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Archive for October, 2010

Toronto Election

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Other than a post about Dmitri the Lover and Rob Ford, I haven’t had much to say about the Toronto muni election because I haven’t lived in Toronto for 30 years and municipal politics are hard to follow from far away.

Dmitri’s endorsement worked and Ford is the Mayor Elect of Toronto. While he was elected on a Tea Partyish platform, it remains to be seen how will change city government. The Mayor of Toronto does not wield the same sort of power the Daley’s enjoyed in Chicago, and Ford will need Council support to implement change. At this point I don’t know what kind of Council was elected with the new mayor, but I’m pretty sure it’s a diverse group.

I suspect that the Michael Harris is feeling satisfied with Ford’s election. Even in a conservative year, Rob Ford would not have been elected Mayor of the old city of Toronto. By forcing the amalgamation of the city with the other boroughs and North York, Harris grafted a 905 sensibility onto a city where blue collar and bohemian citizens coexisted with the Lord High Muckety Mucks of Bay Street.

Writing in the Globe and Mail just before the election, Richard Florida describes what he calls a lost consensus “that Toronto, for all its demographic and economic variety, is at bottom “one” city – and that it’s a fair and equitable place.”

George Smitherman, Rocco Rossi, Joe Pantalone and even John Tory, despite their differences, all reflect that same consensus – one that has stretched all the way from David Crombie and Mel Lastman to David Miller. The current election campaign shows how frayed that consensus has become. Mr. Ford, as Toronto Star columnist Chris Hume wrote, “has tapped into a deep well of exurban fear and loathing. … He personifies anti-urbanism, which makes him a hero.”

A hero in Etobicoke and Outer Scarberia perhaps, but maybe not so much in Trinity Spadina or at Parliament and Wellesley.

Written by slothropia

October 28th, 2010 at 9:47 pm

The Clash: Death or Glory and Spanish Bombs

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This one’s going out to U.S. Democrats, liberals, progressives and assorted lefties. The next couple of years might be a good time to tell righties:

We gonna fight til you lose
We gonna raise trouble
We gonna raise hell

I’m feeling in a 1930’s mood these days. Remember the Spanish Civil War? The Clash did.

Here are the lyrics:

Spanish songs in Andalucia
the shooting sites in the days of ’39
Oh, please leave, the ventana open
Federico Lorca is dead and gone:
bullet holes in the cemetery walls
the black cars of the Guardia Civil
Spanish bombs on the Costa Rica
I’m flying in a dc-10 tonight

Spanish bombs; yo te quiero infinito
Yo te quiero, oh mi corazón
Spanish bombs; yo te quiero infinito
Yo te quiero, oh mi corazón

Spanish weeks in my disco casino
the freedom fighters died upon the hill
They sang the red flag
they wore the black one
but after they died, it was Mockingbird Hill
Back home, the buses went up in flashes
the Irish tomb was drenched in blood
Spanish bombs shatter the hotels
My señorita’s rose was nipped in the bud


The hillsides ring with “free the people”
or can I hear the echo from the days of ’39
with trenches full of poets
the ragged army, fixing bayonets to fight the other line?
Spanish bombs rock the province
I’m hearing music from another time
Spanish bombs on the Costa Brava
I’m flying in on a dc-10 tonight

Spanish bombs; yo te quiero infinito
Yo te quiero, oh mi corazón
Spanish bombs; yo te quiero infinito
Yo te quiero, oh mi corazón
oh mi corazón
oh mi corazón

Spanish songs in Andalucia:
mandolina, oh mi corazón
Spanish songs in Granada, oh mi corazón

Written by slothropia

October 28th, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Music

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Education from the Nation: Grading Waiting for Superman

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I have not seen the new documentary, Waiting for Superman, but I am looking forward to doing so. All my children are grown and long past high school (one still in university) and I don’t have any formal connection to public, private or charter schools. While I have siblings and other relations who are teachers and while I used to be a teacher and an education activist – served on education commissions and even ran for the school board once – I consider myself these days to be a layman when it comes to education issues.

Still, education is an issue to which I pay a good deal of attention, because a society is both defined and reflected in the education of its youth. A nation’s successes and failures are mirrored in its schools. I am not among the very few who would deny that U.S. schools are in crisis, but the crisis in U.S. education is a product of the crisis facing the country at large.

I was always skeptical about No Child Left Behind because it seemed to be a band aid, a short cut to a cosmetic result rather than any real solutions. The short version of my argument is as follows: Schools are defined as successful if students achieve certain predefined scores on standardized tests. Schools that do not score well on such tests are punished and sometimes euthanized. This process allows authorities to avoid asking why some students do better than others on tests and why some schools are more troubled than others. Instead the working assumption is that students who do not achieve to a satisfactory level on standardized tests have been taught by less than satisfactory teachers (ignoring the obvious risk that some teachers will “teach to the test”). Therefore, bad teachers must be replaced and if a school has too many bad teachers, it must be closed.

Schools are not seen under NCLB as integral to their communities. Yet even troubled schools are assets to troubled communities. It seems evil to deprive a neighborhood of such an asset. It seems wiser and more generous to strengthen problem schools.

Many self described education reformers argue that it is too difficult to fire bad teachers and replace them with good ones. This is the fault of teachers’ unions, whose power must be broken if we are to save our students. Destroying teachers’ unions is one of the magic bullets in education reform. The other is charter schools.

Enter Waiting for Superman. Here is Dana Goldstein’s description and summary of the film in The Nation:

Here’s what you see in Waiting for Superman, the new documentary that celebrates the charter school movement while blaming teachers unions for much of what ails American education: working- and middle-class parents desperate to get their charming, healthy, well-behaved children into successful public charter schools.
Here’s what you don’t see: the four out of five charters that are no better, on average, than traditional neighborhood public schools (and are sometimes much worse); charter school teachers, like those at the Green Dot schools in Los Angeles, who are unionized and like it that way; and noncharter neighborhood public schools, like PS 83 in East Harlem and the George Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama, that are nationally recognized for successfully educating poor children.

You don’t see teen moms, households without an adult English speaker or headed by a drug addict, or any of the millions of children who never have a chance to enter a charter school lottery (or get help with their homework or a nice breakfast) because adults simply aren’t engaged in their education. These children, of course, are often the ones who are most difficult to educate, and the ones neighborhood public schools can’t turn away.

You also don’t learn that in the Finnish education system, much cited in the film as the best in the world, teachers are—gasp!—unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare, preschool and healthcare, all of which are proven to help children achieve better results at school.

In other words, Waiting for Superman is a moving but vastly oversimplified brief on American educational inequality. Nevertheless, it has been greeted by rapturous reviews.

I would suggest that the reason Waiting for Superman has received these rapturous reviews is because a lot of people who should know better have for too long been swallowing right wing rhetoric on education. Education research does not provide support for the contention that teachers’ unions prevent the recruitment, development and support of quality teachers, nor for the proposition that charter schools provide better instruction than well resourced and well run public schools.

On august 29, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Teachers Federation appeared on This Week with Christine Armanpour and made the following claim:

First, the states that actually have lots of teachers in teacher unions tend to be the states that have done the best in terms of academic success in this country, and the states that don’t tend to be the worst.

The issue is not a teacher union contract or a teacher union-management contract. What we have to do with these contracts is we have to make them solution-driven.

Politifact decided to see if there was any basis for Weingarten’s statement and came up with this conclusion by Robert M. Carini of Indiana University, Bloomington:

…public opinion is split as to whether teacher unionism is harmful or helpful to educational outcomes. Considering both this general perception and the considerable rhetoric from both critics and supporters of unions, it is surprising that so little research exists on the unionism-achievement link. Still, the overall pattern in the research is increasingly clear; teacher unionism favorably influences achievement for most students in public schools.

So no research showing teachers unions wreck education. Is there any evidence that supports what everybody seems to know, that charter schools are the answer to everything that’s wrong in U.S. education?

As it happens, no there is not. In fact, most of what is offered by self described education reformers is based on faulty assumptions that have never been supported by either research or real life experience. Consider these observations, offered by jeffbinnc at Open Left:

…As the conversation about education occurring in the media goes further and further astray from what the public knows to be true, corrupt politicians like Senator Joe Lieberman propose more money for destructive policies such as Race to the Top, and more and more millions of dollars from government coffers and well-financed special interest groups get funneled to “robot factory” charter schools.

This bizarre dichotomy in perspectives on education has the ed reform crowd crowing that they have won an “intellectual victory.” But as they bask in the limelight of “Oprah, the Today Show, and the Democratic Party platform,” there are abundant signs that the reformist agenda has in fact “jumped the shark,” as Anthony Cody explains here, and “the public has been lost.” The reason?

“We are more than 10 years into a massive reform effort revolving around high stakes attached to standardized tests, and there is no significant growth in actual learning — even in terms of the test scores most valued by proponents.”

That fact is not lost on the public and will in time remain stubbornly on stage after Oprah and Waiting for Superman have shuffled off into the wings. And charter schools, another darling of the reformist crowd, will continue again and again, to disappoint. In fact, this week, in yet another assessment of the performance of charter schools, the New York Times reported that “charter schools over all received lower grades than traditional schools.” While sixty-one percent of traditional public schools earned “A’s and B’s” in the assessments, only 48 percent of charter schools earned comparable grades. “‘This means that either the strategy Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have touted so often for school reform – the creation of more charter schools – isn’t working,’ said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, ‘or that the entire progress-report methodology, which relies almost completely on standardized test scores, is flawed.'” (h/t: Jim Horn, Schools Matter)

The inevitability of education reform’s collapse is all too plain to anyone taking the time to notice what shoddy rationality it’s built on. As a new book from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), The Obama Education Blueprint: Researchers Examine the Evidence, explains, the “Blueprint for Reform” guiding the Obama Administration’s policies has little or no basis in any kind of intellectual substance. From a press release announcing the book’s publication, the editors note that the “centerpieces of the administration’s education reform efforts” – an accountability system based on standardized testing, competitive grants, and intervention models that support closing schools and outsourcing to charters – are justified by little more than advocacy positions, non-research, and political posturing about concerns for underserved children.

So what does work? jeffbinnc again:

Despite what they’re being told over and over, by politicians and pundits who eschew public schools for their own children and by a parade of education “experts” who’ve never set foot in the classroom, that our nation’s schools are “broken” and populated with “ineffective” uncaring teachers, parents engaged in real-world education talk like their local schools and expect them to evaluate teachers, not to punish them, but to help them improve.

Of course, I understand that not all school districts operate as mine does, with motivated parents, capable teachers, well-appointed classrooms, and amply funded programs. But that discussion topic isn’t allowed by the reform crowd. As President Obama said this week, fixing our educational system is “not about more money.” He and the other elites clamoring for closing public schools and firing teachers spew this nonsense while people who actually know something about education point out, as Diane Ravitch did recently, that the “resource gap” in education is what’s behind so many failings in our system. In fact, “in most states wealthy communities spend two to three times or more per pupil than what is spent in the poorest communities.”

The current fads in education reform will continue to fail to provide improvement. That’s the bad news. The good news is that parents, teachers and the public will eventually demand real and effective change and governments will have to deliver. Of course if the corporatist Teabaggers get their way, education could receive decade’s worth of damage and neglect.

I still haven’t seen Waiting for Superman, but here is Daily Kos diarist teacherken, who has:

The film is intellectually dishonest. Most of those who know about education, especially those who know the reality of what has worked and can be scaled up, have increasingly been speaking out and writing against the glorification of the film, and the vision it pushes, and those it attempts to lionize.

And Davis Guggenheim? He admits his sense of guilt. On that he is at least partially honest. What he has done in this film should not, however, allow him to feel as if he has expiated his sense of guilt, for this film has done real damage to the public discourse over education, and made it harder to get to the kinds of real reform necessary so that none of our children are left in failing schools. I long for such a day that all experience fully the right, the opportunity to learn. That will not happen by busting unions, propagating charters, all the while we ignore the increasing economic disparity, and the unfortunate reappearance of racism. Couple this with the attitude of some of an unwillingness to pay for public services for which they do not personally benefit and you will see an increase in the number of students who are not well served by our public schools – we will damage many that are currently working.

As bad as it may be now, things like “Waiting for Superman” merely make it harder to move towards the changes we truly need. I fear that will be its legacy, and that would truly be tragic.

Here are a couple of related links:

Written by slothropia

October 23rd, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Quinn Campaign Ad

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I am in a quandary irt the race for Illinois Governor this year. I like Pat Quinn personally and hope he wins, but I would like to vote for Rich Whitney to keep the Green Party on the ballot for 2012 (a party needs to get 5% or better for the top line on the ballot to stay on).

But in the same old same old department, Bill Brady would be a disaster as Governor of Illinois. On account of him being an extreme right wing Republican. He is a Teabagger but lately doesn’t want to admit it. Bottom line, I don’t want Brady winning, so might have to vote for Quinn.

Anyway, whatever the relative merits of Pat Quinn and rich Whitney, this is a pretty darn good ad. Hope you laugh as much as I did.

Written by slothropia

October 23rd, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Shock Doctrine in the UK

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I was watching the world news on BBC America a few nights ago and the talking heads were all in agreement that the Tory government had no choice but to make draconian cuts to the UK budget. Unless they wanted to emulate Japan, which did not reduce living standards during its economic troubles in the ’90s or during the current world wide slowdown. Japan may not be paradise but it seems to be getting through the crisis as well as or better than most of the industrialized world. .

Here is George Monbiot , describing what the Coalition government in Britain is up to. This will also serve as a prediction of what the Teabag Republicans will do if they win a majority in the House of Representatives and start drafting federal budgets:

In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein shows how disaster capitalism was conceived by the extreme neoliberals at the University of Chicago. These people believed that the public sphere should be eliminated, that business should be free to do as it wants, and almost all tax and social spending should be stopped. They believed that total personal freedom in a completely free market produces a perfect economy and perfect relationships. It was a utopian system as fanatical as any developed by a religious cult. And it was profoundly unpopular. For a long time its only supporters were the heads of multinational corporations and a few wackos in the US government.

In a democracy under normal conditions, those who were harmed by abandoning public provision would outvote those who gained from it. So the Chicago programme couldn’t be imposed in these circumstances. As the Chicago School’s guru, Milton Friedman, explained, “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change.” After a crisis has struck, he added later, “a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity.”

The first such opportunity was provided by General Pinochet’s coup in Chile. The coup was plotted by two factions: the generals and a group of economists trained at the University of Chicago and funded by the CIA. Their ideas had already been comprehensively rejected by the electorate, but now the electorate was irrelevant: Pinochet used the crisis he had created to imprison, torture or kill anyone who dissented. The Chicago School policies – privatisation, deregulation, massive tax and spending cuts – were catastrophic. Inflation rose to 375% in 1974; the highest rate on earth. Even so, Friedman insisted that the programme was not going far or fast enough. On a visit to Chile in 1975 he persuaded Pinochet to hit much harder. The result was a massive increase in unemployment and the near-eradication of the middle class. But the very rich became much richer, and the corporations, scarcely taxed, deregulated, fattened on privatised assets, became much more powerful.

By 1982, Friedman’s prescriptions had caused a spectacular economic crash. Unemployment hit 30%; debt exploded. Pinochet sacked the Chicago economists and started re-nationalising stricken companies, whereupon the economy began to recover. Chile’s so-called economic miracle began only after Friedman’s doctrines were abandoned. The Chicago School’s catastrophic programme pushed almost half the population below the poverty line and left Chile with one of the world’s highest rates of inequality.

But all this was spun by the corporate media as a great success. With the help of successive US governments, similar programmes were imposed on dozens of countries in which crises ensured that the population was unable to resist. Other Latin American dictators copied Pinochet’s economic policies, with the help of mass disappearances, torture and killings. The poor world’s debt crisis was used by the IMF and the World Bank to impose Chicago School programmes on countries that had no option but to accept their help. The US hit Iraq with economic shock and awe – privatisation, a flat tax, massive deregulation – even as the bombs were still falling. After Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans, Friedman described it as “an opportunity to radically reform the educational system”. His disciples immediately moved in, sweeping away public schools while the residents were picking up the pieces of their lives, replacing them with private charter schools.

Our crisis is less extreme, so, in the United Kingdom, the shock doctrine cannot be so widely applied. But, as David Blanchflower warned yesterday, there’s a strong possibility that the cuts programme will precipitate a bigger crisis: “it’s a terrible, terrible mistake. The sensible thing to do is to spread [the cuts] over a long time”. That’s another feature of disaster capitalism: it exacerbates the crises on which it thrives, creating its own opportunities.

Of course there is more and I invite everyone to go ZSpace and read the whole article. I would comment that South American countries like Argentina and Brazil have done relatively well since they moved left, away from Friedman’s Randian pipe dreams.

I suspect the Tories know these draconian cuts will make them unpopular, but they are willing to risk losing the next election if they are able to tie the hands of the next Labour government. Of course, the British Right have Murdoch on their side just as do the Teabaggers in the U.S. As for the Liberal Democrats, they will probably be nearly wiped out unless they somehow manage to distance themselves from Cameron and his Thatcherite policies.

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October 22nd, 2010 at 10:17 am

Williams Gone from NPR – Why Is Liasson Still There?

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NPR has fired Juan Williams for comments he made on O’Reilly. This is wrong. NPR should have fired Juan Williams years ago because he works at Fox News and therefore has pissed away his credibility as a journalist.

The same is true of Mara Liasson who may be a highly skilled journalist but has likewise traded her journalistic birthright for a mess of pottage from the Murdoch propaganda mill.

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October 21st, 2010 at 3:41 pm

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Remember those Joe Miller security types that handcuffed a reporter? Turns out they have ties to right wing militias. Shocked and stunned, I am.

In Harris County, Texas (Houston), a bunch of Teabaggers are defending the Constitution by trying to make sure the wrong people do not vote.

Two of the Supreme court justices who defended the Constitution by overturning an election result are having secret meetings with the Teabagger Overlords. And it seems Mrs. Scalia Puppet has Teabagger tendencies and ties herself.

And finally, there’s this report by the NAACP about Teabagger ties to racist organizations. For some reason they let Dick Armey off the hook. because he obviously doesn’t know who he’s dealing with.

Anyway, I’m trying to discern a pattern here. What could it be that ties these things together?

Oh well, It’ll come to me. But I will say this: If this is what the Teabag Republicans are like in opposition, imagine how much fun we would all have if they ever get a taste of power.

I think it’s worth remembering that the high point of the KKK and Father Coughlin was in the Great Depression. The Great Depression was also when socialism was most acceptable to U.S. voters. Capitalism was in crisis, just as it is now. I doubt that this is the final crisis, but we are at some sort of turning point. Will the world that results more resemble Chile under Pinochet (as the Koch brothers no doubt fervently hope) or a Scandinavian social democracy, or a Wobbly paradise? Will we have o go through a world war to create whatever comes next?

Ask me in about ten or fifteen years and I’ll let you know..

Donald Duck v Glenn Beck – Maddow v Robinson

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You can find this remix and more at rebellious pixels. I was led there by a link at Raw Story.

Here’s another cartoon that’s almost as funny.

Most who read political blogs or watch MSNBC will have at least heard about this notorious train wreck of an interview.

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October 11th, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy: You Are Not Alone

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Here’s something you don’t see or hear everyday: Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy performing together. They were on the Colbert Report last night and after enduring a interview with SC they did a song Tweedy wrote for Staples.

Here’s the interview:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Mavis Staples & Jeff Tweedy<a>
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive

And here’s the song, You Are Not Alone.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Mavis Staples & Jeff Tweedy – You Are Not Alone<a>
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive

Well written song. Good performance by band and singer.

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October 7th, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Modern Imperialism

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From my home near the lake, it’s a long way up highway 61 to the Canadian border and Thunder Bay. The inter web tube machines make it easier for this dual citizen to keep up with the news back in my other home, but I still have to work at it. I read the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun and other online papers and I visit the CBC, where I can catch video of some of the news programming. One of the places at which I lurk frequently in order to gain perspective and gather opinion is a discussion board called Babble, part of a larger site, Rabble. Rabble. Babble is a progressive site populated by left wing Liberals, Greens, New Democrats and free floating Marxists. The odd conservative and red Tory drops by occasionally.

One of the Babble folders is nominally devoted to discussions of Canadian politics, but threads there are like real conversations in that the topic might change at any moment. Thread drift, I believe it is called. Anyway, I found the following post in a thread titled, What is a Fascist (Part 2) by a poster who calls him or herself Fidel:

Imperialist empires usually lasted several centuries and typically left some signs of positive development in the colonies. The Romans left their mark in various territories they held with modern architecture, roads, architecture and even modern plumbing. The British imperial empire lasted 200 years. …Imperialist empires came to an end with the demise of: the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, British, and Japanese empires all expiring at various times in the last century.

Fascism arose from the French Revolution as did socialism and the other modern isms. Fascism is unique in that its ideologues oppose socialism specifically. Fascists have never lasted as long in power as imperialist empires have, which is another difference. And I believe this is true partly because of the revolutions. People around the world have drawn the line at slavery (imperialism) and are now getting used to modern slavery (usury, anti trade unionism, neoliberalism, globalization etc) I think it remains to be seen how much longer fascism can retain power in the western world. They are pushing for dynastic rule something similar to empires past.

American fascism today exhibits characteristics of both a vicious empire and fascist state. It’s a hybrid of both and ceased being a ‘constitutional democracy’ by 1947 with the signing of the National Security Act. Since then America has become a fascist-imperialist state controlled by the military and shadow government and heavily influenced by Wall Street bankers, a few thousand military contractors, big oil, big pharma, big agribusiness, and a small number of billionaire oligarchs owning some large percentage of the nations wealth. The original colonists did attempt to create the first constitutional democracy not influenced by European financier oligarchy, but that experiment failed. What they have today is a Wall Street-military dictatorship. As leader of the cosmetic government, Obamacrats are weak and ineffective and powerless to wrest control from those secretive groups running the three ring circus from the shadows.

I think Fidel has a point, especially regarding the many forms of modern slavery. I wish I could say that the current elections are about opposing this drift into a dictatorship of the plutocrats, but too many Democratic office holders and candidates have gone over to the dark side. Still, it would be nice if the U.S. electorate chooses to mitigate the damage the Tea Party Republicans are able to inflict, after which – what? We try as a nation to change course? For that to happen, more of us would have to recognize the immense power wielded by corporatists. Such awareness is unlikely to start at the top and the corporate media will not be of any assistance. And watch out for Teabaggers and flying monkeys.

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October 7th, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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