, your J.D. is worthless—which is actually not so different from the real world of recent years.”
Other writers have echoed this fear.In World War Z, author Max Brooks describes it this way:
“You’re a high-powered corporate attorney.You’ve spent most of your life reviewing contracts, brokering deals, talking on the phone.That’s what you’re good at, that’s what made you rich and what allowed you to hire a plumber to fix your toilet, which allowed you to keep talking on the phone. . . . That’s the way the world works.But one day it doesn’t.No one needs a contract reviewed or a deal brokered.What it does need is toilets fixed.And suddenly that peon is your teacher, maybe even your boss.For some, this was scarier than the living dead.”
And in Zone One, Colson Whitehead paints a similarly bleak picture of those who “had graduated with admirable GPAs, configured monthly contributions to worthy causes, judiciously apportioned their 401(k)s across diverse sectors,” and who had otherwise “been honed and trained so thoroughly by that extinguished world that they were doomed in this one.”
Yes, for Bosch and other writers, pop culture’s boom in zombies is a reflection of our uncertain economic times, where corporate layoffs and the worst legal job market in decades serve as reminders that skills we might otherwise consider meaningful (like contract negotiation) aren’t quite so vital in the grand scheme of things.Shows like “The Walking Dead” mirror the fear that all that book learning and corporate ladder-climbing will count for nothing when you’re world is turned upside down.Bosch identifies with “[t]he suburbanite/urbanite viewer who can’t hunt, can’t slaughter animals, can’t grow her own food, [who] is meant to shudder at her ill-preparedness while watching.”
Bosch has a valid point, but perhaps she’s shortchanging lawyers.As fans of The Walking Dead graphic novels (on which the TV show is based) know, weak link former attorney Andrea turns out to be an Annie Oakley-like crack shot who proves her worth to the struggling band of survivors.And the zombie body count goes way up with the appearance of the mysterious, samurai sword-wielding Michonne, who it turns out had been a lawyer before the zombie pandemic.
For that matter, what about a world in which a zombie lawyer figures prominently?Meet Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law, the heroine of novelist James Scott Bell’s (writing under the nom de plume K. Bennett) new book Pay Me in Flesh.Caine is smart, stylish, and very much a zombie; as Bell puts it, she’s “hungry for justice—and brains.”Caine may be one of Los Angeles’ walking dead, but she’s a practicing attorney helping other paranormal figures like a vampire hooker with their legal problems even as Satan himself plots to turn L.A. into his own headquarters (that last part may be as close as the book comes to non-fiction).Caine doesn’t have a soul—a byproduct of being a zombie, not a defense attorney, though some may disagree—but she’s trying to get hers back.In the meantime, however, she has to devour human flesh and brains, which is why the defense never rests—in peace.As the tagline for Bell’s book puts it, “In L.A., practicing law can be hell.Especially if you’re dead.”A second Mallory Caine novel, The Year of Eating Dangerously, is due out in early 2012.
If flesh eating zombies ever emerge from anything other than pop culture and our collective subconscious, I hope that these lurching and drooling undead who come my way will leave me alone—if for nothing else than out of professional courtesy.
A government-guaranteed loan to a so-called green energy company Solyndra has been in the news lately. Solyndra was supposed to employ thousands of Americans in the production of solar panels and received federal loan guarantees from the Obama administration in excess of half a billion dollars. Now, the company has filed for bankruptcy, and the American taxpayers are expected to get little or nothing back from this dubious investment.
Solyndra wasn’t the only questionable investment made by the Obama administration under its “green energy” initiative. The latest example to emerge, Fisker Automotive, also received loan guarantees of more than half a billion dollars in late 2009 ostensibly to make capital investments in order to begin domestic production of energy-efficient, economy-class cars at a former General Motors factory in Delaware. The Department of Energy approved the loan of $528 million in 2009 as part of a larger package of government venture capital investments in the relatively young clean-tech auto industry. At the time, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, “This investment will create thousands of new American jobs and is another critical step in making sure we are positioned to compete for the clean energy jobs of the future.”
If only that were true.
In October, Americans marveled at the debut of the Fisker Karma, a flashy sedan that more closely resembles a hotrod than the more conservative hybrid cars we’re accustomed to seeing on the road. As impressive as it was with all of its bells and whistles, critics have noted the absence of one important feature – the “Made in America” tag. As it turns out, Fisker had contracted the assembly of the new Karma to the Finnish-owned manufacturing firm, Valmet, located in Uusikaupunki, Finland. Co-founder Henrik Fisker told ABC News that his company was unable to find a contract manufacturer in the U.S. capable of assembling the vehicle to their standards.
“We're not in the business of failing; we’re in the business of winning. So we make the right decision for the business,” Fisker said. "That’s why we went to Finland.”
Adding insult to injury, Fisker Auto recently announced that the start date for production of its economy-class model – the model that was supposed to start production in Delaware in 2012 – would be delayed until 2013 at the very earliest. While time will tell if Fisker Auto will be successful in the relatively new industry of clean-tech vehicles, I question whether this was an investment American taxpayers want our government to make, especially when the only jobs created to this point have been overseas. Investments in clean technology and alternative energy are inherently risky, and no doubt should be made in the free market where risks can be absorbed without burdening taxpayers with more public debt. This should be evident from the past mistakes of the socialist government of Spain, which heavily invested public money into green energy initiatives that failed to ever be competitive or create jobs. In fact, one study from the King Juan Carlos University in Madrid showed that each “green job” created by government-supported subsidies resulted in the loss of 2.2 jobs in other areas of the private sector, while costing an average of $774,000 per job.
Between 2000 and 2010, U.S. manufacturing employment declined by 5.8 million jobs. That’s a drop of one-third, the largest ten-year period loss on record. As a consequence, our national economy has given way to high levels of debt, trade deficits with 105 nations, and record long-term unemployment rates.It is insulting that our tax dollars are being used by the current administration to create jobs abroad while our existing corporate tax system – the most onerous in the world – already has the effect of exporting manufacturing jobs overseas. Companies that operate in the U.S. must do so under a system that encourages debt and outsourcing, rather than savings and investment here at home. In contrast, our national competitors have border-adjusted tax systems that exempt exports, and in turn reward firms for keeping operations in their home country. Finland, for example, has a border-adjusted tax of 22 percent which must be paid on all imports coming in to their country, but is exempted on those goods going out – like new Karmas being shipped to the United States.
One idea to correct this was proposed by Austin businessman David Hartman. His plan would eliminate the corporate income tax on American businesses and replace it with a revenue-neutral, border-adjusted consumption tax. Such an approach to taxation would level the playing field with our trading competitors, and, more importantly, would ensure that future hybrid cars came with a “Made in America” tag.
Tom Pauken is the chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission and author of Bringing America Home
People often ask me if some of the more bizarre stories I’ve shared about the criminal and civil justice systems are really true.Trust me—they are.Besides the fact that I couldn’t ethically report on something I’ve simply made up (unlike certain New York Times and Washington Post reporters), the fact is that even in my most creative moments I couldn’t have come up with the sort of wackiness that populates our courthouses on a regular basis.If I could, well, then I’d probably be giving lawyers-turned-writers like John Grisham and David E. Kelley a run for their money.If you think I’m kidding, then just consider the following true incidents:
Derrick C. Smith of Schenectady, New York, got something surprising in the mail while awaiting trial for murder in September, 2011—a jury duty summons for his own trial!It turns out that because Smith hadn’t respondedto a previous juror questionnaire sent out by the county, he was “automatically qualified” and issued a summons in late August; as fate would have it, the case for which the summons happened to be was the one in which Smith is the defendant.Commissioner of Jurors Hope Splittgerber said this has never happened before in her 28 years on the job.Even Judge Richard Giardino joked that Mr. Smith had expressed his willingness to be part of the jury pool, and that if selected he promised to be fair and impartial.The episode provided a rare moment of levity in an otherwise sobering case, in which Smith and another man are accused of shooting Michael Deveaux, Jr. after a fight at a local bar in June 2010.
A 35 year-old Wichita, Kansas man was arrested in September after falling asleep while burglaring a home.Police Lt. Steve Kenney said that the man broke in, gathered a number of items to steal, but then apparently couldn’t resist the temptation to shower and take a nap.The homeowners returned, found the intruder in the bedroom, and called the police (who apprehended the suspect hiding in a closet).Maybe this burglar’s favorite bedtime story growing up was “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
Michael Andes of Shelton, Connecticut feels very strongly about the lack of parking enforcement in his town.So much so that in August 2011, he parked his car illegally in a handicapped space and proceeded to call police over a dozen times—to report himself!Authorities say that Andes “yelled” at a dispatcher, and that when they finally showed up, he screamed and became so “combative” that they had to subdue him with a stun gun.Well, Michael, the cops are on the job now.Andes has been charged with disturbing the peace, interfering with an officer, and yes—he was also given a ticket for parking in a handicapped space.
Serial killer Anthony Sowell of Cuyahoga County, Ohio was convicted in July, 2011 in the murders of 11 Cleveland-area women.One of his attorneys sought a new trial, though, based on a wink.The motion claimed that the jury forewoman was prejudiced against Sowell from the start of the trial, and that she was quoted in a news conference telling how Sowell had winked at her once.Prosecutors called the motion based on little more than a wink “asinine” and “foolish,” and Judge Dick Ambrose apparently agreed.He denied the request for a new trial.Now Sowell only has his cellmate to wink at.Good luck with that.
26 year-old Dionette L. Price of Kansas City, Missouri probably thought it would be a routine, run of the mill carjacking when he allegedly pointed a .357 Magnum at Rayna Garrett and tried to get in her car on Highway 71 on September 7, 2011.But then Garrett tried to go around him, and Price jumped on the hood of the vehicle.So Garrett decided Price would get a ride after all—straight to the Kansas City police station, more than two miles away.Price held on for dear life as Garrett sped to the police garage, rammed into a door, and honked multiple times.Before police came out, Price fled on foot, but was arrested shortly thereafter at a nearby bus stop.That’s right, Mr. Price; mass transit seems to be a lot safer than trying to carjack someone.Perhaps you should think about that for the next, say, 7–10 years.
It was certainly one of the more bizarre moments in the legal annals of Pasco, Florida this past September.First of all, 32 year-old convicted felon Morgan Armstrong was representing himself on charges of robbing a convenience store near New Port Richey twice in October 2009.Armstrong had already been tried earlier in 2011 in a third convenience store holdup, and had been acquitted.But, Armstrong didn’t feel his lawyer was “on his side” regarding the 2 robberies of the Beverages Plus store, so he elected to represent himself (big mistake: he was convicted and sentenced to 35 years.So much for the “jailhouse lawyer”).The trial also took a strange turn during the testimony of store clerk Falguni Patel.While describing her ordeal of being robbed with a knife at her throat, Patel fainted on the witness stand.
Now, that’s not even the weird part, as dramatic as it is.What happened next is perhaps best described by the St. Petersburg Times in its coverage of the trial: “Family member and business partner Meena Patel removed her sneaker and held it to Falguni Patel’s nose, attempting to revive her with the odor.”Seriously?Someone faints, and you try to revive her with a smelly sneaker?Maybe this will open up commercial sponsorship opportunities for our courts in an era of dwindling budgets—“This trial brought to you by Dr. Scholl’s Odor-Eaters.”
Finally, there are people who like pets, and then there are people who like pets a little too much.Put Eric Fiegel in the latter category.The 22 year-old Phoenix man was caught on surveillance videotape on July 30, 2011 stealing several baby albino boa constrictors from Predator’s ReptileCenter in Mesa, Arizona.The footage shows Fiegel removing several snakes from their cage and stuffing them down his shorts before exiting the store without paying.Police apprehended Fiegel after he went to another pet store and traded some of the stolen snakes for $175 and a large reptile tank.Apparently, this is not the only time someone’s stolen a snake this way.In July, 2007 the Fox station in St. Louis reported the case of a man arrested for theft after getting caught by a pet store’s surveillance camera stuffing a black pine snake (valued at $250) down his pants.
So, the next time someone comments about the “baby albino boa constrictor” in his pants, it might not be a euphemism.
When I was a youngster, my school chums always tormented me. They’d sing me these lyrics of a then popular song (Too Fat Polka), “I don’t want her you can have her she’s too fat for me, she’s too fat for me.” Though I was a boy, the kids made fun of me because I was, well, a fat kid, as were several other kids who attended my school. Two fat boys, Ralph Salinas, was tagged El Tripon (Big Gut) and Billy Anguiano was called La Vaca (The Cow). As I grew into a teen I eventually lost my supposed baby fat. However, Ralph and Billy remained fat well into their adult lives and sadly both died rather young of diabetes due to their obesity.
Just recently I read an article by Jeannie Kever of the Houston Chronicle titled, Hispanic kids impoverished more than others. In her piece she quotes Luis Salinas, a sociologist at the University of Houston, who states that a report released recently by The Pew Hispanic Center that if 6 million Hispanic kids are being brought up in poverty, that doesn’t give them much hope for the future. They are likely to end up in poverty for the rest of their lives, and many do not have adequate nutrition. Folks, that has to be the biggest piece of horse manure I’ve read in a long time.
Follow me on this folks, what have we constantly been told by the news media and the Obama Administration about the harmful effects of obesity. Haven’t they been telling parents not to take their kids to fast food restaurants because they contribute to the children’s obesity? In Los Angeles City Council members are going to ban fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles, a minority community whose residents are mostly African-American and Hispanic. Blacks and Hispanics are responding that they feel they aren’t the only fat people in our country by a long shot. Blacks and Hispanics in South LA now want to know if white people in white neighborhoods are going to be told no more Big Macs, no more chicken nuggets. Or, is the situation in Los Angeles simply stating that white neighborhoods have Big Macs and chicken nuggets in moderation and therefore their fast-food joints can stay. Evidently there is an opposite problem in Atlanta. Minority young men there are so skinny their pants are falling off, so the city is going to ban sagging pants in all the schools. Maybe the skinny people in Atlanta with the sagging pants should move to L.A., and the fat people in L.A can move to Atlanta and get skinny.
In my opening paragraph I talked about my obesity and that of my school chums. I might add here that most of my Hispanic school chums came from poor households similar to mine. I recall that most of the homes in my neighborhood of El Norte (The North Side) didn’t have hot running water, refrigerators, ac/heating units, washers/dryers, a telephone, and some didn’t have inside bathrooms. I remember mom and other ladies of El Norte washed clothes outside in huge black pots heated with firewood. After mom soaked the clothes in hot soapy water she would get a scrub board and scrub the clothes in a No. 8 washtub. Then, she’d hang them in several clotheslines in the backyard.
Though most Hispanics in my neighborhood were poor, I can’t recall ever hearing of anyone dying of hunger. Most of us have seen those poor black kids in Africa with their bloated bellies and flies all over their faces. Folks, I never saw any of that in my poor Hispanic barrio. I take that back, Hispanic kids did have bloated bellies, but that was due to their bellies being full of beans and tortillas! I recall my dad telling mom when we went to the store, Anna, nomas papas y frijoles!” (Anna, just potatoes and beans!). Mom ignored dad and though she did buy rice, potatoes and beans, she also bought cheap meat products: boloney, wieners, chicken and cheap beef cuts. Out of those inexpensive food products mom cooked delicious tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, refried beans and potato with wiener burritos. I remember telling mom, “Mom, I don’t want to take burritos to school, please pack me a ham sandwich like the white kids.” Today I entertain at several Mexican restaurants and guess who usually is eating those poor food dishes mom used to cook? You guessed it, the white folks!
If Luis Salinas, the sociologist at the University of Houston, states that Hispanic kids who are being brought up in poverty, don’t have much hope for the future, how does he account that we poor Hispanics in the 30s, 40s and 50s who had less than these poor Hispanic kids of today and who are not discriminated like we were, have done just fine? My poor chubby friend Ralph Salinas grew up to be a chef at a hotel, my other fat friend, Billy Anguiano, owned and operated his own business, a flower shop, for many years. Other poor Hispanic friends who came from large families did exceptionally well. One school chum was Stanley Flores, who came from a family of 8 kids. Stanley, worked his way through college at Texas A&M and earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Art Lazo, another school friend who also came from a family of 8 kids went to Texas University and became a Mechanical Engineer. I could write a book about all the achievements of my poor Hispanic friends but I think I’ve given enough examples of how we did well despite our poor upbringing.
Why did we do so well despite being poor and being discriminated some might ask? Speaking for myself and my school chums, I can only attribute it to the great education in English I might add, the nuns gave us at our poor Catholic school of San Jose and the fine education we got in high school which is totally lagging today. Aside from that, most of my poor Hispanic friends like myself came from strong close-knit families. Coming from a broken home when I was a kid was almost unheard of in my poor Hispanic neighborhood. Today, divorce runs rampant and many Hispanic kids don’t get the guidance they need from loving parents or any encouragement to stay in school. Thus, many join gangs and end up on the wrong side of the track and eventually poor as Professor Salinas so states.
Had anyone told me that I would end up spending the bulk of my time during the most recent Texas Legislative Session and Special Session lobbying on Turkish charter schools, technically known as Harmony charter schools, I would have laughed at them.
However, this turned out to be no laughing matter and by the end of the Special Session, the legislature had called for an investigation of all charter schools by the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee.
The forthcoming investigation was precipitated by Texas Eagle Forum’s and Peyton Wolcott’s (Publisher – Public Ed Commentary) unsuccessful efforts to amend legislation that will now allow certain charter schools to use the $25 billion dollar Permanent School Fund (PSF) to guarantee new construction bonds. Public schools already enjoy this privilege. The PSF is also known as the Children’s Textbook Fund.
Peyton Wolcott’s research provided outstanding information throughout session. Upon learning that there are 36 Harmony charter campuses in Texas and that their operators are mostly Turkish men who have been educated and previously employed in Turkey, we dubbed the Harmony charter schools “Turkish charter schools.” We began to scrutinize them in the context of this legislation. Harmony is overseen by the Cosmos Foundation, a non-profit organization that has received a quarter of a billion dollars in Texas taxpayer dollars in the past three years. Note that there are 156 Harmony-related charter schools in the U.S.
Harmony refers to their schools as “charter” as well as “public” schools. On February 1, 2011, “Harmony Public Schools” organized the “Bond Financing for Charter Schools” luncheon at the Austin Omni Hotel. Harmony had hired Hughes through Burson-Marsteller, the prestigious marketing firm, to kick off Harmony’s efforts to pass this legislation.
Harmony was scheduled to open a new School of Political Science in Austin in August of 2011.
We were concerned that The TCSA had hired 11 lobbyists to push for this legislation. Among these lobbyists were former State Representative Diane Delisi and former State Senator Kyle Janek. One of the PSF charter school guarantee bills had to pass out of these committees to take on a life in the House and Senate.
The focus on Turkish influence in Texas schools was emphasized when the Senate passed Senate Resolution 85 honoring the Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen. Gulen was given asylum in Pennsylvania in 1997 when he was driven out of Turkey by his own government for trying to reinstate a caliphate in this secular nation. Since then, Gulen lives here in self-imposed exile, even though he has been exonerated in Turkey.
1. Proof of U.S. citizenship for all charter school operator board members and top five highest paid administrators (public ISD trustees must be U.S. citizens). 2. Names, titles, and biographies posted online for all charter operator board members and top five highest paid administrators. 3. Check registers posted online (over 70% of local ISD dollars are online).
We advocated for these safeguards because the bills lacked a requirement for accountability and transparency.
Another push for the legislation came from
The bills to tap into the PSF died during the Regular Session, but were resurrected during the Special Session in June.
By the next to the last day of the Special Session, the charter school PSF school bond guarantee legislation had been amended into a critical budget bill that had to pass to meet constitutional requirements.
Yes, the bill passed, but apparently, some legislators were catching on to the idea that the Turkish charter schools should come under more scrutiny than they had in the past.
Once the investigation begins, The first photo was taken from the campus of Westcreek Elementary School, looking directly across the street to the campus of the Harmony Science Academy.
In the second picture, note Harmony’s signs that say “NO TRESPASSING, NO LOITERING, [and] NO SOLICITING.” And why do they not want to require that their board members seeking the PSF school construction bond guarantee be American citizens just like local school board trustees? Are they genuinely “public” schools?
This brings up another point…the Harmony schools are Texas Education Agency schools, run with taxpayer dollars, that are not controlled by local parents in the form of elected school board trustees. Put another way, these are schools of the state education agency, rather than schools that are accountable to local taxpayers and parents.
I look forward to the upcoming investigation of charter schools. While they have every legal right to experiment with alternative ways of educating students, there can never be a compromise on accountability and transparency in education.
Originally appeared in the Texas Eagle Forum, October/November 2011 – Vol. 24, No. 7. www.texaseagle.org