Archive for March, 2012

It Is Class Warfare

No matter how you slice it what is going on in the United States today is in fact class warfare. I recalled recently a paper I wrote as a graduate student in the 1970s titled “A Few Drops of Phenomenology”. Never mind that there are books piled on top of books written on the subject by, among others, some of the most eminent philosophers of the 20th century I wasn’t then attempting to one-up those guys nor am I now. What I was trying to do then, as now, was to explain to myself the bewildering array of perceptions and actions centered on the same phenomenon, the same object, the same event, the same body of knowledge. It seemed at the time, and probably because I had never much thought about it before then, that nothing could be the same for everyone. Yet so much of what passes for discourse and the daily stream of events assumes such; something along the lines of normative agreement. We are all in this together, all men are created equal, common goals and values, all for one and one for all, united we stand, and all of that sort of social organizing  which is little more than normalizing propaganda; these are the socializing mantras to which we are all subjected from childhood. These form the basis of the belief system we call the social contract.

I recently watched a video of a preacher, a Christian preacher in Louisiana, demean and demonize just about everyone who wasn’t present and who wasn’t like him and his congregation. He wanted everyone else, he shouted at the top of his lungs for all non-Christians to “Get Out!”. He meant out of the country, by the way. I’ve seen a few period newsreel films of Adolf Hitler addressing crowds during his rise to power in Germany and the Reverend Dennis Terry’s rhetorical style is identical. In the preacher’s audience was Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum who stood up and  roundly applauded the hatred spewed by the so-called “preacher”. Of course, when the speech and Santorum’s presence was posted on the internet the candidate, who was shown being blessed in a laying on of hands by the “preacher”, backed away. Beep, beep, beep, beep!

Such pandering has become a style of politics and is reminiscent of George Wallace and his four presidential campaigns.  Here’s what Wallace had to say after his first unsuccessful run for governor of Alabama in 1958. “After the election, aide Seymore Trammell recalled Wallace saying, “Seymore, you know why I lost that governor’s race?… I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.’” Here we are 54 years later and the same dynamic, the same corrosive rhetoric with cleaned-up language is being used across the board by candidates and their supporters. This time it is Muslims, and  “foreigners” (read – Hispanics), gay rights, non-believers of whatever religion is at hand, people on welfare (Remember Ronald Reagan and his “welfare queens”?), health care, women’s health, birth control, gun control – the list goes on and on and on. And let’s not forget Georgia state Representative Terry England’s  comparison of women needing to abort a stillborn or dying fetus to pregnant cows and pigs. The hot button issues of our national disaffection, dysfunction, disillusionment, and disintegration as a society never mind community.

Another example, as if we really need more, of social dysfunction is reflected in how certain cities, certain mayors, and certain police departments respond to the #occupy movement. Class warfare is when billionaire mayors such as Michael Bloomberg’s allow their police department to brutalize not only demonstrators but even the press. Another billionaire, Jamie Dimon, chairman, president and chief executive of J.P. Morgan Chase donated $4.6 million to the NYC police department during last year’s #occupy demonstrations. Is it reasonable to ask what he got for his money? Between 2001 and 2011, Dimon’s company, J.P. Morgan, paid 4 billion – 877 million dollars in fines and penalties to various governmental authorities here and abroad for illicit financial activities. During the dust-up over the collapse of banks and the rise of #occupywallstreet, The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, himself a millionaire with a net worth said to be around $2.1 million dollars, criticized President Obama’s plans to reduce the deficit and charmingly characterized populist activity as creating class-warfare in the United States where, according to him, no such thing exists.

Which brings us to the pernicious American delusion of equality. Here is an excerpt  from an interview with Princeton Professor Julian Zelizer on the topic of class warfare:

ZELIZER: Americans often and historically like to think of themselves as a classless society. There were even polls during the height of the Great Depression which famously showed that many Americans thought of themselves as being in the middle class, even those who were struggling with unemployment and who had nothing to subsist on.

There is a belief in this country that someone who doesn’t have a lot of money, one day, has the opportunity to have a lot of money. And because of this, it’s often been very hard for those on the left to use the notion of class conflict as a rallying cry as a way to organize social protest.

Here you have the belief system on which the American social contract is based and woe be unto those who would challenge this delusion with phrases such as “class warfare”. The haves, including the millionaire members (a majority) of the US Congress object. A protester’s sign during the #occupywallstreet summarized the argument: “They only call it class war when we fight back.”

Classlessness is the salving  delusion for the American middle-class. Even though they don’t really belong to a middle-class they maintain the delusion with reinforcement from the mass media and politicians. In their own minds they live upwardly-mobile in a classless society a contradiction which constitutes a necessary delusion – the glue of the American social contract that binds us together as a society. This is the normative agreement which keeps things from getting out of hand and, at the same time, keeps them from getting better.

This essay first appeared at: http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/

Fundamental Disrespect

The latest example of disrespect for the legislative process and public education to drop from the Governor’s office was the announcement that a teacher evaluation process would be implemented in the face of legislative disapproval. Let’s face it, the Secretary-designate and the Governor have nothing to lose and nothing to fear. So what if the legislature fails to take up the unqualified Secretary of Education candidate’s appointment to office? Skandera, nonetheless, remains the Secretary-designate and has the power to pursue her relentless ALEC agenda to destroy public education with the ambitious governor’s full support. The legislature has, it believes, made itself blameless in not taking up the appointment but in reality they have enabled the Governor’s war against the legislators themselves, teachers, students and public education. This is what I call the Pontius Pilate delusion – my hands are clean! Oh yeah….

In a seemingly unrelated but not necessarily so revelation, Independent Source PAC has published news about an application by the so-called Rio Grande Foundation, a far right-wing front organization funded by, among others, Wal-Mart, to establish and run charter schools in New Mexico. The application for the New Mexico Connections Academy lists Paul Gessing as the applicant on behalf of the schools. I have previously exposed Mr. Gessing’s relationship to many far-right organizations including ALEC as well as his so-called foundation’s sources of funding. One of Gessing’s listed “advisors” in this enterprise (and it is an enterprise before it is anything else) is also the vice-president and co-founder of Connections Academy; Mickey Revenaugh was formerly co-chair of the ALEC Education Task Force. ALEC is the Washington DC body funded by multi-national corporations that created the education bills submitted, without disclosure of their provenance, to the New Mexico legislature this past January.

It looks like the Secretary-designate’s unremitting agenda to ALECify  New Mexico schools now has it’s follow-on team on tap. Here comes the ALEC cavalry, Connections Academy, ready to fill the breech Ms. Skandera’s public policies are creating. “It’s going to happen,” she told a Santa Fe New Mexican Reporter correspondent, New Mexico will have a new teacher evaluation system in place “by the end of summer.” Bernice Garcia-Baca who is a counselor at the Aspen Community Magnet School and who also serves as the Santa Fe representative to the NEA characterized the teacher evaluation as “pretty ludicrous”. Sorry to say, I think, it far from ludicrous. On the contrary it is well planned, deliberate and will probably succeed in its long-term goals unless the public and teachers combine their efforts to rescue public schools from this unrelenting attack.

 

It isn’t hard to imagine the ambitions of the local political operatives like Skandera and Gessing fantasizing about a Republican sweep in the upcoming November elections and their own all but inevitable apotheosis to national positions appointed by a grateful victorious president. They would thus be rewarded for the privatization of public education in New Mexico. Ambition beyond the dreams of mere mortals – elevation to divine status as actors on the national stage! Privatize – Privatize – let no other ambition evade your eyes! Dream Baby, Dream!

Occupying The Narrative

OK, folks, today’s assignment will be to explore the influence in your home state by an organization called ALEC, or American Legislative Exchange Council, and what to do about it.

Let’s begin with a little quiz:

1. Are you aware of the Washington DC-based organization, ALEC, which is funded by the largest corporations and wealthiest individuals in the U.S.?

2. Are you aware that ALEC exists to write what they euphemistically call “model legislation” to hand to your elected officials for them to introduce to your legislature for the purpose of passing business-friendly laws which will govern your life and the education of your children? No mention will be made that these new laws were created in Washington DC and not by your legislator.

3. Do you know that New Mexico’s ABCD-F Act is based on ALEC model legislation and that every bill having to do with education in the 2012 Legislature was originated by ALEC as “model legislation”?

4. Are you aware that the highly publicized Occupy-crashed banquet in Santa Fe was hosted by ALEC for sympathetic legislators?

5. Do you know about the all-expenses-paid sojourns at exclusive resorts to encourage legislators to introduce and pass ALEC-provided “model legislation”?

Does any of this trouble you? I hope so. It certainly bothers me.

A group of legislators in Wisconsin have now introduced a bill that would require that organizations which introduce legislation through compliant legislators register themselves as lobbyists. I would call it the “Truth in Legislating Act.” The story, reported in the Madison Capital Times on Feb. 17, quoted the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Mark Pocan:  “ALEC is like a speed dating service for lonely legislators and corporate executives. … The corporations write bills and legislators sign their names to the bills. In the end, we’re stuck with bad laws and nobody knows where they came from.” It goes without saying that this form of legislative monkey business is patently dishonest and it seems to be endemic across the U.S. as legislators are wined and dined by ALECian lobbyists, fat-cat donors to their political campaigns who also designate individuals to be appointed to critical positions of authority (e.g. our very own Hanna Skandera) at the state level. This same pattern has been seen in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states, as well as New Mexico.

The authors, of a March 2012 Phi Delta Kappan article, Julie Underwood and Julie Mead, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wondered how such a consistent pattern of legislation could appear across the country. “How could elected officials in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the same legislation?” they asked. Their conclusion after considerable research shows ALEC to be behind it. The UW-Madison professors, no fans of the organization’s motives, wrote that “ALEC’s positions on various education issues make it clear that the organization seeks to undermine public education by systematically defunding and ultimately destroying public education as we know it.”

For your edification, here is a list of New Mexico legislators with published ALEC ties:

House of Representatives

Senate

And here is a list of New Mexico legislation inspired by ALEC:

HB 386 (introduced 2/7/11) “Transparency in Private Attorney Contracts” is similar to ALEC’s “Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act”

HB 318 (introduced 2/2/11) “Crime of Organized Retail Theft Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Organized Retail Theft Act”

HB 45 (introduced 1/10/11) “Eminent Domain Federal Property Condemnation” (Sponsor: Rep. Paul C. Bandy) is based on ALEC’s “Eminent Domain Authority for Federal Lands Act”

SB 324 (introduced 1/31/11) “Licensure of Secondhand Metal Dealers”[8] is similar to ALEC’s “Responsible Scrap Metal Purchasing and Procurement Act”

House Joint Memorial 24 (introduced 1/27/11), “Requesting Governor to Withdraw New Mexico from the Western Climate Initiative” is similar to ALEC’s “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives”

HB 229 (introduced 1/27/11) “Parental Notice of Abortion Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Parental Consent for Abortion Act”

SB 195 (passed 2/17/10) “Sunshine Portal Transparency Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Transparency and Government Accountability Act”

HJR 5 (introduced 1/20/10) “Resolution to Allow Health Care Decisions” is based on ALEC’s “Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act”

HB 105 (introduced 1/19/05) “Income Tax Deduction for Organ Donation” is similar to ALEC’s “Organ Donation Tax Deduction Act”

This is a list of ALEC education “model legislation” which became bills introduced in the New Mexico Legislature.

ABCD-F Act — passed

Education Accountability Act

Having to do with schools, teachers and administrators:

Career Ladder Opportunities Act

Teacher Quality and Recognition Demonstration Act

+ Great Teachers and Leaders Act

A further report on legislation introduced by New Mexico legislators on behalf of ALEC can be found at: ALEC inspired bills in the 2011 legislative session.

How we deal with this legislative infusion for the benefit of powerful corporate and financial interests is a question that must be answered before our entire body of law has been replaced by laws written by those interests and for their benefit How do we deal with legislators who are willing to sell out their constituents in return for an expenses-paid trip to an exclusive resort or a fancy meal?

Strategy vs. Tactics

I think attacking ALEC, which has millions of dollars in its war chests donated by the largest corporations in the world, is a futile strategy. Also, attacking the legislators who so willingly surrender their responsibilities for paltry rewards—“atta boys” and banquets from ALEC and its sponsors—will not pay off; what will work is to identify them as such publicly.

Shouting and chanting and storming meetings are tactical; educating is strategic. It is imperative that the narrative high ground be seized, that the narrative be occupied and educative. There is no need to attack ALEC when simply pointing out to the public who they are, what they do, whom they have bought and the effect on people’s lives and well-being would be sufficient. Of course this will take patient, concerted and continuous effort to pull off, but then the 2012 legislative elections aren’t until November. There is hope. There is still time to organize and to keep the narrative going long enough and strong enough to occupy that narrative. And, it is much easier to address these issues from high ground than by slinging mud and thus alienating the public.

It must be realized, I believe, that the general public does not have the interest or faintest clue about the machinations and goals of ALEC. That sort of apathy illustrates the general reality gap between activists and Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public and, if the issues are polarized along political party lines, the gap gets wider. In any event, the ethical and moral issues here have nothing to do with party because there are ALEC toadies with outstretched palms on both sides of the aisle. They are neither Democrats or Republicans but ALECians.

The campaign against ALEC must always, I think, focus on the issues and the impact of those issues on the public For those whose support you seek, the story has to become their personal narrative. If you do this right, ALEC-free candidates will come looking for you. And when they seek your support it wouldn’t hurt to require a solemn pledge to not succumb to ALEC. Think of yourselves as educators, Occupy, and you are on the road to effecting significant social change. The only people you want to alienate are the ones you don’t like, not the ones whose support you need to create change. At all costs avoid becoming the narrative yourselves; remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the truth.

Sources:

ALEC Exposed home page <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed>

ALEC State Chairmen <http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_State_Chairmen>

ALEC model legislation <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed>

ALEC model legislation – education <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Bills_Affecting_Americans%27_Rights_to_a_Public_Education>

list of politicians <http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Politicians>

New Mexico legislators w ALEC ties <http://sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Politicians#New_Mexico_Legislators_with_ALEC_Ties>

Originally appeared at The Light of New Mexico:http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/

The NYPS Blues

The NYPS Blues

Is the war against public education guerrilla class-warfare conducted through surrogates? It certainly looks like it. I have always believed that if something looks like “it,” behaves like “it,” and smells like “it,” odds are “it” is “it.”

The “it” in New York City came when the anti-teacher/anti-public education mayor and the ever-devolving New York Times published the results of a citywide teacher evaluation. The person who created the evaluation openly cautioned against publication of the results as they are not, in his opinion, a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness for a number of technical reasons, including that the evaluation system is new and interpreting it at this early date is an inaccurate and uncertain proposition. He ought to know. Yet, the billionaire crusader mayor of New York joined by the New York Times proceeded to do just what was warned against. In such a circumstance the first question that comes to mind is one of motives. In both cases the motives seem abundantly clear.

Teachers are an easy target for political hacks who have an unrelenting agenda to privatize public education and who are looking to make points with a misinformed public. In the case of the NYT, one must wonder why a national newspaper with what were once impeccable credentials is transforming itself into an over-priced upscale version of the National Inquirer or some sort of Murdoch sensationalist rag. You can’t tell me that the sophisticated editors at the Grey Lady are unaware that once something has been published, no amount of self-serving mea culpas and Public Editor penance will undo it. The damage was done and done willfully, and it cannot be undone. Period. The implications and consequences of what is going on in New York are clear for the rest of the country.

The “it” moment in New Mexico came when, in a case of NYPS Blues, Edunazis went after teachers and schools in an even more despicable manner. Last Thursday (01/02/12) morning, NM PED storm troopers conducted a raid at Albuquerque’s Sierra Vista Elementary School. The troopers removed teachers from classrooms for interrogation in response to an anonymous tip that irregularities had taken place amounting to cheating on tests. Substitutes had to be found for the teachers being questioned so there would be no interruption in the normal school routine. It should go without saying that a civilized inquiry could have been conducted after school hours or on a Saturday. No one’s life was in danger, the school wasn’t going to be blown up, children weren’t being abused, no one was selling drugs in the corridors; clearly there was no emergency to merit the SWAT team tactics. Taking into account the PED’s trouncing during the legislative session, this was a very deliberate publicity stunt. And to top it off, all of this well-publicized sensationalist melodrama was justified on the basis of an alleged anonymous “TIP”? I smell a rat.

The PED’s persistent hidden agenda would not have been as well served by a respectful and civilized inquiry, now would it? For the second consecutive year the Legislature didn’t hold a confirmation hearing for the PED’s Dear Leader, and her proposed antediluvian new school initiatives went down in defeat as well. Was the dramatic raid was a face-saving acting out? Of course it was.

I think it only fair to ask where New Mexico schools are heading with this police-state behavior by the PED. I can’t imagine a more humiliating and disgraceful treatment of teachers than what took place at Sierra Vista school. What’s next, re-education camps for teachers al la Chairman Mao or perhaps Siberian-type work camps – you know, gulags for those who won’t buy into the PED program? The PED program being to prove by whatever means that public schools are failing in order to justify privatizing them. The tactics appear to be: If you can’t get in the front door, break in the back way.

Remember that New York Mayor Bloomberg’s first Chancellor of the public school system, Joel Klein, took a meat-axe approach to the city’s vast school system. The charge then was that the schools and teachers were inefficient, failing and a budgetary drain on the city. The creation of charter schools would be the answer, the public was told, which prediction ultimately proved to be far from true. Klein moved on, not surprisingly, without any substantial or lasting achievement to become Rupert Murdoch’s main man. You will recall Murdoch as the bloke from Down Under who sees public education as a $500 billion opportunity for entrepreneurs like himself, with the help, no doubt, of Mr. Klein. Mayor Bloomberg next gave the Chancellor’s job to a woman business executive, Catherine Black, who had no background and no experience in education at all except her own schooling and that was likely not at P.S. 101. Thankfully, she lasted only a short time and was basically embarrassed out of office. In New Mexico we have Hanna Skandera who also is unqualified by any measure to be a Secretary of Education anywhere. We also have a Governor whose election campaign received substantial contributions from donors with school privatization agendas and who, no doubt, want their investments to pay off in the form of privatized schools.

While these and other Republicans have not been alone in their persecution of public education – I would include our neoliberal US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in this mob – there has been a notable transformation from the kind of Republican once represented by Dwight Eisenhower. We now have a new breed, Repugnicans – a group for whom profit in any endeavor reigns supreme and for whom shared social outcomes such as an educated public are but a quaint and dim memory of a more civilized and humane time.  Across the country they are spreading an epidemic of sociopathy and destruction of the American social contract, especially where it comes to public education – a very bad case of the NYPS Blues.

This post may also be viewed at: http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/

 

 

 


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