From The Vaults

If Pro School Tax Message Is Given Platform At School Meetings, Should Anti Message Be Given Equal Time?

According to Kettering’s School Superintendent, Jim Schoenlein, in his memo to the Kettering School Board, in previous levy campaigns, Kettering school officials did not address school gatherings and events to build levy support. Schoenlein says he is changing this policy and in this new 6.9 mill levy campaign, Schoenlein, and other school officials, “have been stepping up at meetings, gatherings, and events to say a few words about the levy.”

In his notes to the Kettering School Board, Schoenlein lists all of the school meetings between now and the May 4 election (see page 5), and indicates that because of multiple events “we will have to divide up to cover everything.”

It would be inappropriate and seemingly unlawful for school officials to take advantage of a school gathering to advocate for the election of a specific candidate, Republican or Democrat. And, I’ve never heard that such candidate advocacy ever happens at school meetings. But it also seems inappropriate for school officials to take advantage of a school gathering to advocate for the passing of a specific ballot issue. Doesn’t such advocacy violate the rules that govern non-profits, such as schools and churches?

What if a community member in attendance of such school gatherings wanted to use the opportunity to address the assembled Kettering parents with reasons why a “No” vote on the levy should be considered? At public meetings of non-profit organizations, shouldn’t both sides of an issue be given equal time?

Similarly, I’m interested that Kettering Schools’ publication, “The Blue Ribbon Report,” paid for with school tax money, in this Spring, 2010, issue, uses about half of the copy space in promoting the levy. There is much pertinent information that is omitted and only a pro-levy position is presented. It hardly seems right that tax money should be spent on one-sided levy advocacy.

In his memo to the board, the first topic Schoenlein addresses is the “Levy Update.” He praises three full time school employees working in the “public relations” office for their fine work creating a levy web-site. Using tax money to pay for work done to promote a ballot issue must be unlawful. There was no indication in the superintendent’s memo that the pro-levy work of these three employees happened after their regular working hours.

The Kettering levy campaign is impressive (see page 4), and has all the indications of a professionally organized effort. Since schools are continually involved in levy campaigns they have a lot of practice. The plans call for:

  • yard signs
  • field signs
  • parent newsletters
  • neighborhood walks
  • levy brochure to all registered voters
  • levy packets to all absentee voters
  • three different full color postcards sent
  • neighborhood levy coffee gatherings
  • a “Turn Out Seniors” project
  • employee fundraising
  • vendor fundraising
  • letters to the editor
  • newspaper ads
  • levy message on all school marquees
  • get-out-the-vote calling project

In previous campaigns, Citizens for Kettering Schools usually spend over $15,000 in a given campaign. The effort seems mostly funded by individual contributions from Kettering school employees — from money regularly withheld from the employees’ checks. According to the DDN, $9,133.70 was shown raised in this last report to the Board of Elections.

School employees, along with school vendors, represent a special interest in our community of individuals directly financially benefiting from Kettering Schools, and, it makes sense that this special interest seeks to assure a generous income continues to flow to the school system. After all 86% of all school expenditures goes to school personnel. As it stands, the 6.9 mill levy request is based on a five year projection that shows increases in personnel pay of 4.82% per year. A contribution to the levy campaign, from a school employee’s point of view, is a good investment.

But it seems unfair, and, I wonder if it is lawful, for Kettering schools to use school gatherings and school property, such as school marquees, to give one-sided advocacy of the 6.9 mill levy. It also seems unfair, and, I also wonder if it is lawful, that Citizens for Kettering Schools, a Political Action Committee, does not pay sales tax on items it purchases.

The bigger question is: what is the long term strategy in Kettering to build a great public education system? A school special interest v community strategy cannot work in the long run to build a great system.


Should Christians Boycott Glen Beck?

It turns out that some conservatives not only think that government shouldn’t seek to advance social or economic justice, they think that religion should not work for social justice either. Conservative spokesperson Glen Beck is urging Christians to refuse to attend any church preaching social justice.

“I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church web site,” Beck urged his audience. “If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

The idea that a Fox commentator would push people to leave their churches as a principled conservative stand, predictably, is a little controversial. Maybe that is the point for Mr. Beck — to get attention — but now it looks like his quest for attention may have backfired. There seems to be a movement forming to boycott Mr. Beck.

I’m reading that Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a network of progressive Christians, is urging Christians to stop watching Mr. Beck’s TV program — unless Beck apologizes.

Wallis writes, “You asked people to leave their churches, a serious thing, so until we have a public dialogue about this, or until you apologize, I will keep asking people to stop watching your show.”

Wallis addresses Mr. Beck: “You first urged Christians to leave churches that preached social justice. Today, you went further, saying that social justice “is a perversion of the gospel.” Well, that says it all. Perhaps you don’t realize that most Christians believe social, economic, and racial justice are at the heart of the gospel, not a perversion of it..”

In this clip of Mr. Beck’s radio show, in which Beck responds to a Catholic listener who complains that his daughter is being taught about “social justice,” Beck says “social justice” as taught today is a perversion of the gospel taught by Jesus.

How Christians should behave is a great question. The scripture teaches we should overcome evil with good. Should Christians boycott Glen Beck until he apologizes? Or maybe put him on the rack until he relents?

Christians must have faith in the notion that truth itself is a great force. Mr. Beck is a self-anointed jester. Sometimes only a jester can provoke needed and important discussions. Maybe Mr. Beck’s comments about Christianity will provoke some Christians, who prior to this agreed with his every word, to question their unqualified allegience to his point of view, and maybe his comments will cause in-depth independent thinking.

Christians should thank Mr. Beck for helping to raise an important issue, an important question about the purpose and aim of churches and the message of Christian teaching.


What Divides “Liberals” And “Conservatives” Is The Central Question Of System Purpose

The framework I’m hanging my hat on, so to speak, is “systems’ thinking.” A systems’ thinking problem solving framework is neither Conservative, nor Liberal. It is scientific. What divides individuals who consider themselves “Conservatives” from those who consider themselves “Liberals,” more than anything, is how they answer the central question of how system purpose should be defined.

The United States itself can be seen as a system, and the general question, both Liberals and Conservatives need to answer, is, How can this system, known as America, be made to work? But, made to work at what? The first question to guide any system analysis is: What is the aim and purpose of the system? I gave my answer to the question, about aim, over a year ago, when I wrote: “How Can The System Known As The United States Be Made To Work To Provide “Liberty and Justice For All”?

My assertion that system aim should be “liberty and justice for all,” I imagine, might label me as “Liberal.” Someone who considers him or herself “Conservative” might define the aim of the system in other terms — maybe, instead of fulfilling the vision of “liberty and justice for all,” for example, rather, fulfilling the vision, as they understand that vision to be, of the founding fathers for individual liberty — as expressed in property rights or shown in freedom from governmental interference, etc.

Liberals and Conservatives simply have different views of what the purpose of the system should be.

A discussion, for example, on abolishing the progressive income tax system, conducted by Liberals, would center on whether or how or to what degree, such a change would add or subtract from the overall liberty and justice of individuals in the system. A discussion on whether tax rates on the rich should be increased would be based on the same criteria.

A Conservative might object and heap scorn on the notion that the founding fathers would have approved of “the power of the majority to steal from the minority.” But, the question as to whether the founding fathers would have approved of a progressive income tax is a useless distraction. It’s useless to argue about things that can’t be changed. And the 16th amendment is not going anywhere. So-called Conservative views often seem an expression of a wishful thought that the last 200 years of American history somehow never happened, and that the aim of the system should be the same as that of the founding fathers.

This is 2010, not 1810, and 18 yr. olds, and the unpropertied and women and blacks can vote, and, I believe, the proper way to frame the question that should determine our political discussion is: Can our system be made to work for the common person, be made to work for the common good? Can we make the system work to produce a government for the people?

The idea of a government by the people, for the people, is opposed to the reality of a government by special interests, for special interests. A government chosen via an authentic and robust democracy would be quite different from the government we have, one chosen via antidemocratic and corrupt processes.

There needs to be consensus about the purpose of the system, if there is ever to be any coherent dialogue as to how the system can be made to work. If the purpose of the system is not “liberty and justice for all,” then what should it be?


The Failure To Reform Health Care Is Another Reminder Of Who Is In Control — The Party Of Money

In Washington, the State of the Union projected an elaborate show — a conclave of the powerful, acting out an impressive ceremony. From the POV of an anthropologist — say, from the planet Xenon — I’m wondering: What is fair analysis of the big meeting in Washington last Wednesday night?

The Xenonian anthropologist, I’m thinking, in observing the State of the Union crowd, would try to understand: Why, in a great nation of 300 million, does this particular tiny group of individuals have the reigns of power? A brief investigation would reveal that in this tribe everything seems to have to do with something called money.  The Xenonian anthropologist would want to know: Why, in this society, do some individuals have a lot of money, others a moderate amount of money, and the vast majority not nearly enough money?

In our society what is hard to see, with all the focus on partisan political differences and partisan bickering, is that, in actuality, there is great consensus within our ruling political elite. Our Xenonian anthropologist would learn that the impressive State of the Union ceremony, for the most part, was a gathering of vassals. The actual lords of the realm were elsewhere, out of public eye, pulling the strings.

The ruling elite are the Party of Money.  This Party has the actual power and it transcends and controls both the Republican and Democratic Parties. Over the years, this Party of Money has gained the upper hand in the corridors of power, via campaign finance laws, via gerrymandering, via sophisticated and very effective propaganda, via corrupt political parties.

Many who worked to elect Obama, thinking he would act to represent the interest of average people and bring “change,”  now are bitterly disappointed. This could be a transforming moment in our nation when, because of their great disappointment with Obama and the Democratic Party, millions begin to have their eyes open and begin to realize our democracy is ineffectual, and begin to see that the Democratic Party is part of the problem. Millions are concluding that the Democratic Party, in large part, is simply another front for the Money Party.

As I explain here, the local Party has been taken over by special interests and acts antidemocratically. An antidemocratic Democratic Party is easy pickings for the Money Party, and the Montgomery County Democratic Party organization, I imagine, is typical of the entire Democratic Party.

Those Democrats disgusted with the Democratic Party need to begin to work hard to reform the Party to make it the Party of democracy, the Party of the people.  Where better to start than here in Montgomery County?


Special Interests Controlling Montgomery County Democratic Party Suppress Expansion Of Participation

The leadership of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, it appears, is really not much interested in expanding the Party’s membership. It is all about control. It is all about maintaining the status of special interests.

Last night I attended the January meeting of the Montgomery County Democratic Party. I asked our chairperson, Mark Owens, about publicity for the upcoming Reorganization Meeting. His answer — There has been no publicity, so far. Mark said he had sent out one News Release, but, neither the DDN nor any other news media had reported it.

At the December meeting, I made a motion that the Party spend $500 in advertising to attempt to inform Montgomery County Democrats about our big Reorganization Meeting this Spring. My motion went nowhere, but Mark, at that time, indicated that he would take action to publicize this important event. But, nothing.

The deadline for potential delegates to the Reorganization Meeting to file with the Board of Elections is soon upon us — February 18.

I pointed out to Mark that information about this deadline is not even on the Party’s local web-site. Mark indicated, however, that he intended on putting a notice on the web-site very soon. Yesterday, I posted, “To Reform Our ‘Political Class’ System, We Need A Grassroots Movement To Reform Our Political Parties.” The current leadership of the Montgomery County Democratic Party shows no interest in motivating such a grassroots movement.

At the start of the Central Committee Meeting, as people were milling about, I pointed out to Gary Steiger that, likely, most of those present were earning their personal income via their political efforts. There was an unusual number of elected officials in attendance — because the all important Screening Committee, of which they are members, had met prior to the Central Committee Meeting.

Those who might be thought of as “regular Democrats,” last night, I’m guessing, were outnumbered by Democratic elected officials and Democrats who earn their income via patronage jobs provided by the Party. These vested Democrats control the local Democratic party.

Mark Owens, himself, is an elected official, and makes his income as Clerk of Courts. At least one of Mark’s employees, I know, is very active in the County Party organization, and probably more. This seems typical. Employees of elected Democratic officials make up an important part of the local party organization.

The Democrats who control the local Democratic Party organization, it seems, are in one of two special interest groups:

  1. Individuals who make their income via their political connection, with the chair, Mark Owens, the model for this group.
  2. Individuals who feel that because of their longevity and service to the Party, they are entitled to special privilege.

Individuals in both groups are likable and well meaning. But they are mistaken, because they have no interest in the Party operating democratically, no interest in expanding the group to include a lot of “regular Democrats.”

Mark defends the policies and practices of the current leadership and asserts that a majority of Montgomery County Democrats agree with the current leadership. I believe, absolutely, he is wrong. Mark is not taking a chance. He is not using the opportunity of the coming Reorganization Meeting to invite “regular Democrats” to meaningful participation within the local party.

The antidemocratic policies of the current party leadership, that focuses on advancing the special interests of the current leadership, mean that it is impossible for the Party to do a good job. The inertia of the group is overwhelming. The group is stuck in the old ways — including topdown boss management — from 50 years ago.

The internet makes it possible to form active meaningful communities in which individuals are empowered with shared information and empowered to make meaningful participation. But empowering regular Democrats to full participation in the Party seems risky to those individual who already enjoy special privileges — so the Montgomery County Democratic Party falls far short of accomplishing what it should and could accomplish.

The Party’s failure is seen in the fact that it is not advancing good candidates. It has not prepared for the future. It has failed over the years to groom and inspire good candidate prospects. As of last night, there is no Democratic candidate to take on Republican Mike Turner in the 3rd U.S. Congressional District. There are no candidates to challenge Republican Peggy Lehner in the 37th OHD, nor Republican Terry Blair in the 38th OHD.

This lack of good candidates — the lack of any candidates — is pathetic, a missed opportunity. A vigorous Montgomery County Democratic Party would be a community of Democrats encouraging and challenging each other and forging effective leadership as part of that community. But, as it is, nothing.

The only hope for the Party’s future is that the Party begin to act as a meaningful democratic community — infused with new blood, new ideas, new commitment. The requirement written into state law that political parties must organized according to democratic principles, through free elections, is very wise. We simply need to see that this law is effectively followed — regardless that the special interests are now in control of the local party.

Political parties are essential to our democracy. For our democracy to have any chance of working, political parties must themselves be democratic. We now have less than four weeks to alert and involve Montgomery County Democrats — before the February 18 deadline.

The application to have your name put on the ballot is simple — it only requires your signature. You can download a copy here. Precinct names have changed and I have the voter list in my computer. Send me an e-mail at, and I will send you your precinct name and number.

You are invited to join my Dayton Democrats group on Facebook.