Saturday, May 23, 2009

Propaganda for our kids…

I just finished editing a publication for the SJSU-affiliated university transportation center I have done work for following my graduation in May 2000. To be honest (and not surprising), much of the stuff I edit ultimately has a liberal slant.

I actually have a couple I can talk about, but for now, one at a time. The one I’m writing about today is a transcript proceedings of a ninth annual sustainable transportation contest for junior high school-aged kids—It’s called the Garrett Morgan Sustainable Transportation Symposium. It’s a teleconference event, with usually 5 to 8 schools participating via videoconference from places such as Caltrans or Hampton Roads Transportation, for example.

Of course there are politicians involved, usually the secretary of transportation or his representative. For years that has been Norman Y. Mineta, who did a great job of keeping political remarks to a minimum, even though he was a Democrat working for a Republican administration. After all, the event is for kids, to get them thinking about creating innovations in transportation, be it creating a solar-powered light rail system or a hydrogen-fueled automobile. The winning team gets a trip to San JosĂ© to attend the Mineta Transportation Institutes’ Scholarship Banquet and graduation (for students earning their masters in transportation management). It’s really not a place to get kids pulled into political dogma.

This year’s symposium went a tick off-script. The new secretary of transportation made his first appearance and for the first time in nine years (at least the nine years I've edited or read the raw transcripts), the remarks were politically charged. Please remember, the audience is junior high-aged kids. And I want to know your opinion … am I overreacting?

Secretary LaHood: … thank you to the students for participating in the program. Norm Mineta, my predecessor in this job, called me and asked me if I would participate, and so I’m delighted to do that. I know this is a very important program to try and get young people involved in issues of transportation and knowledgeable about transportation.

As a former teacher, I can tell you that during the time that I taught, I really wanted to teach because of the teachers that I had when I was growing up and I can tell you, when I was your age, as a student, nobody in my class, none of my classmates, would have ever predicted that Ray LaHood was going to be the secretary of transportation. And I can also tell you none of my classmates would ever have told you that Ray LaHood was going to be a member of Congress; but my point in saying that is that I feel privileged to be a part of a very, very historic administration.

(Here is where it really goes off-template)

President Obama is a young man when it comes to this position that he holds and he was a member of the United States Senate before he was elected president, and throughout his campaign, he talked about the importance of getting young people involved in many different aspects of public service, and so I’m delighted to say to all of you, you’re a part of a very important program. The idea of public service, whether it’s transportation or any other aspect of public service, is very, very important.

And the reason that I mention that, people would be surprised if they went back to my classmates and asked them, “Can you believe that Ray LaHood’s the Secretary of Transportation, or was a member of Congress?” Because when I was growing up, and when I was your age, the one important thing that I knew is that getting a good education was the one thing that would lead to my success. Whether it’s a Congressman or the Secretary of Transportation, or a teacher, having a good education is absolutely your ticket to, really, success in America…

So I encourage you today to participate as much as you can. I know that you’re going to be judged on some essays that all of you have put together, and projects that you have put together, …but you’re all winners. Everybody’s a winner here today, because you’re a part of the program. You value the idea that learning more about transportation, learning more about the different things that we do, has value to building on the other things like reading, writing, and arithmetic, which are pretty basic, but are the foundation for lots of other opportunities.

So I encourage you to continue your educational opportunities as long as you possibly can. We never stop learning. The formal part of it is what you’re involved with now, but the more informal part will be when you go out into the workplace and seek careers and really become a part of the fabric of America that has made our country so great, a knowledge-based [citizenry] that can really do what needs to be done. So I’m delighted to be a part of the introductory part of your program today and maybe if there’s a question or two from any of the students that are gathered here, or that are gathered in California, you know, I’d be happy to answer them. Does anybody have a question? Yes? Could you just tell us your name?

(We are supposed to assume this question was generated by a seventh grader …)

Q: Secretary LaHood, with the present economic crisis, what challenges do you (inaudible)?

A: Well, when the president invited me to be a part of his administration, what he told me was that his number-one priority was to get people to work, to get people to work in good-paying jobs and part of his strategy for doing that is what we’re doing in the department. The Congress passed a bill that allocated billions of dollars to build new roads, new bridges, to get people onto buses, to give money to transit districts so they can buy buses. To pay the people that are working in the transit districts to develop a complete rail system around the country, high-speed rail and so we have been working with the governors and the people in the states to provide money to them to put people in good-paying jobs building roads and bridges and helping our transit districts and so one part of what the president really has tried to accomplish is, this spring, summer, and fall, you’re going to see an enormous number of people working around the country in good-paying jobs as a result of the legislation that the president proposed and the Congress passed that will help people get to work.

Our economy is very bad right now. There are a lot of people out of work and at DOT, we’re trying to help people get back to work in good-paying jobs and the president is also working with the banks. He’s also working with the real-estate people to try and get both of those industries back into a position where they can really be strong again and the combination of what the president’s doing with the banking industry, with the real-estate industry, what we’re doing at DOT with the money that Congress has given us, you’re going to see an enormous number of people working in good-paying jobs and hopefully getting our economy back to where it once was, where we don’t have so much unemployment and people are working.

The Department of Labor has money that they’re getting out to train people for new opportunities; but we believe, over the next year, that we will have many opportunities to get people back to work, to get our economy back in a position to where it’s in a much better shape than it is right now. So I don’t know if that answers your question, but I think that addresses some of the things you were asking about.

(Yet another question “generated” by a seventh or eighth-grader)

Q: What exactly is the Department of Transportation doing for sustainability?

A: Sustainability is now something that we’re really focused on as we get into development of a new, what we call “highway bill,” a new transit bill, really trying to sustain the assets that we have in our country. We have a state-of-the-art interstate system second to none anywhere in the world and part of what we need to do in the highway bill is to make sure we protect those assets, that we have the money, the resources, to make sure that those assets are really protected.

And we want to do that with other forms of transportation, whether it be rail, whether it be light rail, or whether it be what we’re doing with our assets at airports, where we know that a lot of people fly in and out of airports, and so we’re right on the cutting edge, or the beginning of developing sustainable opportunities for the assets that we have, and the way forward is to make sure that there is sustainability in everything that we do. 

(And yet another "student" question … perhaps)

Q: What do you believe is the greatest problem in the environment today in America? And what would you like to change about it?

 A: Well, first of all, I think that one of the big issues that America is now addressing is the awareness that we have some very serious environmental problems and concerns that need to be addressed by this administration and by Congress. You have to identify the problem, and people have to be aware, and I think people are becoming aware, for what Vice President Gore has done, and the work that he has done, and others have done, to say, “We’ve got some serious environmental problems.”

And it’s not just the United States. It’s a worldwide problem, worldwide issue. So, first of all, the awareness of this is certainly the first way that we identify we have a problem.

The president has a team of people working in the White House on clean air, clean water and developing standards with the automobile manufacturers, with those in the United States that want to be a part of the solution, to really come up with some standards to clean up the air and to set fairly high standards so that as the way forward is, is that we recognize there’s a problem, we identify what the solutions are and we have to get the stakeholders, the automobile manufacturers, those people in the coal industry, those people that produce energy, to recognize they have to be a part of the solution.

And eventually I think the president will send to Capitol Hill, will send to Congress, a list of principles that he would like to achieve to make our air cleaner, to make our water cleaner, to really make our environment much more livable. And so we’re right in the beginning of that process, and we’re making progress. So you’re going to see a lot more written about this, and you’ll see a lot more activity because of the leadership of President Obama, who feels very strongly that we have to address the environmental concerns of our country.

Am I overreacting about this? I think it is so wrong to be feeding kids propaganda like this. I wanted to editing out much of the exchange I’ve shared with you, because it does not add to the proceedings at all, but I was asked to leave it in.

And for those who may not know: Ray LaHood is a Republican (in name only, methinks) from Illinois who has little to no experience in the transportation industry at all. Ranking House Member (Democrat) James Oberstar is likely pulling his puppet strings, much like the mysterious puppet masters who keep TOTUS in line…

 Google Garrett Morgan. He's an interesting story. But it figures that for the first time that I am aware of, this program designed for kids was turned into something political. Or was it? Have I lost my objectivity? 


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