Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Authoritarian journalism

See my follow-up post to the one below, Authoritarian journalism, over at The Cucking Stool.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Propagating a dishonest narrative

Democracy depends upon an informed electorate - that is the main reason the Minnesota Constitution mandates primary and secondary education. A polity cannot make rational decisions about self-government without reliable information about the country and state, along with citizens who can make sense of that information. It is one of the reasons we have the First Amendment.

In the field of education discourse, the notion of an informed electorate is in the trash bin, as it has been since 1983, when the Reagan Administration issued its erroneous and inflammatory Nation At Risk study, which implied that without big changes in our education system the country would be on a downward trajectory. That was the first insult to honest discourse in education.

The second came eight years later, when the first president Bush and some of the nation's governors, taking Nation At Risk seriously, commissioned a comprehensive study of American education, charging the reputable national lab at Sandia with putting its quality and effectiveness in historical and international perspective.

But the Republicans didn't get what they expected from the researchers at Sandia. Contrary to the chicken-little proclamations of Nation At Risk, it turned out that education in this country was basically excellent - and had been improving for 20 years. Indeed, said the Sandia report:
To our surprise, on nearly every measure we found steady or slightly improving trends.
Not only that, but
America's on-time high school graduation rate has remained steady for more than 20 years, hovering somewhere between 75% and 80%
Perhaps most significant was NAR's lie that the future workforce was threatened:
Our research on the technical work forces of various nationals also reflected well on the U.S. education system...the overall technical degree attainment by the work force is unparalleled in the world.
Nation At Risk had turned statistics on their heads. For example, NAR stated that SAT scores had been dropping. But it failed to note they were dropping because more students - from lower echelons of high school attainment - were now taking the test, and bringing the mean down. If researchers controlled for high school attainment the drop in scores disappeared.

When Sandia got ready to submit its report a firestorm erupted in the Republican government in Washington and the report was buried. It wasn't published until two years later, in 1993, in an educational journal, where it was almost completely ignored in traditional media (although those in deep education discourse took notice), making it Project Censored's number three most ignored report for 1993.

Which is a shame, because in one sector of the report, titled "Status of educators," the authors worried not that bad teachers couldn't be fired, but that regular teachers would be demoralized by unfounded attacks based on faulty assertions:
We believe that the low opinion educators hold of themselves and the poor public perception of teachers are based on misinterpretations of simplistic data...
This unfortunate cycle of low self-esteem, followed by unfounded criticism from the public, raises the specter of a downward spiral in future educational quality.
So the report on the accusations contained in the the Nation At Risk study basically said it was bunk, and that a public worked up into a frenzy against public school teachers could actually hurt primary and secondary education. But as I said, the Sandia report had virtually no impact on public discourse. It didn't advance the right wing narrative that our schools were going to hell in a hand basket, taking our children with them, and the fault lay with those nasty teachers' unions, and so it was ignored.

Twenty years later and we know the results of the efforts of the so-called reformers of the 80s, 90s and aughts: They have failed. The experimental schools they proposed - voucher and charter schools - do a worse job of educating children. At the same time public school teachers have been under relentless attack. The predictions of the Sandia study have come true.

Even hard core supporters of NAR and school choice have now admitted their errors - Diane Ravitch being the most obvious example. Even the scientific racist Charles Murray now admits the experiment failed. And yet - we continue on. Now a Democratic - Democratic! - president is advancing this false narrative, seeking to create more failed charter schools and pushing for loosened teacher certification standards. The president seems to think that all that time teachers spend in college learning how to teach is worth nothing.

Given the false narrative propagated of both failing public schools and the supposed culpability of teachers' unions in their failure it should come as no surprise that politically driven traditional media would jump on this bandwagon. It is simply too much to ask that popular media either resist or correct false narratives that pander to important media constituencies such as advertisers, who tend to be conservative, or vocal institutional critics such as those setup by conservative philanthropies.

So it is that the Star Tribune in Minneapolis should be on a permanent campaign against regular public school teachers and their unions, from dishonest op-eds, to dishonest editorials, to dishonest stories in its news pages - the narrative is always the same - our public schools suck, and the reason is teachers' unions.

I can imagine the conversation in the Star Tribune newsroom a few weeks back as it launched its latest broadside, "State's Bad teachers rarely get fired", against public school teachers, starting with editors charging reporters with the task of proving that the state's school districts suck because they cannot fire bad teachers. Normally good-government reporting would start with having to prove that the issue they were addressing - a supposed decline in the quality of public primary and secondary education, in this case - was truly a problem.

In the case of education reporting, however, the narrative is all that matters. Reporting in the Strib never comes close to analyzing if there really is a problem with public primary and secondary education. It jumps right over that step, and several others as well, right to the headline, "State's bad teachers rarely get fired." Editors know that readers understand the underlying narrative that has been blasted at them for years.

Are there really a lot of bad teachers in Minnesota? The story admits this question is nearly impossible to answer. How much does teacher quality affect education, anyways? And is it really difficult to fire bad teachers? This is where the Strib story really gets into false narrative.

Since there is no real scientific proof that our schools are failing horribly, or that teachers' unions are the reason, when media looks for "experts" to ratify the prevailing narrative they most often turn to the people who ramped up the attack in the first place.

In the Strib's case they turned to something called the "National Council on Teacher Quality" to corroborate the author's own assertion that
"...overwhelming evidence...shows how important good teachers are to student learning. Minnesota has been hammered by one national study after another in recent months for not doing enough to fire bad teachers and having no system to evaluate them."
The charges from the NCTQ were alarming, to say the least:
In January, the National Council on Teacher Quality gave Minnesota an "F" in "exiting ineffective teachers" on its annual report card on state teacher policies. The council also cited the state as one of 23 having no state policy for getting rid of bad teachers.
But what is the National Council on Teacher Quality? Despite using the NCTQ as a bedrock source,  the Strib doesn't qualify it in ANY way - it merely implies the organization's apparent objectivity.

It turns out, though, the NCTQ is a right wing outfit funded by usual conservative philanthropies that have agitated against teachers' unions using changing rationales for decades, including the loathsome Bradley Foundation, the virtual fount of the movement. Its board is filled with the people who populate right wing think tanks funded by those same philanthropies, who have plotted and carried out the dishonest attack on public schools.

One notable person on the board is Chester Finn, perhaps one of the most important voices in the attacks on public school teachers. Finn has been advocating for school choice for decades. When someone finally asked him how competition would help the left behind schools, he basically had no answer. The magical market would do the trick, he ridiculously asserts.

So in order to justify its entire story, the Strib relied on an organization funded and staffed by right wing Republican critics of public school teachers, without ever informing readers of the nature of that organization. How does that happen? The writers of the censored Sandia report had specifically warned about "..unfounded criticism [of school teachers] from the public [that] raises the specter of a downward spiral in future educational quality." It's as if the reporters at the Strib had read the Sandia report and decided to make the researchers' worst fears come true (of course in all likelihood the reporters have never even heard of the report).

The story then goes on to make an even more simplistic and ignorant assertion that
Meanwhile, Minnesota recently lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars in the federal "Race to the Top" competition for schools, partly because its teacher quality policies were deemed inadequate.
In fact, as the authors could easily find out, the whole Race To The Top "competition" was a fraud, and the outsourced authors of Minnesota's application - paid for by some of the same philanthropies that support the NCTQ - wrote a piece of junk, lacking required data and making other fundamental errors. Not that it would have mattered - the "competition" - if that's what you want to call it, was bogus. A report from the Economic Policy Institute- a liberal think tank (which might explain why Strib reporters have never heard of it), stated:
“...examination [of the applications for Race To The Top funds] suggests that the selection of Delaware and Tennessee was subjective and arbitrary, more a matter of bias or chance than a result of these states’ superior compliance with reform policies.”
And that
“The necessary subjective judgments required both for category selection and weight assignment makes a fair competition practically impossible, even if the competition is undertaken with great care.”
But of course the notion that Race To The Top might be a joke, or that someone other than school teachers are responsible for Minnesota not "winning" the competition doesn't fit the narrative of public school teachers being the bane of education's existence.

The story never actually proves the headline's baseless accusation that teachers cannot be fired, by the way, as pointed out by the superintendent of the Richfield public schools, who replied in a letter following the story's publication. It turns out, he writes, that the fake issue of "firing bad teachers" is a canard:
School districts in Minnesota already "weed out" many low-performing teachers. The Star Tribune's article stressed how few teachers are fired. It did not calculate how many teachers are let go in the first three years of their contracts. Districts in Minnesota (and Wisconsin) hire carefully. And they use the first three years to identify the very few substandard teachers they do hire. If a district is doing a good job (and I can attest to the fact Richfield and Mequon are), it will very seldom have to fire a teacher after three years.
So the very premise of the Strib's story "..bad teachers rarely get fired," first, isn't true, and second, is a meaningless statement given the methods used to hire teachers. The experts the story cites to justify its attitude turn out to be right wing operators who have been attacking teachers' unions for decades, only the Strib doesn't tell its readers this crucial fact. Nevertheless, reading the story, and the comments from readers, it is clear that it will be believed, and added to the arsenal of falsehoods used to attack teachers' unions.

This is what true advocates of public education are up against: a poisonous narrative that paints a deliberately false picture of education in America in order to gain political advantage, supported by a complicit and ignorant traditional media. Make no mistake about it, the more success the so-called "reformers" have the worse our education system will be. That is the true impact of today's journalism.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Changing rationales for 'school choice'

For decades now conservatives - and some liberals - have decried the state of American primary and secondary education, citing selected test scores that compared US students to those in other countries,  comparing scores among US schools themselves, and also citing racial disparities in educational outcomes.

For conservatives especially this concern for education was never really about educating students. Instead they were motivated by extending the "free market" religion to education, despite there being no real "market" for schools, and for de-funding their Democratic political opponents by obliterating one of the last bastions of unionism - public school teachers' unions.

The campaign against public schools picked up steam when the alarmist Nation at Risk study hit our collective consciousness in 1983.  Since then such numbers of our supposed deficiency  have been effectively used in political arguments that consistently place blame with public schools, and particularly public school teachers' unions. I don't need to rehash the facts about this - education is not the ticket to prosperity it once was, and educational attainment - as measured by test scores - is about what it was in 1983. The real point is that education cannot hope to remedy what "free market" economics has destroyed .

Nevertheless, test scores - as flawed a tool as they are for measuring human development -  have been the coin of the education realm since this debate began. Unfortunately for conservative education reformers, their suggestions for injecting "choice" into primary and secondary education have not borne statistical  fruit. If anything, charter schools and vouchers do a worse job of educating students, overall, than regular public schools. It turns out that all that bureaucracy surrounding regular public schools is there for a reason - it makes them better and more accountable.

Now that their rationale for destroying teachers' unions has itself been debunked by experience, conservatives had two honorable choices: The first would be to admit they were wrong about their concept that school choice is a way to better schools, like Diane Ravitch has done, and try to help undo some of the damage they have done. The second would be to admit that the real goal all along has been to eliminate teachers' unions, in which case to hell with the kids' educations, and press on with more charter schools, vouchers, and loosened teacher standards.

Admittedly the second choice is merely a thought exercise on my part - conservatives would never confess to the naked political ambition that underlies their education strategy. Perhaps the biggest strength of the school choice movement is the notion that it exists to benefit children, not Republicans.

Now the ever-creative Charles Murray, writing in the New York Times, has suggested a third way for school-choicers: Forget about the numbers, says Murray - they never really captured the fullness of educational achievement anyways. No - the great thing about charters and vouchers is that the parents are happy.

Thus it is with Republicans: The endpoints are always the same - "political war" in the words of David Horowitz - beat the unions, free the corporations. The current rationale doesn't matter - only that it works, politically, now. Leaders need not worry that any change in argument is a direct contradiction of decades-long held positions; all they need do is whip up the Wurlitzer to erase that history.

When George W. Bush first came to office in 2001 welcomed by huge budget surpluses he said we needed tax cuts to productively invest the money; later when the economy slowed and the surpluses were disappearing, Bush advocated the same policy, tax cuts, only for different reasons: to stimulate the economy. Same policy, different reason.

But back to Murray.  Does the New York Times deny the outright racism of Charles Murray, the man who wrote a book dressed up as science, filled with lies, that sought to prove  that blacks are genetically intellectually inferior to whites, with no chance of remediation? Or does the Times endorse Murray's view? Certainly the Times would never publish the writings of a raving anti-Semite; why do they do that with a racist and intellectual fraud?

One thing that is really maddening about Murray's duplicitous change of rationale for school choice is the reaction by some in the Reality Based Community, specifically the usually reliable Daily Howler website, which in critiquing Murray's arguments essentially endorsed his view that charter schools should be expanded, despite the lack of empirical evidence they do a better job of educating children. But the Howler went even further, actually spreading misinformation about the purported success of those schools in closing the achievement gap between whites and minorities, and implicitly equating any educational gains over the past 30 years with the advancement of high-stakes testing and school choice.

The Howler, in its typical dismissive tones, wrote that "liberals" are in denial about the "success" of that regime:
Does Murray know that black kids and Hispanic kids have actually shown large score gains in reading and math (especially math) in the past dozen years?...Most liberals have never heard that fact.
It seems strange that the Howler would introduce questionable numbers about the academic achievement of students in response to the racist Murray admitting that school choice is a bust. The Howler leads off his criticism by citing writing done by Ravitch, who, the Howler must admit, is "technically accurate."

In fact, here in Minnesota, at least, the advance of "school choice" and the wrong-headed No Child Left Behind law have left minorities further behind whites in academic achievement. That is not an assertion - it is the conclusion of  a study done by the University of Minnesota Law School. Charters in Minnesota - the state where they were invented -  do a particularly bad job of educating minorities
“Rather than being a solution to the educational problems faced by low-income students and students of color, charter schools are deepening these problems.”
I wish I could say that the discovery by real researchers that school choice has been an academic bust had turned the nation away from charter schools and vouchers, but that wouldn't be true. Instead, our pundits and opinion leaders - for their own personal reasons - sadly including The Daily Howler - have either ignored or misinterpreted the results. Charles Murray's admission, and the Howler's half-hearted agreement with the scientific racist that charters are justified even without evidence that they better educate students, are just the most recent examples.

ADDING: It is particularly disappointing to see Democrats (Obama included) stay on the charter school bandwagon long after they have been discredited academically, especially when the issue should be both a policy and politics win. Policy because getting rid of charters would improve the education of more children, while freeing up funds for their schools. Politics because many charter schools don't require union membership, thus the expansion of charters means fewer teacher unions, which are a predominant Democratic constituency. By pushing charters the Democrats are actually shrinking their own base in order to make schools worse.

UPDATE: Not to put too fine a point on it, or to put too much stock in prostitute toe sucker Dick Morris, but his most recent outburst spells out in clear detail what Republicans would like to do to public education: 
Huge Republican Gains are Going to All But do Away With Public Education.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

High in denial

As I wrote in a previous post, harsh child rearing practiced in the U.S. and around the world, combined with child sexual and physical abuse, leads to denied feelings of shame, helplessness and rage that are played out over the lifetime of the abused. These denied feelings lead to authoritarian personalities and punitive politics, which in the US is associated with conservative political views.

Milburn and Conrad, writing in The Politics of Denial, point out that politically authoritarians are essentially  a subset of conservatives:
“The majority of authoritarians fall on the conservative end of the political spectrum…virtually all authoritarians are politically conservative, but not all political conservatives are authoritarians."
Might some people high in denial, along with the politicians and media that exploit that denial play a part in the low level of public discourse in the US?

Denial is a legitimate and needed psychological defense. However, it can often be taken to unhealthy levels - some so extreme that it can prevent its practitioners from making even the simplest logical or perceptual conclusions.

This is not to say that denial is a psychological trick only practiced by conservatives -  the prevalence of denial is as you might expect is spread over the entire population. Research has shown, however, that authoritarians are more likely to describe themselves as conservative in the US. The reason is that, as I described above, abused children have hidden negative feelings that punitive conservatives tap for electoral purposes by projecting them onto selected out-groups such as blacks, gays, communists, immigrants, etc. As Milburn and Conrad write
"We have seen that authoritarians' denial of the pain of childhood abuse leads to glorification of the punitive parents and uncritical adoration of other authority figures. It is also likely to produce over-reliance on external controls on behavior."
Adding up the denial involved in today's conservative movement involves a long and varied list of issues, and includes not just outright denial of facts, but also the minimization of realities which impose on those denials. Because of the nature of deep conservative ideology it is sometimes difficult to parse out where actual lying and deception are taking place, and when conservatives are in denial. Certainly there is overlap.

One of the most important conservative ideologists of the 20th century - Leo Strauss - believed that any level of lying and deception was justified to keep the populace in line with his authoritarian vision, specifically endorsing religion as a technique of control, even though he and his fellow political philosophers personally didn't believe in it. Nevertheless in order to use religion and lies to control the population followers - and many leaders - had and have to have high levels of denial to keep their narrative afloat.

Denial of racism

Perhaps the most consistent and pernicious of these is the conservative denial and minimization of racism. Attitudes in the south where slavery was practiced have been passed through the generations of both blacks and whites, leaving us with a legacy of negative emotion.

Slavery required southern whites to accustom themselves to a punitive and abusive treatment of blacks. Part of the socialization of a young slave owner was to initiate him into the authoritarian culture of righteously physically abusing blacks, a culture which required him to treat people like property, to deny any feelings of compassion and empathy he might feel for his victims,  and to despise those who sought to upset this favorable economic order.

With the abolition of slavery during the civil war southerners had to find new ways to continue the structure of race relations through legal and illegal means, including Jim Crow laws and institutionally violent organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan.  Lynchings occurred in northern cities as well, as late as 1919 in Duluth Minnesota.

It wasn't until the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education that outlawed separate but equal that outward talk about race changed. Throughout the 1950s the tone of racial discourse morphed from one of outward racism to one of coded language. The new dog whistle of the old racists was "state's rights," a rallying cry to overturn federal civil rights laws and allow them to return to the Jim Crow era.

Ronald Reagan exploited this practice when he chose to start his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights activists were murdered in 1964. In his speech that day, Reagan gave a "ringing endorsement" to states' rights - the ideology of the southern whites who had killed the civil rights workers - and a pursuit popular among Republicans to this day.

Fast-forward to 1994, when Charles Murray, working for various conservative think tanks, published his error-laden tome "The Bell Curve," which claimed to scientifically prove that blacks are genetically intellectually inferior to whites.

As I wrote on
"...[the book] is filled with mathematical errors, logical errors, and the misuse of statistics (i.e. the purported "IQ" test actually has questions on subjects as involved as Trigonometry, thus measuring educational attainment, not innate intelligence).
Stephen Jay Gould, author of the 1981 bestseller "The Mismeasure of Man," added a chapter in the 1996 reprinting of his book, specifically dedicated to critiquing The Bell Curve.  Gould described the book in terms of "dis-ingenuousness" - it was disingenuous in its content, argument and program. The proper perspective for understanding The Bell Curve, Gould wrote, is as its role as but one new venture in a long line of attempts by whites of European descent trying to find a genetic basis for their supposed superiority over other races and peoples.

In other words, Murray was a crass racist who wrote a book dressed up as science to justify a moral belief that is was only rational and right that blacks would occupy a lower level of our society. Think about it: What Murray was effectively denying is that blacks are full human beings, that they are capable of the same kind of intellectual fulfillment as whites. He wasn't saying this with the authority of science, as he pretended, but with lying bullshit.

It was and is a truly reprehensible, ignorant and stupid position and argument, but because by 1994 the conservative think tanks had gained a strong foothold in the US traditional media, and because we had embarked into an era of truthiness, Murray's book got wide and much favorable treatment.

The American Enterprise Institute, which paid for Murray to write the book (with a $90,000 grant from the Bradley Foundation), stage-managed its introduction by providing copies of it to friendly reviewers long before the public release, then flying friendly opinion leaders to Washington for a private sit-down with the authors.

When the book finally arrived on bookshelves the only people who had actually seen it were the conservative flexians previously privy to it, so media critics were left to speculate about what the book actually said. It wasn't until later that social scientists began to find the deep flaws in the book's thesis. But by then the damage had been done and a certain part of the public had their racist views reconfirmed in a powerful ideological way.

People - opinion leaders, no less - still believe that Murray was right. When I interviewed Mitch Pearlstein, proprietor of the conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment, for an article I was writing in 2000, I asked him about Murray, because he had lectured and written for the Center many times. I pointed out to Pearlstein the monumental errors and mal-intent inherent in Murray's writing, but he would have none of it. "But isn't it interesting!" he exclaimed while handing me copies of Murray's own response to his critics.

Blacks, conversely, understand which political party contains the racists and is most invested in denying racism in this country: 96 percent of them voted for Barack Obama in 2008. In fact, blacks have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats ever since the advent of the Republican southern strategy in 1964.

Denial of deserving poor

Conservatives are also quick to deny that the modern capitalist state creates deserving economic victims who become poor not because they are indolent or unskilled, but because laissez-faire economic and political policies have devalued them. They deny that high unemployment and rising personal costs have pushed the vaunted "freedom" proclaimed by conservatives into the realm of myth. If the poor are poor, so goes the denial, it is purely their own fault.

The denial must be all the greater when it is learned that college graduates saw their actual wages fall during the aughts. The denial has reached astronomical heights recently as the real unemployment rate approaches 20 percent, yet congressional Republicans stymie efforts to extend relief to the unemployed, and Republican politicians startlingly proclaim that unemployment benefits cause further unemployment.

To Ronald Reagan the poor were particularly undeserving of government help. He repeatedly pointed to so-called "welfare queens" who were allegedly living a life on luxury on the government's dime, yet he and his administration could never point to one. During the 1980s Murray wrote another book, Losing Ground, which argued that since the government had spent billions on welfare, and there were still poor people, the programs had failed, and that welfare programs actually hurt the people they were trying to help. By that argument's lights, modern medicine is a complete failure after the expenditure of trillions of dollars, since EVERY patient ever treated eventually dies.

Other conservative denial

Parts of the conservative coalition vehemently deny that Barack Obama is a rightful US citizen; many parts of the coalition routinely call him a socialist or communist; they deride his policies as government takeovers when they are in reality corporatist.

They deny their movement is racist, yet the roots of Republican and conservative power rest in making alliance with southern racists - the so-called "Southern Strategy." Members of the conservative coalition called him a terrorist during the presidential campaign. They sing the praises of the so-called "free market," denying that over the past century laissez-faire economics have led to repeated economic collapses.

Up to this date Republicans deny that George W. Bush and his administration lied the country into war on Iraq. Bush policies had Orwellian names loaded with the denial of their true purposes - "clear skies" meant letting polluters do what they wished; "healthy forests" meant clear-cutting.

They claim to be the party of law and order, but every time they get into power they pretend there is no law. Richard Nixon went so far as to say that when the president does it, it isn't illegal.  When Ronald Reagan got caught trading arms for hostages, he insisted he did no such thing. Even when he had to admit it was true his explanations were so thick in denial that he seemed flabbergasted by their revelations. Dick Cheney told the country that "there was no doubt" that Saddam Hussein had acquired weapons of mass destruction.

In some important aspects it seems that the very core of the nation's politics over the past 70 years have been filled with denial. After World War Two we became obsessed with communism, even though there only a few thousand communists left in the country. We denied that communism was dead as a political movement in the US.

We became obsessed with denying that the Soviets were primarily concerned with protecting their own country after two devastating wars left tens of millions dead. Instead, we chose to believe a self-serving lie that the USSR was bent on global domination. This denial about the true nature of the Soviet Union and communism in general would cost us deeply in Vietnam, where we mistook a nationalist movement for a communist one.

Even as the Soviet Union was fading in power - by some accounts its economy was shrinking by the mid 60s - we denied its actual decline. In the 70s the CIA was estimating that the USSR was in economic decline, as was its military. But the Neocons were in full denial of those facts because it didn't fit their narrative or political needs.

Instead they created their own intelligence network, culminating in the creation of "Team B," which declared that precisely because it could not be shown that the USSR was creating new weapons that proved they were! We were just too inept or weak to prove it. Those denials led to the Carter and Reagan military buildup (and concomitant budget deficits) of the 1980s, and the foolish surprise expressed by policy makers and pundits when the USSR finally flew apart in 1991.

Denial in the George W. Bush era

In the George W. Bush era Republican denial reached even new heights. Perhaps the best statement of this mindset was the statement made by a Bush aide to reporter Ron Suskind in 2004:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'' 
Richard Wirthlin, pollster and strategist for the Reagan campaign in 1980, had written something very similar in a memo, declaring,
"People act on the basis of their perception of reality; there is, in fact, no political reality beyond what is perceived by the voters."
The Bush administration only pushed this very idea to an extreme, believing they could advocate any vision of reality they wanted,  and deny any reality that conflicted with their version, regardless of actual facts. This denial led to any number of disasters, such as the prediction that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, or that we would be greeted as liberators in  Baghdad, or that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the US. Denial of the unsustainability of forever rising housing prices helped lead to a real estate crash, and denial that financial markets needed regulation ironically led some its adherents to be deregulated out of existence, and the biggest economic setback since the Great Depression. Authors argued that Republicans were waging a"war on science."

Denial and impairment of thinking

In their book authors Milburn and Conrad show how the use of denial leads to an impairment of thinking:, linking it to a "psychic numbing," or, constricted emotion:
"...when individuals deny the emotional component of an experience - for example, the fear, pain, and anger of childhood punishment - the meaning of the concept abuse is lost and the person has great difficult accepting or understanding information relating to such abuse."
In the most extreme of cases where a person cannot experience any emotion, "...then all concepts lose their meaning." Milburn and Conrad cite this type of denial as being a common condition
"...among individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, whether resulting from combat, childhood abuse, natural disaster, or some other very frightening event. Denial of emotions - denial that one has any emotional reactions at all - is one way to avoid being overwhelmed by terrible experiences."
People high in denial are especially susceptible to a corrupt news media that plays to their subliminal feelings in a way that both exploits and enhances their denial.  When television news is dramatized, fragmented, and personalized, report Milburn and Conrad,  it is essentially turned into "melodrama," " ...[requiring] figures of good and evil, the hero and the villain," a method that essentially "operates as a kind of thought suppressor."

Worse, in the melodrama that is US TV news, the emotions evoked are often "simplistic and false." As if describing Fox News, the authors write that "In television news myth is perpetuated by the careful selection of stories that fit within a culturally defined world view." In the case of Fox, that world view  is the one of Roger Ailes, who cut his teeth as a media guru for Richard Nixon.

Needless to say, as many polls have shown, Fox viewers are the highest in denial involving any number of important issues. A 2003 study by The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found Fox news viewers to be three times more likely than consumers of other traditional news to believe false versions of three important issues concerning the war on Iraq: Whether or not weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq (they were not); whether the US had "clear evidence" that Saddam Hussein had been "working closely with al Qaeda (we didn't); and whether there was international support for the US invasion of Iraq (there wasn't).

Implications of denial

What does it mean to a nation's discourse when one of the two political parties contains within it a sizable proportion of people who are high in denial, and when that denial is used to politically manipulate them?

In short - it gives certain politicians license to say virtually anything, as demonstrated by the hubris of the Bush aide who spoke with Suskind. Milburn and Conrad write that liberals may engage is some denial, but  it is usually the type that denies the aggression in others. Indeed, the ideas of the traditional liberal, based on the principles of the Enlightenment, posit a world where  "reason [is] advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority," NOT the activation of hidden negative emotions.

Recently in the press and on the Internet we've seen a lot of writers try to come to grips with something that's been called "confirmation bias," a  hypothesis that holds there "is a tendency for people to prefer information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses, independently of whether they are true." And there is evidence to suggest the functioning of confirmation bias, but, curiously, the notion that certain populations might experience more of it than others - depending upon psychological and other factors - is rarely discussed. Reason would suggest that people high in denial would be more prone to confirmation bias, since they would more easily discard competing versions of the truth merely by denying them. In this construction it would be conservatives and Republicans who would express more confirmation bias in our discourse.

Anecdotal evidence bears this out. Recent polls of so-called "Tea Party" people - really older, white, hardcore anti-government Republicans, confirms the notion that conservatives contain a sizable minority capable of, and in, deep denial. Something like 80 percent of them believe president Obama is a socialist, when in reality he is a corporatist - caving to the agendas of the war, drug insurance and financial industries.

They are known as an ant-tax movement, yet 52 percent believe their own tax burden is fair, and that taxes are at their lowest level since World War Two. People have been quoted at their rallies saying things like "Keep your government hands off my medicare," a statement in deep denial about the true nature of medicare and indeed the government itself. They are a movement that thinks they are populists, yet they are manipulated and funded by billionaire industrialists. Many of them watch Fox News, which aids and abets their denial with their sexed-up, melodramatic presentations that leaves false impressions.

This analysis of the role of denial in conservative politics and general discourse in the US should not be taken to mean that all conservatives are in denial, or that denial is the only reason for the polarized and false politics in this country. It does suggest, however, that denial, fed by the abuse of children and the exploitation of repressed feelings by unscrupulous politicians plays a role in the inability to have rational discourse. It also points to a possible new understanding of the notion of "confirmation bias" discussed by various pundits and commentators, given that denial may be more pronounced in conservative than in liberal discourse and politics.

UPDATE: Here's a good interview with Michael Milburn, one of the authors of The Politics of Denial, where he talks about the American soldiers who tortured prisoners at Abu Graib.

Race To The Top fraud

See my Race to The Top fraud at Cucking Stool.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I am Minnesota Public Radio

Today the Star Tribune reports that Stephen Hemsley, the CEO of UnitedHealth received $102 million in compensation in 2009. Earlier Huffington Post reported that he also holds $744 million in unexercised stock options.What kind of guy is Hemsley? Well, earlier he got caught backdating stock options that bilked stockholders, and had to return $190  million in options. He previously was Chief Financial Officer at Arthur Andersen, the firm that covered for Enron while it made off with grandma's retirement funds.

His bio at Wikipedia describes him as "a trustee of the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, and as a trustee of Minnesota Public Radio."

Doesn't that say it all about Minnesota institutions? St Thomas is the  Ann Coulter loving university in St Paul, and MPR is the Allina-protecting Pravda on the Mississippi, so it really is in keeping with the character of those two institutions to have a professional skimmer like Hemsley at the top of their organizations. Far from being atypical, Hemsley is representative of the kind of flexian plutocrats who run Minnesota's premier media, educational and social institutions.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Turning it up to 11

The Drudge Report, April 10, 2010:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Creating little authoritarians

The literature and research of psychology well describes how child physical and sexual abuse leads to the formation of authoritarian personalities, and later to conservative political affiliations. Children abused by the adults who are supposed to love and support them learn to deny their feelings of shame, helplessness and anger. Those displaced feelings can be activated later in life, possibly to be resolved by displacing them inter-personally or onto accepted "out" groups.

In their 1996 book The Politics of Denial, authors Michael Milburn and Sheree Conrad credit Theodore Odorno and later researchers as having "established the relationship between harsh, punitive child rearing and an authoritarian personality in adulthood."

The researchers showed how "...discipline [ in the family of the authoritarians] was experienced as threatening or traumatic or even overwhelming," and how those experiences often lead to conservative political orientations later in life, noting that "...the majority of authoritarians fall on the conservative end of the political spectrum."

In the US, large numbers of children are being abused. Nearly 3 million cases of abuse and neglect were reported to the Department of Health and Human Services in 1993, and a survey of parents showed that 84 percent reported "regularly using less severe types of physical punishment on children."

Certainly there are more cases of abuse than the 3 million reported cases. Stories like this one, Papal ally accused of 'ritual beatings': German bishop accused of hitting child with carpet beater at church-run home, have become commonplace. The accused Bishop, it turns out, is part of a "hardline conservative group of German Catholic Church leaders, to which the Pope belonged before his appointment to the Vatican."

Other children's organizations have also recently been accused of systematic child abuse, including the Boy Scouts, which has targeted gays over recent years, and public schools, where corporal punishment is still allowed in several states.

In the Catholic church, in particular, with the worldwide sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic officials, and the accounts of physical abuse by those even close to the Pope himself, the abuse of children seems to be as much about controlling the abused and accustoming them to authoritarianism as it is about sexually-repressed Christian leaders.

So in reality the "poisonous pedagogy" of spanking children and breaking their wills, and the authoritarian and harsh socialization techniques of some of our society's core institutions lead to a pent-up collective shame, helplessness and rage waiting to be tapped by unscrupulous politicians. These politicians - and others - give license to direct the suppressed feelings onto some other - communists, liberals, blacks, gays, etc. The now-adults get to experience the feelings in a socially accepted way.

But is that the way we should elect the people who actually govern us? Shouldn't political discussions be about policy and direction of the country - not the activating of hidden feelings? It is a distinction with a difference.

And lest you think that I am exaggerating the connection between right wing politics and child abuse, consider the child-rearing advice of James Dobson, the man who had the ear of the White House during the Bush administration, and who has sold millions of books on the subject, and who until very recently had a huge radio and newsletter audience.

He believes that children - as young as three years old - should be spanked for allegedly defying the wills of their parents. The sadistic Dobson writes children should only be allowed to cry for a short time after being assaulted - two or three minutes. If the child won't quit crying, then he "would offer them a little more of whatever caused the original tears."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hopelessness, shame, rage, and denial

When people see this footage of US helicopter pilots and fighters gun down these unarmed civilians in Iraq, two questions sometimes arise: 1) Is this kind of behavior typical? and 2) How can these soldiers be so bloodthirsty?

Only by answering how our soldiers can be so cruel can we discover whether this kind of killing of innocents is prevalent in US war making. So - how do our soldiers end up acting like those in the leaked video?

I believe the answer is twofold: 1) Probably alot of these soldiers are self-selected violence prone people; and perhaps more importantly: 2) One of the main points of basic training for the military is to "break down" the personality of the recruits in order to acclimate them to killing and being a good cog in an authoritarian system.

This breaking of the will of recruits is designed to make them feel helplessness, shame and rage - feelings they must deny in order to be a solider - feelings that are later activated to discount the lives of people they will later kill. In "battle" these soldiers act out these feelings on the designed "other." Because the supposed "other" is ill-defined in modern warfare lines of conduct are blurred and easily breached. My guess is that this video is far from an aberration and closer to typical US behavior.

This also explains why veterans often turn out to be so violent when they return to civilian society, and why people from the military are prone to right wing Republican politics. After all, it is the conservatives who run campaigns based on stigmatizing "others" - whoever is convenient at the time, i.e. communists, blacks, hippies, liberals, gays, etc. - then displacing the repressed feelings of emotionally hurt individuals onto the specified "other" and symbolically destroying it. It is no coincidence that the military uses almost the exact same psychological maneuvering.

Monday, April 5, 2010

More Charter school fail

As Atrios says, "Nobody could have predicted":
One Philadelphia charter-school operator runs a private parking lot on the side. Another rents out apartments and collects the rent at his school. Yet another rents property to herself, signing her lease as both tenant and landlord.
These are some of the findings in a draft of a city controller's report on 13 Philadelphia charter schools obtained by The Inquirer that cites excessive salaries, compliant boards whose members are handpicked by school chiefs, inflated rents, and rampant conflicts of interest.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Whatever Happened to Hope: Why Barack Obama Cannot Become a Transformational President

In this recent talk at Vanderbilt University author Rick Perlstein (Before The Storm, Nixonland) points out that in today's polity, the Right is "operating in a post-shame world."

He says liberals have difficulty in dealing with an opposition that "operates from bad faith." And that Obama's consensus politics have little meaning if he never pivots to say certain views and people are beyond that consensus, thus marginalizing them. He argues the president has done nothing to move the political center of gravity away from the far right that now dominates our politics and discourse.

Regarding the Netroots, including the 600,000 people registered at Daily Kos, Perlstein describes it as a new social movement, one which the Obama administration has foolishly "affirmatively ruled out" as a partner in what it is trying to do. The fact that new social movements, Perlstein argues, are where real change comes from, puts the lie to Obama's claim to be an agent of change.

Punishing the victims

While Barack Obama blithely goes about blaming teachers for the children who do poorly in their schools - all the while cheering the destruction of those same schools, Diane Ravitch goes about her lonely duty of debunking the Washington consensus on education. In the words of a blogger whom she quotes, citing poverty as a key reason for poor educational performance:
"We can't fire poverty." Since we can't fire poverty, we can't fire students, and we can't fire families, all that is left is to fire teachers.
Indeed. Ravitch concludes:
It would be good if our nation's education leaders recognized that teachers are not solely responsible for student test scores. Other influences matter, including the students' effort, the family's encouragement, the effects of popular culture, and the influence of poverty...
This strategy of closing schools and firing the teachers is mean and punitive. And it is ultimately pointless. It solves no problem. It opens up a host of new problems. It satisfies the urge to purge. But it does nothing at all for the students.
Of course the morons who control our discourse - including the self-satisfied assholes at Morning Joe, will have none of this.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Truthiness in broadcasting

Today on the "liberal" MSNBC show Morning Joe viewers were treated to propogandization on a level that is too often the case on nearly all US media. The subject was "school reform" and featured guest after guest, subject after subject - six men including Al Sharpton and Mike Barnicle (!) on the glories of charter schools and the responsibility of teachers for much that ails American primary and secondary education.

The show cherry-picked the schools it chose to highlight - the ones I saw were all successful - when in reality a charter school is twice as likely to be failing than a regular public school. The schools seemed chosen specifically because they were not typical - they are the select high-flying set - somehow meant to be an example to all the other failures.

In her new book Diane Ravitch showed how when you boil down the few success stories that exist there can be no formula derived. She points out how some of the success stories pointed to, specifically in New York, are atypical even in the demographics of the city, coming from affluent White and Asian neighborhoods, whereas the majority of the city's neighborhoods are poor, Black and Hispanic.

The level of mendacity on the show was breathtaking, even given the low standards of cable TV. Perhaps the biggest lie was NY Mayor Bloomberg's assertion that, contrary to logic, studies, and the views of real education scholars the problem of poor schools cause poverty, and not the other way around. In this regard we are to take the word of Sharpton, a Black leader who Joe Conason said rents himself out to "GOP tricksters", and a billionaire mayor, as opposed to peer-reviewed research, 20 years of charter schools and privatization, and the views of real education scholars.

Someone on the Joe panel emphasized the false point that the future of our country's job market was dependent on all schools succeeding. But education is not the ticket to the middle class that it once was. In fact, as Paul Krugman put it, "Being highly educated won't make you into a winner in today's U.S. economy. At best, it makes you somewhat less of a loser." Fortune magazine reported that between 2000 and 2004 "real annual earnings of college graduates actually declined."

In other words, the problems so obviously go much deeper than public school teachers, who are nothing but a convenient target. The same forces that are bringing down our economy are bringing down our schools. Impoverishing foreign trade, loss of jobs, the housing meltdown and the steep drop in our economy are hurting American families. In both cases deregulation and privatization in a way that retains the spending and authority of government but transfers the power to private entities is having disastrous results.

Implicit in the Morning Joe argument is a utopian idea that all schools - and their students - can be exceptional. That's a nice romantic notion, and I too wish everybody could be exceptional. But in this world, as the existentialists would say, that is not possible. Existence before essence. With their destructive lies, the school choicers have taken a different path: In pursuit of an unattainable essence, they rejoice in the removal from existence of those merely trying to exist. To get a flavor of this, just look at the reaction to the recent announcement of the closing down of a so-called "poorly performing" school in Rhode Island.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Exposing the Obama education disaster

Today the failed experiment that is charter schools represent about three percent of all national primary and secondary schools. President Obama's plan for improving public education is to double the number of charter schools - to six percent of all schools. How in the world creating MORE failed charter schools - all the while maniacally focusing on teachers as the sole cause of the supposed failing of public education - will improve education is not discussed, as if the non-existent market for schools is some kind of magic bullet. And what will become of the 94 percent of schools that are not charters?

Now one of the prime ideologists of the destructive No Child Left Behind act, and a chief right wing proponent of school choice, charters and school vouchers has done a 180 degree turnaround, denouncing NCLB as a blueprint to destroy public education, and school choice as a failed theory originated by White southerners after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed racial segregation in public schools. It is a stunning turnaround for Diane Ravitch, who besides being a (former, now) right wing operative is also a noted historian of public education. Click the image at right to watch an interview with Ravitch from C-Span's Booknotes.

Her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, is about as powerful and complete a repudiation of American education policy over the past 20 years as one could find. She is especially harsh on President Obama and his wretched Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Ravitch says she met with Duncan to share her concerns with Obama's education policy of blaming teachers for students' failures and his pressing for more failed charter schools.

Using her decades of research experience, Ravitch pointed out to Duncan the error of his and Obama's views on education, and how they would achieve the exact opposite of the purported goals. She described the obvious fallacies of the economists and statisticians whose views rule education policy.

Noticeably she placed poverty at the apex of reasons for failing students, and recommended a government policy of dismantling the NCLB testing regimen and charter schools, instead using the money for poverty reduction, which would have a much stronger effect on creating better students than punishing those who are trying to help. According to Ravitch, Duncan listened politely but paid her no mind.

Given Ravitch's importance to the right wing school "reform" movement, and her shocking and brave turnaround, you'd think her ideas and research might have an impact on our discourse, but you'd be wrong.

The Right is already going about rewriting its own history. John Stossel, for example, has already dispatched Ravitch by reporting on her turnaround, then fishing around the regular channels for comments suggesting "Diane Ravitch was never really a reformer." Really? You wouldn't know that from her writings, nor her professional affiliations, both political and within the conservative movement.

Recently in a disgusting display of ignorance and ill will on CNN Wolf Blitzer teamed up with Arne Duncan and "Bookie of Virtue" Bill Bennett to spend a half hour telling lies about public school teachers and charter schools. Duncan is touring the country with Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton - those noted education experts - touting Obama's sadistic education policy.

Here in Minnesota we are regularly treated to anti-public school teacher and pro-charter school nonsense in the Star Tribune. Buffoons like Don Samuels advocate the exact policies which Ravitch so efficiently debunks, but thanks to the censorship of the newspaper readers will likely never know they have been duped. At any rate, here's three cheers to the courageous Diane Ravitch.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Deregulated out of existence

The Securities and Exchange Commission is the government's lead regulator of Wall Street and the formerly high-flying banks like Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, etc.

But history will show that the SEC, far from doing its job as a regulator, may have actually abetted the criminality that has led to $10 trillion in losses. As but one example, during the Bush years SEC enforcement actions fell 90 percent. One SEC investigator, in fact, was fired after merely asking to interview a Wall Street bigwig!

Hamstringing government, especially regulation of business is one of the central themes of Republican ideology. Whatever issues they might campaign on, when Republicans gain power deregulation is always attended to. The Neocons actually convinced gullible press and politicians that business would voluntarily regulate itself, a near-religious belief that one of its chief proponents, Alan Greenspan, has admitted was a gross failure of his economic worldview.

Republicans either gut regulations, or simply don't enforce them. In this regard the failure of the SEC, far from being seen as a disaster, is actually a successful application of a Republican ideology which doesn't believe in the legitimacy of government.

Today comes news that the SEC was in fact warned of Lehman Brothers illegal book keeping months before the behemoth bank collapsed, triggering the housing, stock market and financial collapse. Like in the case of Bernie Madoff, it seems absolutely nothing could get the attention of the SEC.

The fact that in real life the ideology and policy of deregulation led to social and economic disaster seems not to have led to a reconsideration by political or media leaders that corrective regulation is needed, and lots of it.

New controls won't happen for two reasons: 1) As Dick Durbin said, despite being bailed out by the taxpayers, the banks still own Washington, and 2) The Right has an institutional apparatus in the form of think tanks and advocacy groups working year round demonizing regulation and telling lies about its supposed negative effects.

Ironically one tangible group of victims in this anti-regulation fraud are the formerly regulated banks, who through their own megalomania got themselves deregulated out of existence.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Economic prescription: Soak the rich

Given the country's ongoing economic meltdown, there isn't really much discussion in the traditional media about what could - or should - be done to turn around the decline in living standards.

As Joseph Stiglitz says in his book Freefall, the popping of the housing bubble might have just led to a regular recession if it was not accompanied by the collapse of the financial system as well. The consequences of the housing bubble and the collapse of the financial sector are further exacerbated by the economic inequality created by 40 years of Republican economics in which tax cuts for the rich were accompanied by government spending cuts which inordinately hurt the poor and people of color.

As the inequality expanded in the 1990s and 2000s, consumers, whose spending makes up about two-thirds of the domestic economy, turned to extracting capital out of their houses and plain old debt to finance the continuance of the American lifestyle, despite not having the incomes to continue.

To read the traditional press and watch the talking heads blather on the tv machine one would be led to believe there is no way out of this dilemma, and that Americans have no choice but to downgrade our civilization, making extreme cuts to the social safety net. But the reality is that there is another way: Soak the rich. As Stiglitz says:
For total American consumption to be restored on a sustainable basis, there would have to be a large redistribution of income, from those at the top who can afford to save, to those below who spend every penny they can get. More progressive taxation would not only do that but also help stabilize the economy.
If the government raises taxes on upper-income Americans to finance an expansion of government spending, especially on investment, the economy will expand - this is called a "balanced budget multiplier."
Supply-side economists, popular in the Reagan days, argued that such taxes will discourage work and savings and thus lower GDP. But their analysis (if correct at all) applies only to situations where production is limited by supply; now there is excess capacity and production is limited by demand.
But with the dominance of "conservative" voices in the media, this macro economic solution is not on the table, to say the least. But it should be.

Friday, March 12, 2010

An "endless cycle of poverty and failure"

A few days ago Don Samuels and the Star Tribune asserted that the "endless cycle of poverty and failure" in north Minneapolis schools are somehow the fault of teachers' unions. Their arguments were ludicrous at best, and libelous at worst. Samuels accused the teachers of being "cynical and morally bankrupt."

Putting aside Samuels' assessment of why there is a "cycle of poverty and failure" in north Minneapolis schools, let's assume he is right that there is, in fact, a pattern of students failing there. What, then, might be the real reason for that failure? In a healthy discourse we could rely on media to help suss out the answer to that question.

Certainly lack of funding, and the socio-economic-status of the students and parents play a part. There is also fresh evidence that people of color receive unequal, harsher "justice" than Whites. But for traditional media like the Star Tribune, such questions are never asked. Softened up by conservative philanthropy supported propagandists, the teachers are just too easy a target.

That doesn't mean that the answers don't exist. At least part of the answer has been the war on minorities waged by Republicans. Tax and government spending policies, both at the national and state level over the past 30 years have inordinately hurt people of color.

Here in Minnesota you'll never hear racist comments coming from the mouth of Governor Pawlenty: He's too smart for that. Moderate voters just will not put up with overt racism. But the impact of his budgets, policies, and spending cuts have unquestionably hurt minorities and the poor more than White and the middle and upper classes.

Writing in the Spokeman-Reporter, a Black newspaper in the Twin Cities, Charles Hallman asserts that "Pawlenty budgets exhibit racial bias" :
The budget cuts “continue to operate in ways that continue [racial disparities]… They protect the status quo,” says Starstep Foundation President Alfred Babbington-Johnson.
Combined with the unallotment powers he used last year to slash health care and state aid to cities among other things, Pawlenty’s proposals have harmed Blacks, other persons of color, and low-income families the most, says the Minneapolis-based Organizing Apprenticeship Project (OAP) in a recent analysis of the governor’s budget cuts, including his initial decision to eliminate on April 1 the General Assistance Medical Care (GMAC) program. Almost 40 percent of over 70,000 Minnesotans served by GAMC are Blacks and Native Americans.
According to the OAP, 69 percent of clinic visits covered by GAMC at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in 2009 were by people of color, compared to just 30 percent for White patients. “I know a lot of people who receive GMAC,” says Libby Osborne of Minneapolis.
...the governor also proposed a 27-percent cut in the state renters’ credit program. Under that proposal, approximately 274,000 renters will face a reduction, and 18,200 renters actually will lose their credit, the OAP estimates. This would disproportionately affect elderly renters, low income renters and the renters of color who make up 20 percent of all state renters.
The OAP’s analysis also included $300 million in state aid to local governments that Pawlenty either unalloted or cut. “We found that the counties with the highest [number of] people of color, with the highest unemployment, with the highest poverty, are the ones being hit the most by unallotment,” says OAP Lead Policy Analyst Jermaine Toney.
One of the benefits of the civil rights movement of the 1960s is that it is no longer acceptable to be openly racist. Modern racists instead use code words, and, when in power, target for cuts programs which serve minorities and the poor, such as legal aide and medical assistance. Governor Pawlently no doubt hopes his adherence to this script will endear him to the lily White Republican base. And he may be right.

At any rate, an analysis of government policy helps put the lie to the notion that somehow teachers, the people in the trenches trying to help people of color and the poor, should somehow be responsible for their plight.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Charter school chart no one will see

Last year Stanford University did a comprehensive study of Charter school performance in 16 states. The chart below shows that many more students perform academically worse in Charter schools than perform better. Bob Peterson, from Rethinking Schools, told Democracy Now! that
"on page thirty-two of their report, they reported that black and Hispanic students scored significantly lower in charter schools, significantly lower than their counterparts in public schools. That's just in math and reading."
I can pretty much guarantee that you'll never see this chart on the TV news shows, nor in any traditional media. Yet Arne Duncan and Don Samuels will continue to insist that we inflict more failing schools on our students.

The study showed that for every student who did better (in math, at least) at a Charter school, two did worse. What more proof is needed to show the Charter movement is a failed experiment?

UPDATE: In the wake of the Stanford study, even the right wing Diane Ravitch, a longtime supporter of so-called "school choice" has turned on the movement, writing that:
What we need is not a marketplace, but a coherent curriculum that prepares all students. And our government should commit to providing a good school in every neighborhood in the nation, just as we strive to provide a good fire company in every community.
On our present course, we are disrupting communities, dumbing down our schools, giving students false reports of their progress, and creating a private sector that will undermine public education without improving it. Most significantly, we are not producing a generation of students who are more knowledgable, and better prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship. That is why I changed my mind about the current direction of school reform.
What's next, Mitch Pearlstein admitting that school choice is a failed experiment? Don't hold your breath.

America the Tortureful

There are still many people who deny that George W. Bush and his administration lied the country into preventive war on Iraq, despite the obvious and overwhelming evidence. They also believe other lies Bush told the country, including the horrific lie that the U.S. didn't torture anyone. When you read the documents obtained by Salon reporter Mark Benjamin, however, you realize what a charade Bush's claims were, and what a horrible nation we have become:

That particular Bradbury memo laid out a precise and disturbing protocol for what went on in each waterboarding session. The CIA used a "specially designed" gurney for waterboarding, Bradbury wrote. After immobilizing a prisoner by strapping him down, interrogators then tilted the gurney to a 10-15 degree downward angle, with the detainee's head at the lower end. They put a black cloth over his face and poured water, or saline, from a height of 6 to 18 inches, documents show. The slant of the gurney helped drive the water more directly into the prisoner's nose and mouth. But the gurney could also be tilted upright quickly, in the event the prisoner stopped breathing.

Detainees would be strapped to the gurney for a two-hour "session." During that session, the continuous flow of water onto a detainee's face was not supposed to exceed 40 seconds during each pour. Interrogators could perform six separate 40-second pours during each session, for a total of four minutes of pouring. Detainees could be subjected to two of those two-hour sessions during a 24-hour period, which adds up to eight minutes of pouring. But the CIA's guidelines say interrogators could pour water over the nose and mouth of a detainee for 12 minutes total during each 24-hour period. The documents do not explain the extra four minutes to get to 12.

Interrogators were instructed to pour the water when a detainee had just exhaled so that he would inhale during the pour. An interrogator was also allowed to force the water down a detainee's mouth and nose using his hands. "The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee's nose and mouth to dam the runoff," the Bradbury memo notes. "In which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water."

What is worse, the war crimes committed in our names, or the fact that no one has ever been held to account for them? From the Revolutionary War to World War II the United States had a reputation as a country that wasn't willing to engage in the kind of barbarity that Benjamin describes. George W. Bush has destroyed more than 200 years of built-up goodwill for the U.S. Now forevermore the world will regard Americans as unrepentant war criminals. Just another gift from the Necons and Republicans.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Star Tribune's dishonest campaign against public school teachers

Today the Star Tribune has three different op-eds lamenting the influence of teachers' unions and advocating for more Charter Schools. Of the three, the worst, and longest, is one by Minneapolis Councilman Don Samuels, along with Chanda Baker and Sondra Samuels.

The trio blames public school teachers for Minnesota'sArne Duncan, Al Sharpton and Newt Gringrich, campaigning for Race to the top failure to attract federal money from President Obama and his Education Secretary's "Race to the top" program. Samuels, shockingly compare modern-day school teachers to the racist George Wallace, who personally stood in a doorway of a school that was ordered desegregated in Alabama:
[the teachers' union] stands defiantly in the school entrance, horn in hand, blocking any innovation that would lift black children from north Minneapolis out of the endless cycle of poverty and failure...
Ignoring the obvious comparison of school teachers to a southern bigot, what is the evidence that the teachers' union is responsible for the "cycle of poverty and failure" in north Minneapolis? According to the authors, the great crime of the union is that it doesn't want to acquiesce to so-called "performance pay" or "alternative teacher certification." An honest discourse would admit that these arguments are ludicrous, for any number of reasons. How does putting less qualified teachers in the classroom help achievement?
Oddly, the national discussion over why students are testing poorly has been ridiculously crude, if not outright dumb. Both politicians and the media have focused the blame exclusively on teachers. No attention is given to the fact that so-called failing schools have been bled dry of funding. It is impossible for a teacher to succeed when there is not enough money to buy books for all the students or when classes are overcrowded, especially in schools that have students with special needs.
Poverty, and the countless social ills born from it, are the obvious reasons why students perform poorly (high income schools are never labeled as “failures”). By ignoring this glaring fact, politicians reveal themselves to have ulterior motives...
On this issue President Obama is sadistically and shamefully wrong - punishing poorly performing schools, while rewarding those that are doing well. What is the point of such a policy except to further exacerbate the problems of people who are "mired in poverty and failure" ?? The goal of Obama's policy is to create more Charter schools, which is really insane if increases in academic achievement are desired.

Here in Minnesota we just learned that Charter schools are 17 times more likely to be failing than regular public schools, and their academic performance is "significantly below" that of regular public schools. In fact, according to the University of Minnesota Law School, Charter schools are making the plight of minorities worse:
“Rather than being a solution to the educational problems faced by low-income students and students of color, charter schools are deepening these problems.”
So what Samuels, et. al. are saying is really garbage. If we were to take their advice we would essentially be making their schools worse.

Samuels also claims that under-certified teachers like those from Teach For America perform as well as regularly certified teachers. That is pure bullshit (2):
Results indicate 1) that students of TFA teachers did not perform significantly different from students of other under-certified teachers, and 2) that students of certified teachers out-performed students of teachers who were under-certified. This was true on all three subtests of the SAT reading, mathematics and language arts.
Of course, the union bashers don't lack for their own "facts" to countermand the real evidence delivered by peer-reviewed social science research. One need only look at the Neocon funded National Bureau for Economic Research to find "evidence" that somehow teachers who are poorly trained outperform those who have studied and practiced for years. Like just about any issue the Neocons push, the truth doesn't really matter. If the facts don't match their positions then they make up their own, then emit them through what David Brock calls "The Republican Noise Machine," of which the Star Tribune is apparently now a member.

Probably the worst part of Samuels' commentary is his degenerate personal attack on the teachers' union head and its members, calling them "cynical, morally bankrupt" focusing "more on protecting the adult members of teacher unions than protecting the interests of the state's most vulnerable children." Samuels libels the union by claiming it has a commitment "to thwarting real reform [blocking] every bridge that spans the racial and socioeconomic performance gap." That's the kind of emotional garbage you get in an argument when the person making claims does not have the facts on his side. And it's what you find more and more on the Star Trib commentary pages.

BTW - I submitted this as a letter about Charters last week, but of course it wasn't published.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The end of the Neocons?

Wishful thinking, I'm afraid:

Charter school fail

Yesterday the Star Tribune reported that the bottom performing five percent of Minnesota primary and secondary public schools will be subject to draconian punishment, including the possible closing or restructuring of 34 schools. Of those schools, half are Charter schools.

Minnesota has 2,637 public schools. Of those, according to the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, about 152 are Charters. Doing the math, that means that 17 of 152 Charters are failing, versus 17 of 2,485 regular public schools are judged failing. That amounts to about 11 percent of Charters failing versus a little more than one-half of one percent of regular schools failing - meaning Charters in Minnesota are about 17 times more likely to fail than regular public schools.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed the educational attainment levels of Charters versus regular public schools. A study from Stanford University last year found that Minnesota Charter schools perform "significantly below" the level of regular public schools.

So what will be done with these failing Charters? What is the point of "restructuring" a Charter school, when it was a failed experiment to begin with?

As I've said repeatedly, Charter schools are an experiment that has failed miserably. It is now a political movement, not an educational one, and it is the children of Minnesota who are now the continuing victims of a scam based on creating a "market" for schools where none existed, and where none can truly exist.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Demonizing with lies

Over at Rowdy Crowd Brian Lambert crafted a post about two Strib op-eds that touched on the issue of journalists judging the veracity of competing arguments (i.e. calling bullshit). He was partially lamenting the reticence of reporters to call obvious lies lies. In the long discussion that followed I pointed out that when one side (Republicans) takes license to lie as a core belief in their value system (justified by the theories of Leo Strauss) it short-circuits discourse. As an example of this lying I pointed out the lies that the Bush administration told to take the nation to war on Iraq. In response, Mike Kennedy asserted that
The Iraq War will continue to be debated. I’m not convinced Iraq should have been the priority.

However, anyone can throw out charges using words like lies and demonizing. It is a form of demonizing in and of itself. The country has serious problems that are not addressed when we resort to name calling.

Thus Kennedy made my point: In "civil discourse" it is apparently not acceptable to point out systemic lying, making actual discourse impossible. I replied
By being the party of grand old liars the Republicans make it difficult, if not impossible to have a conversation. Calling someone a liar immediately makes the person making such an argument open to ridicule as being in-civil at best, and duplicitous at worse. So – if one side does lie, mis-characterize and draw unwarranted conclusions as a matter of practice, it becomes difficult, if not impossible to have a real discourse. This is the box the Straussians and neo-cons have put us in.
Citizens who thus miss the way Republicans lie through their teeth all the time are destined to never understand the corrupt cacophony that is American discourse. Those people may not be convinced of the historical certainty of Bush lying the country into war.

Then today I came across this MSNBC post from 2008 on a study by the Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism into the rhetoric employed by the Bush administration in the run up to the war on Iraq. The researchers found that the Bush administration made 935 false statements on Iraq alone in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks. I'm sure Mike Kennedy will find some way to discount the study, which is according to script. Telling lies, big and small, and denying traditional ways of knowing things (i.e. the scientific method) is what conservatives do these days.