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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

All eyes on NYC


[This editorial originally appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of the New York Teacher.]

New York City is under a microscope.

With the city having elected its first progressive mayor in a generation, observers from both sides of the political spectrum are watching to see how Mayor de Blasio fares in implementing his vision.

Progressives want to see if the new mayor succeeds with what has been called his “new New Deal” approach of using government policy to address social problems and inequities. De Blasio has proposed, for example, to fund universal full-day prekindergarten through a tax on wealthy residents and to charge rent to well-off charter schools that use space in public school buildings.

If de Blasio succeeds in New York City, it could spur the election of other unapologetically progressive politicians around the country.

Conservatives are also watching the new administration in New York City, but with a sense of alarm.

In Washington, D.C., House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently attacked de Blasio and other Democratic politicians who seek to block the unfettered growth of charter schools and voucher programs.

De Blasio’s policies, Cantor said, “could devastate the growth of education opportunity” in the city.

Of course, what Cantor calls “the growth of education opportunity” is really the movement to undermine and privatize public education, and the UFT will fight any efforts to destabilize public schools.

But for people of varying political stripes, New York City under its new mayor is like a petri dish that they can watch to see if proposed progressive policies take root and thrive or wither and fail.

How well we succeed in undoing the damage from 12 years of Bloomberg is critically important for our city, schools and children. It could also serve as a model for our nation.

Eva uses her students

This editorial originally appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of the New York Teacher.

They’ll say it was about “school choice” and “for the children,” but the morning rally on Oct. 8 by Harlem Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz and other charter school honchos was little more than a thinly veiled campaign rally for Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.

That wouldn’t be a problem if Moskowitz hadn’t closed her schools and forced parents, students and staff to attend. Children, who should have been in class at that hour, were instead bused to the rally with their parents.

“Several emails from senior leadership make it clear that the event is not optional,” a “concerned charter teacher” wrote to Diane Ravitch on her blog. “It seems very unethical that adults and children are being forced into this political statement.”

The rally was billed as a protest against Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio’s charter school policy proposals, not a campaign rally. But if it wasn’t a de facto campaign rally for Lhota, then why was he there? Lhota’s wife and daughter were at the head of the march across the Brooklyn Bridge and the candidate himself posed for pictures with children who should have been in school in a small area cordoned off in front of City Hall Park.

Moskowitz, a former chair of the City Council Education Committee, and others in the charter movement have lined up with Lhota because de Blasio has called for a moratorium on new charter schools and has said that he will charge charter schools rent to use space in public school buildings.

But we’re public schools, too, the charter operators complain. They’re right, of course: Charter schools are public schools. But the for-profit operators of charter schools only own up to that fact when it suits them. When it comes to accepting students with special needs, for example, they’re private schools through and through.

Not all charter schools are fans of Moskowitz’s tactics. Leaders of some independent charter schools said in an open letter that the rally “sends entirely the wrong message” and is “at best premature.” They wrote that they would rather have dialogue with de Blasio than protest against him.

Hawaiian Singer to Obama: “Occupy With Aloha”

“We’ll occupy the streets, we’ll occupy the courts, we’ll occupy the offices of you, till you do the bidding of the many, not the few.”

Hawaiian singer-songwriter Makana turned his gig playing dinner music for President Obama and Asia-Pacific leaders into a “subtle protest,” according to AFP, when he sang a 40-minute version of his new Occupy Wall Street-inspired song “We Are The Many.”

Makana, who goes by one name, was enlisted to play a luau, or Hawaiian feast, Saturday night for leaders assembled in Obama’s birthplace Honolulu for an annual summit that is formulating plans for a Pacific free-trade pact.

But in the midst of the dinner on the resort strip Waikiki Beach, he pulled open his jacket to reveal a T-shirt that read “Occupy with Aloha,” using the Hawaiian word whose various meanings include love and peace. He then sang a marathon version of his new song “We Are The Many.”

Stand for Freedom March & Rally on Dec. 10

This year, two-thirds of state legislatures have introduced laws that undermine the right to vote. Early voting and Sunday voting are under attack. Photo ID requirements will introduce the first financial and document barrier to voting since the poll tax.

Join a coalition of labor unions and community organizations as we rally to protect our voting rights on Saturday, Dec. 10, United Nations’ Human Rights Day.

11 a.m.: March from the offices of the Koch brothers, major funders of anti-voting measures, located at 61st Street and Madison Avenue.

12 noon: Rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at the United Nations located at East 47th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.

See the flier for more details »

Glenn Beck Conspiracy Theory Generator

Where you can get endless “Fair and Balanced Paranoia, Delivered on Demand” like this:

Hemp-growing Marxist fornicators have a secret diabolical plan to force you to gay-marry an illegal immigrant in a mosque at Ground Zero.

And this:

If we don’t act now, we won’t be able to stop the dope-smoking Trotskyites who have formed a secret society that plans to spread swine flue throughout the money supply.

No Goat For You!

New Jersey Governor Chris ChristieSome ancient tribes developed an ingenious, convenient and fail-safe trick to avoid fantasized divine retribution for their self-supposed guilt. They diverted all responsibility and its dire consequences to a blameless proxy: goats.

Any goat was right for the job. Once picked it was thereby culpable and sent away or sacrificed. Its relegation to the wilderness or the altar served the purpose of allowing people to escape the entrapments of contrition and carry on with their lives as before. It came in very handy.

That was and remains the beauty of scapegoats. They are among the most adaptable or history’s premier fixtures and forces.

And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a great believer in the efficacy of scapegoats. More »

DFER as DINOs – Democrats in Name Only?

In recent elections, Democrats have worried that Republican strategists have given calculated support to candidates in Democratic primaries as a way of shaping the party to their own interests. Based on the last few years of contributions to the group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), it appears that some individual Republicans may be trying out the same strategy when it comes to education policy.

As the website DFER Watch recently pointed out, at least two board members from the ultra-libertarian Cato Institute (co-founded by the infamous Koch brothers), made significant donations to DFER in the past several years, including former Cato Director Steven Ackerman and his wife, who gave a combined $10,000 to DFER in 2007.

DFER Watch also noted that Steven Klinsky, former hedge fund manager and founder of for-profit charter company Victory Schools, Inc., was one of only 17 donors to give the maximum $5000 contribution to DFER in 2010 – even though all of his other donations over the past year (over $29,000 in total) went to Republican candidates and political action committees. More »

Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck

Hat Tip: Crooked Timber

Pajamas Patriotism

Did you know that if the American economy returned to the “gold standard” monetary system, as libertarians and other right-wing social Darwinists urge, our immortal national soul would be spared and so would your Lord-fearing wallet?

And did you realize that patriotism and progressivism are incompatible and mutually exclusive, according to these protectionists of privilege and portfolio?

If you want to save your country from ruin and takeover, then close your eyes (or better yet, blind them with pokers) and be led by the likes of the bloggers at Pajamas Media,  the supply-siders of motherhood, apple pie and those other quaint Yankee things that folks in lands with more equitable distribution of riches cannot relate to.

They prescribe panaceas for everything that ails America, especially in education. More »

What Do You Do When Your Candidate…

  • Has outstripped his opponent in fundraising, by better than a 3 to 1 margin [$4.6 million to $1.3 million]?
  • Has raked in huge corporate donations?
  • Has used the advantages of incumbency to secure large donations from city employees working underneath him?
  • Has had Michael Bloomberg host a fundraiser and has taken donations from the disgraced former Governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer, and the past drug dealer of the former Mayor of your city?
  • Has the organization on whose board you have sat for years, well known for being financed by Wall Street hedge fund tycoons, put him on the top of its national list for financial support?

And then your candidate is still decisively defeated in the election.

You whine about how teacher unions supported his opponent.

Wall Street, DFER, Education Privateers:
“Dissolve The People, And Elect Another”

Last Saturday’s front page New York Times article told the story of the unprecedented flood of Wall Street and hedge fund money into primary elections, targeting elected officials who had the courage to oppose their anti-public education and ‘blame the teacher’ agenda. But from New York to Washington DC, Democrats for Education Reform [DFER] supported campaigns went down to crushing defeat in election after election.

In New York City, the three high profile African-American State Senators on the top of the DFER hit list — Bill Perkins of Harlem, Velmanette Montgomery of Brooklyn and Shirley Huntley of Queens — won re-election in landslides with the support of the UFT. Perkins beat Basil Smikle and Huntley beat Lynn Nunes by 3 to 1 margins and Montgomery beat Mark Pollard by a 4 to 1 margin. In an open  State Senate seat in northern Manhattan and the Bronx, UFT-backed Adriano Espaillat bested DFER’s Mark Levine by over 10 percentage points. In the Bronx, UFT and union supported insurgent Gustavo Rivera beat Pedro Espada, Jr. by a margin of nearly 2 to 1. Espada,  currently under investigation on charges of corruption, was one of the three Democrat State Senators who had joined with the Republican caucus in the infamous Albany coup d’êtat that paralyzed state government; he was a favorite of Wall Street, real estate and anti-public education interests. In Queens, Hiram Monserrate, another of the three turncoat State Senators who was convicted of misdemeanor assault in a domestic violence case, was trounced 2 to 1 by UFT supported Francisco Moya. In congressional races, UFT supported Carolyn Maloney beat Wall Street candidate Reshma Saujani by a 4 to 1 margin and UFT supported Charles Rangel swept to re-election against 5 opponents, including DFER favorite Adam Clayton Powell IV.

The sole Wall Street and DFER victory in New York City was in the 73rd Assembly District, where incumbent Jonathan Bing put together the largest campaign treasury for Assembly candidates across the state and rode a 10 to 1 financial advantage to victory over public school teacher and UFT member Gregg Lundahl. Bing, who had sponsored legislation to allow the DoE to lay off New York City public school teachers without regard for the collective bargaining agreement, had received donations from Chancellor Joel Klein and his wife, among others. Lundahl’s valiant campaign against overwhelming odds sent a clear message that those who lead attacks on us will not go unchallenged.

In statewide races, UFT and union backed progressive Eric Schneiderman won a hotly contested race for the Democratic nomination for State Attorney General, beating four other candidates. In Buffalo, DFER favorite Assemblyman Sam Hoyt narrowly squeaked to victory over his opponent.

In Washington DC, incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty was decisively defeated by challenger Vincent Gray in an election widely seen as a referendum on the antagonistic, divisive education policies of his school’s Chancellor Michelle Rhee. In the weeks leading up to the DC election it became clear that Fenty’s overwhelming financial advantage was not enough to overcome the Rhee legacy, and desperate Rhee supporters issued ever increasingly shrill threats on the dire consequences of turning Fenty out. In the blogosphere, DFER supporters argued that the election had little to do with Rhee’s  policies, and looked about for someone else to blame for the coming defeat. Despite Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s transparent efforts to support Fenty, some even blamed President Obama for not actively intervening in the election.

It all reminds one of the Bertolt Brecht poem, “The Solution,” written in response to a East German apparatchik’s statement that the people “had forfeited the support of the government” by rising up against the Stalinist regime. Brecht wryly concluded,

Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

Leadership Academy Results — Nil

The federal Education Department’s What Works Clearinghouse just released a review of the city’s Leadership Academy, the principal training program that Joel Klein brought in with the help of “Neutron” Jack Welch, the former General Electric chairman.

Apparently it doesn’t work. More »

New York Charter School Association: For Profit, Not For Schools

In the heat of the Albany battle over the extension of the cap on the number of charter schools in New York State, the core agenda of the New York Charter School Association [NYCSA] has been stripped of all pretense. Faced with a set of reform proposals put forward by the UFT and elected officials to fix the broken charter school funding formula, NYCSA did not join in calls for reducing the funding lag,  for having funding follow high needs students living in poverty, English Language Learners and Special Education students and for moving the cost of TRS pensions off the books of charter schools. Fair funding for charter schools is simply not important to the right-wing ideologues at NYCSA.

No, rather than take on such vital issues for charter schools, NYCSA has been waging an all-out campaign on behalf of for profit charter management firms Victory Schools and National Heritage Academies and on behalf of NYC D0E Chancellor Joel Klein. Legislation proposed by State Senate leader John Sampson and State Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver would combine an increase on the cap with a prohibition of for profit involvement in charter schools and limits on the NYC DoE policy of capriciously siting charter schools in district buildings to the detriment of the public schools already using the space. NYCSA is so opposed to these measures that it has its publicists at the New York Post call for the defeat of a bill which would extend the charter cap to 400 schools.

Victory Schools is the outfit that is sucking up 25¢ of every public funding dollar that should go to the students of Merrick Academy. In an article published in this past Sunday’s Daily News, New Yorkers learned of the involvement of Victory in a scheme which had Victory owner Steven Klinsky sending thousands of campaign dollars to State Senator Malcolm Smith; in turn, Smith directed over $100,000 of public dollars to a Victory School which had paid over three-quarters of a million dollars in management fees to Victory. National Heritage Academies is the corporation which challenged the right of its New York employees to organize into a union and bargain collectively. These are the “good” corporate citizens for whom NYCSA is going to the wall.

Truth be told, the presence of for profit corporations and money from right-wing corporations such as Wal-Mart and hedge-fund operators such as Richard Gilder and Carl Icahn has had a corrupting influence on New York charter schools. Last Friday, the Albany Times-Union published an article on how the leading voice in the anti-union jeremiad on the editorial pages of the New York Post and New York Daily News, Thomas Carroll of Brighter Choice Charter Schools, had received tens of millions of dollars from these sources. With that sort of support, no wonder that he has made the promotion of their agenda into a full-time job.

It’s this simple. New York Charter School Association: for profit, not for schools.


A sharp reader points out that Jeff Clark, the President and CEO National Heritage Academies, is on NYCSA’s Board of Trustees, and that Bill Phillips, current NYCSA President, worked for two for-profits, Beacon Education Management and SABIS Educational Systems, prior to leading NYCSA.

The Spectacle Of Overstimulated Edu-Cons

In his final column on the editorial pages of the New York Times, neo-conservative Bill Kristol unhappily conceded that with the election of Barack Obama, America has now seen “the end of the conservative era.” But his fellow “true believers” in the laissez-faire market who inhabit the world of education — the edu-cons — seem intent upon living in the past.

WCTU: Ideological Fore-Mothers Of Rick Hess?

Woman's Christian Temperance Union: Ideological Fore-Mothers of Rick Hess?

The edu-market fundamentalists have been making themselves into quite a spectacle in recent days,  as they respond to the stimulus package that has begun to take shape in Washington DC. Unchastened by the fact that it was the policies that they pushed for the last quarter century — deregulation and privatization, unfettered and uncontrolled markets —  which got us into this  hole, they now proclaim that we need more of “the hair of the dog that bit us” as a remedy to one nasty economic hangover. Who cares that the stimulus package is all that stands between America and a depression? “Bring  it on,” they chant in unison, in an echo of George Bush’s fated approach to Iraq. More »

Obama as Everyman

Even before its launch, the Obama presidency is larger than life. There’s no arguing its symbolism is the bearer of its own legacy. The world’s nations, regardless of their histories or systems of government, have put their ancestral loathings on hold and are sharing the exhilaration. It’s like the whole planet is an athlete high on endorphins. It is spectacular for Americans especially as we have by this election distanced ourselves just a step from the morally felonious exclusions of the past. By our votes we have repented the bonds of history. Let’s luxuriate in what our nation has overcome and work to ensure that Obama’s victory is not a token, novelty, or fluke of history but rather will make perfectly plausible the election of other racial and other minorities in the future. More »