Friday, May 10, 2019

New Hampshire Campaign Finance

Last night I attended a non-partisan campaign finance forum at IGHMS, sponsored by the Raymond Democratic Organizing Committee. The event was organized by Nate Bernitz, and moderated by Representative Kathy Hoelzel. The participants were Steve Marchand seated on the right and representing the left, and Greg Moore seated on the left representing the right. They both agree that the system is broken, but disagree considerably on what should be done about it.



In today's polarized atmosphere it was refreshing to sit for two hours without hearing a single angry word or disparaging remark by either participant or audience member. Each participant focused on their plan rather than denigrating their opponent's plan or attacking them personally. It was the kind of discussion that should be taking place in Concord, in Washington, and online. It can serve as a model for other to follow.

The participants and even the audience members have probably forgotten more about campaign finance than I know. Long ago I was told that a fool is one who knows not, and knows not that he knows not. So I went to learn more. I went to learn from those who did know.

I will tell you up front I went it with a bias. From what I do know, it was my belief that Citizens United was about the worse thing that has happened to our campaign finance system in a very long time. However, I also went it with an open mind. That being said, while I learned a great deal about the complexities of the system, nothing was said that changed my mind.  If anything, I am now more convinced that Citizens United is critically flawed. Let me to tell you a bit about what I learned.

Steve Marchand wanted to replace the current system through his plan of public financing of campaigns. Greg Moore wanted to repair the current system build around Citizen United which recognizes corporations as people and money as free speech.

As an illustration of how the current system is broken, Greg Moore spoke about how large corporations often donate considerable money to candidates running against each other when races are close, or supporting the candidate who is most likely to win. He pointed out, it doesn't matter so much who wins. The reason corporations donate here is because when an issue that impacts them is being considered, they want to be able to have the legislator take their calls. (When was the last time you called a state senator and was able to speak directly to them?) By doing this they ensure that they will be heard. This is took place with Northern Pass and other issues.

Steve Marchand pointed out that individuals circumvent the limitations for donations. As an example, he told of one person owns a few dozen Dunkin Donuts in NH. Each store is an LLC. By having each store donate the maximum amount, this one individual was able to donate a few dozen times more than the law intended.

The topic of PACs and SuperPACs came up and I think they both agree that the transparency intended by regulations has become opaque at best. I seem them as black holes for money.  

Compounding the issue is the technology used to house the campaign finance information. It is not in the least user friendly and makes it extremely difficult to determine the source of campaign donations.

I have a background in technology and have created systems for large organizations. Trust me when I tell you that is NOT difficult to design a system that is easily searchable. The fact that the Attorney General's data base system is difficult for the public to use is not a question of money or technical difficulty. 

When it comes to money influencing votes, Greg Moore stated that the large size of the NH house assured that it could not be bought. He sited a bill that PASSED the Senate by something like 21-3, but FAILED in the house something like 200 and something to 50 something. In my mind, that went a long way toward making the point that the House wasn't bought, but at the same time, it seemed to suggest that we have the best senate that corporate money can buy.

Having the best senate money can buy isn't necessarily a bad thing. We always want the best people in the job, but it seems to me that we can only get the best people for the job if the "buying" is done by the people they represent.  The current system silences the voters.  While the voters are the ones who elect the representative, the huge sums of money being pumped into the system ensure that the candidates are often those who respond to the dollar sign.

Think about the two examples above.  Those thirty Dunkin Donuts have hundreds of employees.  The money made by the owner came from money of his customers and the blood, sweat, and tears of his employees, yet none of us had a say in who got the money. His abuse the system and effectively disenfranchised many of the people who made it possible for him to donate.

In the Northern Pass example, large corporations pumped money into NH from outside the state and had ZERO interest in the well being of our citizens. Their donations drowned out many of the voices from within the state. Yes, I know that Northern Pass failed, which indicates that the system isn't yet fatally flawed, but it was only because of the huge public outcry and the SEC that made the difference.There are plenty of other examples where public outcry was silenced under a ton of money.

Ultimately, ALL campaign money comes from the people. However, much of that money is in the hands of individuals and corporations so that when it is used, it supports their wishes, which are often at odds with the public's.

Having the best government that money can buy is not a bad thing as long as that money has no strings attached. If public money finances all campaigns to the same level, the person being sent to Concord will be the one who has convinced the voters that he or she is the best suited for the job, and once in office they will be accountable to voters and not big money donors and corporations. 

Of course I realize that money is just one of the issues impacting votes and there are ample examples of highly financed campaigns failing, but there were other factors at work that overshadowed financing. In many races, financing is what made the difference.  I don't have a solution, but I do have some insights and suggestions based on my experience as one who taught systems thinking and problem solving.

Peter Senge, considered by many as father of systems thinking in business, teaches if a system is seriously broken, you shouldn't try to fix it.  All you will have is a patched system that functions a bit better than before, but won't be the system you want. If a system is seriously broken, it should be rebuilt from the ground up based on the vision of what you want.

I also taught problem solving using the Big6 method. Much problem solving goes astray because the problem or task is improperly defined. In part, that is what is going on here. The problem that needs to be solved should be stated as, "How do we ensure that money does not determine the outcome of elections or the decisions of those who are elected?"

I know there is still much I do not know, and I am more than willing to listen to anyone who can teach me more, but if you disagree with me, the surest way to ensure that I won't listen to you is to attack my position or my person. So sell me your plan or teach me what I don't know, because my mother didn't raise a fool.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Stress Free 2020 Primary Coverage



In 2013, I began volunteering with RCTV, our local cable TV channel and had the opportunity to play with the big boy toys.  In late 2018 I came up with a plan that would help me provide drama free coverage of the 2020 primary that would allow people to access the views of the candidates without having to wade through flames or having to consume large quantities of Ibuprofen.

The plan was to combine my hobby with Facebook, YouTube, and the RCTV streaming server to create a set of tools and resources that could be used by people in a variety of ways without the stress or turmoil that always accompanies any kind of political forum.

Here is a guide to my tools along with links to access them.

1) The Wired Geezer Facebook page -  https://facebook.com/wiredgeezer
I'm recording as many of the candidates from as many parties as I can, as they appear in NH. The videos are hosted on the RCTV streaming server and posted on the WiredGeezer Facebook page. The unique aspect of the server is that it allows me to index the video so that I break each hour into 2-4 minute segments based on topics being presented or questions being answered. The stress free aspect is ensured by having commenting turned of on the page.

2) Raymond Community Television - http://raymondtv.viebit.com (Videos are in the Primary 2020 folder)
If you want to bypass the WiredGeezer and avoid any kind of commentary. visit this folder to access the indexed videos of all the presentations I have shot or will be shooting. So far I have Andrew Yang, John Delaney, Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, and Pete Buttigieg.

3) The Wired Geezer YouTube channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCb3nfamt3loK1ufA1Mv78ig
The videos here are devoted to my candidate of choice, Andrew Yang.  http://yang2020.com When I mention that name, I get a variety of responses. In no particular order they are:
a) Who???
b) You mean that liberal wingnut that wants to give everyone $1000 a month.
c) Yeah, I know him, but he hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of winning.

If you are thinking any of those, you are not alone.  I thought the same thing for at least 30 minutes after I heard his name, but as I read, my opinions changed. I found out who he was. I found out he wasn't a nut case. He is actually an Independent, but anyone knows a total unknown Independent truly wouldn't have a chance. He a visionary who actually has plans and policies thought out and carefully detailed in his book and on his website.

While only time will tell if he can win, I see his recognition and following growing ACROSS party lines, including a lot of die-hard Trump votes who say he is the only Democrat they would vote for over Trump. Finally, and how many of us thought Trump would win in 2016?.

I could go on in great detail about him, but I'm not going to do that. I would rather you visited the YouTube channel and learn for yourself. I will give you one teaser to help peak your interest. IMHO, until recently he has been intentionally ignored by much of the mainstream media, because he poses a new and different kind of threat to the 1%ers and the status quo. What has changed is that he has been he is polling higher than at least two of the other Democrats in the image above, and that was before he appeared on the Joe Rogan podcast, where his was seen by more than a million YouTube visitors, many of whom were Trump voters and have since appeared to support him on his base camp Facebook page.



Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Drama Free 2020 Primary Tool for Teachers


Imagine a political Facebook page without drama, profanity, flames, or memes.

Imagine a Facebook page where you could send your students to presentations by all the 2020 presidential primary candidates.
 
Imagine if all of those presentations were indexed by topic and you could go to any part of their presentation with the click of the mouse.

Imagine no more! Just visit and follow the Wired Geezer on facebook.com/wiredgeezer , where I'm recording and posting all the candidates that visit New Hampshire.

What's that you say? Your school won't let your students anywhere near Facebook during class? Don't worry.  The Wired Geezer has you covered, because this UNIQUE format is made possible by Raymond Community Television. Just go to RCTV's streaming site raymondtv.viebit.com, locate the Primary 2020 folder and all of the video will be right there!

Each indexed topic is typically 2-3 minutes long, so you can make the most of precious class time.

Commenting has been disabled on the page to eliminate the decisiveness of typical Facebook political pages. All you will see is the candidates presentations and the Q&A sessions that follow them. However, you can send a private message to the Wired Geezer or comment here.

If you like this idea, please share this post.

Thanks,
Art Wolinsky AKA - The Wired Geezer

Monday, February 26, 2018

YouTube Just Fired Me!



Thanks, YouTube! You shut me and other loyal YouTubers off without any recourse. A lot of small YouTube content providers like me are feeling this way, because you changed your partnership rules. In order for me to make money, my videos must be viewed at least 4,000 hours in the past year and my channel must have 1000 subscribers.

I've been posting since 2005, when you first opened your doors.  Just by the brute force of multiple posts, and a few videos that are popular, my videos have been viewed close to 12,000 hours in the past year, but because I never promoted my channel and hardly even added subscribe buttons to the videos I only have 483 subscribers.

My videos were and always will be about anything and everything. Most of them were for family, friends, or students. I would get a real kick out of seeing any video get over 100 views.  I've posted and removed hundreds of videos over the years. I didn't create them with the idea that I would make money. I never even thought about actively promoting my channel. Even so, I've made a few hundred dollars, most of which was passed on to charity.

It's hardly the end of the world, but you are forcing me to change the way I post. I will adjust and now that I know subscribers are important, I will do what I must to gather them, but you've taken some of the joy and fun out of how I use YouTube.

I will narrow the focus of my channel to videos that I think have general appeal.  Instead of public posts on any and all topic. I will stick to wildlife, recipes, and a few other topics.  All the rest will be unlisted videos that will be shared with a smaller target audience who might be interested in my grandson or the growth of perennial rye grass.

So in a shameless act of self promotion, I will now ask you to subscribe to my channel.  


https://www.youtube.com/user/tarbon

If YouTube did the same thing to you, feel free to share your story and a link to your page in the comments.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The American School System Stinks!

It was 1970, and I was one of 15 teachers sitting in a large circle in the faculty room at Fairleigh-Dickinson University. Superintendent Bob Linette of Rockaway township was our professor. After asking up what we thought of the American educational system, one by one, he asked us to respond. I was the last to answer. After hearing 14 people sing the praised of our system, he said, "Mr. Wolinsky?"

I swallowed hard and said, "I think it stinks.."  The collective gasp in the room was audible.  Bob's response was to ask me to explain. I said that we were supposed to be preparing students for life, but we weren't teaching life skills. Life wasn't broken down into 1 hour subjects. The was no math part of my day, not science part, no social studies part. Life is problem solving, communication, and collaboration, but none of those things were what school was about.

His response was simple. He said, "You're absolutely right." Those few minutes validated what I felt throughout my high school and college years, and formed the based of my work for the next forty years. From that day on, I taught to give the kids what they needed and deserved, rather than what the system dictated and worked to try to change the system.

That often put me at odds with my colleagues and administrators. In my early days, I got the reputation as a radical nut, but 20 years later I found myself, like Bob Linette, working with teachers who were entering education. During one workshop a teacher asked me how I made the switch from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. I told her I never made the change, because I never changed the only thing that changed was the lable. I was teaching that way since 1970.  The only difference was that back then I was a radical nut, and the previous week someone had called me a visionary.

Fast forward to 2018, and the pendulum of change is swinging slowly. There is no denying that the skills needed for today's world are at odds with the form and function of many or our schools, but change is often painfully slow! It only took 50 years for the chalkboard to go from prototype to common place, and 25 year for the overhead projector to make it from the bowling alley to the classroom.

Many schools are recognizing the importance of communication, collaboration, problem solving and project based learning.  This video is actually from India, it is just one of any number of countries who are moving toward 21st century education faster than we are.




Next Saturday, here in Raymond, New Hampshire, citizens have a chance to weigh in on the school budget at the 10:00 AM deliberative session. I know for a fact that people will be there arguing that the budget needs to be cut. While I support the budget, I completely understand their desire to keep taxes down, I am a serious odds with some of the rationale for doing that. They will point to graduation rates and test scores, but neither is indicative of what it going on in our schools.

Remember, change is slow. Over the past 5 years or so, our schools have been changing from teacher delivered instruction to problem and project based learning that develops the competencies needed for 21st century life. Evaluation is changing from one size fits all numeric and bubble sheet testing, to competency based assessment, that measures internalized skills rather than arbitrary memorized facts.

We have a new superintendent, a new curriculum director, and a new technology director.  All of them are well versed and committed to the necessary change, but as a community we need to support that change and give it time to take hold. 

I implore those who are concerned with taxes AND education, to learn more about school change and how it is being implemented and do whatever you can to support that change.  On of my contentions is that we are being held hostage by a multi-billion dollar testing industry that is hold us back, because it the kind of assessment needed for the 21st century is bad for their bottom line.

Einstein said, "Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

There's an 800 Pound Gorilla on My Berm and an Elepahant in the Room

(This article was originally posted around April 2017. After reading it, I realize it is relevant today. As a result, I've making some minor adjustments to bring it up to date and am posting it once again.)



Let me start by saying what you read here is my personal opinion.  I was a member of the committee that reviewed the rules and by-laws early in the year and published the results in February of 2017.  In this post, I do not speak on behalf of anyone else.  However, I was privy to the entire process by which the committee wrote its report. There and in this article, I was drawing my past experience and current research, much of which I continued after the publishing of the committee report

I had a combined 10 years on the grievance committee and contract negotiating committee of a large regional school district. I spent three years as the VP of the teachers' association, six years on the Sherwood Glen board (3 as President), and attended dozens of workshops and hundreds of meetings associated with those roles. I've been involved with about two dozen legal actions and arbitrations concerning boards of education and this condo board. I've also been behind the control panel at RCTV during dozens of town meetings and have observed the process by which business is conducted.

That being said, let's start by addressing the elephant in the room.  The rules have been examined and amended numerous times since they were written. They have remained largely unchanged.  The section on ornamentation, to the best of my knowledge has remained relatively unchanged.  There have been times when boards discussed removing some of the prohibitions, but felt is was ill-advised, because they had been established and reaffirmed by previous boards.

However, there were some significant ornamentation related changes to the Commons and Grounds section. The bird feeder rules were changed in response to a rodent issue, and though not officially adopted as a rules change, the board did add adopt guidelines for ornamentation along the edge on the pond. Both changes were made with considerable input from the community, and in the case of pond side ornamentation, the Rockingham County Conservation Commission was consulted.

The changes were implemented, because the rules at that time, were not clear about enforcement of these situations. In order to do what the board felt was right for the community, they they had to  change the rules, but is was not done unilaterally. It was ALWAYS done in public, with public input, and according methods prescribe in the condominium governing documents and state law. It was and is the board's ultimate decision as to changing the rules, but residents were given ample opportunity for input and were well aware of any upcoming enforcement.

If conditions are such that they require a rules change, the board should make the required change with resident input over an appropriate period of time to ensure they are doing what is best for the community.

The decision should be made based on solid research that indicates the need for the change.  For example, the board received complaints about rat sightings. The board acted quickly to deal with the immediate rodent issue and then conducted extensive research to effect a long term solution.The board discussed the need to change the bird feeder rules.  There was disagreement during the discussion, both in the community and on the board, but eventually a consensus was reached and the rules were changed.

A similar process took place for the pond-side ornamentation issue, but unlike the rat situation, there was no time sensitivity or safety issues.  This allowed the board to explore the situation even more thoroughly, bring in the Rockingham County Conservation Commission, and to craft the guidelines in consultation with residents.
 
After examining the rules, the committee came to the conclusion that the rules were reviewed many times in the past and changed as needed.  The question here was whether the area between the back and the conservation land was to be considered berms or commons.  It was determined to be common land. Prohibitions were clear and unambiguous.  However, it was perfectly clear that past boards were lax in enforcing many of those obvious violations.

A choice could be made to allow ornamentation in that area or return it to its natural state.  After consulting with the RCCC, and researching how conservation land around the state was developed to encourage community use, it was decided to create guidelines that would encourage use, protect the pond, roll back some of the changes that were made, and grandfather others. Guidelines were changed so that it could be made clear to future residents what was and was not permitted in that area.

That brings us to the 800 pound gorilla.  There are clearly things which are prohibited by the rules.  Spinners and berm ornaments with moving parts are two examples.  There are other rules that are not open to interpretation by anyone, but what about an 800 pound gorilla statue on my berm.  Nowhere in the rules, does it prohibit an 800 pound gorilla. However, there is a rule that the board reserves the right to deem any ornament in appropriate.  So my 800 pound gorilla will now have to live in my basement, because the community and board would both consider the supersized simian as an inappropriate ornament. 

It is the board's obligation to enforce the rules and the community standards. The prohibitions in the rules are clear. However, it is equally clear that ornamentation IS allowed.  In cases where a clear prohibition is not apparent, a judge or arbitrator will always look at past practice, community standards, and culture that established the norms over the years. Boards need to tread lightly when it comes to gray areas.  At the very least, they must be able to defend their enforcement of ANY rule by citing clear reasons for doing so.


Residents have no choice but to accept board enforcement of items clearly defined by the rules. However, when it come to enforcing ornamentation that they deem acceptable or unacceptable, the board cannot impose their interpretation of what is and isn't appropriate without experiencing considerable resistance or legal challenges.  If they do so without previous public discussion and in violation of by-laws and HB 353, if challenged, the board actions will be unenforceable.

Aside from adhering to by-laws and HB 353, open communication is critical.  Meetings without the public in attendance have been a problem a number of times over the past 7 years or my residency here at Sherwood Glen.  Beginning in 2010, with the establishment of the Website and the publishing of periodic bulletins, boards began a conscious effort to improve transparency.  That trend seems to have been reversed in May 2016 and is in part responsible to the current concerns.

This became a problem when the past two presidents opted to began enforcing all of the prohibitions without due process, inadequate public input, and at unadvertised and undocumented meetings. Enforcing rules is their right and responsibility, but without due process, the actions may be unenforceable. By not including the public they ended up enforcing things that at the very least, were contrary to community opinion and at the worse, violations of by-laws and HB 353, which would make them unenforceable.

Below is a chart which details the communications between the board and the community since 2012. The 2017 figures are only accurate to the extent that they are projections based on currently advertised meetings and other communications.  I hope these figures changes with as the board seeks to be more communicative and transparent.



(Note:2017 communications did improve after the filing of the Rules Review Committee Report and are now reflected in the chart which was published on the Sherwood Glen Facebook page the SherwoodGlen blog.)

The problem has been compounded by the fact that the board was acting between quarterly meetings in violation of by-laws and New Hampshire HB 353. That is also detailed in the report.  This is not a conclusion arrived at by the committee simply through reading the documents cited. Informal contacts with attorneys and town officials were made as well. I will stress here as was stated in the report, I do not feel this was done intentionally. It was most likely through inexperience and a lack of understanding of the processes.

The situation that existed which allowed this controversy to develop could have been avoided if the board followed the by-laws and HB 353. BOTH call for properly advertised meetings. BOTH require minutes. Open meetings require public input.  Meetings at which the public is not invited, under HB 353, MUST be recorded an available for residents to inspect.

With the update of HB 353, any board should realize that holding an open meeting with public input is probably a better option than holding a meeting without the public, especially if the action is going to be controversial.  The only official record of a public meeting likely to exist are the minutes or other printed documentation. The recording of a meeting in which the public is not invited, is a word for word recording of the entire meeting.

Any action taken by a board outside the provisions of the by-laws and HB 353, are basically unenforceable. Regardless of the violation cited and action taken, they could be challenged in much the same way any criminal defense attorney would challenge evidence obtained illegally.  It would be thrown out of court, if it got that far.

The board must conduct all non-emergency business in public, properly advertising them, and allowing the input of residents.  Recognizing the amount of actions and board business that had previously been conducted outside the guidelines of the by-laws and HB 353, the 2017-2018 board stated they will be scheduling montly public meetings along with the quarterly meetings.

This becomes particularly important, because much, if not all of the business previously conducted in violation of by-laws and HB 353, is subject to challenge.The 2017-2018 board needs to revisit items not handled according to prescribe procedures.  Otherwise, past actions would leave the current board vulnerable to legal challenge on things that would otherwise be within their rights to enforce.

The previous board has done much that is positive. Some of the actions taken outside of prescribed procedure are positive in nature, and would be approved had they been discussed in public. They will likely remain unchallenged. Some are not so clear cut and may well have result the new board revisiting the actions and re-mediating as needed.

Moving forward, the new board has many options and opportunities to heal the current rift. I encourage a course correction that will restore harmony in the community and trust in the board.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Digging for Digital Gold

A few hours ago, my grandson and I were sitting on the floor examining the contents of my Rube Goldberg box.  It's literally a collection of junk that I've collected over the years.  I figured he was at the age where he could have some fun with it.

As it turns out we BOTH did.  I came across an old 4.0 megapixel camera.  We threw some batteries in it and found that worked. Unfortunately, it had a strange USB connection for which I didn't have a cable.  I told him there was no way to get the pictures off.

I got up to answer a text that had just come in and while I was texting, he was exploring the camera.  The next thing I heard was, "What's this, Pop-pop?" I turned around to see him holding an SD card that I had overlooked.

I put it in my computer and found digital gold.  There were pictures still on it from 2005!  Some were of projects from students at Southern Regional Middle School and some were pictures from students at the MLK Elementary School in Atlantic City.

The pictures brought back a flood of memories of projects, which back then were ground breaking. The ones from Southern Regional were part of a cross curricular unit in which the entire school participated.  The theme that year was Egypt.  Teachers throughout the school designed and shared lesson plans around that theme.  The energy in school was electric and the unit culminated in the school stage being turned into an Egyptian museum complete with about two tons of sand.

These are a few of about two dozen pyramids made by students as part of one of the math lessons during the project.



The Atlantic City pictures were even more exciting and what's more amazing is that I was talking about this project with my grandson three days before he found them on the camera!

In 2005, I was mentoring 3rd grade teachers to help them integrate technology into the curriculum. During the summer of 2005, Andy Carvin had given us a three day workshop on film making. As part of that July workshop we created what we believe was one of, if not THE first elementary school video blogs, called Atlantic City Rough Cuts.

In September, I introduced them to a digital story telling software called Kartouche. By November  Janine Riggins and her third graders were using Andy's lessons and Kartouche to create products shown in the video below.






Digital gold!