Monday, 15 September 2014

Introductions and classroom English

It is the beginning of our school year. It is very important that you know how to introduce yourself to your partners and teachers. Enjoy this video.

Welcome to school year 2014-15

Hi students and teachers! Welcome to this new school year. All the bilingual teachers wish you have great enthusiasm to start again. Are you motivated to start studying English again? If not, have a look at this short video.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Labor Day: US and Canada

Did you know that Labor Day in the U.S. and in Canada is celebrated in September? Almost everywhere else, labor is celebrated on May 1. This film from TED tells the story of why (and mentions  how May 1 became the international labor day, too).

If you want subtitles, you can turn them on by clicking on the box at the bottom of the video screen.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Mid-Term Elections, Part V: As Goes Maine...

Maine Congressional Districts
[U.S. Department of Interior]
         Maine has only two U. S. Congressional House Districts. The First District is small geographically but is the most densely populated part of the state. It includes Portland, Maine's largest city, and the southern half the Maine coast. UNUM Insurance, L.L. Bean and Bath Iron Works (an important shipyard) supply jobs in this part of the state. It is represented by a progressive Democrat, Ms. Chellie Pingree, who is generally popular and expected to win her race.
         The Second District borders Canada. Much of it is forest. Depressed lumber mill towns and large potato and blueberry farming regions characterize it. There are two large metropolitan areas: the city of Bangor, a river port once important to the lumber trade, and Lewiston-Auburn, once a center for shoe and textile production. Coastal development more or less stops north of Acadia National Park, located at the mid-point of the coast. Mr. Michaud represented this district, but because he is running for governor, the seat is now open.
          Maine also has a U.S. Senate race this year: Republican Susan Collins is running for a 4th term. She is one of the few moderate Republicans in the Senate and maintains a strong base of support among Maine voters.
           The Second District is a more uncertain race, but the Democrat is expected to defeat the Republican, who is linked to Governor LePage. The governor is a controversial figure.
  The outcome of the governor's race is uncertain.  The governor was unable to maintain a Republican majority in the state legislature in 2012, which is why the Congressional Districts are  drawn in a reasonably balanced way.
          At first glance, who wins this race might not seem to matter to the national picture. But a governor's policies can impact national policy.
          An example is the struggle over the Affordable Care Act (known as "Obamacare"). The law did not include subsidies for many lower income people because they were expected to get health coverage under another program, Medicaid.  Medicaid is administered by the states. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to tell the states they have to give more health coverage under Medicaid. Gov. LePage refused to expand Medicaid coverage. This means  thousands of people don't have access to health coverage because they don't qualify for subsidies under Obamacare and they don't qualify for Medicaid.
           The governor's refusal also keeps federal money from coming to the state. The federal government promised to pay 100% of any additional cost for more Medicaid the first three years of the program, and 90% each year afterwards until 2022.
   Obamacare is designed as a national system. Each state that fails to join it weakens its ability to lower health insurance costs. The state legislature has voted three times to give Medicaid coverage, but the governor has vetoed it all three times. The legislature has not been able to override the veto.
Stephen King listens to
voter concerns at Michaud
event [photo by S.V. Lowery]
There is a reason the national Republican Governors' Association is spending so much money in Maine: the Republican party can exercise more power at the state level against federal initiatives if it holds the governor's chair. Whenever a federal program needs state cooperation to progress, the governor is crucial.
            The state also decides the rules for voting. It can allow early voting, for example, giving more people opportunity to vote. It can require identification for voting, which may have the effect of making it harder for the elderly to vote. The legislature passes the laws that set these rules, but the Governor's administration enforces them. How these rules are enforced will affect elections beyond the mid-terms--perhaps even help decide who will be the next president.
Incumbents have an advantage in an election. Observers agree that Mr. Cutler will take votes away from Mr. Michaud. But before Governor LePage presumes he will win, he might remember that strange things happen around Stephen King.
For example, there was the case of the Boston Red Sox. The Boston Red Sox lost baseball's world series over and over and over again (86 years of losing it). It was said the team was cursed, that it could never win the series.... then Stephen King and his friend Stuart O'Nan decided to chronicle the 2004 Red Sox season. Even though they were fans of the team, they had no expectation 2004 would be any different than the previous 86 years, but... (You can read about it in Faithful, the book about the Red Sox revival.)
So perhaps Mr. LePage should be a tiny bit concerned.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Mid-Term Elections, Part IV: What Mid-Term Elections Can Mean

       In November, thirty-five of the 50 state governorships besides Maine's are up for election. In addition, all of the 435 U.S. representatives will be elected to the U.S. House, and 36 of the 100 Senators will be elected to the U.S. Senate.  (House members serve for two years, Senators, for 6 years.)
Win? Lose? Draw?
          Going into elections, twenty-nine governors are Republicans and twenty-one are Democrats. Most governors (though not all) have state legislatures controlled by the same party as the governor.
          The U.S. House is controlled by the Republicans; the Senate is controlled by the Democrats. There are two independent Senators. Both of them "caucus"--that is, meet to do Senate business like form committees or decide strategy--with the Democrats.
          The stakes are high this year. For example, in the mid-term election of 2010, the Republicans, helped by the tea party movement, won decisive control of the House.
              In the presidential year, 2012, the Democrats gained two Senate seats. The House stayed in Republican control in part because their gains in 2010 were enough to withstand a higher national popular vote for Democrats. Republicans lost only 8 seats.
               In 2013, the Republicans used their power to refuse approval of any government spending unless programs they didn't like were killed.  Government spending by law has to be approved by Congress. The U.S. government was forced to "shut down" for almost 2 weeks in 2013. Only critical operations could take place. This crisis was resolved in a fairly short time only because Democrats controlled the US Senate. The House had to negotiate and a compromise was found.
How many U.S. Representatives a state has depends on its population. The state is divided into voting districts of approximately the same number of people. The lines that define the district can be manipulated. The states decide where the lines will go. This is one reason why it's important which party controls the state.
          Since Republicans still control a majority of states, it is unlikely that there will be any major change in control of the U.S. House.
If the Democrats lose control of the Senate, it is probable that President Obama's policies and priorities will be extinguished.
That's the national overview. What exactly does Maine have to win (or lose) in the mid-term election?

Mid-Term Elections, Part III: Candidate Image to Candidate Message

        The people who manage campaigns often talk about a candidate's "narrative." Each candidate has a life story. They use the story to create an image. The image is meant to communicate the candidate's message. In the Maine governor's race, the three candidates use their images to explain why they want to be governor. (There is a fourth independent candidate, but he is running for "Governor But Not Really" and that is a different story.)
Rep. Mike Michaud (D)
[photo by S.V. Lowery]
        Author Stephen King's preferred candidate, Democrat Mike Michaud, was a lumber mill worker in northern Maine before he entered politics. His image, despite 34 years in elective office, is that he is a working guy. His first advertisement sends a message is that he understands working people and wants to bring folks together to solve problems. (You can see his first ad at:
Gob. Paul LePage ®
[photo 2011 by MattGagnon
Wikimedia Commons]
         The present governor, Paul LePage, tells how, as a  child, he ran away from an abusive father. He lived on the streets until he found "mentors" (his word). His image is of a self-made man ("a businessman, not a politician"). No one ever gave him anything, he says. He was mayor of a small Maine city before running for governor. His message is that social services prevent people from being independent  and government rules and taxes prevent business from thriving. (You can see his most recent ad at
Eliot Cutler (I)
[photo 2010 by BMRR,
Wikimedia Commons]
         The independent candidate, Eliot Cutler, is a lawyer who tells us that he is the grandchild of immigrants who came to Maine seeking a better life. He emphasizes his work in public service and his business experience, especially on the international stage. His image is of a successful businessman who never really left Maine behind no matter where he lived in the world. His message is that he has the experience to bring jobs to Maine, and because he is an independent, he can offer
new solutions to the state's political and economic problems. (Cutler's promotional ad can be found at:
         Mr. Cutler and Mr. LePage have competed against each other before. Mr. LePage won the 2010 election with only a little over 38% of the vote to become governor. There were five candidates in all, including a Democrat and three independents besides Mr. LePage.  Mr. Cutler won almost as many votes as Mr. LePage, but in a Maine election, "almost" doesn't matter. Maine allows the winning candidate to take office, even if the winner does not have 50% or more of the votes.
        Each campaign may also have a negative message about the other candidates. So far, there have been few "attack ads," but in September and October, political ads will probably include attacks on candidates or their positions.
Variations of these images and messages appear in all of the many campaigns underway this off-year election season. U.S. voters are not awfully interested in mid-term elections. Voter turnout in most states will be low. People often say, "It doesn't matter who wins. Why take the trouble to vote?" Without the excitement of a presidential race, off-year elections generate little interest.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Mid-Term Elections, Intermission: How to Untangle These Posts

        Some of the words I use in these posts are quite high level.  But they are not really difficult. For example, "financial advantage" looks hard--until you look closely at the words. Aren't they a lot like "ventaja financiera"? That's exactly what they mean.
You don't have to get tangled up in
the sentence. Just separate each part.
The sentence structure is harder, especially in Part II. I am sorry, but I had to make a choice: I could keep the post shorter by using more complex grammar, or I could simplify and have very long posts. I chose to try to make the posts shorter. The more complex sentences are not really too complex even though they are long. For example:
    "Winners in a party primary have a financial advantage because once they are selected by the voters as the party candidate, the state party will use its money to support their campaign."
If you break this sentence into pieces, each piece is clear:
       (1) Winners in a party primary have a financial advantage
       (2) because [=the reason they have an advantage is that] once they are selected [upon being selected/after they are selected] by the voters as [=to be] the party candidate,
       (3) the state party will use its money to support their campaign.
Each part of the sentence is called a separate "clause." To say the same thing more simply would take more words:
"Winners in a party primary get an advantage.  The advantage is that there is more money for their campaign. The political party will give them the money they need. Until the voters choose the candidates in the primary election, they cannot get money from the party. The candidates have to raise money from private contributors or supporters."
I hope this explanation helps. You can always ask questions. I check the blog regularly and will be happy to answer. If I don't have an answer, I will find someone who does.
        There are two more parts coming about the mid-term elections: candidate messages, and why it matters. I hope you find them of interest.