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New Yorkers have hated the Dolan family and Cablevision for a long time because of years of lousy hockey and basketball at the Dolan-owned and managed Madison Square Garden. Suddenly the Knicks are much better and there is hope amongst fans that the team will go deep into the National Basketball play-offs riding the coattails of MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony.

http://en.wikipedia.org/...

The team may be better, but the Dolans certainly aren’t, and the players, especially Brooklyn-born Anthony, need to tell the team owners to stop abusing workers at Dolan-owned Cablevision. Anthony and his teammates are all members of the National Basketball Players Association. The Dolans apparently have no choice but to deal with their union, but they treat other unionized workers with contempt.

http://www.nbpa.org/

Cablevision has tried to block unionization of its workforce and has been unwilling to negotiate a contract with the union. Recently, a group of Cablevision employees at the Canarsie depot in Brooklyn were fired because they tried to speak with a company Vice-President about union matters. They went to the V-P’s office before starting their shifts but were left waiting outside for over forty minutes. At that point the V-P came out and fired them for not being at work.

http://www.nytimes.com/...

This group of workers, like the players in the NBA, are overwhelmingly African American. Carmelo and his teammates need to stand up for worker rights. They need to tell the Dolans, if you want us to play for you, you need to treat our “homies” with respect.

Discuss

The political right could not buy the Presidential election, but maybe they can still try to buy the next generation.

On November 12, 2012, Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist from Princeton and op-ed columnist for The New York Times, sharply criticized “deficit scolds” who have been trying to shape the debate in the United States over federal economic policy by threatening that the country will fall over a “fiscal cliff” unless Congress and the President agree to severely cut social service programs.

According to Krugman, “At a time of mass unemployment and record-low borrowing costs, a time when economic theory said we needed more, not less, deficit spending, the scolds convinced most of our political class that deficits rather than jobs should be our top economic priority. And now that the election is over, they’re trying to pick up where they left off.”

Krugman accused the “deficit scolds” of economically being “wrong about everything.” He believes they are not really interested in fiscal responsibility and warns that they are actually promoting a right-wing political agenda that wants to decimate the social safety net in the United States, especially Medicare and Medicaid.

Krugman identified the lead player in this pseudo-economic political campaign as David Walker, former C.E.O. of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Krugman called Walker the “most visible deficit scold in America” and labeled the Peterson Foundation the major funding source for the right-wing campaign.

I was not surprised to discover that David Walker and the Peterson Foundation were behind a new, widely distributed, high school economics curriculum, that purports to be non-partisan, but in its vocabulary and the material in presents to students tries legitimize the views of Krugman’s “deficit scolds.”

A cover letter introducing the curriculum is signed by Susan Fuhrman, President of Teachers College, Columbia University. Fuhrman describes the economics curriculum as “research-based” and “inquiry driven,” designed to connect students “to the complex policy choices that confront the United States and its citizens” and “mold” them into future citizens who can make “informed choices and decisions based on a more sophisticated understanding of long-term costs and consequences for society.”

Curiously, this “research-based” curriculum” did not list Krugman or Columbia’s Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz on its “Understanding Fiscal Responsibility Team” or its Advisory Board. In fact, the only professional economist I could identify on either the “team” or “advisory board,” Henry Levin, is actually a Professor of Education whose area of interest is the privatization of education, not the federal budget. I was also uncomfortable with Fuhrman’s idea of molding students, something I find incompatible with the idea of engaging them in inquiry.

Evidently, Walker and the Peterson Foundation decided that in order to shape the political debate in the future they have to win over high school students who will soon begin voting. They gave a three-year, $2.45 million grant to Teachers College at Columbia University to develop a high school economics curriculum that they call “Understanding Fiscal Responsibility.” It is supposed to be a non-partisan curriculum that “teaches students to think past the political rhetoric they hear about the economic challenges we face as a nation and learn to think for themselves.”

To promote the plan, free copies of selections from the curriculum package have been distributed to 18,000 high school principals, 6,000 school superintendents, and 10,000 social studies teachers to promote the plan. The goal of the project is to eventually involve 40,000 high schools across the country. Meanwhile, the full curriculum with supporting material is available online.

According to a release from Teachers College the "Understanding Fiscal Responsibility" curriculum consists of twenty-four lesson plans covering information about taxation, debt, and deficit. The vocabulary of the sample lessons suggests that students will be introduced to the technical language needed to understand the present debate. The reality is that the political right is using the lessons to shape the terms of the debate itself.

Over and over again the lessons focus on costs and trade-offs, but do not involve students in a discussion of the responsibility of government to meet the needs of people or the purpose of government and society. The forward to the curriculum says it will “help students cut through the partisan obfuscation of both sides” and understand the “accounting identity” that there is “no free lunch.” But by suggesting that the poor, Occupy Wall Street, and liberals want free lunch, the curriculum is identifying, not with accounting principals, but with right-wing rhetoric.

Sample lessons show how social security, Medicare, and foreign aid contribute to the national debt, but not how tax policy and Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy or military expenditures are responsible. Lesson 1 claims to explore “What costs and trade-offs are we willing to accept to ensure the benefits of income security to Social Security recipients?”, but among the options students are asked to consider is whether social security is a “Ponzi scheme.” Setting up the debate this way is akin to requiring students consider creationism in a discussion of biological evolution.

In none of the sample lessons did I see a “guns versus butter” discussion or a reference to the quote by former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. that “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society."  

And "socialist alternatives" such universal free health care and higher education as offered in many European countries, of course, are not options even worth considering.

Discuss

The headlines in the local New York newspapers made it sound like they were reporting on a boxing match or a football championship game. The New York Times claimed Rivals Bring Bare Fists to Rematch and For the President, Punch, Punch, Another Punch. The front page of the Daily News told how Bam Boom Obama Lands Punches in Fierce Round 2 Comeback. Inside, we learned Recharged Obama, Mitt Romney tangle in contentious duel at Hofstra. The New York Post, which barely qualifies as a newspaper, told readers how Mitt, Bam go blow to blow.

http://www.nytimes.com/...

http://www.nytimes.com/...

http://www.nydailynews.com/...

http://www.nydailynews.com/...

http://www.nypost.com/...

But the second 2012 Presidential Debate at Hofstra University should have been about more than political theater. After all the United States will be electing the most who is supposed to lead the nation and the world out of its current economic doldrums and will head the most powerful military force in the history of the globe.

But politics in the United States seems to be increasingly a spectator sport. While the television numbers were strong, off campus the crowds were light. Police and private security lingered with little to do. Most students stayed home and those that attended on campus events were largely intent on grabbing the “swag” provided by candidates and media outlets to add to the festive nature of the happening.

On Hempstead Turnpike and at the free-speech stage in the School of Education parking lot there were only a few hundred protesters and they had no coherent message. Groups ranging from 10 to 20 people each were pro and anti-abortion, pro and anti-war, demanded student debt relief, support for people with HIV, and the legalization of marijuana. There was one creative giant puppet portraying Romney’s Bain Capital as a Incredible Hulk like monster. The Green Party candidate for President who was barred from the debate was arrested when she tried to crash the party at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Unfortunately it was  before the media was really set up to record the event.

The Gallup organization chose 82 uncommitted voters from the New York area to ask questions at the 2012 Hofstra Presidential Debate, although it is unclear how they found 82 uncommitted voters at this point in the campaign.

As a teacher and teacher educator, I have been trying to direct students to look less at the pageantry and the attitudes of the candidates and more at what they actually said, which frequently had little to do with the questions that were asked. I put together an activity sheet for classroom use. Here are the questions and partial answers by the candidates with some minimal editing for the sake of coherence. I always show Mitt Romney’s reply first although during the debate they took turns.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

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New York Times educational columnist Michael Winerip has documented what he calls an “Invisible Line Between ‘A’ and ‘F’” on New York City school report cards. In an article published at the end of April, Winerip compared two similar South Bronx schools, located “two blocks apart,” one which inexplicably, at least to the uniformed reader, received a grade of “A” and the other, equally inexplicably, which was graded “F.” According to city officials, the reason for the sharp disparity in grading despite nearly identical poor student scores on standardized examinations was that the “A” school had shown statistical “improvement” while the “F” school student performance on the tests had measured a slight decline. Winerip estimated that the difference between the “A” and “F” grades were the result of relatively small shifts in student scores, an average of two or three questions per student on one of the standardized tests. In addition, although progress reports are supposed to take into account the social and economic status of students attending the schools, “an analysis by The New York Times indicates that schools with the most middle-class students get the best grades. Schools with wealthier students are three times more likely to get an A than schools serving the poor, which are 14 times more likely to get a D or F.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/...

Despite the failure of the data-driven assessment of students and schools to meaningfully distinguish between functioning and non-functioning schools and their teachers, The New York Times recently endorsed a proposal by Education Secretary Arne Duncan that the states, in order to receive federal funds, “create rigorous teacher evaluation systems that not only judge teachers by how well their students perform but also – when the results are in – reward good teachers while easing chronic low performers out of the system.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/...

As proof that this type of evaluation system would actually work, the Times cited a study by a group called the “New Teacher Project,” which is supposed to be a “Brooklyn-based policy group.” The New Teacher Project, according to its website, is actually an advocacy group turned into profit making business promoting its product, untrained teachers. It was founded in 1997 by Michelle Rhee, with the goal of “preparing professionals without a traditional education background” or any training or long term commitment into the schools. Since then Rhee served temporarily and controversially as the chancellor of Washington DC schools. In 2010, she founded a group misnamed StudentsFirst, a political advocacy organization that is trying to break the teachers’ unions and end tenure.

Sources: http://tntp.org/
http://www.studentsfirst.org/...

The New Teacher Project website brags that under its current Chief Executive Officer, Ariela Rozman, “TNTP has nearly doubled in size and tripled in revenue” and “operates in more than two dozen cities and states, including most of the country's largest urban districts.” Rozman of course has no background in education on any level, something the Times editorial failed to comment on. She started at the New Teacher Project as Vice President of Marketing. Before that she led the Online Marketing group for PlanetRx.com.
Source: http://tntp.org/...

After rereading the Winerip article and the Times editorial I looked at the report cards for a group of New York City high schools I am familiar with to see what I could really learn about the quality of education and the quality of teaching in these schools from the report cards.

Manhattan’s Hunter Science High School is one on New York City’s best small public high schools. To be admitted, middle school students must submit a writing sample, have higher scores on the standardized tests, and grades of 80 or above in core subjects in middle school. Seniors take classes at Hunter College-CUNY and the school has far more applicants than seats. Ninety-two percent of its graduates go on to college and according to the City University of New York 58.9% of its graduates require no remediation, nearly three times better than the city average. The school has very few special needs students or students who are not literate in English, a fact that cost it on its school report card, where it earned a B rather than an A.

Sources; http://insideschools.org/...
http://schools.nyc.gov/...

In Queens, Benjamin Cardozo High School, one of the last remaining large schools with over 4,000 students and a highly desirable school also only got a grade of B. This is despite the fact that it has a college enrollment rate of 71.6%, over twenty points higher than the city average and a CUNY college readiness index of 56%, again almost three times the city average. Cardozo, which is overcrowded because it is so popular with Queens families, is operating at 140% capacity. However, its popularity is hurting its grade. It only received a grade of C on “school environment” and a grade of C on “student progress” because although its performance far exceeded citywide averages, it was deemed to trail “peer schools.”

Sources: http://schools.nyc.gov/...
http://insideschools.org/...

Brooklyn’s Midwood High School has similar strengths and problems as Cardozo and as a result only earned a grade of C. My step-daughters both attended its Med-Sci program. Midwood, with a student population of over 3,800, has a college enrollment rate of 60.5%, almost forty points higher than the city average and a CUNY college readiness index of 56%, again almost three times the city average. Once again its popularity with local families is its problem. Its building is packed and one website that evaluates schools says “students who aren’t self-motivated can get lost.” Another problem is that Midwood is really two schools in one building, a very selective special admission school and a zoned school that is required to admit all local applicants.

Sources: http://schools.nyc.gov/...
http://insideschools.org/...

After looking at the Hunter/Science, Cardozo, and Midwood High School Report Cards, I decided to see what a New York City “A” high school looks like.

Among the schools graded “A” where W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education School in East New York Brooklyn and High School for Service & Learning at Erasmus in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Maxwell received a grade of A for effort despite the fact that only 16.5% of its graduates go to college and only 1.3% are deemed capable of doing college-level work by the City University of New York. Curiously, Maxwell received an overall grade of D in 2009 with an F for student performance. By 2010 its overall grade rose to B, although its student performance grade remained an F. Part of the reason for this miracle of improvement was that the city’s Department of Education twice changed the peer group that Maxwell was being compared with. According to an Insideschools.org review, Maxwell has serious problems with attendance, an absentee rate of about 25% per day, and an unusually large special education population. City education officials evidently recognized that something was wrong with their report card rating system because in January 2012 Maxwell was listed as one of the high schools slated to be closed, the only one with a grade of “A.”

Sources: http://schools.nyc.gov/...
http://insideschools.org/...
http://articles.nydailynews.com/...

The Erasmus school had only 44.9% of its graduates going on to college and only 7.8% of them evaluated as capable of doing college-level work without remediation. According to an Insideschools.org review, “The High School for Service and Learning, one of five small schools on the Erasmus Hall Campus in Flatbush, deploys a number of adults to keep watch on issues outside the classroom that could affect students. That, along with a no nonsense approach to discipline and extra academic support, helps many students graduate who otherwise might not . . . The city gives high marks to schools that graduate struggling students on time, even if they are not well-prepared for college.”

Sources: http://schools.nyc.gov/...
http://insideschools.org/...

New York State has a parallel report card system for schools, teachers, and administrators. A summary report of first report cards for teachers and administrators was recently released. The data was for teachers of math and English in grades 4 through 8, about fifteen percent of the teachers statewide. The State Department of Education discovered that based on student test performance, 84% of these teachers were either effective or highly effective and only seven percent were ineffective. There were similar results for principals. Roger Tilles, the Long Island representative on the State Board of Regents, concluded, “It is clear that this process will make some companies very rich. I wonder if the money spent on this would be better spent on things that we know improve student learning – lower class size, extended school day and year, inclusion of more arts instead of reducing it.”

Sources: http://www.newsday.com/...

So, what do school report cards and rigorous teacher assessments really tell us? They tell us anything the politicians and business leaders who are trying to wreck the public schools and then make money off of their carcasses want them to say.

Discuss

The Palestinian Authority is pushing for United Nations recognition in September as an independent country. It is gathering much global support following democratic movements in the Arab world this spring and summer. Israel and the United States are facing difficult decisions. If the United Nations recognizes Palestinian statehood, Israel will be in a position of occupying territory claimed by a fellow UN member. The United States cannot block General Assembly actions, but it may be able to prevent the item being placed on the agenda using a Security Council veto, however this will incur tremendous international anger at a time when it is involved in wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

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In Brooklyn, New York, you need a street tag to have credibility. Local kids call me Reeces Pieces because I rap better than Emenem. Bill Hendrick, a social studies teacher at Halsey Middle School in Queens, wrote me about a “meeting” he had with New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and local politicians. – Alan Singer

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Guantanamo, Obama and the European Union

I was recently interviewed on RTTV about European involvement with the United States in Guantanamo and its responsibility for what is taking place there.  In the end they used a small piece of the interview. The news piece can be scene at http://rt.com/....

These are the questions they asked me and my answers.

1. What shocks you most about the treatment of Guantanamo prisoners?

The detention of supposed enemy combatants by the United States at Guantanamo is a violation of international law. Either these people are prisoners of war and should be treated according to the 1950 Geneva Convention or they are criminals and should have the right to a trial by a jury of their peers in civilian courts. The human rights group Amnesty International called the prison camp "the gulag of our time."

According to files released by Wikileaks in April 2011, over 150 innocent Afghans and Pakistanis, including farmers, chefs, and drivers, were held for years without charge. Detainees included an 89 year old man with dementia and a 14 year old boy of limited mental capacity.

The UK Guardian reported prisoners were held captive for years on the flimsiest grounds, or on the basis of confessions extracted by maltreatment. Despite international agreements, some of the prisoners were kept “off-limits” to the Red Cross. More than two years after President Obama said Guantanamo was closed, over 150 prisoners are still there.

The United States government does not deny that Guantanamo inmates have been subjected to harsh interrogation techniques including waterboarding.

2. Did EU states help with 'extraordinary rendition', according to your information?

It has become clear with the recent NATO bombardment of Libya that the EU is a full partner of the United States in its war on the Islamic world.

The United States CIA runs a global abduction and internment operation for people suspected of supporting terrorism. A June 2006 report from the Council of Europe estimated 100 people had been kidnapped by the CIA on EU territory with the cooperation of Council members and rendered to other countries through secret detention centers. According to a European Parliament report of February 2007, the CIA rendering program conducted over 1,200 flights out of European countries, many to destinations where suspects faced torture, in violation of article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and the Czech Republic were definitely involved. A large majority of the European Union Parliament endorsed the report's conclusion that member states tolerated illegal actions by the CIA and criticized several European governments and intelligence agencies for their unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation.

3. What evidence is there that prisoners had been taken to other countries for torture? In 2005, a U.N. General Assembly report accused the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Sweden of violating international human rights conventions by deporting terrorist suspects to countries such as Egypt, Syria, Algeria and Uzbekistan, where they were  tortured.

4.How would you describe the role of Dick Cheney in this?
Cheney is a major architect of the US Guantanamo policy. Since leaving office he has campaigned to keep the prison open. According to Cheney, protecting the U.S. is "a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business” because “These are evil people.” Personally, I think Cheney is the evil person and the real task at hand is to protect the US and the rest of the world from people like him.

5. Should anyone from the Bush administration face justice?
I would not limit prosecution to the Bush Administration. Obama has been President of the United States for more than two years and now bears responsibility for Guantanamo, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In April 2011, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that detainees held at Guantánamo Bay would be tried by a military commission rather than in an ordinary federal court.  Amnesty International charged this sends a “signal to other governments that the USA is willing to ignore human rights standards when it finds them inconvenient, making this a victory” for the politics of fear.

In April 2009, the European Parliament welcomed President Obama's decision to close Guantánamo Bay but placed the main responsibility for the future of the prisoners on the United States.

Discuss

Wed Apr 13, 2011 at 01:12 PM PDT

Let the Rich Pay Taxes

by Reeces Pieces

Let the Rich Pay Taxes

In Brooklyn, New York, you need a street tag to have credibility. Local kids call me Reeces Pieces because I rap better than Eminem. – Alan Singer

The Prospect Park Alliance (http://www.prospectpark.org/...) ran a big fund-raising event Saturday April 2, 2011 at the Bartel-Prichard entrance to Prospect Park on 15th Street and Prospect Park West. They called it a “Toast to Tupper.” Tupper Thomas recently retired as park administrator after three decades.

I have to admit, while I love Prospect Park and have lived nearby for twenty-years, I was annoyed by the “celebration” from the start. The large tents and roped off area at the Bartel-Prichard entrance blocked bicycle access to the park for almost a week, and more importantly for me and my wife, who is in a wheel chair, they blocked wheel chair access. When I mentioned this to a staff member who was busy doing something or other, she apologized but said it had to be done because it was raising money for the park. My response to her was, “Let the rich people who are eating in the tent pay their taxes instead.”

The cost of a table for ten ran from $6,000, which included acknowledgement in journal to $50,000, which provided 
premium seating, a color-border full-page journal ad, underwriter listing on all event materials with logo, acknowledgement from the stage, and electronic salutation. The cheapest solo non-preferred seat cost $400. A full-page journal ad by itself cost $1,000. Only the rich, or people who work for the rich, were going to attend.

The biggest eaters at the event, called Toast Presenting Underwriters, were Jenny and Michael Messner
 from Summit, New Jersey who are officers of the Speedwell Foundation, a wholly owned enterprise that processes the profits they make from Michael’s Seminole Capital Partners, LP, a billion dollar equity hedge fund. Seminole Capital is deeply involved in a plan to get the federal government to create a land bank fund that would finance purchases of bad real estate at 0% interest through the banks (http://www.ajc.com/...).

While always anxious to profit at government expense, the Messner’s actually claim to champion smaller government, which is why they created Speedwell. According to the Speedwell’s 2009 tax statement available online, the foundation reported $31 million in revenue for the year and $1.5 million in  disbursements, which left Jenny and Mike a lot of money for free expensive dinners at the public expense.

Another big donor to the event was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who just completed a statewide campaign to lower the state income tax on millionaires, probably so they could afford to buy dinner at events such as this one. Bloomberg’s daughter Emma Bloomberg is a director of the Prospect Park Alliance. She works at the Robin Hood Foundation where she manages hedge fund donations from Bloomberg’s fellow millionaires. Her husband, Christopher Frissora is an investment banker at Morgan Stanley.

Toast benefactors included Timothy Ingrassia, who heads the merger department at Goldman Sachs, Florence Davis, President of the Starr Foundation that benefits from AIG money, and David Puth executive vice president in charge of State Street's Global Markets businesses. Before that Mr. Puth was an officer at JPMorgan Chase. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, all these companies were involved in the 2007-2008 global financial crisis and benefited from the federal bailout of the banking system.

Henry Christensen III, another toast benefactor and a director of the Prospect Park Alliance, is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP.  Christensen III heads the private client practice in New York, as well as the international private client practice. According to the firm’s website, Mr. Christensen’s recent cases have involved trusts created in the Cayman Islands, which they neglect to mention are specifically designed so the wealthy can avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The politically connected Prospect Park Alliance Board of Directors also includes Iris Weinshall, a former Bloomberg Administration commissioner who just happens to be the wife of Senator Schumer.

According to its Mission Statement the Prospect Park Alliance, in partnership with the City of New York and the community, “restores, develops, and operates Prospect Park for the enjoyment of all by caring for the natural environment, preserving historic design, and serving the public through facilities and programs.” It is a good mission, it is just not an excuse for its benefactors to avoid paying their fair share of taxes while they engorge themselves at the public’s expense. 



Discuss

In Brooklyn, New York, you need a street tag to have credibility. Local kids call me Reeces Pieces because I rap better than Emenem. – Alan Singer

In this post I try to connect a number of recent events, Katrina, Japan, Wisconsin, NPR, Teachers, Unions, and the Tea Party Express,  where I see the connection but you might not. Try to bear with me. As always, I welcome responses.

Poll

What do you think of these connections?

43%7 votes
25%4 votes
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| 16 votes | Vote | Results

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