Browsing Category

Legal & Law

history, Legal & Law,

Top Three Media Lies About the Syrian Peace Talks

The media spin machine is again kicking into high gear, perfectly timed to accompany the “Geneva II” Syria peace talks. The lies are necessary to give the Obama administration an upper hand in the peace negotiations, which are not being used to pursue peace, but instead, to accomplish the Obama administration’s longstanding goal of Syrian regime change. Here are the top three Western media lies about the Syrian peace talks.

1. The removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was an agreed upon “precondition” for the Geneva II peace talks.

This lie has been repeated over and over by government and media alike. It has zero basis. The Obama administration claims that this precondition was expressed in the “Geneva communiqué,” which was a road map agreement meant to guide the Geneva II peace talks, agreed upon by some of the major parties of the negotiations, including Russia.

The communiqué does indeed call for a negotiated political transition, but nowhere does it state that such a transition cannot include President Assad. Such a condition would have been outright rejected by Russia.

In fact, the Geneva communiqué includes this crucial statement:

“[a transition government] could include members of the present [Syrian] government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent.” Nowhere does it specifically mention or imply President Assad.

The Los Angeles Times recently stepped out of line and exposed this lie:

“[John] Kerry regularly cites the “Geneva communiqué,” a kind of peace road map hammered out in June 2012 during a United Nations-organized summit. But the document does not explicitly call for Assad’s ouster.”

The Obama administration’s constant repeating of this lie only causes divisions in the peace process, undermining the chances that the peace process will succeed.

The Obama administration is especially adamant about this “Assad must go” pre-condition because it knows that, if free and fair elections were held tomorrow in Syria — as part of a UN-backed “transitional process” — President Assad would likely win. This is the result of the ethnic and religious minorities in Syria that have rallied behind President Assad, since they’ve witnessed the consistent religious sectarian atrocities committed by the U.S.-backed rebels (which the U.S. media loves to ignore or minimize).

Assad would probably win an election since there is also simply no one else on the government side or the opposition side with his name recognition or popularity. The U.S.-backed rebel war in Syria has vastly strengthened Assad’s political hand, but you wouldn’t know it from the Western, anti-Syrian media.

The rebels have never controlled more than one Syrian city, namely Raqaa, which is dominated by al-Qaeda and is governed under a Taliban-style interpretation of Islamic law, which includes a strict ban on music.

2) The U.S.-backed rebel militias are “moderate” Islamic groups.

The fact that this lie can even be uttered publicly without encountering ridicule is a major success of Western media propaganda. The media narrative paints the U.S.-backed “good” rebels fighting both the Syrian government and the “bad” al-Qaeda linked rebels.

But the “good” rebels in the U.S.-backed Islamic Front share the same vision for Syria’s future as the al-Qaeda rebels: a fundamentalist version of Sharia law, where women live in virtual house arrest and where religious minorities are second class citizens (non-Sunni Muslims would simply be butchered, as they are on a regular basis in Syria, which is again minimized or ignored in the Western media).

The “moderate rebel” lie was further exposed recently when a top leader in the most powerful militia, Ahrar al Sham, within the Islamic Front declared Ahrar al Sham to be the “real” representative of al-Qaeda in Syria, as opposed to the rival al-Qaeda faction that the Islamic Front had recently begun fighting.

Ahrar al Sham has long been known to be an al-Qaeda type Islamist extremist group; the Western media simply chose to ignore it. But when it was recently made official, the U.S. media chose to continue its ignoring stance, since actually reporting on it would destroy their “moderate rebel” lie. The Western media also continues to ignore the fact that the “moderate” U.S.-backed Islamic Front issued a joint statement that aligned itself to the extremist views of Ahrar al Sham, the “real” al-Qaeda.

3) New Evidence of Syrian government “industrial scale” torture. 

The Western media recently blasted the “breaking news” of brand new evidence showing massive “Nazi-like” torture and murder by the Syrian government, released at the beginning of the Syrian peace talks. This may or may not be true, but the lie here is that the Western media promoted the “evidence” as being unquestionably true, when the story doesn’t reach first base when it comes to evidence-based journalism.

All we really know is that there are hundreds of pictures of dead people that a “trusted source” says were killed by the Syrian government. The trusted source was designated as such by pro-Western intellectuals, who have earned professional “credibility” by helping convict war criminals in the International Criminal Court [ICC]. But as author Diane Johnstone pointed out in her excellent book “Fools Crusade,” about the war against Yugoslavia — as well as in other articles — the ICC has long been used as a tool to create a pretext for war, or a tool to justify a war after the fact.

The evidence was written in a “study” paid for by the government of Qatar, which has long funneled cash, guns, and Jihadis to Syria in aid of the anti-government rebels.

Again, we don’t know if the story is true or not. But such an important investigation should be conducted by the UN or another more objective institution. The same biased dynamic occurred in relation to the infamous chemical weapons attack, where no real evidence was provided, though an unending string of “experts” were quoted in the Western media, testifying to the guilt of the Syrian Government. But when Pulitzer prizewinning journalist Seymour Hirsch reported that the Obama administration lied about the rebels not having the capacity to perform such an attack, the Western media simply ignored the legend of journalism. The wrench in the propaganda machine was simply dislodged.

How do these lies become such permanent fixtures in the Western media? An excellent article in The Guardian newspaper recently discussed in depth the principal sources the Western media has used to understand the Syrian conflict.

The article exposed the incredible bias of some of the most important Western media sources on Syria, which is why they were handpicked in the first place to be “expert” sources: they had political agendas that were aligned with the U.S. government’s foreign policy decisions. The other side of the conflict was completely ignored, except when it was targeted for ridicule. Thus, Americans and Europeans have a completely one-sided, if not fantasy-based perspective of what is happening in Syria. This has been systematic since the beginning of the conflict, as happened with the Yugoslav, Afghan, Iraq, and Libya wars.

The result of this media-led ignorance could result in yet more unnecessary deaths in a country that now has millions of refugees and over a 100,000 dead. Obama seems like he intends to exploit these peace talks with the intention of blaming the Syrian government for their failure. Having failed to defeat Assad on the battlefield in a proxy war, the Obama administration is trying to win the propaganda war. And once peace talks have failed, talk of war will resume, since “all other options have failed.”

history, Legal & Law,

Justice Denied for Oscar Grant

Two years ago, with the election and inauguration of the first African American President, the corporate media in the U.S. was giddy with excitement that America had entered a post-racial era. The hollowness of that claim was revealed today with the sentencing of white transit policeman Johannes Mehserle for the killing of African American resident of Hayward, California, Oscar Grant. Mehserle was found not guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life and means that the defendant is aware that his or her action is dangerous to human life but does not act with premeditation. Instead he was found guilty of a far lesser charge, involuntary manslaughter, meaning that death resulted from negligence. It carries a sentence of 2 to 4 years.

This is an unconscionable verdict that flies in the face of justice. But that is typical for capitalist “justice” in Black America. Police may kill African Americans with virtual impunity — what is remarkable is that Mehserle was convicted of the lesser charge at all.

The jury, which did not have one African American on it, met for less than one full day — six hours  —  after an alternate juror had to be seated. All Black potential jurors were excluded, but white jurors who had contact with police in the past were permitted. Where is the blind justice promised?

Anyone familiar with handguns understands that the verdict is preposterous. While Mehserle might have been issued the taser relatively recently, nevertheless he had the gun from the beginning of his service with BART so he was certainly familiar with it. The gun has a unique safety that must be physically disabled. Moreover, the gun’s grip and trigger both have an unmistakable feel and weighs approximately 4 times the taser. The gun is handled by officers everyday, if simply at the beginning and end of a shift. It is beyond belief that the gun could be mistaken for a taser with an entirely different feeling.

This verdict underscores the institutional failure of the criminal justice system to prosecute police officers who attack or kill African Americans specifically and non-whites in general. The police are protected by the entrenched order of justice that serves the interest of a tiny minority: the U.S. capitalist class. The logic of capitalist rule seems to reveal that social inequity for African Americans is a fundamental fact of social relations in the United States. The system protects the police, the frontline enforcers of social and class relations. The system will back up its agents, even a mere transit cop, over the life of any African American.

Liberals of all varieties are urging “calm,” as if injustice after injustice can be endured without social protest. This system breeds violence  — how much can people endure without rage, without striking back? Revolutionaries understand this system requires a divide and conquer approach and yet humanity can only endure so much. When the oppressed of this country, faced with chronic high unemployment, layoffs, school closures and mortgage defaults  — something is going to give.

We revolutionaries say this: It is right to rebel. What we need is to organize and mobilize to overturn this rotten system of racist capitalism. We have to build our own political united front, based on the interests of the majority, the multiracial working class. This will be a long struggle, but we have been oppressed for a long time. We have nothing to lose but the chains that imprison us and a world to win.

Legal & Law,

In Defense of Student Activists

Bill Leumer

In December 2009, eleven student activists at San Francisco State University (SFSU) occupied the business building on campus, preventing classes from being held for one day. Such occupations have occurred on other campuses, including U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Santa Cruz, as a result of students protesting cuts to public education throughout the state of California and rising tuition fees on the university level. While The New York Times typically ignores peaceful antiwar demonstrations comprised of over 100,000 participants, it nevertheless covered this occupation by a small handful of students, which can only serve to encourage these kinds of tactics as opposed to peaceful mass demonstrations.

While sit-ins, occupations, and other similar actions are important tactics, as a general rule they should only be adopted when the majority of the people in a particular movement are prepared to engage in them. One should aim at uniting as many members of the working class as possible who want to stand up and fight to defend what they already have or to demand more. In this way the struggle is conducted on a class basis. Moreover, all those who participate have the potential to learn from the experience so that their consciousness is raised. And by maximizing the number of people who participate, the chances of winning rise correspondingly.

However, the fight to defend public education in California is only at the beginning stage, and most participants are only prepared to join demonstrations that are entirely legal. Consequently, instead of uniting those who want to defend public education, the tactic of occupations or blockage of freeways has divided the movement and thereby to some degree weakened it. Occupations of campus buildings alienate university faculty and staff because they risk losing their jobs by participating. And because these occupations prevent classes from being held, students and faculty who support the movement to defend education were nevertheless angry and alienated because they lost valuable class time without having been given the opportunity to participate in the decision to stage the occupation.

At SFSU, the decision to occupy the Business Building was conducted by a small minority of the activists involved in the movement in defense of education because they were convinced that if the decision became public, the campus administration could take steps to protect the building and foil the occupation. Other student activists complained that the decision was made behind their backs, and so ill feelings were immediately engendered.

Yet with all these criticisms of the tactic, when the administration proceeded to impose punishment on the students, we find ourselves steadfastly in support of the students. The administration stumbled every step of the way.

It began by demanding the eleven students each meet with administration representatives. The students were told by the representatives to sign an agreement indicating they would pay for any property damages they caused. These damages were described as “scuffs” on the floor and “chipped paint,” totaling somewhere in the range of $50, but the administrator added that he did not have the exact amount at that time. The students were also told that if they did not sign the statement where they admitted guilt, agreed to pay restitution, and forego their right to a hearing, they would then be liable to much more serious punishment, including suspension from school. In other words, there was intense pressure to sign.

Accordingly, all but one student signed the agreement. However, when the students received the bill, instead of the total falling into the $50 range, it amounted to exactly $744.25 each. The students were now being told — in contradiction to the oral agreement — they would have to pay for expenses involved in bringing police from other campuses to SFSU. Amazingly, the San Francisco Chronicle (April 24, 2010) later reported that the administrator “now remembered that he had discussed such a deal [of only paying $50] with them [the students] after all.”

Even worse, the one student who did demand a hearing was not only required to pay the same fine, but was suspended from the university for a year, even though he did nothing different than the other students. In other words, he was punished for exercising his democratic right to a hearing.

Of course, when administrations act in bad faith, make an oral agreement with students and then break it, and also impose disparate punishment on students who commit exactly the same acts, then administrations are either wittingly or unwittingly encouraging even more disruptive tactics by students who are outraged by the injustice. Moreover, by suspending a student for a year, the administration ironically undermines the goal that it supposedly is dedicated to upholding: the moral value of an education. It appears instead to be promoting the value of ignorance.

While the occupation of a campus building at SFSU might not have been the best of tactics, nevertheless the students were motivated by the highest ideals. They wanted to defend public education. In contrast, the administration, which exhibits a top-down structure — since campus presidents have almost absolute power — seemed to display the worst of motives. Little regard was given to the fact that the administration broke its own oral agreement regarding the amount students would be fined, as if the administration was not bound by basic rules of fairness. And when one student had the courage to exercise his right to a hearing, he was brutally punished for doing so.

In relation to the administration, we give our full support to the students.

Legal & Law,

The Rift Between Teachers and Democrats Widens

The corporate media is brutally honest on rare occasions. Take for example a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, titled The Teachers’ Union’s Last Stand.

The title itself is surprisingly sincere, since it admits that the nation’s teachers are being targeted for attack by the Obama Administration, through his “Race to the Top” education reform. And although the article has an inherently corporate bias, it contains many revelations that have been otherwise ignored in the mainstream media.

The article outlines the two contending forces behind the national education “debate”: the corporate “reformers” and the “anti-change” teacher unions. Who are the reformers? The New York Times answers:

“…high-powered foundations, like the [Bill] Gates Foundation… and wealthy entrepreneurs, who have poured seed money into charter schools.”

Other reformers include: “… a new crop of Democratic politicians across the country — including President Obama — who seem willing to challenge the teachers’ unions.”

Top on the list of objectives for the reformers — Democrats and corporate groups — is the creation of charter schools, which stand in total opposition to public education. The New York Times article speaks at length about the biggest obstacle to the charter school “movement” — the teachers’ unions.

Examples are given on a state-by-state level where teachers’ unions have stalled or defeated attempts of the corporate-backed “reformers” to shift public funding towards private charter schools.

But the article also mentions instances where teachers’ unions have made shameful concessions to the reformers, such as in Washington, D.C., Tennessee, and Rhode Island. The main concession is the job security of teachers. How is the job security of teachers and the creation of charter schools related?

Because teachers’ unions are the biggest obstacle to the creation of private charter schools, unions must be undermined. Unions are powerful because union members cannot be fired for engaging in political activity. Union workers are thus able to help organize their workforce and communities to pursue political objectives — such as saving public education — without fear of being fired.

Destroying teacher seniority is thus the primary goal of the corporate education reformers. This is the hidden motive behind all the media attention towards “firing bad teachers.” The reformers want the ability to fire any teacher at any time, consequently undermining teachers’ unions.

Thus, teachers are supposed to be rewarded — by keeping their jobs or with raises — based on their students’ abilities to achieve high test scores, regardless of the number of children in the classroom, or the poverty level of the students, or whether or not enough classroom materials exist to do the job.

Sadly, the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randy Weingarten, has agreed to abandon teacher job security in recent bargaining negotiations. The New York Times reports:

“ [The Washington, D.C.] contract…now makes it possible… to fire any teacher with tenure…if the teacher is evaluated as “ineffective” for one year or “minimally effective” for two years. The criteria used to define “ineffective” or “minimally effective” are, according to another clause, “a nonnegotiable item” determined solely by [school administrators].”

Language like this will be used to destroy teachers’ unions. School administrators will determine that union activist teachers are “ineffective,” those teachers that criticize work conditions will be labeled “minimally effective,” etc.

If Weingarten thinks that making this kind of concession will quiet the demands of the “reformers,” she will need to think again. Giving sharks tidbits merely sends them into a feeding frenzy.

Indeed, the frenzied demands of the corporate groups to privatize public education is more than Weingarten can keep up with. The other, larger national teacher union, the National Education Association, has yet to make the large concessions Weingarten’s AFT has.

The Democrats demanding these concessions are creating conflicts between the unions to an unheard of degree. If a complete break happens between the unions and Democrats — as it should — the repercussions would be enormous. The New York Times explains:

“If unions are the Democratic Party’s base, then teachers’ unions are the base of the base. The two national teachers’ unions — the American Federation of Teachers and the larger National Education Association — together have more than 4.6 million members. That is roughly a quarter of all the union members in the country. Teachers are the best field troops in local elections…. In the last 30 years, the teachers’ unions have contributed nearly $57.4 million to federal campaigns… and they have typically contributed many times more to state and local candidates. About 95 percent of it has gone to Democrats.”

Teachers’ unions cannot continue to support a political party that aims to destroy them.

Even Weingarten was forced to admit “deliberately or not, President Obama, whom I supported, has shifted the focus from resources and innovation and collaboration to blaming it all on dedicated teachers.”

The Democratic Party is dismantling public education on a state and municipal level, picking each target at different times to hide the enormity of the attack, while confusing teachers, parents, students, and community members about the overall agenda.

Only an organized and aggressive response can stop the privatization of public education.

Both national teachers unions — along with regional teacher’s unions — must adopt common positions on the total defense of fully funded public education, while also demanding that teachers’ job security be protected. A campaign that involves rank and file teachers, students, parents, other public workers, the labor movement as a whole and the larger community can be united around the slogan: fully fund public education by taxing the rich and corporations!

Legal & Law,

Teachers and Democrats Head for Divorce

It’s best to quickly recognize the red flags in any failing relationship. This way, ties can be severed rather than allow things to linger forever in dysfunction. For Democrats and teachers’ unions, the writing is on the wall. The two are simply going in opposite directions.
The Democrats continue on the road to corporate-inspired charter schools, using the tried and true method of “stronger teacher evaluations” to undermine “underperforming” schools and teachers — thus opening the door wide to private charter schools with their non-union workforce.

Obama’s Race to the Top education “reform” has enshrined these odious goals into government policy, and the once love-struck teachers’ unions have hastily exited the honeymoon stage with the Obama administration, heading toward a quick divorce.

Rank and file teachers have already quit the Obama administration, and by extension the Democrats as a whole. Evidence of this was on display during the national conventions of the two largest teacher unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

The NEA convention voted in favor of a resolution of “no confidence” in Obama’s Race to the Top program, essentially voting “no confidence” in the Obama administration. The AFT convention was not allowed to vote on a similar resolution, but the rank and file applauded loudest when the AFT President, Randi Weingarten, spoke about the betrayal of the Obama administration. The NEA did not invite Obama administration officials to the convention, because, according to The New York Times, “…union officials feared that [Obama] administration speakers would face heckling.” (July 4, 2010).

The president of the NEA, Dennis Van Roekel, summarized teacher’s experience with the Obama administration:

“Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced.” This is an extraordinary statement. Not only is it true, but it highlights that President Obama is more anti-teacher than was President Bush, who introduced the anti-teacher No Child Left Behind.

In fact, the situation for teachers is worse than either union president is willing to say. State budget crises are destroying the funding for public education and teachers are being laid-off by the thousands, while others accept wage freezes, larger classes, and other concessions.

On top of this, a flood of new state laws around the country is being implemented by Democrats and Republicans “working together” in accordance with Obama’s Race to the Top campaign. The New York Times explains:

“…with states across the nation facing huge budget shortfalls, governors, legislators, mayors and educators in about three dozen states have been working to win Race to the Top money by bringing their school policies in line with President Obama’s education agenda.” (May 31, 2010).

The barrage of new state laws makes it easier for states to create private charter schools — at the expense of public education — and to fire union teachers (based on their students’ test scores). Job security and public education are both under massive attack.

On July 23rd, 241 teachers were fired in Washington D.C., based on their student’s test scores. Examples like this are now becoming common. If unions cannot prevent these mass firings from happening, their power becomes decimated.

But this frontal assault is not being labeled as such by many teacher union officials. Some union leaders are minimizing the destruction caused by the Obama administration, simply referring to his policies as “misguided” or “flawed,” rather than condemning the Democrats as “blatantly anti-union” or “destructive to public education.”

This is because many union leaders are deathly afraid of ending their co-dependent relationship with the Democrats, no matter what level of domestic violence occurs. These union officials make excuses for the Democrats, or justify their cooperation with the politicians, by claiming that the union needs “a seat at the table.” But at this table teachers are on the menu, and the Democrats are only willing to listen to union advice as to how the teachers are best served — grilled, roasted, skewered.

A big test will come this November, when mid-term elections will take place all over the country. Will teachers’ unions use funds and resources to help elect Democrats, after tens of millions were wasted to elect Obama and his Race to the Top cohorts in Congress?

Some union leaders will argue, “Yes, we will support good Democrats.” Fair enough, but a good Democrat is not someone that simply says, “I support unions and teachers.” A necessary condition for teachers’ unions to support politicians must be that they condemn Obama’s Race to the Top, while declaring allegiance to the job security of teachers, and thus they must refuse to cooperate with the corporate-inspired scheme to make teachers’ evaluations based on students test scores, so as to create more charter schools.

Also, politicians who are given union support must have a plan to fully fund public education and reject the current trend of cutting funds to education and social services, using budget deficits as an excuse. Raising taxes on the rich and corporations — as Oregon did — is one way for teachers to survive the state budget crises.

Ultimately, teachers’ unions need to officially declare their defunct relationship with the Democrats is “over” and work with politically independent labor candidates, with a future eye towards creating a union-led political party that would represent the interests of all working people.

Legal & Law, Politics,

Billionaires Unite! (Against Public Education and Teachers)

In less than a week two billionaires have joined the anti-teacher “Billionaires Club”: a group of ultra-wealthy individuals hell-bent on destroying public education and teachers’ unions. The newest members of the club are Oprah Winfrey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg.Winfrey has used her show — twice in one week — as a platform against public education. She first hosted billionaire Bill Gates to discuss his “philanthropy” in education, as he promoted the new anti-public education propaganda film Waiting for Superman.
Waiting for Superman is a “documentary” focused on the types of anti-teacher school “reforms” desired by the Billionaires Club, who have used their tremendous wealth to force school districts and states to institute their policies.

For example, the Facebook founder’s donation of $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey school district will almost certainly require — according to The New York Times — that the school institute these reforms, much like Bill Gates’ donation of $100 million to the Tampa Hillsborough County School District — and the $90 million to the Memphis school district — had the same types of strings attached.

What are the conditions for receiving this “charity” of billionaires? It’s the same demands for receiving money from the federal government under Obama’s badly-named Race to the Top program: creating more privately administered — or for profit — Charter schools; connecting teacher’s pay with student test scores (merit pay); undermining the seniority of teachers; and other tricks to disempower teachers and public education.

Diane Ravitch, a former corporate-school reformer, has now dedicated her time to exposing the motives of the super rich and their new-found interest in “reforming” public education. In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch entitles a chapter “The Billionaires Boys Club.” On the television/radio show Democracy Now! Ravitch summarized the chapter:

“The Billionaires Boys Club is a discussion of how we’re in a new era of the [billionaire] foundations and their relation to education. We have never in the history of the United States had foundations with the wealth of the Gates Foundation and some of the other billionaire foundations — the Walton Family Foundation, The Broad Foundation. And these three foundations — Gates, Broad and Walton — are committed now to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores. And that’s now the policy of the U.S. Department of Education. We have never seen anything like this, where foundations had the ambition to direct national educational policy, and in fact are succeeding.”

There are some key motives for billionaires to jump in a coalition with this singular focus, none of them well meaning.

There are unknown billions in profits to be made in privatizing public education, either in the private administration of schools, curriculum companies, or wholly for-profit schools. There has been much talk in the investor world of this new “market.” In addition, the New York Daily News reported: “Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction. The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.” (May 5, 2010).
The super rich hate taxes. They would rather not pay taxes towards public education when they could instead invest their money in private schools and reap profits.
Billionaires hate unions (they didn’t become billionaires by paying union wages): The biggest obstacle towards privatizing public education is the powerful teachers’ unions. Teacher unions are also the strongest segment of the labor movement, and thus the most powerful grouping in the U.S. working class — the billionaires’ natural enemies.
The super rich attacked first in this battle between teachers and billionaires. The teachers must defend themselves. Shamefully, certain segments of the teachers’ unions are having troubles labeling their attackers as enemies.

For example, the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randy Weingarten, sent a friendly invitation to Bill Gates to address the AFT convention, where Gates was allowed to deceive the teachers about the intentions of his multi-billion dollar “investment” in “reforming” education.

Gates’ ideas about education — blaming teachers for everything — ignores what most teachers already know: the main predictor for a student’s success is social-economic background. Rich students outperform poor students for many different reasons: less stress, more resources, parental help, etc. Ignoring this obvious fact exposes the billionaires’ profit motive behind their fake charity.

Teachers must fight back. They cannot allow the media to frame the debate with the ideas of the corporate think tanks and foundations. Teachers cannot concede on the issues that help keep their unions powerful, such as seniority; merit pay must be defeated for the same reasons.

If the teachers’ unions combined with other public sector unions, parent associations, and the community at large to demand FULLY FUNDED PUBLIC EDUCATION, the billionaires would find themselves without allies. Their money might then be directed towards something useful.

history, Legal & Law,

A Curious New York Times Article on Teacher Evaluations

A recent New York Times article, “Curious Grade For Teachers: Nearly All Pass,” finds incredulous the idea that, “In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations.” The author goes on to cite similar percentages in other states and concludes: “The teachers might be rated all above average, like students in Lake Wobegon, for the same reason that the older evaluation methods were considered lacking.” In other words, the teachers score well because the measuring standard is flawed. And this conclusion is reinforced by the observation that teachers’ high marks were achieved “even when students were falling behind.”

Unfortunately, newspaper journalists are apparently not held to any standards at all because the article omits all the crucial information that situates these statistics in a meaningful context.

Teachers typically must have a college degree and between one and two years, if not more, additional college course work to obtain a teaching credential, not to mention hours spent in classrooms where they can practice teaching and receive mentoring from experienced teachers. Is it really surprising that after such intense training almost all teachers achieve competency?

Imagine a course in basic welding where students attend class for several months. At the end of the course students are required to take a test. Would it be surprising that 98 percent of those who completed the course passed the test? If fewer passed, one might reasonably raise questions about the quality of the welding course.

More importantly, there is no mention in The New York Times article of the authoritative study on student performance conducted in the 1960s, as reported by New York Times columnist, Joe Nocera in an April 25, 2011 article (“The Limits of School Reform”): “Going back to the famous Coleman report in the 1960s, social scientists have contended – and unquestionably proved – that students’ socioeconomic backgrounds vastly outweigh what goes on in the school as factors in determining how much they learn.”

Similarly, the article fails to note the growing poverty among children in the U.S. Currently more than one in five children live in poverty. Between 2009 and 2010, child poverty grew by more than a million. Given the debilitating impact of poverty on child development, there can be little wonder that more students are “falling behind,” despite teachers’ valiant efforts. And when the poverty statistics are coupled with the dramatic decline in government funding of public education, one can only marvel that our public schools succeed at all.

The current corporate narrative that has pervaded the mindset of politicians and the mainstream media inverts logic. Student failure is not a result of poverty or underfunded schools. The blame lies entirely with the teachers and the unions that defend them – a classic example of blaming the victim. Of course, politicians find it much more convenient to blame teachers and their unions for student failure rather than address the real causes of student failure since the politicians themselves are at fault. They have chosen to cut the social safety net and funding for schools so that the rich can continue to enjoy their ludicrously low tax rates and huge tax loopholes.

As inequality in wealth grows, inequality in power grows proportionately. The corporations and the rich want to eviscerate the teacher unions, impose market relations on public education, and open the door to private, profit-making alternatives. As corporations funnel more money into lobbying and campaign contributions, politicians have become cheerleaders for the corporate agenda. By underfunding schools and allowing poverty to grow, they are causing the kind of failure that can be used as an excuse to open the doors to private profiteers. Hence it is a must to always have financial back ups and playing some sports betting at ufabet168.info could help us out with that.

What is really curious is why The New York Times author was so quick to uncritically adopt the corporate perspective and jump on the bandwagon of attacking the teachers. Perhaps she was one of the few students who failed his critical thinking course.

Education, Legal & Law,

Tearing Down the Ivory Tower: a Defense of Vocational Education

In 2012, Diane Ravitch wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal that highlighted the many ways in which the over-emphasis on standardized testing has created a crisis in the education system. According to Ravitch, one of the many problems with the No Child Left Behind Act is that since “the law demanded progress only in reading and math, schools were incentivized to show gains only on those subjects. Hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in test-preparation materials.” This, in turn, created a “nightmare for American schools, producing graduates who were drilled regularly on the basic skills but were often ignorant about almost everything else.”

Ravitch’s article does a fantastic job of explaining, in laymen’s terms, something that education insiders already know: in the last two decades, the priorities of the contemporary education system have completely shifted. Students have been reduced to passive consumers of information. They sit in a classroom for however many years, memorizing information until it’s time to spit out a diploma—at which point they forget most of what they learned. What was once intended to provide people with options has now become a system used to train future corporate yes-men. Everything about modern education, from the seating charts to the standardized tests, is an attempt to train students to defer to authority and assimilate themselves within hierarchies of power. Students are not trained to pursue knowledge. They’re trained to obey those who already have it.

We’re not going to fix this problem by teaching students to worry about test scores and college applications. If we want our students to learn how to think for themselves, we need to give them more control over the direction of their education—at that control needs to be handed over at an earlier age. Labor unions, trade schools and vocational programs should have the same kind of on-campus presence that military and college recruiters currently enjoy. Paid apprenticeship programs should be established and made available to high-school students, who would then have the option of spending half of their day either in the classroom or learning a chosen trade.

Trade schools and vocational programs put students in a position to utilize skills they learned in the classroom. They provide students with an opportunity to test themselves, to see where their skills and talents truly lie. These types of programs would expose students to the realities of the working world, while simultaneously providing them with the opportunity to gain valuable career experience in whatever field they choose to pursue. It would also provide students with some measure of autonomy, and encourage them to actively prepare for the future.

The problem is that there’s so much cultural emphasis on the importance of higher education that students are not encouraged or incentivized to pursue these alternatives. Many students are either unaware these options exist or they’ve been told by teachers and guidance counselors that they’d be squandering their academic potential. Our students are told from a young age (by their parents, their teachers and the media) to believe that a college degree is an essential prerequisite of a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle. This cultural myth persists, despite mounting evidence (like the rising rates of debt and unemploymentamong college graduates) that our education system is broken and needs to be reformed.

Call me crazy, but I want an education system that scoffs at SAT scores and throws out the standardized tests; an education system that encourages people to do what they love, regardless of what their paycheck is going to look like. Mostly though, I want an education system that starts from the assumption that the best place to learn about the real world is the real world; the same way that the beach is the best place to learn about the ocean, or New York is the best place to learn about the Empire State Building.

And frankly, I don’t really think that’s asking too much.

Education, Legal & Law,

The New York Times Gets an ‘F’ on Education Policy

Ann Robertson and Bill Leumer
A recent New York Times editorial took a moment out to lecture mayor-elect of New York City Bill de Blasio on how he should treat teachers and their unions. We hope he doesn’t listen.

The editorial began by endorsing a pay raise for New York City teachers, but insisted that “any sort of raise will require concessions in exchange,” including loosening “work rules that stifle innovation and favor senior teachers over younger ones who may in fact be more talented.” This general philosophy was spelled out on a number of different fronts.

For example, the editorial continued: “Seniority trumps everything and is treated as a proxy for excellence. Under current rules, a school that has an enrollment shortfall or budget problem and has to cut one of its five math teachers cuts the least senior teacher, period. In progressive systems, like the one in Washington, D.C., which has made big gains on federal assessment tests, decisions about which teachers to cut are based on a combination of factors, including how they stack up on evaluations and whether they possess special skills. The goal is to keep the most talented teachers.”

There are a number of problems here. First, The New York Times editorial board is simply accepting — no questions asked — that in the richest country in the world it makes sense for schools to cut teachers because of a “budget problem.” The U.S is engaged in an insane, entirely irrational campaign of underfunding its public schools on a massive basis, thereby robbing the country of the benefit of a future well-educated citizenry. How The New York Times expects any teacher to succeed in nurturing critically thinking students, when they are surrounded by policy makers who lack any semblance of logic and who give corporations generous tax breaks rather than adequately fund schools, is at least, questionable.

Second, according to the statement above, Washington, D.C. “has made big gains on federal assessment tests,” but in a past New York Times article, the Washington, D.C. test scores looked suspect. Here is what was reported on August 21, 2011:

“At the end of March, three of the paper’s [USA Today] reporters — Marisol Bello, Jack Gillum and Greg Toppo — broke a story about the high rate of erasures and suspiciously high test-score gains at 41 Washington schools while Ms. Rhee was chancellor.
“At some schools, they found the odds that so many answers had been changed from wrong to right randomly were 1 in 100 billion.”

Third, even if Washington, D.C. test scores were accurate, and 1 chance in a 100 billion sounds remote, there is a problem with evaluating teachers on the basis of standardized test scores. As New York Times columnist Joe Nocera reported (April 25, 2011):

“Going back to the famous Coleman report in the 1960s, social scientists have contended — and unquestionably proved — that students’ socioeconomic backgrounds vastly outweigh what goes on in the school as factors in determining how much they learn.” In other words, the real cause of so much educational failure is not poor teaching; it is poor neighborhoods. But in a society in which 95 percent of all new wealth goes to the wealthiest 1 percent, nothing short of a fundamental social transformation will address that problem.

The New York Times editorial continues: “Similarly, the salary schedule in New York is calculated to reward longevity, requiring 22 years to get to the top level.” And it added shortly thereafter: “Meanwhile, younger teachers start out with relatively low salaries and are at risk of leaving the system for higher pay elsewhere. The scales should be rebalanced so that teachers who are judged highly effective under the new evaluation system can move up quickly in the pay scale.”

Again, their statement is riddled with problems. Excellent teachers do not go into teaching for the money. Rather, they love to learn, they love to teach, and they love their students. The deep rewards they derive from teaching are completely untouched by money. Of course, it is possible to force even excellent teachers to re-evaluate their priorities by paying them poverty wages, which they would probably be getting were it not for the strong teacher unions. But no one should be paid poverty wages; every hard-working individual deserves a sufficient salary so that they are in a position to buy a house, a car, send their children to college, receive quality health care, and retire with dignity.

Even granting that excellent teachers could be unambiguously identified, the merit pay being peddled by The New York Times will undermine quality education rather than promote it. It makes teachers compete against one another for rewards, thereby destroying a sense of camaraderie among them; it insinuates that material rewards are of the highest importance, not pleasures of the mind; and it militates against the development of a community of minds that in the final analysis is the most powerful tool for the pursuit of knowledge.

Furthermore, who determines who is an excellent teacher? If standardized test scores do not provide an infallible index, then who decides? This indispensable and unavoidable question is never broached by The New York Times editorial board. In fact, in most cases principals are the deciders, but they are often the people who fled the classroom themselves because they were more interested in money than in teaching, hardly a strong qualification for allowing them to discern excellent teachers.

When given the chance, however, teachers and principals together can solve the problem of evaluations. The Montgomery County public school system in Rockville, Maryland, with an excellent teaching record, has a highly regarded approach to teacher evaluations. They have created a panel of eight teachers and eight principals to evaluate teachers collectively. Importantly, everyone on the panel has an equal voice, and decisions are arrived at through a process of rational argumentation and democratic voting. But there was a special key to the panel’s success. As the teachers’ union president said: “It wouldn’t work without the level of trust we have here.” This trust could never develop in system with merit pay.

Finally, the editorial argues: “The teachers’ union has been particularly hostile to the city’s thriving charter schools, which receive public financing, are exempt from some state rules and regulations, and, on average, are outperforming traditional schools.”

But the same New York Times editorial board had this to say earlier this year about charter schools: “Despite a growing number of studies showing that charter schools are generally no better — and often are worse — than their traditional counterparts, the state and local agencies and organizations that grant the charters have been increasingly hesitant to shut down schools, even those that continue to perform abysmally for years on end.”

The hostility of the teachers’ union towards charter schools looks immanently rational compared to this year’s incoherency of The Times editorial board.

Education, Legal & Law,

What’s At Stake in Privatizing Education

Forms of Privatization in Public Education

The idea that government can’t do anything right has been trumpeted by the right wing for decades, particularly by its recently deceased leader Milton Friedman, a former economist at the University of Chicago. He campaigned to reduce government functions to a minimum while letting private enterprise step in and take full responsibility for running all industries, health care, retirement pensions, and even education, which he viewed as socialist when run by the government. Private enterprise, he argued, employs the most efficient means while always producing superior outcomes.

These ideas were typically regarded as fringe, but have gradually moved to center stage, embraced by liberals and conservatives alike. George W. Bush succeeded in privatizing many of the operations associated with the functioning of the U.S. military overseas, including the supply of food, the necessary infrastructure for housing soldiers, the use of special security forces such as Blackwater in Iraq, etc. He would have privatized Social Security had he not encountered vehement resistance on the part of the American public.

Obama’s contribution to the privatization campaign has centered for the most part on education. But before we can evaluate its impact, it is necessary to consider the different forms privatization can take in relation to schools, since it can occupy different positions on a wide spectrum of possibilities.

At one end of the spectrum lie completely privatized schools that provide their own financing and govern themselves. But many schools are more like hybrids, a mixture of private and public. Charter schools, whose numbers are growing rapidly, are funded with public money (that previously would have gone to public schools) but are privately operated. Often they are run by for-profit or non-profit national companies, as opposed to simply a group of teachers who want to break away from traditional schools and experiment with an alternative curriculum.

Similarly, essentially public universities or K-12 schools might make use of online courses produced by private, for-profit companies, and, of course, private companies produce textbooks.

Another hybrid example is where public universities have aggressively raised tuition fees at public universities so that funding shifts from the public coffers to the students themselves as private citizens. At the University of California at Berkeley students now contribute more for their education than the state does. In the 1960s the state paid for the vast majority of their expenses.

Still another example is where a publicly funded and operated school imports the corporate culture from the private sector. For example, many public universities are abandoning their former practice of promoting faculty into administrative positions, paying them only slightly more than before and, instead, are drawing on administrators from the private sector and paying them exorbitant salaries while paying part-time faculty less than a living wage. Some presidents of public universities now make over $1 million a year. Under such circumstances democratic institutions of shared governance are dismantled while power tends to be concentrated at the top, thereby destroying any spirit of collegiality.

Another cultural import from the private sector involves measuring “student learning outcomes” in order to evaluate teachers, as if one is counting gadgets churned out on a factory assembly line. Of course, the result of the evaluation will depend of the choice of measurement, and although highly controversial, standardized tests now represent the most prevalent alternative.

Still another cultural import is the hyper emphasis on competition. Not only are students required to compete against one another for grades, teachers must compete against one another in order to hold their jobs. There is a strong drive to fire teachers whose students have low test scores while retaining and rewarding those with high student test scores with “merit” pay. Thus far teacher unions have been vigorously resisting this practice.

But with Obama’s Race to the Top even schools are forced to compete against one another. By tying federal funding to the acceptance of charter schools, Obama is establishing a framework where traditional public schools must compete with the newer charter schools for students, especially for the students who will raise their school’s test scores.

Finally, partial privatization can occur simply by setting the goal of education as exclusively producing skilled workers primarily for the private sector rather than emphasizing the full development of the student or the training of a critically thinking individual who is prepared to assume the obligations of citizenship in a democratic society. City College of San Francisco, for example, in its fight for accreditation was forced to delete from its mission statement reference to teaching “life skills,” “cultural enrichment,” and “lifelong learning.” Pressure has mounted on all public institutions of higher learning to move students through quickly so that they can graduate with a degree and enter the labor market.

Why Privatize?

There are basically two distinct motives. As mentioned before, many believe that competition, emblematic of the private sector, is the best guarantee for the best outcomes. Competition compels participants to adopt the most efficient means and maximizes motivation by threatening extinction if a company does not excel.

But on a more pragmatic and less ideological level, education offers a tremendous source of profits when private, for-profit companies are allowed to move in. For this reason for-profit educational institutions have mushroomed during the past several decades.

The privatization movement is now in full force as a consequence of the growing inequalities in wealth. With the decimation of those with middle income, wealth has become concentrated at the top. With wealth comes power. Corporate owners have therefore found it much easier to impose their will and values on the rest of society.

What Is At Stake?

Nothing short of genuine education itself is at stake. What particularly vitiates the learning process is the introduction of a corporate culture or “market” forces that insist on measuring “student learning outcomes” by “objective” standards such as standardized tests; that place an emphasis on competition so that there are inevitably “winners” and “losers;” that regard democratic structures that include teachers with disdain; that narrow the curriculum so that job skills alone are valued; and that think in terms of education as valuable only as a means to material rewards.

Students will not become genuine learners unless they are imbued with a love of learning, meaning they regard learning as an end in itself, an asset not easily measured. Every teacher is fully aware that in competitive environments students will concentrate their efforts on achieving a high grade, not on truly understanding the material. They will memorize for tests and then forget everything. They will take great pains to hide their ignorance, not raise critical questions, let alone questions about material they do not understand. We know that in moments of desperation the vast majority of high school students at one time or another will cheat, which is hardly one of the skills we want them to acquire.

We also know that when teachers are judged by their students’ standardized test scores, they will teach to the test, where the highest goal is to get the “right” answer, with or without understanding the material. Here students are drilled, so that for them school becomes painfully dull and boring. And who knows if those who create the tests have themselves identified the “right” answer or even asked an appropriate question. There is absolutely no opportunity to raise critical questions.

What is particularly vile about judging teachers by their students’ scores is that we have volumes of evidence that prove that the student’s performance in the classroom is far more a function of their family situation than what the teacher does.

Knowledge is best pursued as a cooperative venture where students work together to find solutions to problems and share their information. New teachers do best, for example, when partnered with a mentor who can share with them what they have found that does and does not work. This won’t happen when teachers and schools are competing against one another.

When the search for the Higgs Boson particle, otherwise known as the “god particle,” got underway, two teams of scientists of 3000 each were created, not as a source of motivation through competition but to provide independent confirmation of the other team’s results. Those on each team worked in close cooperation with one another. Although external rewards existed, the participants were driven by their love of physics. As one veteran member told a newcomer: he will have “the time of his life.”

Because of its cooperative nature, the pursuit of knowledge cannot be disentangled from a sense of community where each participant acquires the ability to listen to different points of view, weigh their respective merits, and synthesize the best aspects of each view into a more sophisticated vision. Here everyone must enjoy an equal voice so that no one’s contribution can be routinely dismissed because of an individual’s status.

Consequently, institutions of learning that operate with a corporate top-down structure — where brute power continually preempts the force of the better argument — inevitably undermine the learning process within the classroom. If educators do not practice what they preach, then learning is transformed into a type of obedience and academic achievement becomes a form of deception.

Of course, the most valuable moments in education cannot be measured. When students get carried away with a discussion where each responds to the others and where each contributes to the other’s response, it is impossible to quantify the performance of each student, as if each contribution could be isolated from the others. And, of course, any attempt to quantify their performances would only serve to undermine the spiritual pleasure that students derive from collaborating with one another where each one plays an essential role in creating a richer outcome.

Conclusion

The vast preponderance of evidence unambiguously supports the conclusion that the corporate culture in all its forms is antithetic to education. And this doesn’t even take into account the inevitable and prevalent corporate corruption that has infused education in the past several decades where the well-being of students is sacrificed for the pursuit of profits. But those who champion it, including the Obama administration, Bill Gates, and all the reactionary education foundations, display little regard for the conclusions of scientific studies. In their fanatical zeal they have demonstrated a willingness to impose a corporate culture despite the resistance of protesting parents and teachers. Lacking rational justifications, they shamelessly make recourse to force, closing community schools, for example, over the objections of the families they serve.

There can be little wonder that these zealots display no interest in the indispensable role our public schools play in nurturing students into citizens who are prepared to participate in a democratic society. For them, democracy only serves as an annoying hindrance to producing compliant workers who will follow the example of the politicians and uncritically dedicate their lives to serving their corporate masters.