Thanks, Michelle Rhee, for exposing the lunacy of your own position

March 8, 2011

Found the link to this video clip on Daily Kos this morning, but want to say some things about it that the Kos blogger didn’t say:

On the page of a Facebook friend the other night, I posited the notion that Scott Walker is serving the rhetorical function that propaganda theorists call “the decoy.”  As you might imagine, decoys are examples that look much worse than what you want your audience to accept, such that your proposal looks a lot better in comparison.  The simplest example (roughly paraphrased from the textbook I use in my Propaganda class) is the real estate agent who shows you a dilapidated house with a very high price tag, so that when you look at the not-very-nice house with the slightly-less-ridiculous price tag, the second house looks like a great deal.

So I’d already been considering this idea in relation to the newly elected governor of my own state (PA), Tom Corbett, who is also a Republican with strong conservative credentials; before his election to the Governorship, Corbett was one of the Republican state attorneys-general who filed lawsuits to kill the new healthcare law.  Not long after the Wisconsin protests hit the news, Corbett was able to say that he has no interest in union-breaking, which makes him sound quite reasonable–except that Walker has said the exact same thing.  And except that Corbett will almost certainly sign individual pieces of PA legislation that do most of what Walker’s budget repair bill does in terms of union-busting.

Sorry for the diversion into local politics there…  Anyway, so when Michelle Rhee, one of the virulently anti-union education “reformers” who’s led the national charge to attack teachers and eviscerate any meaningful notion of education, shows up on Fox News (quel surprise!) to talk about teachers’ unions, she able to distinguish her own position from Scott Walker’s, ostensibly, while agreeing with the really insidious parts of it.  That is:

[Scott Walker is bad]: I don’t want to bust unions; he’s overreached; unions should be able to negotiate some things.

[Scott Walker is right]: Unions should only be able to negotiate salaries, not policy or working conditions.

[Conclusion]: Look at how reasonable I sound!  I’m not as crazy as he is!

The problem here, I hope it’s obvious, is that the position is incredibly offensive.  I don’t want to speak for other teachers and teachers’ unions, but my hunch is that most of us would trade some of our salary and benefits bargaining power for the power to negotiate policies and working conditions.  In fact, we know for a FACT that the Wisconsin teachers’ union would do this BECAUSE THEY ALREADY OFFERED.

More importantly, Rhee’s position is offensive to teachers because who knows better than teachers do what our jobs are?  Who knows better than somebody who works with students, and administrators, and (for K-12 teachers) parents EVERY DAY what it takes to do the job well?  Somebody who (like Rhee) was an abject failure at the job?  Somebody like Bill Gates who, by all accounts, wasn’t even a successful student much less teacher?  Somebody like George W. Bush who, by his own accounts, was utterly uninterested in his own education except the diplomas that his family name earned him?

This isn’t to say that teachers at all levels, especially those whose schools rely heavily on public funding, shouldn’t be answerable to those who fund us.  Of course we should (Just like Congress should! And the Pentagon! And all the corporations that suck down corporate welfare and then hide their crimes behind “proprietary interest” laws, and hide their accounting practices in other countries’ banks!).  And if the pitbulls on the right would actually shut their yaps and listen every once in a while to anybody other than themselves, they’d realize that we already do exactly that–we try quite diligently to discuss results, polices, outcomes, needs, possibilities, curriculum and pedagogy, lots of parts of our jobs.  But they don’t want to hear it, and continue to contend that they (knowing NOTHING about what we do or what it takes for school systems to work) should have complete control over the schools.

Lots of us on the left decry the anti-intellectualism that’s really pervasive in our culture these days, but I’m not talking about the street level version of it right now (of course it’s related–school board members have to win elections, and as the mayoral race in DC showed last year, education policy can cost elections too).  I’m talking about the level of the agenda setters, the folks who have access to the mass media that charts the terms of the discussion, the people with recognizable names and faces.

If it didn’t depend on punishing students in the process, I’d challenge Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates and Arne Duncan to spend a year as a full-time teacher (not a week or a month, as I’ve seen others propose–that’s not long enough), in a school that actually operated according to the principles they espouse.  But I wouldn’t wish that on any student, much less a school full of them.  So instead, I’ll challenge the educational reformers to do something more practical and, maybe over the long haul, more useful.  OPEN YOUR DAMN EARS AND LISTEN!

Your unwillingness to listen to anybody else’s point of view is exactly what would make you suck as teachers and colleagues, which I suppose is no surprise now that I think about it….

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Shining some light on the dark underside

January 13, 2011

I read the text of President Obama’s speech in Tucson last night and watched it just this morning.  If you haven’t actually listened to it yet, you probably should.  It is, as he’s given to from time to time, a remarkable performance–humble and sad, visionary and inspirational, humane, all the characteristics of the Obama that drew us to him during the campaign and all too often get washed out by the noise of daily politics.

From cruising around the blogosphere last night after the speech, I gather that even some of the more conservative punditocracy were praising the speech.  I haven’t seen any reactions from Republican members of Congress, but when Charles Krauthammer gives a Democrat the nod, the Democrat must have done OK.  So let’s just say, for the sake of conversation, that Obama’s call for renewed civility and decency in our political discourse made a mark on the people with the loudest (that is, the most mass mediated) voices: elected officials and pundits.

Then I made the mistake (or, faced the demon–choose your metaphor) of beginning to read comments sections of stories about the speech.  I don’t know if YahooNews draws an especially nasty crowd or what, but it didn’t take 2 minutes from the end of the speech before screeches of “traitor” and “communist” and “worst President ever” and “he wasn’t even born here” showed up.  Today, out of the first ten comments, two of them say, “Google FEMA Concentration Camps and find out what Hussein means to do to YOU!”  Nobody explicitly calls for his assassination or violence directly against him, but let’s just say that his call for decency seems to have fallen on some deaf ears.

One of my favorite bloggers, Ed at Gin and Tacos, wrote the other day that one of the big problems in our current political scene is that nobody seems willing to call out the crazies.  What the hell is wrong with them?  How can anybody listen to a neighbor (much less a Congressperson or respected “journalist”) propagate the kind of insanity that we’ve come to take for granted without responding to it?  And I’m not just talking about the militaristic metaphors and the “climate of hate” that’s been flying around for the last few days.  I’m talking about somebody I defriended on Facebook because they thought it was hilarious when Barack Obama got his lip split playing basketball and said something like, “Damn, I wish I’d learned to play basketball so I could have smashed his face in.”  About the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!  If one of us peaceniks had said anything of the sort about George W. Bush, we’d have been accused of being TRAITORS (gasp).  In fact, some of us did say terrible things about George W. Bush (if there were an emoticon for a raised hand, I’d use it here) and were routinely called traitors.  Of course, we were also called traitors when we said nothing at all about GWB, but that’s another story…

Anyway, so my question for now is this.  If the big voices in our country got the message last night, and have begun to realize that the way we talk to each other is counterproductive, horrifying, unworthy of us, call it what you will, how do we get that message to the people who really need to hear it–our neighbors and co-workers, the people stockpiling weapons caches in case they need to revolt, the people who hide behind anonymity to threaten others’ safety and well-being, and so on?  There’s an argument to make that it took decades of building up to this level of anger and viciousness and that it will, therefore, take decades to build it down.  We don’t have time for that.  How do we accelerate that process?

I guess another way of asking the question: how do we, as activists, organize in our own communities (physical, virtual, professional, …) to support a more productive, humane discourse?  How do we even begin to talk about rebuilding trust, believing that what people who think differently are doing isn’t automatically an attempt to destroy us?

Once trust has been breached, it’s very difficult to rebuild.  At least right now, that’s the biggest challenge I see.


Where were the Tea Partiers when…

January 7, 2011

This list flies around e-mail distribution lists from time to time.  A debate I was having on Facebook last night with a high school friend who’s very conservative made me think about it; I’m glad I saved it the last time I received it.

Subject: YOU FINALLY GOT MAD…

You didn’t get mad
when the Supreme Court stopped a legal
recount and appointed a President.

You didn’t get mad
when Cheney allowed Energy company
officials to dictate Energy policy and push us to invade Iraq.

You didn’t get mad
when a covert CIA operative got outed.

You didn’t get mad
when the Patriot Act got passed.

You didn’t get mad
when we illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us.

You didn’t get mad
when we spent over 800 billion (and counting) on said illegal war.

You didn’t get mad
when Bush borrowed more money from
foreign sources than the previous 42 Presidents combined.

You didn’t get mad
when over 10 billion dollars in cash just disappeared in Iraq.

You didn’t get mad
when you found out we were torturing people.

You didn’t get mad
when Bush embraced trade and outsourcing
policies that shipped 6 million American jobs out of the country.

You didn’t get mad
when the government was illegally wiretapping Americans.

You didn’t get mad
when we didn’t catch Bin Laden.
You didn’t get mad
when Bush rang up 10 trillion dollars in combined budget and current account deficits.

You didn’t get mad
when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed.

You didn’t get mad
when we let a major US city, New Orleans, drown.

You didn’t get mad
when we gave people who had more money
than they could spend, the filthy rich, over a trillion
dollars in tax breaks.

You didn’t get mad
with the worst 8 years of job creations in several decades.

You didn’t get mad
when over 200,000 US Citizens lost their
lives because they had no health insurance.

You didn’t get mad
when lack of oversight and regulations
from the Bush Administration caused US Citizens to lose 12
trillion dollars in investments, retirement, and home values.

You finally got mad


when a black man was elected President
and decided that people in America deserved the right
to see a doctor if they are sick. Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption,
torture, job losses by the millions, stealing your tax dollars to make the
rich richer, and the worst economic disaster since 1929 were all okay with
you,
but helping fellow Americans who are sick…Oh, Hell No!!


Why do I continue to be amazed?

July 16, 2010

In this morning’s (Fri 7/16) West Chester Daily Local, a letter writer defended the Obama administration against talking point charges that it is eradicating freedom, has sold its soul to the Socialists–the usual tripe.  Along the way, the letter writer made the point that the Obama administration has had 18 months to respond to the messes left behind by George W. Bush’s administration.

Although I ought to know better by now, I couldn’t help but read the comments section.  Out of 8 comments, every single one of them accused the letter writer of blaming Bush for Obama’s mistakes.  It’s become another Republican talking point to respond to every mention of Bush with, “He hasn’t been President for a long time now.  You can’t keep blaming him for all your problems.”

We’ll set aside for now the fact that we’re right.  George W. Bush came very close to destroying the United States, and to expect Obama to fix that in 18 months is ridiculous.  We’ll also forget, momentarily, that one reason the Obama administration hasn’t been more effective is that the entire Republican party is devoted to making sure Obama can’t get things done without gigantic fights.

Even with those set aside, what still rings the loudest is how unbelievably, ridiculously full of shit Republicans are, accusing us of “blaming Bush” for everything when, to this day, they still routinely blame Bill Clinton for problems that he had nothing to do with.

John Stewart did a segment on this on his June 30 show.  Here’s the link to it–

http://www.gotchamediablog.com/2010/06/daily-show-fox-friends-blame-clinton.html

Stewart documents example after example of Republicans blaming Clinton, even as recently as just a few weeks before the segment.

So apparently it’s OK to blame a President who hasn’t been in office for TEN FREAKIN’ YEARS for problems HE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH, but it’s not OK to blame a President out of office for 18 months for problems his administration was uniquely responsible for.

I changed my mind; this doesn’t even rise to the level of hypocrisy.  It’s simple lying.  It’s almost enough to make me rethink my commitment to free speech–not quite, but almost.  The First Amendment protects unpopular speech, but I’m not so sure any more that it should protect people who knowingly, willingly, and obviously lie about everything.


Boy, did I misunderestimate

June 5, 2010

Back in January 2005, I wrote an editorial for the Philly Inquirer about my experience at the second inauguration of George W. Bush.  I’d faced some angry folks before, in my days as a Greenpeace canvasser, but nothing I’d ever seen had prepared me for the bile, anger, and general insanity of the crowd in Washington, DC.  I, a pacifist, told some loudmouth the world would be better off if he were dead.  People yelled profanities back and forth; protesters from both sides displayed Nazi insignia drawn onto posters.

My editorial was an exhortation to people at all points on the spectrum to ratchet down the anger a notch.  I registered my own anxiety at how I’d behaved and didn’t accuse anybody of being “wrong.”  I thought we’d all just gotten stressed out and needed a reminder that the tone we were taking with each other wasn’t healthy or useful.

I should have known I wasn’t getting anywhere when a week later 3 anonymous death threats showed up at my house.  Even then, I assumed the people making those threats were aberrations.  When I called the editor at the Inauirer about writing about the death threats, his response was, “I’d recommend you not do that.  You kicked the rock once and they poked their heads out.  Kick it again and there’s no telling what they’ll do.”

Fair enough.

Flash forward to 2008.  Sarah Palin didn’t invent hate, but she sure capitalized on it as she made an entire campaign out her detestably angry hatred towards everybody in the world who isn’t just like her.  Or put differently, she kicked the same rock I did, but she kept on kicking and kicking, ensuring that the nasty slugs who live under it came out.  Along with Rush Limbaugh, the entire staff of Fox News, and other rightwing media mavens, the loony Right has done little for the last couple of years besides firing up the hate machine and its victims, um, consumers.

Today’s news from Prescott, AZ for some reason just infuriated me, maybe more than anything else these monsters have done in the last few years.  If you haven’t seen the story, a rightwing radio talk show host who also serves on the Prescott City Council provoked his listeners to drive by a grade school at which there was a mural depicting the ethnically diverse student body.  This talk show host got people yelling racial epithets, very explicit ones, at kids in the school yard in an effort to get the black and Hispanic faces painted white.

It worked.  I don’t blame the principle of the school–not really, although I’d certainly have liked to see him fight this.  His rationale for caving in is that he worried about the students–remember these are grade-schoolers–exposed to that level of hatred and potential violence while they were outside being kids.

No, my real problems are with: (1) the talk show host and councilperson who provoked all this–why haven’t the citizens of Prescott run this asshole out of town on a rail? and (2) the idiots who thought it was a good idea to drive by a school screaming racist names at little kids.  What the hell is wrong with these people?

Some good thinkers seem convinced that this level of racism is a product of economic insecurity.  Maybe, but so what?  Frankly, as much as I’m almost a socialist, every act of racism like this one makes me care less about people who are such racists.  Sure, economic instability might be enabling their racism, but in order for that to be true, the racism had to be there in the first place.  There are plenty of poor, hungry, scared people who don’t act like that and never would.

It’s high time that those of us with brains stand up to these idiots and let them know that kind of behavior isn’t welcome in our universe.  If they want to go hide out somewhere, learn to use their weapons, and kill each other, it’s getting harder for me not to say, “Go to it, assholes.”

UPDATED 6/5, 10 am.:  The Prescott News reports that radio station KYCA has fired Steve Blair, the councilman/talk-show host whose provocations led to this–

http://www.prescottenews.com/news/latest/steve-blair-fired-by-kyca


Traitors (again, or more of the same)

October 11, 2008

Last summer, across several threads of this blog, I (and people like me) got accused time and again of being a traitor because I don’t support the US occupation of Iraq, because I’m an academic (and therefore must be advancing a revolutionary agenda every time I teach), because I don’t support Israel’s right to kill Palestinians (and for the record, neither do I support Palestinians’ rights to kill Israelis), etc.

At the time, I was infuriated by the accusation.  It galls me to no end for neoconservatives to accuse anybody who disagrees with them of trying to destroy our country.  I’m still mad about it, as you might imagine if you’ve been called one of the worst things in the world.

The last couple of weeks of presidential campaigning have put the nastiness of last summer into some perspective.  For one, I’ve realized that neocons toss around the word “traitor” willy-nilly.  They know perfectly well that I do not actively work to destroy or undercut the Constitution or our country.  They also know perfectly well that Barack Obama isn’t trying to destroy our country.  I guess the short version is that I’ve become innoculated against the charge because they apply it to everything and everybody they don’t like.

Second, although some of the folks who were fighting with me on the blog got pretty nasty, it’s nothing compared to the threats that are emerging from (and being stoked by) the McPalin campaign.  Even Republicans are getting nervous about the simmering violence and hate being aroused, especially by Sarah Palin, on the campaign trail.  The Secret Service, it seems, have decided that the freak who yelled “Kill him!” at a Palin rally last weekend probably wasn’t talking about Obama.  Huh?  Who else would he have been talking about?  And with the increasingly violent and frequent shouts of “Off with his head!” and “Traitor!” and “Treason!” and others, why would anybody believe that Obama wasn’t the target?

I, like many, are afraid of what might happen as a result of this increasingly vicious tone.  However, having been the object of a (very minor because I’m not very important, but still…) smear campaign, and having faced death threats because of an editorial I wrote for the Philly Inquirer some years ago, more than fear I feel deep, tragic sadness that the very-far right-wing has come to this.  It wasn’t enough to slaughter innocent Iraqis and Afghans in wars they weren’t even fighting.  It wasn’t enough to see a ruling cabal installed in the White House without even winning an election, and hand over the reins of our government to a small group of people who serve their own interests only.  It wasn’t enough to label anybody who disagreed with them unpatriotic or treasonous.

Now they have to attack a presidential election ticket that couldn’t be less traitorous, less “Socialist,” less dangerous to the core values of the US Constitution, and they have to incite levels of hate and fear to do it.  It’s humiliating, as a citizen not just of the country but of the world, to know that others all over the planet believe these snakes speak for our nation.

So, here’s a plea to all you McPalin supporters who are so angry about Barack Obama’s success that you advocate violence towards him and his supporters–

SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!  You’re hurting your candidates.  You’re hurting your party.  You’re hurting our nation. You’re much more dangerous that Obama/Biden could ever be.  I don’t believe you’re “traitors” any more than I believe I’m a traitor, but your hatred and violence are bad and wrong.

Enough.


Progressivism, Populism, and the American Dream(s)

September 14, 2008

My friend John sent me this excellent analysis by Dave Sirota.  Short version–the Democratic Party has lost sight of the working class version of the American Dream, which allows people to be successful and secure in working class jobs.  Instead, he contends, the Dems have traded that dream for one in which white-collar professional jobs are the essence of the dream.  For the rest, read on–

The article is by Dave Sirota who is a syndicated columnist. It can be found on his daily blog at: http://www.cred oaction.com/sirota/

His main web page is at: http://www.davidsirota.com/

>
> September 8, 2008 10:29 AM
>
> Trampling Working-Class Voters With the Professional Ideal
> By Dave Sirota
>
> To start this post, let’s first stipulate that the Republican Party of artistocrat George W. Bush labeling “elitist” the Democratic Party of up-from-the-bootstraps Barack Obama is about the silliest, most intelligence-insulting frame ever attempted by a major political party in contemporary American history. But let’s also consider the very important point in this fascinating article by Aziz Rana in N+1 magazine.
>
> Rana suggests that the reason Obama – and Democrats in general – have had trouble with working-class voters has to do with the underlying assumptions in their most favorite contemporary narrative – you know, the ones about people working hard, going to college and becoming high-paid professionals. That’s Obama’s whole life story, and the story that countless Democratic politicians tell as their version of “The American Drea m.”
>
> The problem is that’s not the only American Dream.
>
> There’s also a long history of the dream being one of making a living and – just as important – attaining social status through farming, small-business development and factory work. That is, a dream whereby the aspiration is not to emerge from blue-collar-dom into the professional class, but to achieve the dream WITHIN blue-collar-dom:
>
> “Three earlier accounts of the American dream not only survived but were real competitors [to professionalism] for social preeminence. In Thomas Jefferson’s founding republican vision, yeoman farmers were ‘the most valuable citizens…the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous,…tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interest by the most lasting bonds.’ To this Jeffersonian vision of ‘the cultivators of the earth,’ a rapidly urbanizing nineteenth century added the small-business owner and the unionized industrial worker …These three versions of the American dream each still constituted a viable route to meaningful political and social life.”
>
> The problem is that over time, our political culture has promoted just “the professional ideal, which values only certain types of work and thus implicitly disdains the rest.” That phenomenon hasn’t happened because of Obama (obviously). It is due to many factors. A big one, for instance, is a media dominated by millionaire pundits and commentators who regularly bill their white-collar professional path as the only respectable career trajectory – and one that is supposedly open to everyone (when, of course, it isn’t). Another is an activist political class dominated by adherents to and products of that professional American Dream – an activist class, in other words, that is largely run by those who have no connection to, appreciation of (and this is the most critical one) or belief in that working-class American Dream. However, Obama’s own pe rsonal story, his rhetoric and the DLC-ish, Third Way-esque posture of Democrats when they address economic issues undeniably reinforces the
i
> mage that the party, indeed, subscribes ONLY to this professional ideal of the American Dream – one that inherently looks down on blue-collar America because “it is an inherently exclusive ideal, structured around a divide between those engaged in high-status work and those confined to task execution.”
>
> What references to blue-collar America that are typically made by Democrats are those that hearken back to an earlier “Golden Age” – rather than those implying that blue-collar America remains a vibrant, honorable and important part of our country – beyond its historical hagiographic value in sepia-toned campaign ads. Those who have chosen blue-collar work are not to be mourned over as those who tragically failed in their supposed real goal of becoming a lawyer, nor are they to be celebrated for their quaintnes s – they are to be held up as equally as economically valuable, culturally important and worthy of political power as the white-collar crowd that preens around with a hubristic air of entitlement and superiority.
>
> Here’s the real crux:
>
> “The professional and educational meritocracy justifies a basic hierarchy in which only those with professional status wield political and economic power [and] Barack Obama’s political ascent reiterates the current dominance of the professional ethic…From 1932 until 1968, the Democratic Party rested on two descriptions of American life–the American dream as embodied by the rural farmer and the industrial worker. It gained sustenance from a respect for these accounts of middle-class achievement, economic independence, and democratic inclusion. Today’s party, however, has given up on establishing new forms of solidarity for nonprofessional citizens. All it has to offer is a lose-lose proposition: join the competition f or professional status and cultural privilege at a severe disadvantage, or don’t join it at all. The party holds on to the social programs of the past, but in ever more truncated form. It presents a politics of consensus while ignoring the fact of basic division…
If
> Obama hopes to save his party and to address the interests and experiences of working-class citizens, he will have to challenge the hegemony of the professional and with it the closing of the American dream.”
>
> I disagree with Rana in ascribing any kind of blame to Obama for living the life he lived, and having the success he’s had. Obama should be proud of that story, and talk about it often. I also disagree with Rana in the either/or proposition that suggests you either voice the professional American Dream, or you voice the blue-collar American Dream. I actually think progressives can walk and chew gum at the same time by voicing both. And, of course, Obama’s trouble with working-class vote rs is at least partially due to America’s persistent struggle to be comfortable with African American (and other minority) political leaders.
>
> All of that said, I agree that Obama’s (and the Democratic Party’s) insistence on avoiding major issues that raise class conflict (like, say, trade reform or confronting corporate power) is a product of a fealty to the professional American Dream. I mean, as I noted in an earlier newspaper column, here we have a Democratic Party that could skewer John McCain on the class-based issue of NAFTA – and there has been almost complete silence on that set of issues since the Democratic primary.
>
> And let’s be clear: it’s not just avoidance and silence, either. It’s often times more overt, like when every Democratic politician has to preface any vaguely populist declaration about trade and outsourcing by saying they aren’t a “protectionist.” What they are really asserting when they say that is that they believe protecting blue-collar jobs isn’t really all that desirable, because they believe Americans think blue-collar work isn’t really a desirable ends – that if anything, Americans see factory, small-business and agriculture jobs as merely a means to a white-collar professional ends.
>
> But that’s not the way working-class America sees the world, says Rana – and says American history. And until Democrats realize that – until they present an agenda that proves they truly believe there is value in the non-professional path – they will struggle to win over working-class voters drawn to the the GOP’s culturally populist appeals.
>