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Welcome to Red State/Blue State, a feature presented by The Anniston Star of Anniston, Ala., and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the December 2001 edition of the Atlantic, David Brooks wrote an essay titled "One Nation, Slightly Divisible," in which he suggested that America is divided largely into two political cultures, one "red" and one "blue." His idea is based on those electoral maps in 2000 that colored majority-Republican states in red and majority-Democratic states in blue. Brooks' witty essay pictures the red-state voter as trending rural, a salt-of-the-earth type, concerned with individual liberty and family values, whereas the "blue" voter trends urban, more of a book-reader, a Beltway-savvy intellectual, the environmentally conscious soccer mom or dad.

Cliches? Maybe. But Brooks does have his finger on two very strong currents in the American votership. It's not that Pennsylvania is a "blue state" or Alabama is a "red state." It's that our two political cultures don't talk to each other much, or even know much about each other. To bridge that gap, we've brought together two "red" voters - John Franklin and Cynthia Sneed - and two "blue" voters, Terri Falbo and Timothy Horner. Each week, they'll ponder and debate the issues arising in the election campaign. The hope is that they'll model an intelligent discussion, a great big conference room where red and blue sit down together.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Tim Horner, Blue Stater 

Question Number Two: In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Sen. John Kerry criticized the Bush administration on domestic policy, being especially critical on issues such as veterans, Medicare, and education. Bush counterattacked by declaring that he had "delivered" in all these areas. Whom do you find more persuasive? Has or hasn't Bush "delivered"?

I can't help remembering when Bush declared "mission accomplished" way back in May 2003, when we had lost only 175 American troops (we will hit the 1000 mark in a few months). Well, it was not accomplished. In fact, it was so far from accomplished that it makes me wonder what in heaven's name they were thinking. That is the disconnect between rhetoric and reality in this administration. I guess there is a new standard for presidents. If you say it, it is true. If you say, "Mission accomplished," it is. If you say, "Saddam had nuclear capabilities," he did. If you say he was funding, supporting, and scheming with al-Qaida, then he was. If you say there are WMDs, then there are. If you say you have delivered on the economy, the environment, jobs, security, and compassionate conservatism, then you have.

It all feels too much like a sales pitch. When you are selling something, you don't tend to dwell on the flaws. You accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Remember, we are dealing with a President who, when asked, could not think of one mistake he had made during his three years in office, not one! And this was during some of the most turbulent years of American history. In the midst of these tragedies and scandals, Bush has not fired a single person in his cabinet. Why? Because they have not made any mistakes either: Not Rumsfeld, not Ashcroft, not Powell, not anyone. According to President Bush, nobody in this administration has made an single error worthy of losing his or her job or even getting a hand slapped, himself included. Plenty of people have pulled out of this administration (former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill; former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke; Flynt Leverett, senior director for Middle Eastern affairs at the National Security Council; and retired Gen. John Shalikashvili), but no one has been fired. I don't know which is more frightening: a President who rushes to war based on flimsiest of evidence (and despite what they say, there were plenty of people in the CIA and FBI who knew this stuff was weak), or one who will not take responsibility as commander and chief for the actions of his own administration and make reforms!

So when Bush says he has delivered, I am skeptical, if not cynical. I sense that there is erosion within his power base. This administration keeps saying the same thing over and over, but people are beginning (finally!) to ask tougher questions. Sure, there are those who will stand behind the President no matter what happens to our country. They tend to think that if Bush is wrong, God is wrong. And God cannot be wrong

But a growing number of people are starting to see through this tactic. This is partly because Bush is behind the barrel right now. What are his choices? He can't run on his 2000 platform of bringing integrity back to the White House. But also he won't admit that Kerry is right about the millions of jobs lost, the damage to the environment, the tax cuts doled out to the rich, the loss of American jobs to overseas outsourcing, the massive deficit that amounts to a mortgage on our children's future, or the fact that terrorism around the world is at an all-time high. So he simply says that he has "delivered." End of speech.

In a tough complex world, nothing goes down as smooth as an easy answer and an empty assurance that it will be just fine (as long as we stay on Orange Alert, of course).

Nevertheless, I have a deep optimism in our ability as a nation to pursue the substance that should stand behind presidential declarations. America is based on this kind of skepticism. Incumbent presidents (Republican or Democrat) should have a tougher time because they have to get re-elected on their records as president, not on their promises for the future. By definition, Bush can't campaign the same way that Kerry can. Bush can't promise reform without undermining the last four years. So the White House is telling us that "it's not as bad as you think." There is no better demonstration of this tactic than this: When on July 15 the White House announced that the federal deficit for 2004 would be $455 billion (up from $374 billion in 2003), it declared this to be "good news" because five months earlier they projected that it would be $521 billion. I've got to try this technique. Next time I go out with my buddies, I will tell my wife that I probably won't be home for several days. Then, when I stagger in at 4:30 in the morning, I can say “Good news, honey! I'm home early!” Honestly, this spin is so crass you can see the strings. Not very impressive. All I am hearing is that, regardless of what we see around us, we need to trust our President to do what is right. Well, I think it is pretty obvious what happens when we do that.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Cynthia Sneed, Red Stater 

Question Number Two: In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Sen. John Kerry criticized the Bush administration on domestic policy, being especially critical of Bush on issues such as veterans, Medicare, and education. Bush counterattacked by declaring that he had "delivered" in all these areas. Whom do you find more persuasive? Has or hasn't Bush "delivered"?

Since I am a teacher, a university professor, I am going to focus on education. Team Kerry/Edwards, the Democratic National Committee, and the National Education Association are against No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and want to repeal the legislation. Kerry, of course, voted for NCLB before he decided against it: He is nothing if not consistent in his inconsistency. The provisions of NCLB are targeted to assessment and accountability. No more football coaches teaching geometry, no more drama teachers in economics.

Educators today in the K-12 system are willing to assess their programs, but they want to set their own standards and then determine themselves if they have met the criteria they developed. They despise standardized tests such as the ACT or SAT because they are reliable indicators of student performance, unlike inflated grades today. The average high school GPA is a 3.0 or higher, but that is not reflected in the ACT score.

What are the dastardly NCLB requirements liberals so despise _ and business school professors, along with those in hard sciences such as biology, physics, and computer science are cheering? They are as follows:

Highly Qualified Teachers: To be deemed highly qualified, teachers must have: 1) a bachelor's degree, 2) full state certification or licensure, and 3) prove that they know each subject they teach (now, how unfair is that?).

States must measure the extent to which all students have highly qualified teachers, particularly minority and disadvantaged students and have a plan as to how to meet the goals of all children having highly qualified teachers.

Demonstration of Competency: Teachers (in middle and high school) must prove that they know the subject they teach Imagine! English teachers who can read and write! Math teachers who can actually count!

President Bush has provided more funding for K-12 education than any other administration. The 2005 budget includes more increases in the budget, a total of $37 billion dollars (up from about $25 billion) -- even though there is no evidence that simply increasing spending on education provides results.

There must be accountability and assessment. They are whining about a lack of funding while overall Department of Education funding by has increased 36 percent, from $42.2 billion to $57.3 billion. Funding for poor students has increased 52 percent. Funding for teacher recruiting and retention has increased 39 percent and funding for reading programs has increased from $286 million to $1.26 billion.

We spend untold billions on correcting the mass problems in K-12 and in remedial education for universities. If we can get them to do a better job in K-12, we will have more resources at the postsecondary level to train a skilled workforce to meet the challenges of a new century. Instead, we are spending time teaching children who have received 12 years of education the basics in math, reading and writing. What is wrong with this picture?

I really do not know how much more money they need to teach kids to read, write and count.

Two independent studies (Education Leaders Council; James Peyser, Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education, and Robert Costrell, chief economist in the Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance) have concluded that NCLB provides enough funding to cover the costs of implementation.

NCLB is the best thing to happen to education in America in 40 years, and all one need do to see the effectiveness of the legislation is to listen to the liberals and teachers' union members screaming about the "unfairness" of the requirements -- while watching the reading and math scores improve.

Anybody who doubts we are in need of a massive overhaul of the educational system in America need only go to their nearest university and ask for the demographic data on majors, especially those in science, computer science, and engineering. How many American students are enrolled? How many American minority students are enrolled? How many international students are enrolled? Why are so many international students studying engineering, chemistry, and computer science compared to American students? What does this mean for future domestic security? What does this mean for our children born, raised and educated here that they are not able to do the work, to understand the concepts it takes to become an engineer or physicist?

The decline of our public education system is the most insidious form of racism and bigotry because it deprives our children of their potential. When a child sits in the classroom for an academic year with a teacher who, maybe with the best of intentions, is not skilled for that course, that child is deprived of a year of learning and growth. When a child sits for year after year in a failing school with no way to move to another school and no hope of better teachers or learning environment, that child is deprived of hope.

As for Medicare, I only have one comment. President Clinton had eight years to provide seniors with some type of drug benefit with no results. The Democrats controlled the House and Senate for most of the last 25 years, when drug costs started steeply climbing, and never did anything. Team Kerry/Edwards apparently have a plan but have not revealed what their plan would require, other than to say they will allow importing drugs from Canada and overseas. Drugs from Mexico -- now there's a new concept.

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Joe Franklin, Red Stater 

Question Number Two: In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Sen. John Kerry criticized the Bush administration on domestic policy, being especially critical on issues such as veterans, Medicare, and education. Bush counterattacked by declaring that he had "delivered" in all these areas. Whom do you find more persuasive? Has or hasn't Bush "delivered"?

Sen. Kerry delivered a compelling, patriotic speech to the convention. It would have been great for an Independence Day or Memorial Day celebration, but for an acceptance speech it was soft and thin. Kerry gave no details for issues such as veterans, Medicare, and education.

He needs to: (1) clearly explain his tax reform. We want numbers; (2) lay out his plans on these issues, giving the costs and funding for these programs and pay the deficit; (3) show that his health care/Medicare proposals will not cause a train wreck for those of us struggling to pay for health insurance in the private sector; (4) show us the money; and (5) show us what legislation he has sponsored during his Senate career on furthering the above issues.

If there are no proposals on these issues in his record as a senator, the people of Massachusetts and the nation are the losers. If he has been aware for years of these issues and is only now professing them during this presidential campaign, the people are again the losers. Does one sit on these issues until they have presidential aspirations? Perhaps that explains why we have elected governors over senators for president in recent history.

The acceptance speech mentioned only two items regarding his Senate career: putting 100,000 cops on the street and working with Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) to find the truth on prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, finally to make peace with Vietnam. The report on POWs AND MIAs, however, was inconclusive: No determination was made of POWs alive at the end of the war.

Yes, I believe President Bush has delivered on veterans, Medicare and education. What about the increase of over $20 billion in veterans’ benefits since 2001? (Note: Kerry has consistently voted against Veterans Administration and veterans’ health care.) What about the coverage for prescription drugs for seniors and disabled under Medicare? (Note: Kerry has missed numerous votes on Medicare issues.) What about No Child Left Behind, school choice, and other education issues? (Note: Where was Sen. Kerry?)

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Terri Falbo, Blue Stater 

Question Number Two: In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Sen. John Kerry criticized the Bush administration on domestic policy, being especially critical on issues such as veterans, Medicare, and education. Bush counterattacked by declaring that he had "delivered" in all these areas. Whom do you find more persuasive? Has or hasn't Bush "delivered"?

It is a sad statement about our society that as the wealthiest country on earth we have not found a way to provide health coverage for all of our seniors, quality education for our children, nor even adequate health care and sustenance for our veterans. Unfortunately, the policies of the current administration have moved us further away from these worthy objectives.

Medicare. When you really look into the Medicare prescription drug bill passed last November, you can see that it was written by - and to benefit - big drug companies rather than for our seniors and people with disabilities. It gives hundreds of billions in contracts and tax breaks to drug companies and the insurance industry, yet has enormous gaps in coverage, does nothing to control drug prices, and is already contributing to the worsening finances of the Medicare system, according to independent trustees who monitor Medicare.

* David Halbert, a Texas financial backer of President Bush (who happens to be a drug industry executive), personally crafted the new drug card program. His company was one of the first approved to participate in the program. A provision in the bill actually prohibits Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices - common practice in business when buying in large quantity. Another provision pushed by a coalition of big drug companies, the so-called Employers' Coalition on Medicare, will give taxpayer subsidies to HMOs who want to lure seniors away from traditional Medicare coverage. HMOs will get this subsidy even for reducing retirees' existing drug coverage. So this subsidy effectively provides a financial incentive to reduce retiree benefits, according to the Center for American Progress.

The Bush administration used Medicare funds to produce and distribute covert propaganda disguised as news stories praising the proposed law, according to the General Accounting Office, a neutral investigative arm of Congress. Also with taxpayer money, the Bush administration carried out a $12.6 million advertising campaign promoting the new Medicare drug law.

* Many seniors have sought relief from high prescription-drug prices by buying them illegally from Canada, where the government has been able to negotiate much lower prices. So far, no seniors have been arrested, but the Bush administration has opposed the proposed bill to legalize the purchase of Canadian prescription drugs.

Education. Many public schools in the United States are literally falling down around the children, with leaking roofs and cracking plaster. Maps, books, and other supplies are often pitifully out of date. Many teachers use part of their modest salaries to buy basic supplies for their students with their own money. It is not uncommon for classrooms to have over 30 or 40 students. While, undoubtedly, some exceptional students are able to learn in such environments, who could argue that such conditions make the task more difficult?

Some countries where excellent public education is a reality (such as Sweden) limit class size to 15 students per teacher. As many studies have shown, what's needed is the investment of more public money in the following:

* more teachers for smaller classes
* repair of dilapidated schools
* fuller funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, and other resources so children arrive ready to learn.

The policies put forth by President Bush and his advocates do absolutely nothing to address the main problems plaguing public education in the United States. Instead, the main idea they advance is that schools, teachers, and parents have to be “held accountable.” Then there is always the condemnation of “throwing money” at the schools. But these are code words and phrases designed to keep people from really thinking. No one would argue that anyone should be unaccountable or that money should just be thrown!

So how does the President think that everyone involved is held accountable? The main basis of his No Child Left Behind act is to administer more standardized tests and to slash funding for schools that do not have enough passing scores. The pressure is on everyone to teach and learn “to the test” rather than in learning how to learn or to develop cognitive ability. On top of this extremely narrow view of knowledge acquisition is woefully inadequate funding. Some states are rebelling and declaring that they will not comply with NCLB because it amounts to an unfunded federal mandate that is burdensome and likely to produce questionable results.

I say: Stop throwing the money at the companies that produce, administer, and evaluate the standardized tests and start directing it where it will make a real positive difference.

Veterans. Despite all the rhetoric, President Bush's record shows a blatant disregard for veterans, as well as those currently serving in the military.
Take spending on Veterans Administration health-care costs. VA officials have testified that it would take a 13 to 14 percent hike in the VA health care budget just to maintain the status quo. This is in line with recent inflation nationally in health-care costs. Even so, the President supported only a 5.4 percent increase. In August 2003, the Bush administration announced the closing of seven VA hospitals around the country, despite reports of at least 230,000 veterans being forced to wait more than six months for an initial visit to a physician at VA medical facilities.

In January 2003, the Bush administration announced it would cut access to health benefits for 160,000 middle-income veterans (Associated Press, 1/16/03). Then the President proposed more than doubling prescription co-pays for veterans earning more than $24,000. A Democratic amendment rejected that increase (Washington Post 7/22/03).

In summary, the President's policies have indeed “delivered” - to the giant corporations, insurance companies, drug manufacturers, testing companies, and military contractors — instead of to our seniors, children, veterans, or the welfare of the public at large.
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   •  10/24/2004 - 10/31/2004
   •  10/31/2004 - 11/07/2004
   •  11/07/2004 - 11/14/2004

Bloggers from
Blue State (Pa.)

Terri Falbo

Born and raised in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Terri Falbo is a union organizer who has lived in Philadelphia for almost 30 years. She graduated from Temple University and previously worked as a construction worker for 17 years.

Tim Horner

Tim Horner grew up in Iowa, but has lived out significant chunks of his adult life in Chicago, IL and Oxford, England. He is married and has four children (14, 12, 10 and 7). Having grown up as an Evangelical in the Midwest and still a practicing Christian, he is concerned with how religion and politics mix. Because of a combination of circumstance and apathy, he has never voted in a presidential election. He currently teaches Humanities at Villanova University.
Bloggers from
Red State (Ala.)

Joe Franklin

Alabama native Joe Franklin, 58, was born in Pike County and grew up on a farm in Crenshaw County. He graduated from Troy State University in 1967. After working for 28 years with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles as a parole and probation officer, retired to Crenshaw County, which is just south of Montgomery, where he spends his days working on the farm.

Cynthia Sneed

Gadsden resident and local college professor Cynthia Smith Sneed has a doctorate in Accounting from the University of Alabama. Her fields of academic research are in state pension and employee benefit issues. She has been published in numerous academic accounting journals and has done research for the Alabama Policy Institute. She is a member of the American Accounting Association, Governmental Finance Officers Association as well as being active in the Republican Party.

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