Thursday, May 31, 2012

Romney vs. teachers unions: The inconvenient truth

From the Washington Post opinion section:

That reality is this: The top performing school systems in the world have strong teachers unions at the heart of their education establishment. This fact is rarely discussed (or even noted) in reform circles. Yet anyone who’s intellectually honest and cares about improving our schools has to acknowledge it. The United States is an outlier in having such deeply adversarial, dysfunctional labor-management relations in schooling.

Why is this?

My hypothesis runs as follows: The chief educational strategy of top-performing nations such as Finland, Singapore and South Korea is to recruit talent from the top third of the academic cohort into the teaching profession and to train them in selective, prestigious institutions to succeed on the job. In the United States, by contrast, we recruit teachers mostly from the middle and (especially for poor schools) bottom third and train them mostly in open-enrollment institutions that by all accounts do shoddy work.

As a result, American reformers and superintendents have developed a fetish for evaluating teachers and dismissing poor performers, because there are, in fact, too many. Unions dig in to protect their members because . . . that’s what unions do.

More here.

While this essay is somewhat annoying in that it comes from an establishment pundit guy, which means he has to subject us to his establishment conventional wisdom about why he hates teachers' unions, too, he makes a very good overall point: here in the US, we just don't take education seriously.

I mean, he's definitely right about the kind of people in the profession. I wouldn't generalize American teachers as being bad, but I certainly do believe that most of them are mediocre intellects, at best--of course, there are some notable exceptions to this, but, on the whole, teachers aren't very bright people, don't question the way things are, don't ponder the universe. Most of them aren't much more than bored classroom managers, lifelessly working their way through whatever state mandated curriculum happens to be in vogue at the moment, punching a clock, yadda yadda.

And this guy's definitely right about teacher training, too. I got my secondary certification at one of those open enrollment schools, and the whole thing was a piece of cake. Sure, there was some interesting stuff, and I had at least one really good professor, but for the most part, the education faculty wasn't much better than the mediocre intellects they send into the field.

All of this leads inevitably to the conclusion that we, as a nation, just don't give a shit about education. The whole enterprise really isn't much more than lip-service to the notion. Pay and social status, as the essay later observes, are, indeed, huge issues when it comes to attracting top flight thinkers to the field, but complicating things greatly is that, given the way the system is currently constructed, intellectuals don't really last because, you know, what intellectual in his right mind can abide what Noam Chomsky has called "a system of imposed ignorance"?

That's the real problem: "education" in the US is essentially the exact opposite of the notion of creating keen minds. Change that, and we'll have better teachers. Of course, this would drive the oligarchy insane, which means it will never happen.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Did the White House Direct the Police Crackdown on Occupy?

From CounterPunch:

A new trove of heavily redacted documents provided by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) on behalf of filmmaker Michael Moore and the National Lawyers Guild makes it increasingly evident that there was and is a nationally coordinated campaign to disrupt and crush the Occupy Movement.

The new documents, which PCJF National Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard insists “are likely only a subset of responsive materials,” in the possession of federal law enforcement agencies, only “scratch the surface of a mass intelligence network including Fusion Centers, saturated with ‘anti-terrorism’ funding, that mobilizes thousands of local and federal officers and agents to investigate and monitor the social justice movement.”


Tellingly, the documents also include a Dec. 5 copy of the “Weekly Informant, ” an intelligence report published by the DHS’s Office for State and Local Law Enforcement. The issue includes an update from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) concerning the activities of the Occupy Movement. PERF, Verheyden-Hilliard notes, is the group that the federal government claims organized a series of multi-city law enforcement calls to coordinate the police response to Occupy, which led immediately to the wave of violent crackdowns. It was at those meetings that police were advised among other things to act at night, to use aggressive tactics and weapons like tasers and pepper spray, and to take steps to remove journalists and cameras from the scene of crackdowns.

The overall sense from these latest documents is that Washington and the DHS, along with the FBI, was the nexus of the crackdown, orchestrating it, encouraging it, and attempting to cover its tracks.

More here.

And the anti-terrorist crowd assured us all the new laws and agencies that seemingly turned civil liberties into so much excrement would never be used on US citizens! Not that it matters one way or another. This is very old school, going back, way back, to at least the 1930s: you see, the US political establishment has a very long history of violating US laws in order to silence anti-capitalist movements. Occupy Wall Street, the latest version of an American anti-capitalist movement, is no different.

So I'm not surprised. I am a bit sickened, however, by the Obama administration's Republican-levels of hypocrisy on this. I mean, that shouldn't surprise me, either. After all, I've known all along that Obama is Wall Street's guy, shepherded into the White House for the express purpose of cleaning up the mess Bush made of American capitalism, stabilizing the very system that nearly brought America to its economic knees. But, as the above linked essay finally observes, our "liberal" President and his "liberal" party have been using OWS rhetoric in what may turn out to be a successful appeal to the Democratic base, all the while trying to destroy the movement and further empower the masters of finance.

No fucking way I'm voting for Obama after this.


Monday, May 28, 2012


From Think Progress:

Florida Supervisor of Elections: Gov. Scott’s Voter
Purge Will Remove Eligible Voters From Rolls

According to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, eligible voters will be removed from the voting rolls as a result of the massive voter purge ordered by Governor Rick Scott. “It will happen,” Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, told ThinkProgress.

Late last year, Governor Scott ordered his Secretary of State, Kurt Browning to “to identify and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls.” Browning could not get access to reliable citizenship data. So Scott urged election officials to identify non-U.S. citizens by comparing data from the state motor vehicle administration with the voting file.

That process produced a massive list of 182,000 names, which Browning considered unreliable. The Fair Elections Legal Network, which is challenging the purge, noted that database matching is “notoriously unreliable” and “data entry errors, similar-sounding names, and changing information can all produce false matches.” Further, some voters may have naturalized since their driver’s license information was collected.

Browning resigned in February. But Scott has pressed forward with his efforts to purge voters from the rolls based on the dubious list.

More here.

It's deja vu all over again.

This is the same scheme they employed to steal Florida back in 2000, except instead of using felons as an excuse to cast as wide a net as possible, this time they're using immigration status. Same difference. Get the brown people off the voter rolls so only angry white people get to vote.

What, you don't remember the racist scam that illegally installed George W. Bush in the White House twelve years ago? No doubt, that's because the US press, for reasons unknown, totally ignored the story. But the long and short of it is that the foreign press was all over it, which is how the NAACP knew that they should sue the state of Florida for illegally disenfranchising tens of thousands of innocent black voters who very likely would have voted for Gore. The punchline, of course, was that the state of Florida, rather than having all the GOP's filthy laundry exposed in court for all to see, settled out of court. The US press ignored that, too, but, trust me, it definitely happened.

Now they're trying to do it again. And who can blame them? They more or less got away with it the first time scot-free. The Republican Party was probably in too much disarray back in 2008 to try something like this with McCain, but the Tea Party movement has apparently given them back their balls, and our current President's black skin is probably providing some motivation, too. After all, this new scam, like the one from 2000, is aimed at stripping voting rights away from people of color. Kill two birds with one stone: fuck over the black President; fuck over those nasty filthy brown foreigners who don't speak English.

As longtime Real Art readers know, I have for years believed our democracy to be a total sham. Corporations and other wealthy interests have bought the political class in full. But there are other ways to destroy democracy, and the GOP has gotten really good at it. I mean, just add this Florida scam to all these voter ID laws coming out of Republican dominated state legislatures around the country, and you have a full court press on citizens' ability to vote. Call me old fashioned, but, even in spite of corporate interference in the political process, I still think the right to vote has some pretty deep meaning and significance to Americans. Suppressing the vote is, consequently, just about as anti-American as you can get.

And that's where the modern Republican Party is today, totally anti-American.



A right-wing buddy of mine from high school posted this on facebook:

Seriously? On Memorial Day weekend no less.

Chris Hayes: I'm 'Uncomfortable' Calling Fallen Military 'Heroes'

"Effete: affected, overrefined, and ineffectual; see "Chris Hayes." OK, I appended the name of the MSNBC host to the dictionary definition. But if ever you wanted to see the human embodiment of the adjective in action, have a look at the video from his MSNBC show this morning of the too-refined-by-...

Here's the link, with video.

And here's the response I left:

I'm probably going to watch the entire show online later tonight, but without the overall context, I think Hayes has a point, albeit very awkwardly stated. That is, for several years after 9/11 a real culture of military fetishism took hold in this country, one that politicians used to hit over the head anybody who in any way criticized our dual Middle East wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So criticizing the mission became tantamount to criticizing the effort and sacrifice of of our soldiers, sailors, and marines. It turned out, of course, that criticism was exactly what this country needed, and if critics hadn't been so silenced we might very well have avoided the intense bloodshed that happened in Iraq during the botched occupation--indeed, one of those critics was the prophetic Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, who knew that we simply didn't have the troop strength to really pull off an occupation, but he was summarily put out to pasture by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and American service personnel, lots of them, died in IED attacks again and again as a result.

And all that "you must love the military or you're anti-American" BS was totally hollow at the Washington level: the rhetoric was there, but Bush's VA was routinely screwing over guys coming back home, and the Republican Congress didn't seem to care about it one bit. One wonders what it really means to support the military. Is it all about flag waving and getting in the face of people who want peace, or is it about truly treating veterans with respect and affording them the dignity they deserve for their service? Of course, I prefer the latter, but this continues to be something of an open question for the American culture and political class.

Adding insult to injury was the rise of the neoconservative in American political life: it's not widely known, but neocons really do want us to be at war all the time, simply because they believe that war gives America purpose and unity. And to this day, the neocon voice continues to carry weight, simply because they are the most organized in as much as foreign policy rhetoric goes.

This brings us back to Hayes. I, personally, as a far left liberal, believe that it is not the fault of individual service men when their civilian leaders are totally insane and send them on crackpot adventures that make the world far more dangerous than it was to begin with. Our service men and women do their jobs, and do them extraordinarily well, at great risk, often losing everything, just because they're patriotic citizens. We, as a nation, owe them whatever they want. But we also have this military fetish cultural strain that politicians use for their own cynical purposes. Of course, Hayes is uncomfortable with all this, as we all ought to be. It is very easy to have one's praise for the military twisted in sick and awful directions.

I'm cutting him a lot of slack on this one, and you should, too.
Not much debate yet because I just posted my response, and I'm really wondering what my old friend might have to say with his response, but I just had to get this out there. One of the things I think the left has learned since the Vietnam era is that people in the military are just trying to live their lives like you and me, and that they join up for both patriotic and practical reasons. That is, their motivations are noble and reasonable; they are not bad people, not imperialists, not oppressors, even though their collective action under direction from Washington may amount to imperialism and oppression. Indeed, they, too, are oppressed, when the civilian leadership misuses their service, warping their love of country into something that is ultimately sinister.

But it's hard to talk about this without the military fetishists dog-piling with chants of "America hater" and whatnot. So Hayes left an opening and the right wing jumped in. Typical.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

On Memorial Day Weekend, America Reckons with Torture

A Bill Moyers essay from Common Dreams courtesy of a facebook friend:

Facing the truth is hard to do, especially the truth about ourselves. So Americans have been sorely pressed to come to terms with the fact that after 9/11 our government began to torture people, and did so in defiance of domestic and international law. Most of us haven’t come to terms with what that meant, or means today, but we must reckon with torture, the torture done in our name, allegedly for our safety.

It’s no secret such cruelty occurred; it’s just the truth we’d rather not think about. But Memorial Day is a good time to make the effort. Because if we really want to honor the Americans in uniform who gave their lives fighting for their country, we’ll redouble our efforts to make sure we’re worthy of their sacrifice; we’ll renew our commitment to the rule of law, for the rule of law is essential to any civilization worth dying for.

More here.

Such a period of national introspection isn't likely to happen soon. Indeed, virtually no one actually thinks about this stuff in any lasting or meaningful way. I mean, of course, some people think about this, myself included, but even among those of us who do, it's really easy to avoid dwelling on it, really easy to just go about our lives in our torture-practicing nation while ignoring the awful moral baggage it carries.

What does the fact that our nation has a massive torture-regime under its belt mean? It means we're like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Red China, the Spanish Inquisition, Imperial Japan, Cambodia, North Korea, Chile under Pinochet, Iran under the ayatollahs, or under the Shah, and on and on. Yes yes, we can quibble over such comparisons. We don't send millions of Jews to the gas chambers, for instance. We're capitalist and Christian. Sure, there are necessarily differences because we're one nation and those are other nations. But you can cite differences all day long, and none of them removes the major similarity: the US is like all other evil nations in that we will inflict pain and suffering on captives who have been rendered harmless.

And we did it for the express purpose of inflicting cruelty as revenge: it has long been known that torture is an imprecise and faulty method for intelligence gathering, but we did it anyway, happily, just because we were pissed off and wanted to hurt some brown Muslims.

It's all very depressing. Redressing this horrible stain on our national conscience is nowhere on the horizon. I've written so many posts here at Real Art on this topic that I'm starting to get bored with it, and that's just awful; I'm getting bored with trying to remind people that we have this scarlet "T" on our chests. That's the most frightening thing of all: moral lapse due to lack of interest.

Of course, I shouldn't kick myself so hard. This is very American. We have also never come to terms with our near-genocide of the Native American population from whom we stole our land. We have never come to terms with the African slave trade, and the economic foundation it laid for our luxury today, or how African-Americans were and are still oppressed. Or how we took nearly half of what is now the Western US from Mexico in an unprovoked war of aggression. And on and on and on. Committing unspeakable acts of evil and then pretending it never happened is as American as apple pie. Swimming against the stream on this is beyond difficult.

But what moral choice do we have? The only thing people can do who are deeply concerned with our national sin is to continue talking about it, continue reminding their fellow citizens that we have a great deal of unfinished business, vital business that concerns our souls, concerns our future choices as a people.

We should never stop discussing this.


Friday, May 25, 2012



Be sure to check out
Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


What the Bible Says about Abortion

From Daily Mull, courtesy of a friend on facebook:

God tells Moses what procedure to follow if a husband suspects that his wife is pregnant by another man.

There's an elaborate ritual involved, which the curious can puruse at length without finding any loopholes. (It might be a worthwhile spiritual experience nonetheless. At some point during the purusal, it might just occur to you that all you're doing is looking for loopholes, and is that any way to read a book which you've taken as your life guide?)

For the rest of you, I'll cut to the chase. God has the woman go to a priest, who performs a sacrifice and then concocts a specific drink for her to drink.

God then tells Moses that if the baby does not belong to the husband, she will abort the baby.

As an unbeliever, I doubt very much that the chemical properties of the drink would produce these wonderfully discriminating results—if it ever worked, it was probably due to the stress put on the woman's body as her guilt was magnified by this elaborate and public ceremony.

But it doesn't matter how, or even whether, it worked.

What matters is that if you are a serious Bible-believer, you have here, in inspired black and white, God not only approving of an abortion, but giving instructions on how to perform it.

More here.

Of course, the fundamentalists have always been on shaky ground, theologically speaking, as far as the Bible and abortion go, with Scriptural support such as the kind you find in Jeremiah 1:5, asserting that "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee." You know, stuff that doesn't really say anything at all about abortion, but, depending on how you squint your eyes, might imply that God doesn't like abortion. That is, there are no money shots about this in the Bible, no specific verses that make abortion a sin in the way that coveting your neighbor's wife is a sin.

And that's just a wee bit weird because, you know, the ancients knew about abortion just as surely as they knew about homosexuality. But, apparently, there is, in fact, an abortion money shot in the Bible. It's just that it is a few verses that seemingly approve of abortion, indeed, mandating it when a man's wife has been impregnated by another man.

Of course, I was skeptical, so I checked it out. The King James Version, my favorite, of the passage from Numbers cited in the excerpt above wasn't entirely clear, talking about making "thy thigh to rot," something that could mean anything for all I know. But the New International Version is completely clear: "...may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell." Crystal clear. The intention of the above described ritual is to cause a miscarriage, or, more simply, an abortion.

I just love it when everything I thought I knew is wrong. I wonder if such a passage would even matter to the pro-life faithful. Probably not. I mean, even though fundamentalists supposedly never interpret the Bible, they, in fact, always interpret the Bible, picking and choosing which sections to emphasize and which sections to ignore, you know, like all that shit about menstruation.

One thing's for sure: next time I'm in a dog fight on abortion with a looney fundamentalist, I fully plan to drop this passage from Numbers like the A-bomb on Nagasaki. What fun it will be.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Paul Krugman: We Could End This Depression Right Now

An interview about the Nobel Prize winning economist's new book, from AlterNet:

JH: I want to encourage people to read the book, but can you just give readers a sense of what you think is the most important thing policy makers should be thinking about doing right now?

PK: The moral of the book is: this doesn’t have to be happening. This is essentially a technical process; it’s a small thing. It’s like having a dead battery in a car, and while there may be a lot wrong with the car, you can get the car going remarkably easily, if you’re willing to accept that’s what the problem really is.

First and foremost, what we have is an economy that just doesn’t have enough spending. Consumers are hobbled by debt, corporations don’t want to spend if they don’t see consumer demand. Somebody has to step in and spend, and that somebody is the government. The government could – and by all means let’s talk about forward-looking, big projects -- right away get a big boost in the economy just by reversing the big cutbacks that have taken place in state and local governments these past three years. Get the schoolteachers rehired and get the policemen and firefighters back on the beat. Fill those potholes that have been developing in New Jersey and I believe all over America. We’d then be most of the way back to a decent economy again.

More here.

And then, as Krugman has explained at length in his New York Times columns and elsewhere, once the economy is growing again, the tax base necessarily grows as well, which puts the deficit in a much more manageable position, one that can be fixed without inflicting savage austerity on the most vulnerable in the population. Classic Keynesianism.

Unfortunately, this is a narrative that is either not understood or flat out rejected by the people who have the power to actually do anything about it. Even more unfortunately, the people rejecting it don't ever seem to offer any real reasons why they're rejecting it. And that's one of several reasons I'm so attracted to Krugman's understanding of economics: there are simply no compelling counterarguments out there addressing his assertions. I mean, it would be one thing if establishment figures, on Capitol Hill, Wall Street, and in the press, took on his arguments directly, but I've never seen it. Sure, people dismiss him, say he's wrong, and even, incomprehensibly, proclaim that he doesn't know what he's talking about, despite his Nobel Prize. But they don't take him on. Not really. Such counterarguments may very well exist somewhere out there, but they've never crossed my path. As far as I can tell, Krugman is like Chomsky in that he pisses people off, but nobody really wants to have a real argument with him.

So, for my money, Krugman's economic analysis stands uncontested and makes the most sense. If you're not reading his books and columns, you really have no idea what's going on.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gay X-Man's wedding announced, while execs promise
a 'major iconic DC character' will come out of the closet

From Entertainment Weekly, courtesy of the Huffington Post:

It’s interesting that both major comic book companies are developing major gay-themed storylines so soon after President Obama and Uncle Biden went on the record with their support of marriage equality. But it’s more likely that both storylines are really the echo boom of New York’s Marriage Equality Act, which passed just about a year ago on June 15, 2011. (Both DC and Marvel are headquartered in Manhattan.)

On one hand, Northstar is hardly a major character in the X-Men mythos — a cynic would say that he was the “safe” choice for a storyline like this. And although DiDio promised that the superhero coming out of the closet would be a prominent DC character, it’s easy money that the character won’t be a big-brand heavy hitter.

But let’s be honest. This is a huge deal. Geekery as a subculture has always skewed towards heterosexual male dominance — note how many female characters there were in Avengers — which is what happens when most of the people creating and reading mainstream comics are straight dudes. Usually, this just manifests itself in aesthetic adolescent douchebaggery — see the Barbie-like dimensions of every female character in comics. But the dominance of that single demographic can also create a sense that mainstream geekdom is hermetically sealed.

More here.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the future.

It was only eight years ago that President Bush was reelected on a platform that included adopting a new Constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage. Flash forward to the future, that is, today. The most recent polls are showing an undeniable majority of the nation in favor of gay marriage rights. President Obama, of course, recently became the highest elected official in US history to support marriage equality. Hot on the heels of Obama's announcement was the NAACP's proclamation that they, too, support marriage equality--this is itself quite significant in that black churches, so very important as a grass roots unifier for black political causes, have been historically resistant to supporting gay rights. So, we're not there yet, but some heavy shit is going down in terms of normalizing gay romantic relationships within our society. And it's happening fast. Indeed, some in the press are calling it the fastest civil rights movement ever.

No surprise that the entertainment media are jumping on the bandwagon. Actually, it's especially no surprise because the media have been gay friendly for some years already, as Vice President Biden pointed out when referencing Will and Grace when he came out recently in support of gay marriage. But comics are ahead of the curve, too. Northstar, the Marvel hero who is slated to marry his male lover at some point in the future, has been gay from the very beginning, when John Byrne created the character some thirty years ago.

And Batman's always been gay, too. Okay, not really, but his real name is Bruce, and he runs around in his underwear with a young man all night. Wouldn't it be cool? It probably won't be him though; speculation I've gotten off facebook is that it will be a well-known character, but not one of the big three, Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman--actually we can cross Diana Prince off the list; DC has already announced that it will be a male superhero.

Anyway, remember the old ACT UP slogan? "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!" Folks, I think we are currently watching our society getting used to it. Finally. And that's something to enjoy.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ex-Rutgers student who spied on gay roommate gets 30 days in jail - far less than the maximum

From the AP via the Washington Post:

A former Rutgers University student who used a webcam to spy on his gay roommate was sentenced Monday to just 30 days in jail — a punishment that disappointed some activists but came as a relief to others who feared he would be made a scapegoat for his fellow freshman’s suicide.

Dharun Ravi, 20, could have gotten 10 years behind bars for his part in a case that burst onto front pages when Tyler Clementi threw himself to his death off the George Washington Bridge.

Instead, Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman gave Ravi a month in jail, placed him on three years’ probation and ordered him to get counseling and pay $10,000 toward a program to help victims of hate crimes.

“Our society has every right to expect zero tolerance for intolerance,” the judge said.


The next night, Clementi — who learned he had been spied on — committed suicide at age 18, leaving behind a final Facebook update: “jumping off the gw bridge, sorry.”

Gay-rights activists held up Clementi as an example of the consequences of bullying gays. President Barack Obama himself weighed in on the tragedy.

Ravi was convicted in March of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation on the basis of sexual orientation — an offense widely referred to as a hate crime — and trying to cover his tracks by destroying text messages and tweets and tampering with a witness.

As for Clementi’s suicide, his mother, Jane Clementi, told the judge she didn’t know exactly why her son killed himself. And Ravi’s lawyers argued that the trial was not fair because the judge did not give them details from Clementi’s computer that may have explained it.

More here.

This sounds about right to me.

There was a danger, I think, that it could have gone wrong in either direction. A maximum sentence would have essentially held this guy responsible for Clementi's death, but Ravi didn't kill him. I mean, his total-dick actions may very well have been the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of whatever demons and/or depression that drove Clementi to commit suicide, but Ravi didn't murder him--he didn't even commit manslaughter. Conversely, no jail time at all would have been a slap on the wrist, and, even though it wasn't murder or manslaughter, somebody did die in the fallout.

And there was social pressure going in both directions: I don't give a shit what lawyers say; social forces definitely affect judges' rulings. But that didn't happen in this case. Justice was served. And that's particularly important as this anti-bullying movement starts to take off. It's already sort of socially fused with the gay rights movement, which I generally think of as being a good thing, but as the concept starts to make its way into the law and into courtrooms, it is vital, simply because the notion of "bullying" can be so vague and abstract, that everybody keep their heads.

Scapegoats don't save anybody, and toothless laws are meaningless.


Monday, May 21, 2012


...Mr. Sulu!