Texas: Where Over Half the Kids Fail

Texas pride is its own animal. In Colorado (among other states), there has been an influx of people from both California and Texas.

When asked, a typical Coloradan is annoyed with the new arrivals. However, their problem seems more acute if the person comes from Texas. Texans can’t help themselves, wearing burnt orange or maroon, “whooping,” flying the Lone Star flag on their car, sporting bumper stickers that say “NATIVE TEXAN” in the middle of a state they left Texas to find. Can’t stop talking about how much better it is where they left. Ridiculous.

When I arrived, however, I was surprised by how well Texas could back up a lot of its claims. It is one thing when a young man from Mitchell, South Dakota (200 miles from my hometown) wins the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. It’s another thing when you see that kind of thing happen on your street…or even your block. The sheer number of people in this state, the geographic enormity of it, and the general pro-Texas feel create success. For some.

Less than half, actually.

And by “success,” I’m just talking about living in a school zone that isn’t a failing one.

Today, Texas is facing the results that come from (a) ignorant bravado; (b) one-party rule similar to that in China; and (c) a general lack of interest in children can bring–failing schools.

A lot of them. 56% of them. Of course, the Texas Education Agency spins it as a 44% success rate. [Note: there is no “Department of Education” around here–it’s an agency, like the Central Intelligence Agency. That way, it sounds like guns could get involved. Texans, at least those in power, tend to like things like that. Call it pride. Seems more like “(a) bravado.”]

The reason? High standards! Rigor! This FANTASTIC business climate! In this budget cycle, Texas CUT more money from its budget than most states HAVE in their total budget. Taxes remain low! Texas is “open for business (wink).” We have failed proudly this year! This is what God wanted us to do: fail our children by the very standards set by this governor, this legislature, this board of education, this tax code, these voters. Of course, the obvious solution would be to set up for-profit ventures (“Open for Business!”) instead of fortifying public schools. There’s money to be made somewhere.

Follow the money, find the conservative.

THIS should be the ONLY issue in Texas statewide elections this year. If somehow people start discussing whether Barack Obama is a “seecrit Mozlim,” the response should be, “OVER HALF THE SCHOOLS IN THIS STATE ARE FAILING!” If the issue turns to gun control, it should meet with “OVER HALF THE SCHOOLS IN THIS STATE ARE FAILING!” If this is about who is the best choice to control runaway government and high taxes, the answer should be the first one to understand that “OVER HALF THE SCHOOLS IN THIS STATE ARE FAILING!”

If this situation doesn’t change the face of Texas politics, it’s time for others to take over the Democratic Party (and the Republican Party, for that matter). It could be a third party…or a fourth party. All I know is this: the wing of the Texas Republican Party in power right now is an abject failure at governing.



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WHY Are They Still Playing?

[Note: this post is flat-out inflammatory. Nobody’s forcing you to read it. If you get upset by inflammatory writing or just looove that Nittany blue,” it’s probably best you move to the other posts. Also, please answer the one-question “poll” at the bottom. Once the numbers hit 50, I’ll act accordingly. Really. I won’t be offended. This is just something I had to post, even if temporarily.]

The following quote comes from a VIDEO you should watch when only you’re prepared to do so. If it doesn’t infuriate you, check yourself.

“We failed in our obligation to provide proper oversight,” trustee Ken Frazier told reporters. “We are accountable for what’s happened here.”

[You’re accountable? Fine. I’ll come visit you in prison, Ken. I really will.]

My last post discussed teachers unions and how they have marginalized themselves in the political world. Unions are more than important–they are NECESSARY. Not always in terms of salaries or health insurance. Rather, unions protect people. Unions give voice to the powerless. The National Education Association, for all it’s bungles, saved my wife’s life. I will die pro-union. Today, I bring an example of what happens when nobody stands up for the least powerful in our world–children. Here goes, starting with a bang.

Penn State is now the worst institution of higher learning in Pennsylvania. It may be the worst in the United States, for that matter. What school could be doing something worse for this long? One line of evidence after another shows this team, this athletic program, this administration, these trustees repeatedly chose to AVOID contacting Child Protective Services about Jerry Sandusky and his pedophilia problem. Now, it comes to the phrase, “self-preservation” on the talk shows [4:55 in interview]. We see myriad PSU representatives who had plenty of opportunity to stop this…and chose a football team over human rights.

Not only do Jerry Sandusky’s victims need help, Jerry needed help. I don’t know what made Mr. Sandusky this way, but it isn’t a random thing. People are reactive beings. Nobody has found a “sexual predator gene” that I know of, though some make wild conclusions. The fact is, something happened to Jerry, and now, he will have to/get to deal with it. My prayers follow him. Regularly. Really.

But that’s why there are supposed to be checks and balances in a system, like a Head Coach, or a Campus Police Department or a President or a board member. It would have taken one well-placed phone call from any of these people to stop this. There are also oversight agencies, like the Big Ten, the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Education. Football aside, if this happens ANYWHERE on a campus and gets covered up, it’s time to drop a heavy hammer. Maybe a school re-staffs a music department where the Band Director has an affair with a 3rd clarinet player [note absence of link here–let me know if you want names]. Maybe a school has to kill off a foreign language program because of a similar scandal during a summer camp [hypothetical]. It doesn’t matter the area. If a school insists on continuing that program without major changes, it shows a lack of commitment and understanding of the severity of this issue. Penn State, itself, needs to come into question.

I want you to compare two covers, coming from a blog about Sports Illustrated. One regards what has become known as “Tatoo-gate” at Ohio State. Players exchanged signed Buckeye memorabilia for cash and tattoos at a Columbus tattoo parlor. The coach was fired, OSU is being sanctioned. SI shows where the blame belongs in their cover, no question. MEANWHILE, the whole “raping kids” thing results in “Poor Joe Pa” walking across with his weary head hanging. Tressel looks like a Nazi war criminal. Paterno? Poor guy…


Christian Hackenberg, perhaps the top high school quarterback recruit this year, has committed to Penn State. He’s 18. Already, I don’t trust him, and I certainly don’t trust his parents or his football coach or the military school that young man comes from. He had many, many choices–and he chose to support…this.

Any ticket holder, recruit, t-shirt buyer, or supporter of that team is complicit now. Don’t tell me otherwise. There are 150 Division I-A (BCS, whatever) schools to choose from as a player, a supporter, or a fan. I would have NO trouble walking away from ANY of my related institutions, including my current employer, if this were the case on one of those campuses. This is true of one of my favorite bars in Austin, Mr. Tramp’s. They are the PSU fan club headquarters. I’ll miss catching soccer games there. I’ll really miss watching my son in FIFA 13 video game tournaments there.

Sound harsh? I’ll give you harsh. Get “molested” in a shower by an old guy while another coach watches. THAT’S harsh. It’s so harsh that we create terms like molestrape, and sexual abuse for what really happens because they are less offensive to people.

Victims become abusers, and that pain never goes away. Would you want to live next door to one of these kids when they become an adult? Want him to watch your 10-year-old while you and your spouse head to the Hamptons for a weekend? If not, then it stands that a school creating these victims (and future perpetrators) needs to be reworked, relocated, restructured, or just plain razed. Perhaps they should change the school’s motto from “Making Life Better” to…[No. I won’t finish this sentence. I want to, though. I really, really want to finish this sentence.]

In an age where Liberal Arts Colleges are struggling, Pennsylvania State University serves as a reminder that bigger is NOT necessarily better. That doesn’t just mean the football program. It means the institution, itself.

It’s a nasty set of things to say, but I don’t have trouble saying these things. I also stand behind them. There’s no excuse for keeping that football program. The fact that it remains today indicates that PSU, its fans, and its support base don’t really care about what happened, and from here on out, ANY support of that team shows support for the atrocities that happened. Somebody who can make them care should do so, and put the safety of children ahead of sport, institutional pride, and any embarrassment.

I’m waiting. Of course, I’ve been waiting.

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Four Million People, Ignored by Using Two Words

In May, Mitt Romney unveiled his education plans for America in front of the Latino Coalition. An effort to show he doesn’t hate them. Education was the key to this. Also helpful is constantly toying with the idea of bringing Marco Rubio in as the VP candidate.


Today, Mitt Romney reached out to voters by speaking at the NAACP conference in Houston. Of course, My Man Mitt (MMM) wasn’t reaching out to black voters with this speech. Instead, he wanted to show two things to all his gang out in the suburbs:

  1. He’s not afraid of large crowds of black people. [Check.]
  2. He’s not racist. [Check.]

Mission Accomplished, George…er, Mitt.

Republicans tend to do this on election years, at least when seeking initial election. Right now, President Obama leads MMM by 90% among black voters (92%-2%) while holding a 3% lead, overall. That’s unreal in politics.

When speaking to minority populations, Republican candidates love to focus on education. Here’s how Yahoo! News covered it:

Romney also appealed to the NAACP audience by touting his proposal to increase school choice. The presumptive GOP nominee has repeatedly described education as the “civil rights issue of our era,” and on Wednesday, he argued that “mediocre schools” are setting up kids for “failure.” In a dig at Obama, he argued that candidates “can’t have it both ways” by arguing they’ll protect kids while also protecting the interests of teachers unions.

How do you blow off over 4 million Americans? By using two words.

Those two words? “Teachers unions.”

The “civil rights” line is a typical Republican tag in election years. John McCain used it four years ago (for a nice analysis of the whole thing, look here). It makes it sound like they’re taking things seriously. They’re not, but it sounds like it. It looks like MMM cares. Appearance is everything in politics. That’s true on both sides. Nothing interesting there.

What’s amazing in this statement is the notion that Barack Obama is doing anything at all to protect teacher interests, union or not. Last week, the National Education Association held its annual Representative Assembly in Washington, DC. Every four years, they hold their annual meeting in the nation’s capitol to get the best speakers in an election year. This is a group that approaches the entire population of Kentucky. If it were a state, the NEA would have 7 electoral votes on its own.

What method did he use to address this group of supporters and HUGE donors to his campaign?

He dropped a phone call on them while kicking off a campaign tour in Ohio. The American Federation of Teachers will hold their annual convention in Detroit later this month. Nothing seems to mention an Obama appearance there, either. In fact, I cannot remember President Obama addressing a teacher union in person. Joe Biden might come. Michelle Obama might do Read Across America. Members watch videos of the president saying nice things to them. John Kerry sent Hillary Clinton to the 2004 RA, while he had dinner with his new running mate, John Edwards. Hey, you gotta eat…

While the NEA and AFT can’t send enough love his way, the president has other plans for an education agenda. DIY charter schools, warped “merit” pay, and that whole fake “choice” approach to things. All of those things make certain people a lot of money. They also drain district budgets, teacher morale, and the public education system in general. Nobody in the union leadership seems to remember Race to the Top. I do. Teachers were hurt. Now, they’ve become used to dealing with the pain it caused. I guess that makes it okay now. MAJOR battles for collective bargaining and teacher rights have been lost by Obama’s education supporters from the NEA and AFT. Still, it seems none of the blood has spattered on the president.

The NEA leadership does tend to fight the Secretary of Education, pretending that Arne Duncan is acting alone. It seems that rank-and-file teachers understand the situation. Leadership ignores this. They want to meet the president, right after Michelle Rhee is finished speaking with him.

When working for an affiliate of the NEA, I openly stated (and still maintain) that Barack Obama is the worst president in my lifetime, in terms of education. That made me unpopular in NEA circles. What it didn’t make me, though, was wrong.

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An Accurate Critique of Educational Research

Warning: this link sends you to a blog with a lot of really big words.

Is education research a form of alchemy? | ALT Online Newsletter.

via Is education research a form of alchemy? | ALT Online Newsletter.

I recently went to visit with someone regarding a non-education issue. He “prescribed” me two books to read. One was a “touchy-feely” book. The other was a more…scholarly…publication. While the first book was an easy read, the second contained words that this Ph. D.-holding blogger had to look up on the internet. At times, I found myself looking up the definitions of four words on a single page.

This article is like that second book. It is not really designed for the average reader, and I wonder Aaron Sloman’s purpose was to communicate with anyone or just to say something that has been bothering him on scholarly record. Still, once all of the words have been distilled to more standard vernacular (!), Dr. Sloman’s words make great sense. Here is my take on a fairly insightful article:

Most of the education “research” out there is bunk. It’s based on correlations as definitive answers to problems demanding greater explanation. The best example of any of this involves test scores from various schools, or even employment data from various colleges. Such correlational results don’t explain the true “why” in the structures and outcomes. We know that XX% of graduates from Henley College are gainfully employed; we don’t know whether that’s because of name recognition, connections, knowledge base, or flat-out luck. We may know that 4th grade test scores rose once a specific technique was put into practice. What we don’t know if that’s the real reason and why it may have made a difference. We also fail to account for any other options that could have been better.

Alchemists spent a great deal of time, money, and energy determining correlations. What they ended up with was a pile of data that was very shallow. In education research institutions throughout the United States, this type of investigation is accepted as the norm, sometimes even as a gold standard. But this type of research has resulted, at best, in a standstill for education. Deeper theories need to be formulated and tested to bring about the systematic change in education that America allegedly seeks.

Dr. Sloman continues the chemistry analogy:

Accelerated progress in chemistry came from developing a deep explanatory theory about the hidden structure of matter and the processes such structure could support (atoms, subatomic particles, valence, constraints on chemical reactions, etc.). Thus deep research requires (among other things) the ability to invent powerful explanatory mechanisms, often referring to unobservables.

Exactly. Perhaps the key to constructive “research” in education practice needs to begin with theories worth testing. The next Benjamin Bloom is out there right now, but s/he may be slogging through piles of data (test scores, graduation rates) to find relationships. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences has yet to be tested on any meaningful scale. That’s unfortunate. Here is one theory that holds tremendous promise for our children. Testing that theory would take serious time, money, and support. Unfortunately, the dividends may prove disruptive to the current system and financially minor.

The situation gets worse when you throw politics and commerce into the picture. Any correlation between anything and test scores gets picked up by a think tank or publishing house as “proof” that a certain system works. With the billions and billions spent “reforming” education, perhaps we could have found a few key elements of learning theory that would have created meaningful change in our educational system.

The problem is dual: (a) there is too much money to be made in the current system, and (b) it would take a substantial resource shift to make education research as effective and meaningful as the research the scientific community used–and continues to use–because it’s still working.

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When All Else Fails…Words

I love el juego de beisbol. Just caught a game in Mexico, in fact. Go Broncos!

Unlike the other sports, baseball marches on. It’s more like life, that way. In the NFL, you play 16 games of about three hours. Everything gets decided in 48 hours of performance. Baseball offers far more data-points for decisions. Right now, I’m listening to the worst team in the franchise history of the Colorado Rockies. God bless you, Todd Helton. It’s flat-out awful, and it follows a pitiful, disappointing 2011 season. I’ve been griping about management throughout the past 16 months or so, but this last week, I felt different. For just a little bit.

Jim Tracy, the manager, had decided to go with a four-man rotation and limit the starter’s pitch count (75) in each game. This was a bold move (text duly noted). Everybody knows you use a five-man rotation, you have a “closer” to pitch the 9th inning, and a bunch of other pitchers to get you from the starter to the closer. Everybody has a duty: long-relief, middle relief, ace, fifth starter (read: about to be sent back to the minors). The list goes on.

I’ve never understood the roles given to pitchers. They’re pitchers. Throw strikes. Keep the ball low. Vary pitch speeds. Hit your mark. If you can do that for one inning, you’re a closer. If you can do it for seven, you’re a starter. Both are paid handsomely. One year, I saw Huston Street (a closer) blow two saves in the last inning of a playoff series. Had he been able to pitch well, they would have beaten the team that eventually won the World Series. He got nervous. We knew he would. Couldn’t he have pitched the first inning instead?

Picture this: It’s the late 1960s, and you’re managing an expansion franchise that lost 100-plus games in five of its first six years. It lost 95 games during the other year. You have nothing to lose. You change things up–radically. You move from a four-man rotation to a five-man rotation. First of its kind. Ridiculous.

A year later, they beat the Orioles to win it all. The World Series Champion New York Mets. Suddenly, a five-man rotation was all the rage. A manager can look like a genius by refusing to follow the script. He can also look silly. The quickest way to do this? Changing your mind on big ideas.

On Saturday, the third day of this new approach, a Rockies pitcher threw pretty well. They kept him in the game for over 90 pitches. He was slated to pitch Wednesday, but he was too tired to pitch on three days rest. The Rockies hadn’t named a pitcher for a game coming in two days. All for an extra 17 pitches in the searing Texas heat.

Turns out that Wednesday pitchers was Edwar Cabrerra, who joins a long list of 2012 Rockies I do not know. He was pitching pretty well…in Tulsa. That team plays two levels below the major leagues. After pitching less than three innings, the Washington Nationals had posted seven runs. He was told to see this as a positive experience and sent to Colorado Springs, which is only one level below the major leagues.

Josh Outman pitched Thursday instead. The Rockies gave him a 7-0 lead, which he gave right back to the Washington Nationals. He lasted just over three innings. That’s two failures for that one win. In the end, the pitching coach is now gone, for whatever reason.

Leadership is hard, just like baseball. It’s simple to understand, but it’s very difficult to do. Education follows this same path. I have watched education “fads” come and go until there was nothing left to believe. I still think Outcomes-Based Education would have worked, but it followed so many “initiatives” that were never completed. Faculty, staff, students, parents, the community–nobody believes school leaders following a new idea, anymore. If you have a brave new plan, you then have to execute the plan. Only then do we get to decide on genius quality.

Depending on how you spin it, No Child Left Behind is either the best or worst thing to happen to education. Despite all the “research-based” ideas and plans that have come from the money pits known as schools, kids still fail. Teachers still try to teach. Now, though, they leave more quickly. It’s not because of the students. Instead, it’s because of all the adults who are sure they know better…until they don’t…until they do again.

That’s how most schools actually fail. You can attribute socio-economic status to most failing schools. Still, unexpected failures are almost always accompanied by leaders with great ideas and the lack of will to bring those ideas to fruition. Big ideas could lead to big failures. We deserve to see the end result, though. In a typical process, a lot of people make a lot of money with new and newer ideas, while teachers and students roll their eyes. Everybody loses, just like they have been (and will be) in Denver, in baseball and education. Their big ideas, their political answers to educational problems, their rereredesigned schools (three links there)? Ugh, as in ugh-ly.

Meanwhile, their ground-breaking compensation plan continues to improve things for students and teachers. Of course, that plan is almost a decade old, now. The union threatened to strike over it once, and it required a hefty budget increase request from voters to start. Still, they stuck with it, and it seems to have produced positive results.

At this point, I’m more ready than ever for a new skipper at the helm of God’s team. This was a HUGE decision in the baseball world. It was brave…but only if it actually got done. If you can’t stay consistent on it for even a week, then it shows everyone you don’t believe your own words. Once others sense that, it’s over. The rest is just playing out the season…or the school year.

It’s a hard team to watch right now. Almost as hard as watching an inner-city magnet school or a failing charter school in rural Texas.

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An Unbelievable Shining Moment

Supreme Court upholds Obamacare: The Affordable Care Act is constitutional – 2012-Jun-28 – CultureMap Austin.

There are times when people surprise you. I was surprised twice in this decision. First, that Justice Kennedy went to the right, towing the party line. It seemed conscience and deep thought would lead him elsewhere. Second, I’m surprised that Justice Roberts sided with a “bunch of damn liberals,” as my family up north would call them.

Healthy kids learn better. That’s why we feed them and have school nurses on campuses. We have Medicaid programs for them at the federal level, forcing politicians in states like Texas to allow children to see physicians. We work to make and keep them healthy, to the point of limiting any “Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value” in schools.

What doesn’t get pointed out quite as much is that healthy parents tend to be better parents. I know that personally. The Henley family has two parents struggling with their health. Our kids have paid the price for that in terms of grades, accomplishments, and stress levels. It’s not that they aren’t doing well, by objective standards. But I remain a man that lives his life cursed by the words of Charles Schulz: “I carry the burden of a great potential.”

As usual, a lot of my writing goes back to Benjamin Bloom. If you aren’t healthy, you can’t do your work–learning, teaching, writing blogs, whatever–to the best of your ability. This ruling allows the will of the people, the will to live to move forward.

It turns out the government can tax. It turns out, working Americans get to keep the protections (or what David Frum called “goodies“), despite the best efforts of those who typically don’t have to deal with the outcome.

I do, though. Teachers do, too. This decision will lead to a healthier America. It will also lead to a smarter America. One that shines, like a city on a hill.

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Ahead and Behind

Here are two things I say quite often these days:

  1. I used to be somebody.
  2. The older I get, the better I used to be.

I’ve managed to end up in the recesses of the public eye (comparatively), choosing to foster the genius of this world rather than try to be that genius. That genius comes from my work, from my marriage, and from my kids.

When I was building my reputation about a decade and a half ago, I used technology heavily. There are people now being paid handsomely and lauded for things I was doing in 1999. These people are “visionaries.” I was just creative…with the exception that I never capitalized and created “Henley University” or anything. I was isolated. Technology helped. Some kids in Singapore are probably still mad at the way I judged their website, but looking back, I may have saved some future developers’ careers. Now, that contest is being judged by multi-millionaires with names I recognize.

The fact was that in 1999, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities of technology…and more than a little frustrated with some of the boneheads in it. To this day, I do not understand how some people in technology continue to make a living, knowing less than my kids do. Still, I directed my focus elsewhere–choosing to focus on people and only using that technology which was necessary at the time to help them. That effort landed me at a job where I didn’t need technology so much.

Then, I got a little behind. It’s not that bad, really. Still, I’m frustrated that I have failed to harness the power of technology by getting bogged down in the stupid (keep reading–not sure I’ve improved anything). In my work to “keep up” with events of importance, I’ve made too many things important (and forgotten a password or two). That means that when one of my very favorite authors tweets that he will be in the Austin area, I may miss it while focusing on other things. That just happened. Justin Halpern (“Sh*t My Dad Says”) came to promote his new book. Let me just say that readers of this blog may want to hit that link and read the opening chapter on Scribd (see? not that far behind).

Getting in trouble for laughing too hard is kind of a goal, right?

Here was a tool (Twitter) that was trying to tell me how to really, really enjoy a night two weeks ago. I was busy doing something less meaningful. Probably playing Bejewelled. I’ve also missed Austin City Limits taping announcements and other “important” events through this “other” focus.

Bummed that I missed out, I decided to try to keep up with YouTube. A guy should know about things like the Honey Badger–you know, for conversation and all. That’s when I realized that I may be alright.

Getting stuck in the political world is a good reason to leave a job. I don’t miss that. My life was stuck in this mire in 2008, when Barack Obama harnessed youth and technology to out-fundraise everyone from Hillary Clinton to the entire Republican Party. The messages got annoying, and I’m ready to block texts from “622-62” from my iPhone. Still, I do scan headlines online and at the convenience store. Also, I am surrounded by “illegals,” including friends and friends of my kids. Apparently, it is time for Barack Obama to shore up the Hispanic vote. He’s starting to act like Candidate Obama again.

During his announcement in the Rose Garden, a reporter blurted out an attack question. The “liberal media” never seemed to do this 5 years ago. Except for some guy in Iraq who was throwing shoes at our president. Ugh. It was one of the most watched videos of the day. What was more interesting to me was the trail of comments, which is crossing the 7000 mark as I write this. A few examples:

and this is what we get for letting a monkey become president…..


Voluminous and powerful insight came from my new political guru, GOP 2010. The Republican Party must be so proud:


Obama plops 800K illegals in the system while unemp for minority teen citizens: Hispanic 30.5%, Black 40.5%

Obama joins Mexican Govt criticizing our own state, AZ

Obama raises Military h/c premiums 345% by year 5 but builds Gitmo detainees $750K soccer field

Obama promotes taxpayer-susdzd branch of ACORN, Project Vote, yet sues FL for purging illegal voters

Obama denied FEMA $ to CT flood victims then sends Muslim nations billions to “enhance technology”


–and a caveat comment from this same commenter:

If you ever want to succeed in life, you may want to learn what punctuation is, dipshit. 2010GOP

And let’s not miss the other meaningful side of the discussion:

I bet Mexican would take over off all u motherfuckers white people for being bitchass rasist FifaBeast247


Fuck whoever is against Obama you racist, eloquent, ignorant fucks. I’m voting for Obama again 🙂 chingas49 *[Note the smiley!]

Guess I’m not so far off the curve.

Wait. These people don’t actually vote, do they?

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