Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Friday, August 31, 2012

Obama NCLB Waiver Process Even More Damaging To Schools Then NCLB

Under the No Child Left Behind waiver the state received from the feds, the lowest performing schools must undergo major overhauls or be closed and turned into new schools.

NY1 reports 123 NYC schools are on the state's list to undergo overhaul by 2014-2015 or be closed.

All but one of those schools serve high poverty populations.

But of course the "failure" of these schools lies with the teachers and the administrators, so the NYSED and the Regents are going to do the Obama USDOE's bidding and get these schools overhauled or shut in the next two years.

You can bet they will try and fire lots of teachers at these schools as an offshoot of this, close as many of these schools as they can and reopen as many of them as charters as possible.

The new schools will of course rarely serve the same high poverty, high needs populations as the old schools, so the students from the closed schools will get sent to other schools around them that are not currently on the state's list for overhaul or closure but will be in a few more years.

This is what the Bloomberg administration has been doing with their closure program since they got into office - closing schools, sending kids from the closed schools to other schools around them, then closing those schools when test scores and grad rates drop.

Now the state is going to pick up the ball and run with it in a big way.

If this process is allowed to continue unabated, most New York City public schools will be overhauled or closed in the next decade.

Many of the teachers at these schools will be fired and replaced with cheaper rookies or software programs.

And that, of course, has always been the goal of "education reform."

Ignore the outside socio-economic issues that cause the problems in these schools in the first place, blame instead the schools and the teachers in the schools for the problems, shut the schools, fire the teachers, send the kids to other schools that soon are in need of closure and overhaul as well.

Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat - the process goes on until they shut almost every district school and have it in the hands of an edu-entrepreneur.

Think Detroit. Think Philadelphia. Think New Orleans.

This is the Obama policy in a nutshell - brand them as "failures," close them, fire the teachers, reopen the schools as charters with non-unionized teachers.

Any teacher who votes for Barack Obama, knowing this has been his education policy from the beginning, that this was the point of Race to the Top and now his NCLB waiver process, ought to have his/her head examined.

They're coming for you, they're coming for your school, they're coming for your job, they're coming to fire you and toss you on the junk heap and give all that yummy yummy education money to the edu-entrpreneurs and oligarchs who like Eva Moskowitz, Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch.

And they're doing this not because the reforms work - actually lots of research shows they're not working at all.

They're doing it because the reforms are the excuse for the larger objective - the privatization of one of the last piece of the public trust left.

Education Won't Solve This Employment/Wage Problem

You hear politicians and business people and media figures blame public schools and public school teachers for the employment/wage problems in the country all the time.

The theory goes like this: teachers in the system suck, so therefore schools suck, so therefore kids are not getting the education they need to get good paying, high-skilled jobs, therefore they're stuck doing low wage jobs and until we do something about the "bad teachers" in this country who are churning out all the poorly trained laborers, we are not going to solve our unemployment/wage problems.

The latest media figure to parrot that was Chris Matthews of MSNBC.

But the theory is bunk.

First, there are fewer and fewer good paying jobs in this country -they've all been outsourced or automated.

The NY Times is the latest to report that this morning:

While a majority of jobs lost during the downturn were in the middle range of wages, a majority of those added during the recovery have been low paying, according to a new report from the National Employment Law Project.

The disappearance of midwage, midskill jobs is part of a longer-term trend that some refer to as a hollowing out of the work force, though it has probably been accelerated by government layoffs.

“The overarching message here is we don’t just have a jobs deficit; we have a ‘good jobs’ deficit,” said Annette Bernhardt, the report’s author and a policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project, a liberal research and advocacy group.

The report looked at 366 occupations tracked by the Labor Department and clumped them into three equal groups by wage, with each representing a third of American employment in 2008. The middle third — occupations in fields like construction, manufacturing and information, with median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13 — accounted for 60 percent of job losses from the beginning of 2008 to early 2010.

The job market has turned around since then, but those fields have represented only 22 percent of total job growth. Higher-wage occupations — those with a median wage of $21.14 to $54.55 — represented 19 percent of job losses when employment was falling, and 20 percent of job gains when employment began growing again.

Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the retraction. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.

The occupations with the fastest growth were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

Some of these new, lower-paying jobs are being taken by people just entering the labor force, like recent high school and college graduates. Many, though, are being filled by older workers who lost more lucrative jobs in the recession and were forced to take something to scrape by.


Over the last few decades, the number of midwage, midskill jobs has stagnated or declined as employers chose to automate routine tasks or to move them offshore.

Job growth has been concentrated in positions that tend to fall into two categories: manual work that must be done in person, like styling hair or serving food, which usually pays relatively little; and more creative, design-oriented work like engineering or surgery, which often pays quite well.

Since 2001, employment has grown 8.7 percent in lower-wage occupations and 6.6 percent in high-wage ones. Over that period, midwage occupation employment has fallen by 7.3 percent.

This “polarization” of skills and wages has been documented meticulously by David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A recent study found that this polarization accelerated in the last three recessions, particularly the last one, as financial pressures forced companies to reorganize more quickly.

“This is not just a nice, smooth process,” said Henry E. Siu, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, who helped write the recent study about polarization and the business cycle. “A lot of these jobs were suddenly wiped out during recession and are not coming back.”

On top of private sector revamps, state and local governments have been shedding workers in recent years. Those jobs lost in the public sector have been primarily in mid and higher-wage positions, according to Ms. Bernhardt’s analysis.

“Whenever you look at data like these, there is this tendency to get overwhelmed, that there are these inevitable, big macro forces causing this polarization and we can’t do anything about them. In fact, we can,” Ms. Bernhardt said. She called for more funds for states to stem losses in the public sector and federal infrastructure projects to employ idled construction workers. Both proposals have faced resistance from Republicans in Congress.

Now just in case you buy into the theory that, yes, the mid-level jobs are gone for good, but if we just train those people who used to do the mid-level skill jobs for the high-skill level jobs, we'll be able to solve the problem, remember that outsourcing and automation isn't just affecting the mid-level job skill category. It's affecting the higher skill categories too.

Let's take a look at what automation is doing:

When five television studios became entangled in a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against CBS, the cost was immense. As part of the obscure task of “discovery” — providing documents relevant to a lawsuit — the studios examined six million documents at a cost of more than $2.2 million, much of it to pay for a platoon of lawyers and paralegals who worked for months at high hourly rates.

But that was in 1978. Now, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, “e-discovery” software can analyze documents in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost. In January, for example, Blackstone Discovery of Palo Alto, Calif., helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000.

Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.

“From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out,” said Bill Herr, who as a lawyer at a major chemical company used to muster auditoriums of lawyers to read documents for weeks on end. “People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t.”

Computers are getting better at mimicking human reasoning — as viewers of “Jeopardy!” found out when they saw Watson beat its human opponents — and they are claiming work once done by people in high-paying professions. The number of computer chip designers, for example, has largely stagnated because powerful software programs replace the work once done by legions of logic designers and draftsmen.

Software is also making its way into tasks that were the exclusive province of human decision makers, like loan and mortgage officers and tax accountants.

These new forms of automation have renewed the debate over the economic consequences of technological progress.

David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the United States economy is being “hollowed out.” New jobs, he says, are coming at the bottom of the economic pyramid, jobs in the middle are being lost to automation and outsourcing, and now job growth at the top is slowing because of automation.

“There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,” Professor Autor said. “Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.”

Automation of higher-level jobs is accelerating because of progress in computer science and linguistics. Only recently have researchers been able to test and refine algorithms on vast data samples, including a huge trove of e-mail from the Enron Corporation.

“The economic impact will be huge,” said Tom Mitchell, chairman of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “We’re at the beginning of a 10-year period where we’re going to transition from computers that can’t understand language to a point where computers can understand quite a bit about language.”

The automation trend is accelerating, and as we have seen an increasing financialization of the economy wherein the only thing that matters to companies is quarterly profits and returns, they're happy to lay off reams of employees and replace them with software - whether that it is in a legal department, an accounting department or a school - or outsource those jobs overseas where employees are paid a lot less.

These jobs aren't coming back either and for anybody to think that all of these people can be retrained for high skill level jobs - particularly science and tech jobs - and think that will solve the employment/wage problems, well, they're not paying attention to all the unemployed, underemployed or employed out of their skill science and tech people.

Let's take a look at that from a Washington Post article earlier this year:

Michelle Amaral wanted to be a brain scientist to help cure diseases. She planned a traditional academic science career: PhD, university professorship and, eventually, her own lab.

But three years after earning a doctorate in neuroscience, she gave up trying to find a permanent job in her field.

Dropping her dream, she took an administrative position at her university, experiencing firsthand an economic reality that, at first look, is counterintuitive: There are too many laboratory scientists for too few jobs.

That reality runs counter to messages sent by President Obama and the National Science Foundation and other influential groups, who in recent years have called for U.S. universities to churn out more scientists.

Obama has made science education a priority, launching a White House science fair to get young people interested in the field.

But it’s questionable whether those youths will be able to find work when they get a PhD. Although jobs in some high-tech areas, especially computer and petroleum engineering, seem to be booming, the market is much tighter for lab-bound scientists — those seeking new discoveries in biology, chemistry and medicine.

“There have been many predictions of [science] labor shortages and . . . robust job growth,” said Jim Austin, editor of the online magazine ScienceCareers. “And yet, it seems awfully hard for people to find a job. Anyone who goes into science expecting employers to clamor for their services will be deeply disappointed.”

One big driver of that trend: Traditional academic jobs are scarcer than ever. Once a primary career path, only 14 percent of those with a PhD in biology and the life sciences now land a coveted academic position within five years, according to a 2009 NSF survey. That figure has been steadily declining since the 1970s, said Paula Stephan, an economist at Georgia State University who studies the scientific workforce. The reason: The supply of scientists has grown far faster than the number of academic positions.

The pharmaceutical industry once was a haven for biologists and chemists who did not go into academia. Well-paying, stable research jobs were plentiful in the Northeast, the San Francisco Bay area and other hubs. But a decade of slash-and-burn mergers; stagnating profit; exporting of jobs to India, China and Europe; and declining investment in research and development have dramatically shrunk the U.S. drug industry, with research positions taking heavy hits.

Since 2000, U.S. drug firms have slashed 300,000 jobs, according to an analysis by consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. In the latest closure, Roche last month announced it is shuttering its storied Nutley, N.J., campus — where Valium was invented — and shedding another 1,000 research jobs.

“It’s been a bloodbath, it’s been awful,” said Kim Haas, who spent 20 years designing pharmaceuticals for drug giants Wyeth and Sanofi-Aventis and is in her early 50s. Haas lost her six-figure job at Sanofi-Aventis in New Jersey last year. She now works one or two days a week on contract at a Philadelphia university. She dips into savings to make ends meet.

“Scads and scads and scads of people” have been cut, Haas said. “Very good chemists with PhDs from Stanford can’t find jobs.”

Largely because of drug industry cuts, the unemployment rate among chemists now stands at its highest mark in 40 years, at 4.6 percent, according to the American Chemical Society, which has 164,000 members. For young chemists, the picture is much worse. Just 38 percent of new PhD chemists were employed in 2011, according to a recent ACS survey.

Although the overall unemployment rate of chemists and other scientists is much lower than the national average, those figures mask an open secret: Many scientists work outside their chosen field.

“They’ll be employed in something,” said Michael S. Teitelbaum, a senior adviser to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation who studies the scientific workforce. “But they go and do other things because they can’t find the position they spent their 20s preparing for.”

OK, so now we see that there is actually a glut of those trained in high skilled jobs who can't find steady, good-paying work in their fields either.

So what is the cause of all of this?

Easy - more and more of the resources in this country are being sucked up by fewer and fewer people.

The increased financialization of the economy has given the 1% (and really, the .0001%) the opportunity to suck up huge swaths of wealth in the country, use that wealth to hire batteries of lobbyists to get taxes cuts and benefits for their own industries (but only the people at the top of those industries) and squeeze everybody else.

The rest of us are fighting it out for fewer and fewer resources.

Until we address income inequality and redefine what kinds of jobs we value, this problem is not going to get better.

Why do the hedge fundies get to pay a lower rate of tax than the rest of us?

Why are private equity guys like Bain not the Bane of the Nation for functioning as economic predators?

Why are the Too Big To Fail banks allowed to fix and rig and steal with impunity and nobody goes to jail?

Why are the laws and regulations that are put into place primarily benefiting corporations and the financial industry over small business and individuals?

Why do corporations have more rights than individuals?

These are all problems that are leading to the vast gap in income between the very top and the rest of us - we live in the new Gilded Age - and until we solve these problems, income inequality is going to worsen.

It is so much easier to blame schools and teachers for this mess rather than the real culprits - the banksters and hedge fundies and private equity guys who are stealing so much of the world's wealth.

And of course when a guy like Chris Matthews parrots this garbage about schools and teachers, he does so on a corporate-owned entity like NBC that itself benefits from the inequity of the system.

These are big problems, and last year, the Occupy movement was beginning to shine a light on them.

We're back to the same nonsense we have heard before, however - the employment/wage problems are primarily education and skills problem.

But that's bunk - there are fewer and fewer good paying jobs at any level in the economy because our corporate masters have decided that they don't want to pay anybody anything that they absolutely don't have to pay all the while their rigging the system's laws and regulations to make it so that they can steal with abandon.

In short, the overlords have stolen the wealth and they've managed to divert our attention from the real culprits (themselves) with bread and circuses and corporate-owned, media-driven narratives that are, in the end, bullshit.

Time to Occupy.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Best And Brightest Cheat Once Again: Harvard Edition

Earlier this year, seventy of the "Best and Brightest" students this city has to offer were implicated in a test cheating scandal at Stuyvesant High School.

Now comes word that the college many of those kids would love to go to - Harvard - has a cheating scandal of its own:

Harvard College’s disciplinary board is investigating nearly half of the 279 students who enrolled in Government 1310: "Introduction to Congress" last spring for allegedly plagiarizing answers or inappropriately collaborating on the class’ final take-home exam.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris said the magnitude of the case was “unprecedented in anyone’s living memory.”

Harris declined to name the course, but several students familiar with the investigation confirmed that Professor Matthew B. Platt's spring government lecture course was the class in question.

The exam was a take home and students were allowed to use their notes, books, Internet, etc. to respond to the questions, but they weren't supposed to collaborate with anybody else - not classmates, dorm mates, tutors, etc.

It seems half of the students enrolled did collaborate, however, since many of the test reponses were similar.

If found guilty of academic dishonesty, these students could be forced to withdraw from the college for a year.

But since they are the "Best and Brightest' this country has to offer, no doubt what happened at Stuyvesant is what will happen here - a pat on the wrist and a stern admonition not to cheat again.

No wonder these "Best and Brightest" go into government, finance, business, or whatever and cheat their asses off.

They've learned their lessons well from childhood.

They're special and nothing bad happens to them, no matter how badly they act.

The Best and Brightest indeed.

Obama DOJ Decides No Charges For Bush-Era Torture

Ah, yes - more accountability from the "Accountability President":

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced Thursday it has ended its investigation into CIA interrogations of terrorist detainees without bringing criminal charges.

Thursday’s decision in the probes of the deaths of two terrorist suspects marks the end of a wide-ranging criminal investigation by federal prosecutor John Durham into interrogation practices during the presidency of George W. Bush.

In the past three years, Durham has looked into the treatment of 101 detainees in U.S. custody since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Durham’s probe into another episode involving the CIA began in January 2008 when the Justice Department chose him to conduct a criminal investigation into the agency’s destruction of videotapes it had made of its interrogations of terrorist suspects.

In August 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder expanded Durham’s mandate to include a preliminary review of the CIA’s interrogation of specific detainees overseas. In June 2011, Holder approved Durham’s request to move into a full criminal investigation of the two deaths.

In regard to the just-completed probe of the two detainees’ deaths, Holder said that “based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths, the department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In a message to employees Thursday, CIA Director David Petraeus said that “as intelligence officers, our inclination, of course, is to look ahead to the challenges of the future rather than backwards at those of the past. Nonetheless, it was very important that we supported fully the Justice Department in its efforts” and “I would like to thank everyone who played a role” in doing so.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said he was “heartened that the investigation is complete, and I’m heartened by the results. I had great confidence in Mr. Durham. I just regret that many CIA officers had to go through yet another review of these activities.”

They got away with torture and murder.

They destroyed the evidence that could have convicted them for torture and murder.

And the Obama DOJ says, "Well, we don't have much in the way of evidence, so we can't pursue cases against these people who engaged in torture and murder.

Once again, no accountability in this culture and society for some.

This American Empire is rotten to the core.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Apple Rots At The Core

A company that appropriated its iconography and its technology from other companies habitually litigates anything that it thinks infringes on its intellectual, technological or design property.

For now, after the Samsung case, Apple is the most powerful company in the world.

Michael Wolff says anybody with a sense of history knows this way of doing business (litigation over innovation) ends badly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Making The World Safe For American-Style Fast Food

The Daily News reports Baghdad is experiencing a growth in homegrown, American-style fast food restaurants:

BAGHDAD — Baghdad's embattled residents can finally get their milkshakes, chili-cheese dogs and buckets of crispy fried chicken. Original recipe or extra spicy, of course.

A wave of new American-style restaurants is spreading across the Iraqi capital, enticing customers hungry for alternatives to traditional offerings like lamb kebabs and fire-roasted carp.

The fad is a sign that Iraqis, saddled with violence for years and still experiencing almost daily bombings and shootings, are prepared to move on and embrace ordinary pleasures - like stuffing their faces with pizza.

Iraqi entrepreneurs and investors from nearby countries, not big multinational chains, are driving the food craze. They see Iraq as an untapped market of increasingly adventurous eaters where competition is low and the potential returns are high.

"We're fed up with traditional food," said government employee Osama al-Ani as he munched on pizza at one of the packed new restaurants last week. "We want to try something different."

Among the latest additions is a sit-down restaurant called Chili House. Its glossy menu touts Caesar salads and hot wing appetizers along with all-American entrees like three-way chili, Philly cheesesteaks and a nearly half-pound "Big Mouth Chizzila" burger.


"Everybody likes to eat and dress up. This is something that brings people together," he explained. "People tell us: `We feel like we're out of Baghdad. And that makes us feel satisfied.'"


Dining out in Iraq is not without risk. Ice cream parlors, restaurants and cafes were among the targets of a brutal string of attacks that tore through Iraq on Aug. 16, leaving more than 90 people dead.

Iraqis say the chance to relax in clean surroundings over a meal out is worth the gamble. For them, the restaurants are a symbol of progress.

"This gives you a feeling the country's on the right track," said Wameed Fawzi, a chemical engineer enjoying Lee's fried chicken strips with his wife Samara.

Ah yes - you know your country's on the right track when you too can take the family out to a restaurant and eat some food that will eventually give you heart disease, diabetes and a stroke.

It will be total progress when Iraqis can go out to these places without worrying about car bombs killing them while they eat their french fries.

Just another example of how the United States is adding value the world over - first we destabilize the country so that mass slaughter continues to be a monthly occurrence then we provide the environment for the local entrepreneurs to run American-style fast food joints while we steal all the oil and natural resources.

What a country!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kaplan/Washington Post Continue To Try And Extract Money From The Education Sector

Alex Pareene at Salon:

Call up Sallie Mae and take out some non-dischargable loans, because Newt University is in session! Gingrich, in partnership with the Republican National Committee, is hosting a series of “policy classes” for Republican Convention delegates in Tampa this week. (Today’s classes feature guest-lecturer Larry Kudlow, in what is I am guessing involved a creative application of NBC News’ ethics policies.) Oh, and “Newt U” will also be available online, thanks to “a new learning technology platform pioneered by Kaplan Inc called KAPx.”

According to a Kaplan press release, KAPx (which seems to be just Google+ Hangouts meant to be sold to learning institutions at a high markup)

“The KAPx™ platform is designed to help schools, organizations, businesses, and individuals who want to share information and knowledge in an exciting, interactive, and highly participatory manner that is aligned with the best instructional practices,” said Edward Hanapole, Kaplan Inc.’s Chief Information Officer. “We will continue to refine the platform to reflect our leadership in learning science and how to marry technological innovation with educational achievement.”

And of course Kaplan is the money-marking test-prep and for-profit school arm of the Washington Post Company, and its many innovations in the field of extracting money from the education sector are what keep the Washington Post’s printing presses running in this unhappy time for newspapers.

And right here on the Washington Post Company’s KAPx website is a big plug for Newt U and a link to register ” for exclusive content access to Newt University courses and discussions.” Today’s theme is “We Can Do Better” and tomorrow’s is “We Built It.”

I just registered and it’s a live YouTube stream and a comment section. Thanks, Washington Post Company, for yet another exciting innovation!

You know that if Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation were hawking this crap, the NYCDOE would be happy to sign on to it today.

And in fact, Rupert Murdoch, Joel Klein and News Corporation will be hawking systems quite like this very soon.

We'll see how quickly the NYCDOE buys this crap up and how long it last before it's tossed on the junk heap.

As for the the Kaplan/Post venture, if it is as bad as Pareene says it is, I think this particular "exciting technological innovation in education to improve student achievement" will be tossed on the junk heap sooner rather than later.

This News Should Please Secretary Duncan

Storm heading to New Orleans:

Tropical Storm Isaac is strengthening as it heads toward New Orleans, with landfall expected Tuesday afternoon and new emergency declarations issued along the Gulf Coast Monday morning.

The storm is currently moving west-northwest about 310 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, lashing the area off the west coast of the Sunshine State with 65-mile-per-hour winds, according to the latest National Hurricane Center alert.

The 11 a.m. alert issued by the Center showed dropping pressure - a sign the storm may begin to strengthen - just as the eye of a hurricane begins to form.

The storm, reports the Hurricane Center, “poses a significant storm surge threat to the northern Gulf Coast.”

The storm is expected to hit the coast of Louisiana sometime Tuesday afternoon. Ahead of a landfall predicted on the Gulf Coast, the states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have declared a state of emergency, according to The Weather Channel.

“The forecast path really couldn’t be worse for New Orleans,” said NBC meteorologist Bill Karins on MSNBC’s “First Look” Monday morning.

Secretary Duncan of course famously said the best thing that ever happened to the New Orleans public school system was the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina.

That allowed the corporate education reform movement to almost completely privatize the education system in the city of New Orleans and make all sorts of false claims about how great the charterization of the system has been for the city's kids.

The good news is, this current storm has not intensified as expected and may actually hit as a very weak category one or a tropical storm.

Here's hoping that if the storm does go over NOLA, it is very weak as it passes.

Unlike Secretary Duncan and his merry reformers at the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Obama administration and the USDOE, I prefer not to see any more wreckage in New Orleans - from either a hurricane or education policy.

Kids Face Dangerous Toxins As They Go Back To School

No, not the Common Core Federal Standards or Mayor Bloomberg's "Close Schools First" reforms, although those are certainly toxic too - I'm talking school supplies:

AN ALARMING number of school supplies contain a toxic chemical that’s already banned in toys, a new report found.

Sen. Chuck Schumer and the Center for Health, Environment & Justice released the report on Sunday. The advocacy group found that 75% of vinyl back-to-school products tested contained higher levels of the chemical phthalates than are allowed in toys.

The chemical has been linked to birth defects, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, and other health issues.

Researchers tested lunch boxes, backpacks, rain boots and raincoats bought at city stores. A “Dora the Explorer” backpack had 69 times the allowable level of the chemical.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the advocates are pushing for the passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, which would give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to regulate chemicals used in consumer products.
If it was a slow news Sunday, Senator Schumer must have filled the void with a press conference.

Schumer's self-aggrandizing act aside, the point he tried to raise here is an important one.

Our corporate consumer culture is literally poisoning us - between the toxic food they grow, the toxic technology they hoist on us, the toxic clothing and toxic materials they sell us.

Did you ever stop to wonder just how safe all this wireless is - especially around babies and children?

Or all the iPhone use?

Or the laminated stuff we buy?

Or the non-labeled GMO crap Monsanto, ADM, Cargill and the rest sell us?

We live in a very toxic culture with very toxic materials - and it is a systemic problem.

From the education system to the health care system to the media culture to agriculture to consumer culture to the financial system to the political system - it's all toxic.

Don't have any quick answers for you, don't have any data to back up my "reforms", don't have some talking points I can go on CNN and Education Nation with to promote my latest "Bolder, Faster Change."

But I do know this - our society, our culture and our economy is sick, and it is harming everybody, young and old.

Toxic school supplies are just another emblem of what is wrong.

And then we wonder why autism rates are sky-rocketing.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Kremlin Watchers, Take Note

Christine Quinn stands behind Mayor Bloomberg as he updates the press on the gun battle at the Empire State Building in which two NYPD officers killed a gunman and wounded nine bystanders.

Not too hard to see what Quinn and Bloomberg are thinking with this kind of photo op.

The line of succession is clear.

Yes, it's her district.

But that's not why she's there at this kind of press conference that's going to receive national coverage.

She's there to give her the veneer of leadership.

The message is - she's going to be the next mayor and everything is going to be all right.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Always Be Closing

Eight people shot outside Empire State Building - The Guardian reports the following:

A Twitter user who has tweeted graphic images from the scene of the shooting reports that the Empire State Building continues to welcome tourists.

They're still selling the tours to the observation deck

Isn't capitalism great!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Breakfast In Class A Bad Idea

I think the world might end when I write these words but here goes:

I agree with the Bloomberg administration.

Uh, huh - you heard right.

The City Council wants to make free breakfast available in every classroom in the New York City school system, but the Bloomberg administration opposes it.

And I agree with Mayor Mike:

On Wednesday, the City Council took a stand on free school breakfasts. Lawmakers want to make it mandatory in every classroom. It's now available in the cafeteria.

It's something that the Bloomberg administration has no appetite for. They contend the requirement might lead to childhood obesity, as some kids might have the day's most important meal twice.

"We are not going to mandate this," said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. "It's something that our principals have the ability to opt into and so we want them to opt into it if that's what they want to do. Our goal is to increase the breakfast served, whether it's in the classroom or people walking in."

Quinn disagreed.

"So we've looked at that study and we think it is flawed and doesn't in any way support that the school breakfast is leading to childhood obesity," she said.

Now I don't know if breakfast in classrooms will lead to an increase in childhood obesity, but I do know this - focusing on ONE thing at a time when you're eating is the best way to not mindlessly overeat.

Either you're eating or you're learning - not both.

We have this culture that values "multitasking," as if there is a such a way as dividing the human brain and attention span so that it can give effective focus to doing more than one thing at once.

There isn't.

You can give something 100% of your attention or you can divide your attention and do two things at once or you can do as many things as you want at the same time and divide your attention and focus even more.

But the more you do at the same time, the less focus and mindfulness you give to each task.

This is especially so with food.

I know that if I'm sitting at the computer eating, I am more likely to mindlessly eat more calories than if I am sitting at a table focused on my food.

Sure, that's anecdotal - but there are studies to show that multitasking while eating leads people to eat more calories.

Eat first, then go to class.

If kids aren't showing up in time for breakfast, then build that into the schedule.

But leave the food out of the classroom and let students be as mindful about their eating and their learning as they can be.

We need more mindfulness around our activities, not less.

NEWSDAY Calls New Teacher Evaluation System "State Of The Art"

The geniuses at NEWSDAY write the following about the new teacher evaluation system in New York State known as APPR:

The other problem, one that won't ever be solved perfectly, is that principals are seeing growth scores that occasionally defy what they personally know about the skills of certain teachers. That's going to happen with sample sizes as small as single classrooms, but hopefully not too often, and teachers who do well on the other 60 to 80 percent of their evaluation shouldn't have much to fear from it. Experts, even those who aren't big on judging teachers this way, agree the system New York is putting in place to measure student achievement year-over-year is "state of the art."

"State of the art?"

Based on what?

The tests they're using for this system are an error-riddled embarrassment.

The system is set up on a bell curve so that every year, 10%-20% of teachers are going to be ranked substandard no matter what.

And as the geniuses at NEWSDAY themselves even note, there are teachers coming up substandard on the "performance-based" part of the evaluation system who administrators, students, parents and other teachers know to be excellent educators.

The same happened with New York City's vaunted TDR system - teachers who were known by administrators, students, parents and other teachers to be excellent educators came up "ineffective."

Michael Winerip covered the story of one
last year in his Times column, actually.

Under the new APPR system, this kind of teacher will be slated to be fired after two years of "I" ratings.

Gary Rubenstein pointed out that the VAM the city used on 4th-8th grade ELA and math teachers was essentially random - one third came up "effective," one third above, one third below. But the clicker was, many teachers switched where they came up each year, so that an "effective" teacher often came up "ineffective" the year after and vice versa for the teacher found "ineffective" the year before.

And as Carol Burris has pointed out, the system is set up so that you can be ranked "effective" on the three different evaluation parts - the state assessment, the local assessment and the classroom observations - and STILL be given an "I" rating.

Whether you are talking about the state's APPR system or the city's TDR system, there is nothing "state of the art" here, unless by state of the art, you mean how ingeniously dishonest these systems are.

They are rigged against teachers.

They are meant to be rigged.

That's why they've set it up on a bell curve, that's why they're hiding the tests used to generate the "performance data," that's why the governor, the Regents and the NYSED made it so that a teacher whose students show no growth on the tests must be rated "ineffective" automatically no matter how she/he scores on the rest.

They want to fire teachers - lots of them - and now they've got a couple of systems in place (the state APPR and the local assessment data systems) that will provide them with the "data" to support the firings.

Even though the data generated from these systems has large margins of error, wide swings in stability and is based upon error-riddled tests.

The only thing "state of the art" here is the dishonesty with which the governor, the NYSED. the Regents and the editorial writers at the Times, the Post, the News, Newsday and the Journal cheer this evaluation system while claiming it is so "scientific" and excellent.

They know this thing is half-baked (as even NEWSDAY admitted today) they know it's untested, they know it's rigged to smear a certain percentage of teachers as "ineffective" every year no matter what - but they're going to use it on teachers and fire the "bad" ones anyway.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

First Tom Morello, Now Dee Snider

Paul Ryan keeps getting dissed by musicians.

First Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine scoffed that Ryan could be a fan of his former band by listening only to the music, not the politicized lyrics:

Paul Ryan's love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades. Charles Manson loved the Beatles but didn't understand them. Governor Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen but doesn't understand him. And Paul Ryan is clueless about his favorite band, Rage Against the Machine.


I wonder what Ryan's favorite Rage song is? Is it the one where we condemn the genocide of Native Americans? The one lambasting American imperialism? Our cover of "Fuck the Police"? Or is it the one where we call on the people to seize the means of production? So many excellent choices to jam out to at Young Republican meetings!

Now comes word that Dee Snider of Twisted Sister told Ryan to cut out playing "We're Not Gonna Take It" at rallies without permission:

Dee Snider isn't going to take it any more.

The singer and reality-TV star Wednesday demanded that presumptive Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan stop using Snider's Twisted Sister anthem "We Aren't Going to Take It" at his campaign rallies.

"I emphatically denounce Paul Ryan's use of my song 'Were Not Gonna Take It' as recorded by my band Twisted Sister," said Snider in a statement. "There is almost nothing on which I agree with Paul Ryan, except perhaps the use of the P90X."

Both of these smack downs are cool, but they still rank just a notch below my all-time favorite smack down of a politician by a musician:

Almost a quarter century after their band split up, Morrissey can agree with Johnny Marr about one thing: David Cameron is not allowed to like the Smiths. Following Marr's recent comments "forbidding" the prime minister to like their band, the former Smiths frontman has echoed the sentiment, citing Cameron's support for hunting.

"Stop saying that you like the Smiths," Marr said last week, "no you don't." Whereas the guitarist made his remarks on Twitter, restraining himself to just 76 characters, Morrissey used the blog True to You to issue 11 paragraphs of vegetarian vitriol. "I would like to, if I may, offer support to Johnny Marr who has spoken out to the media this week against David Cameron," he wrote. "David Cameron hunts and shoots and kills stags – apparently for pleasure. It was not for such people that either Meat Is Murder or The Queen Is Dead were recorded; in fact, they were made as a reaction against such violence."

Now that's great - "I love your band!" "No, you don't - I forbid you to like my band!"

Something for Paul Ryan to aspire to.

Sirota: Press Are In The Bag For Bloomberg

I have long said that journalists, reporters, columnists and even many of the bloggers working for non-profits are in the bag for Bloomberg.

After all, you never know when your place of business is going to be bought by Herr Mayor (or one of his oligarch pals like Rupert Murdoch), so one must be careful how Bloomberg and his policies (all oligarch-friendly, of course) are portrayed in your writing.

It wouldn't do to piss Bloomberg off and find yourself out of a job when he buys Businessweek or the Financial Times or the NY Times (or his oligarch buddy buys the Wall Street Journal.)

In fact, it's best to make Herr Bloomberg happy so when the inevitable downsizing happens to you or you want to supplement your current gig with a good-paying propagandist job, you can go and work for Bloomberg Views (like Jonathan Alter, Margaret Carlson, Michael Kinsley, Al Hunt, et. al.) or his philanthropy.

David Sirota has noticed this too and says so in Salon:

Have you ever wondered why Bloomberg is perpetually portrayed as an uber-popular mayor, despite consistent polls to the contrary, and despite barely winning reelection after grossly outspending his little known opponent? Have you ever wondered how Bloomberg could be glowingly billed as a moderate liberty-loving hero even as he has trampled civil liberties and freedom in ways that would make a Banana Republic’s dictator blush? Have you ever wondered why the mayor of New York is a ubiquitous guest on most major news programs, even though he is but the mayor of one city?

All of that has to do with fear and desire. Simply put, there’s a fear among many in the media that Bloomberg may one day buy out their employer, and that if they don’t treat him well, they’ll be out of a job. Likewise, there’s a desire among many to get a high-paying job from Bloomberg when that buy-out moment happens, or to get a fat paycheck at one of the outlets he uses to convert has-been pundits and politicos into his loyal ideological spokespeople.

Fueling rumors of Bloomberg’s impending purchases, then, simply stokes that fear and desire — which consequently expands Bloomberg’s overall influence over the media. Hence, a wildly unpopular authoritarian is typically depicted as America’s beloved “Freedom Mayor,” replete with top bookings on major shows to promote his supposed benevolence. Hence, Bloomberg-ism — read: genuflection to Wall Street, deification of the super-rich and rejection of basic civil liberties — becomes the unquestioned ideological position of many major news outlets.

Sirota has a piece in Harpers that expands this theme to the media at large, which is owned by a very few very wealthy men who exert an undue influence over public opinion through their TV, radio, and newspapers. Sirota notes:

Newspaper competition once mitigated at least some of the problems that come with monopoly and oligopoly. If one paper reported something at the behest of its vainglorious owner, another newspaper might debunk it and expose the propaganda for what it was. But that competition is dwindling — and as I show in my Harper’s piece, it isn’t being replaced by the Internet. Indeed, though there are some outlets like Salon that focus on and fund independent journalism, aggregation is the cyberspace norm, which means the Web is often amplifying the newspaper-based Citizen Kanes rather than challenging them.

Bloomberg’s potential jump into the newspaper business proves he understands the centrality of newspapers in this mass information architecture — and how that architecture can work even more to his advantage than it already is. He is but one Citizen Kane who sees today’s media for what it is — a place increasingly averse to genuine journalism, because journalism gets in the way of the owners’ power.

It's all rigged - the stock market, the elections, LIBOR, the criminal justice system, and the media.

Truly, we live in another Gilded Age - only this time, the progressives work for non-profits who are funded by corporate entities like Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg LP.

The Ownership Class

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Piss Off

Joe Strummer, August 21, 1952- December 22, 2002

Coma Girl

Yalla Yalla

Charlie Don't Surf

The Magnificent Seven

Radio Clash

Tennessee Rain

Keys To Your Heart

Police On My Back

Redemption Song

Rudie Can't Fail

I Fought The Law

Happy Birthday Joe

Joe Strummer, August 21, 1952- December 22, 2002

Roseanne Visits Phyllis Diller

Phyllis Diller died yesterday at the age of 95.

In tribute, here's a video of Roseanne visiting Phyllis Diller at her house for lunch:

It's nice that Roseanne got to spend time with somebody who really influenced her to become a comedian.

If I could have lunch with any comedian from the past, somebody I really really admired and looked up to and aspired to be - well, that would probably be these guys:


71% Of NYers Regret Bloomberg's Third Term

Yup - nearly 3 out of every four New Yorkers say they wish Bloomberg had ridden off into the sunset after two terms.

65% say they wouldn't vote for him again under any circumstance.

And yet, "Little Bloomberg" - Christine Quinn - currently leads polls for the 2013 election.

If you remember, Quinn helped engineer Bloomberg's third term by changing the term limits law just for Bloomberg - and herself, of course.

So if you regret Bloomberg's third term, the person to hold accountable for that would be Christine Quinn.

And since Quinn is Bloomberg's horse in the next race, a vote for her is like a vote for a fourth Bloomberg term.

Whoever runs against Quinn in the primaries, especially the person who gets into the runoff with her, needs to run on that.

Did you like Bloomberg's third term?

Thank Christine Quinn for that!

Wish you could vote for Mike Bloomberg for a fourth term?

Vote for Christine Quinn - she's Mike Bloomberg's chosen successor!

That's the race I'd run against Quinn - keep reminding people the strings she pulled to get him a third term, keep reminding people how she's up for sale (highest bid only!) and keep reminding people Bloomberg wants to see her succeed him (even if he won't say so publicly anymore for fear of hurting her chances.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Come To This


SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Struggling Indiana public school districts are buying billboard space, airing radio ads and even sending principals door-to-door.

It's an unusual marketing campaign aimed at persuading parents not to move their children to private schools as the nation's largest voucher program doubles in size.

The promotional efforts are an attempt to prevent the kind of student exodus that administrators have long feared might result from allowing students to attend private school using public money. If a large number of families abandon their local districts, millions of dollars could be drained from the state's public education system.

The Indiana voucher program is the biggest test yet of an idea sought for years by conservative Republicans. They say it offers families more choices and gives public schools a greater incentive to improve.

And of course the money that used to go to into the public school system will now go to the edu-entrepreneurs and the for-profits.

That's what education reform has always been about.

Squeezing labor costs, chopping off whole segments of the system and making them for-profit, garnering tax breaks for their "philanthropy" and making money hand over fist.

We're getting pretty close to the end game when a public school system has to take out ads begging parents to not abandon it.

Death From The Skies: U.S. Kills 13 In Pakistan In Three Separate Drone Attacks

To celebrate the end of Ramadan, President Barack Obama ordered some drone attacks on Pakistan:

A flurry of US drone attacks pounded northern Pakistan over the weekend, killing 13 people in three separate attacks, officials and witnesses said on Sunday.

The attacks came as Pakistanis celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan with the festival of Eid al-Fitr.

A drone killed five people and injured two in North Waziristan early on Sunday morning, an intelligence official said.

He said the death toll was based on intercepted conversations between the militants.

Later on Sunday, another drone attack killed two people and injured two others near the site of the previous attack, said two intelligence officials.

On Saturday, a drone attack killed six people and injured two.

The dead were local Taliban and fighters from the southern province of Punjab, said security officials and a tribal source.

Sure they were local Taliban fighters.

I believe everything my government tells me.

Except when they, you know, lie and cover things up.

Notice how they pick celebratory times so they can maximize the killing?

Or better yet, how they pick funerals of drone bomb victims as perfect opportunities for another drone bomb strike?

Or best yet, how they target the rescuers who flood the scene of a drone attack to help the victims?

What great American efficiency! Kill the people who show up at the scene of a drone attack with another drone attack!

Remind me again how the murderous fucker in the White House won a Nobel Peace Prize?

Actually I guess he fits in with another murderous fucker who won the Nobel Peace Prize - Henry Kissinger.

Dear Frank Bruni

Please read Professor Nancy Folbre's "Writing Off Poor Children" in today's NY Times that contains the following:

A new book edited by Greg J. Duncan and Richard Murnane, “Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools and Children’s Life Chances,” offers clear evidence that programs that increase income for families living in or close to poverty, like the earned-income tax credit, have positive effects on educational performance, as do programs that reduce economic segregation.

In other words, human capital isn’t produced in schools alone. In a thoughtful review of this book, Richard D. Kahlenberg explains, “If we want to make a difference in schools, we cannot ignore what goes on outside them.”

Firing teachers, closing schools, blaming unions, and basing public policy on a fictional movie you saw may all seem like "feel-good" solutions to income inequality and poverty.

But guess what?

You can fire as many teachers as you want, close as many schools as you want, privatize the entire system if you want and bust the teachers unions completely and you will STILL have income inequality and poverty in this country.

The problem isn't what happens IN schools.

It's what happens IN American society.

Currently we have an American society rigged for the top 1% to steal as much as they want with impunity as they squeeze the rest of us and force us to compete for fewer and fewer resources.

You want to fix income inequality and poverty in this country?

End the plutocracy.

Stop blaming teachers.

Blame the plutocrats.

So Much For The STEM Degree

From Wonkette:

Missouri Congressman and GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin is a brilliant scientist (with a B.S. in something called “Management Engineering”) and is therefore highly qualified to speak on the intricacies of female anatomy, especially when it comes to the heretofore unknown magic powers of the reproductive system. Did you know, for example, that the uterus is able to determine the difference between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” rape? I bet you didn’t even know there was a difference, unlike Todd Akin, who currently serves on the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee thanks to his expertise. In science.

Not only does your uterus know the difference, but in the case of “legitimate” rape, it will shut down, trapping the the rape-sperm and preventing it from reaching your pure and unspoiled eggs. That means the approximately 32,000 women who become pregnant each year from rape were the victims of illegitimate rape. What’s the difference between legitimate and illegitimate rape? We’ve compiled this helpful guide from what we assume Todd Akin (B.S. in Management Engineering and member of the House Science and Technology Committee, just to recap) believes.

Scenario 1: A white virgin female wearing modest clothing is returning to her home after her Wednesday Bible study class. She is accosted at knifepoint by a large, unkempt black man wearing an “Obama 2012” hat, who drags her into an alley and rapes her.
Determination: Legitimate rape. Her uterus shuts down immediately, expelling the rapist’s semen as she prays to God for forgiveness.

Scenario 2: At a party where alcoholic beverages are being consumed, a young woman passes out in a private bedroom. A man of the same age and race finds her and proceeds to have sexual relations as she sleeps peacefully.
Determination: Illegitimate rape. Because the woman’s own moral turpitude is entirely to blame for the situation she was placed in, her uterus is unable to resist her beau’s sperm. It is quite likely that God will bless her with a pregnancy.

Scenario 3: A woman arranges to meet a date she met online at an art gallery. He is boorish and three inches shorter than his profile suggested. She agrees to go back to his apartment only to tell him that she does not want to see him again. But at soon as they get inside he assaults her brutally, keeping her prisoner for three days.
Determination: Illegitimate rape. Because she did not use a Todd Akin-approved dating service (Christian Mingle or eHarmony), the woman in this scenario is responsible both for her own predicament and the child God will now bestow upon her.

No wonder Claire McCaskill and the Missouri Dems spent $2 million trying to help Akin to win the GOP primary.

Akin was beating McCaskill by 11 points in a poll taken for KSDK-TV St. Louis; KSHB-TV Kansas City; KSPR-TV Springfield, and KY3, Springfield.

I bet that race tightens now.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Moscow On The Seine: French Police Arrest Pussy Riot Protesters For Wearing Masks

You can now be arrested in public in France simply for wearing a mask:

Several people protesting peacefully in Marseille against the trial of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were detained by police for wearing balaclavas, under France's controversial law that bans Muslim niqabs and all face-coverings from public places.

About 30 demonstrators gathered outside the Russian consulate in the southern French city on Friday to protest against the trial of members of the feminist group famous for wearing bright dresses and colourful balaclavas.

But police swooped on about seven wearing multicoloured face-masks in solidarity with the band, reported La Provence. Asked why the police had stopped the demonstrators who had been standing peacefully behind a banner about the power of poetry, a senior officer told the newspaper: "They are wearing balaclavas in a public space. It's illegal." He said the demonstrators would be questioned and a report written.

In April 2011, Nicolas Sarkozy's government introduced a law banning women from wearing the niqab, or full face-veil, in public places. To circumvent accusations that the law singled out Muslims, the bill was officially called the law against covering one's face in public places.

Special exemptions were created for motorcycle helmets or sports equipment such as fencing masks. There are also exemptions for people appearing in parades, celebrations or places of worship.

The Marseille protesters – including poets, a book editor, and a former culture official – who had removed their masks at police request, were put in a riot van and driven to the nearest police station amid cries of "Absurd!" and "Ridiculous!". They were released that afternoon. Under the law, the case can be referred to a local judge who can hand down a €150 fine, a citizenship course or both.

"We came here to defend freedom of expression in Russia and we find ourselves stopped by French police," one pensioner at the rally told the paper.

The irony in all of this is that the law against public mask wearing is really aimed at Muslim head garb, but of course they extended the law to all masks so as to not make it look discriminatory.

Why did Islamic terrorists attack us on 9/11 again?

Oh, yeah, I remember now - they hate us "for our freedoms."

Stand Against Oppression - In Russia, In Britain, In America

Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London as British police amass outside and await orders from the United States and Britain to break international law and seize him, spoke to supporters today:

"As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our societies. We must use this moment to articulate the choice that is before the government of the United States of America," he said.

"Will it return to and reaffirm the revolutionary values it was founded on or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under the fear of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark?

"I say it must turn back. I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks."

There must be no "foolish talk" of prosecuting media organisations, be it WikiLeaks or be it the New York Times newspaper.

Assange also called on the US to end its "war on whistleblowers", and demanded that Bradley Manning, the US army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking the information, be released.

He has been charged with transferring classified data and delivering national defence information to an unauthorised source and faces up to 52 years in jail.

Assange described Manning as a hero and "an example to all of us", which drew cheers from scores of supporters.

"On Wednesday, Bradley Manning spent his 815th day of detention without trial," said Assange. "The legal maximum is 120 days."

Assange referred to recent jailings of people for exercising their freedom of speech and called for enthusiastic opposition to such oppressive actions.

"There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response."


"I am here today because I cannot be there with you today. But thank you for coming, thankyou for your resolve, your generosity of spirit.

"On Wednesday night, after a threat was sent to this embassy, the police descended on this building. You came out in the middle of the night to watch over it, and you brought the world's eyes with you.

"Inside this embassy in the dark, I could hear teams of police swarming up inside the building through its internal fire escape.

"But I knew there would be witnesses, and that is because of you.

"If the UK did not throw away the Vienna Conventions the other night, it is because the world was watching. And the world was watching because you were watching.

"So the next time that somebody tells you that it is pointless to defend those rights that we hold dear, remind them of your vigil in the dark before the embassy of Ecuador. Remind them how, in the morning, the sun came up on a different world, and a courageous Latin American nation took a stand for justice."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

NBC Uses Laugh-Added Measurements To Lay Off "Tonight Show" Employees

NBC has announced layoffs for two dozen "Tonight Show" employees and has reportedly slashed the salary of host Jay Leno by millions of dollars to avoid steeper staff cuts at the show.

The network, which is set to begin airing Education Nation in late September, a "seminar" of education reform that promotes, among other things, value-added measurements of teacher effectiveness based upon test scores for conducting education cutbacks and layoffs, has decided to use laugh-added measurements of the "Tonight Show" staff to see which members will be laid off first.

"Tonight Show" staff members deemed to be adding fewer laughs to the show this year as compared to last year will be let go first.

Previously employee seniority was used to conduct layoffs and cuts at the network, but a spokesman for Comcast Corp, the parent of NBC/Universal, said the cable company had added this "sophisticated tool" built by a cadre of geniuses at Microsoft, the Gates Foundation, and Monsanto to measure how many laughs each employee is adding to the broadcast and can now say with almost exact certitude which employees are the most valuable laugh-wise and which are the least valuable.

The laugh-added measurements have a median margin of error of 52%, a maximum margin of error so high even Carnac couldn't get them right, but Comcast Corp. believes this is the way to conduct employee cuts for the future and says other NBC shows should expect to see layoffs conducted this way too.

Despite high ratings for the just-aired Olympics, the network is hemorrhaging advertising dollars and expects to make cuts at every program on NBC.

The only NBC show Comcast is sparing from layoffs is the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

One anonymous source at Comcast told the Associated Press, "We've used the laugh-added measurement tool on all our shows, including the Nightly News, and frankly, that show is the funniest thing on the network."

Tonight Show employees will be informed of their layoffs tomorrow when they return to work. NBC has decided to bring in former Washington D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee to conduct the layoffs and will tape each for airing during Education Nation next month.

Said the anonymous Comcast source, "Comcast thinks this is a teachable moment that can be used to show how laugh-added and value-added are excellent tools for seeing which employees are valuable and which aren't. And bringing in Michelle Rhee to do the layoffs - well, that was a no-brainer. She really gets off on this kind of thing...especially if somebody cries!"

Friday, August 17, 2012

Once In A Generation

Billy Bragg sends a message to the three members of Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in a prison colony today:

Well said.

Pussy Riot - Punk Prayer

The Old Mask Law Of 1845

Gothamist reports that at least three masked Pussy Riot supporters, and perhaps as many as six, were arrested at a rally outside the Russian Consulate attended by about 40 people.

The justification for the arrests?
As we learned after some OWS arrests last year, "wearing masks is in violation of a law that bars two or more participants from doing so." The law dates back to 1845.

Ah, yes - the old two or more participants are forbidden from wearing masks at the same time and congregating law.

That makes sense.

But how about these guys? Why aren't they arrested for violating the old two or more participants are forbidden from wearing masks at the same time and congregating law?

Frankly I think the NYPD ought to be arresting Dirty, Creepy Elmo in Times Square before they arrest the masked Pussy Riot supporters outside the Russian Consulate.

Who is the bigger nuisance - the masked Pussy Riot supporters or Dirty, Creepy Elmo?

Help For Students Eligible For Deferred Action

I really hope this becomes law:

On the heels of President Obama's deferred action program for young immigrants, the state Assembly introduced new legislation today to give qualified applicants help affording education.

The deferred action program, which began earlier this week, would allow young undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria to get temporary legal status in the United States. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman estimated as many as 90,000 New Yorkers could benefit from the program.

The new legislation, which was sponsored by Silver, Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Deborah Glick, and Assemblyman Francisco Moya, would give immigrants who qualify for deferred action status access to tuition assistance programs that are currently unavailable to undocumented immigrants.

"These young immigrants, who really know no other home than the United States, deserve the same opportunities and chance to succeed," Silver said. "By opening up financial aid and other higher education options to them, young immigrants will now have a fighting chance to realize their dreams and contribute to this great nation."

The bill requires the state Commissioner of Education, in consultation of the president of Higher Education Services Corporation, to create an application to qualify students for New York state programs if they cannot apply for federal aid.


This isn't the first help lawmakers have given to deferred action applicants. State officials announced $450,000 in grants to groups that can help young immigrants properly apply to the program and avoid being scammed. Schneiderman also sent out tips to applicants on how to avoid being hoodwinked during the application process.

In my 12 years of teaching, I have seen way too many students who were brought to this country illegally as children have to defer their dreams of a college education because the government doesn't provide financial aid and their families couldn't afford to pay cash for them to go to school.

So I hope this becomes law.

Senate Republicans haven't said whether they'll take this up.

If they do, and they pass it, will Governor Cuomo sign it?

Moscow on The Hudson Update: NYPD Make Multiple Arrests At NYC Pussy Riot Rally

Gothamist posted
the following:

Want to get arrested in New York City? Don't even bother with a cathedral punk performance, just wear a mask

Moscow on the Hudson it is.

CNN Does "Gotcha" Interview With Ravitch After Softball Interview With Michelle Rhee (UPDATED)

Diane Ravitch posts the following:

I taped the interview a few minutes ago.

It airs tomorrow at 9-10 am EST.

It was a gotcha session.

This is the letter I sent to my contact at CNN.

This was one of the most biased interviews I have ever done, and I have done many.
Randi Kaye asked me about NAEP scale scores, which was technically a very dumb question, and I was stunned.
She thinks that a scale score of 250 on a 500 point scale is a failing grade, but a scale score is not a grade at all.
It’s a trend line.
She asserted that the scale scores are a failing grade for the nation.
That is like saying that someone who scores a 600 on the SAT is a C student, because it is only 75% of 800. But that’s wrong.
The scale is a technical measure. It is not a grade, period.
Then she asked me about an issue in Michigan, which fortunately, I had written about. But it was clear she was trying to blindside me.
The point of her question was to blame teachers, and I refused to be pushed into her trap.
Then she read two hostile comments about my CNN post and asked for my response.
Was that supposed to be a balanced or fair interview?
There was no effort to elicit my views, only a determination to prove me wrong and to assert that US education is terrible.
Shame on CNN.

I have already called and expressed my disgust that CNN did a hit piece on Ravitch after doing a softball interview with Rhee.

I also noted that since CNN's ratings are in the toilet and nobody really watches the channel anymore, if Ms. Ravitch goes on another news network and responds to the CNN attack, more people will hear and see her anyway.

You can leave feedback about Randi Kaye, the CNN "journalist" who conducted the attack interview here:

You can call and leave feedback here about the interview verbally here: 404.827.1500 option 1. That's the "News Tip" line, but they'll transfer you.

Shame on CNN indeed.

UPDATED - 2:33 PM:
Diane notes that people should see the interview before we make comments to CNN about it. She is right, of course. But given the softball nature of the Rhee interview and then the post Diane put up about how her own interview with Randi Kaye felt so adversarial, this seemed like just another example of the corporate media promoting a corporate reform agenda while giving short shrift to progressive education and it's hard to not get emotional about the whole thing. Especially with the track record we have lately of so many anti-public school/teacher bashing pieces like Waiting for Superman, NBC's Education Nation, Won't Back Down, etc. showing up.

Still, a good lesson for me - wait to see the interview before reacting to it. Wait to see the movie Won't Back Down before reacting to it. Okay - lesson learned. (Except I probably won't be seeing Won't Back Down because I don't want to give the producers of that movie my $12 bucks!)

Moscow On The Hudson - We Are All Pussy Riot Now (UPDATED)

Russian punkers Pussy Riot were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, over a protest in a cathedral" today.

The judge said that Pussy Riot members had "crudely undermined social order" during their action in February.

Member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has said through her lawyer that "Our imprisonment serves as a clear and unambiguous sign that freedom is being taken away from the entire country."

Meanwhile, back in Moscow on the Hudson, Dear Leader Michael Bloomberg's army, the NYPD, arrested Harlem activist Joseph Jazz Hayden, 71, on felony weapons charges after they illegally searched his car and found a pen knife and commemorative mini-baseball bat.

Hayden runs Harlem/NYC Cop Watch, a site that documents police brutality and transgressions and has videotaped many instances of police aggression and racial profiling as part of Herr Bloomberg's Stop-And-Frisk policy.

How similar these two cases are - the arrest (and now conviction) of three Pussy Riot members for protesting the Orthodox Church's support of Putin and the arrest of Hayden for documenting NYPD transgressions and crimes.

One would hope that a judge here will throw the NYPD case against Hayden - ridiculous on its face - out.

But given how quickly this nation and in particular this city have transitioned into a police state after the 9/11 attacks, that is no longer a by-gone conclusion.

Today I want to publicly state my support for both Pussy Riot and Joseph Jazz Hayden.

The treatment of these three Pussy Riot members in Russia by Vladimir Putin and Joseph Jazz Hayden in the United States by Michael Bloomberg shows how we now live in one big world run by oligarchs and plutocrats.

Vladimir Putin and Michael Bloomberg are men made from the same cloth and they will have you stomped by their respective police forces if you step outside their established social orders.

UPDATE - 11:32 AM:
The three members of Pussy Riot convicted on "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" charges have been sentenced to two years in a prison colony.

Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, were handed the sentence by a judge in Moscow amid a wave of protests around the world.

The three stared ahead defiantly from inside a glass cage, their wrists shackled in handcuffs, as the verdict was read. Supporters and opposition activists blamed the case against the women – and the tough sentence – on Vladimir Putin.

"Whatever Putin wants, Putin gets. That is the only thing to say," Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, said on leaving the court.

Russian police have been rounding up Pussy Riot supporters - including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and leftist opposition group leader Sergei Udaltsov - in the wake of the judge's decision.

Here in Moscow on the Hudson, there is a rally in support of Pussy Rio at 46th and Broadway at 1 PM today.

No word on whether Mayor Bloomberg will have Pussy Riot supporters orange-netted and maced by Tony Bologna.

But bring wet cloth just in case.

Rigor vs. Vigor

I hate the latest educational buzzword - "rigor".

Every time somebody uses it at work, I want to say to them that the word doesn't actually mean what they think it means.

Joanne Yatvin feels the same way:

There is one word I dislike so intensely when used in connection with education that I can’t remain silent under any circumstances. That word is “rigor.”

Part of my reaction is emotional, having so often heard “rigor” paired with “mortis.” The other part is logical, stemming from the literal meanings of rigor: harshness, severity, strictness, inflexibility and immobility. None of these things is what I want for students at any level. And, although I don’t believe that the politicians, scholars or media commentators who use the word so freely really want them, either, I still reproach them for using the wrong word and the wrong concept to characterize educational excellence.

Now, more than ever, “rigor” is being used to promote the idea that American students need advanced course work, complex texts, stricter grading, and longer school days and years in order to be ready for college or the workplace. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) already adopted by 45 states, were designed for rigor and will inexorably lead to it in all forms in almost all classrooms.

Since I believe it is time for a better word and a better concept to drive American education, I recommend “vigor.” Here my dictionary says, “active physical or mental force or strength, healthy growth; intensity, force or energy.” And my mental association is to all the Latin-based words related to life.

How much better our schools would be if they provided students with classes and activities throbbing with energy, growth and life. Although school buildings have walls, there should be no walls separating students from vigorous learning. No ceilings, either.

To learn vigorously, students need more than academic skills and knowledge, more than the generalities and hypotheticals found in textbooks and workbooks. By reading newspapers, magazines, graphic novels, even the daily comics and Internet articles; and by getting to know people of all ages, types of work, and cultural backgrounds they can learn about the real world they live in. Although it is not practical to send hordes of children and teen-agers out into that world to learn all the things they need to know, many more in-school classes and supplemental activities can be vigorous.

In short, "rigor" is associated with inflexibility, stiffness, harshness and death; "vigor" is associated with energy, health and life.

The owners and operators of the Common Core Federal Standards surely chose the right word (though undoubtedly by accident) when they decided to describe their work on standards as "full of rigor."