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Guest Commentary (5084)


In less than a week two billionaires have joined the anti-teacher "Billionaires Club": a group of ultra-wealthy individuals hell-bent on destroying public education and teachers' unions. The newest members of the club are Oprah Winfrey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg.

Winfrey has used her show - twice in one week - as a platform against public education. She first hosted billionaire Bill Gates to discuss his "philanthropy" in education, as he promoted the new anti-public education propaganda film Waiting for Superman. 

Waiting for Superman is a "documentary" focused on the types of anti-teacher school "reforms" desired by the Billionaires Club, who have used their tremendous wealth to blackmail school districts and states to institute their policies. 

For example, the Facebook founder's donation of $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey school district will almost certainly require - according to The New York Times - that the school institute these reforms, much like Bill Gates' donation of $100 million to the Tampa Hillsborough County School District - and the $90 million to the Memphis school district - had the same types of strings attached. 

What are the conditions for receiving this "charity" of billionaires? It's the same demands for receiving money from the federal government under Obama's badly-named Race to the Top program: creating more privately administered - or for profit - Charter schools; connecting teacher's pay with student test scores (merit pay); undermining the seniority of teachers; and other tricks to dis-empower teachers and public education.  

Diane Ravitch, a former corporate-school reformer, has now dedicated her time to exposing the motives of the super-rich and their new-found interest in "reforming" public education.  In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch entitles a chapter "The Billionaires Boys Club."  On the radio show Democracy Now! Ravitch summarized the chapter: 

"The Billionaires Boys Club is a discussion of how we're in a new era of the [billionaire] foundations and their relation to education. We have never in the history of the United States had foundations with the wealth of the Gates Foundation and some of the other billionaire foundations - the Walton Family Foundation, The Broad Foundation. And these three foundations - Gates, Broad and Walton - are committed now to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores. And that's now the policy of the U.S. Department of Education. We have never seen anything like this, where foundations had the ambition to direct national educational policy, and in fact are succeeding." 

There are some key motives for billionaires to jump in a coalition with this singular focus, none of them well meaning. 

1) There are unknown billions in profits to be made in privatizing public education, either in the private administration of schools, curriculum companies, or wholly for-profit schools.  There has been much talk in the investor world of this new "market."  In addition, the New York Daily News reported: "Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction. The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years." (May 5, 2010).


2) The super-rich hate taxes. They would rather not pay taxes towards public education when they could instead invest their money in private schools and reap profits. 

3) Billionaires hate unions (they didn't become billionaires by paying union wages): The biggest obstacle towards privatizing public education is the powerful teachers' unions. Teacher unions are also the strongest segment of the labor movement, and thus the most powerful grouping in the U.S. working class, able to fight back most effectively against corporate school reform- the billionaires' natural enemies.  

The super-rich attacked first in this battle between teachers and billionaires. The teachers must defend themselves. Shamefully, certain segments of the teachers' unions are having troubles labeling their attackers as enemies.

For example, the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randy Weingarten, sent a friendly invitation to Bill Gates to address the AFT convention, where Gates was allowed to deceive the teachers about the intentions of his multi-billion dollar "investment" in "reforming" education. 

Gates' ideas about education - blaming teachers for everything - ignores what most teachers already know: the main predictor for a student's success is social-economic background. Rich students outperform poor students for many different reasons: less stress, more resources, parental help, etc. Ignoring this obvious fact exposes the billionaires' profit motive behind their fake charity. 

Teachers must fight back. They cannot allow the media to frame the debate with the ideas of the corporate think tanks and foundations. Teachers cannot concede on the issues that help keep their unions powerful, such as seniority; merit pay must be defeated for the same reasons. 


1. It will make America truly exceptional, and fulfill our national destiny.

2. Jefferson had it right: "All men (persons) are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Notice he changed it from John Locke's "life, liberty, and property," because property is not the end-all or whole purpose of being, and there are other ways to measure a person's worth besides how much wealth they have accumulated.


An economic and social powerhouse, Brazil has burst forth on to the world stage with such tenacious drive and determination that observers may indeed wonder what sort of political impact the South American giant will have upon the wider region in the coming years.  Though the country still faces incredible domestic challenges, the outgoing Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva administration has done much to put Brazil’s house in order and the president leaves office with record 80% popularity.  Unlike its volatile and unstable Andean neighbors, Brazil has consolidated a credible democracy and recently concluded the first round of its presidential vote.

The election went smoothly and Brazil now moves to a second round which will take place on the 31st of October.  In all likelihood, Lula’s protégé Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party will emerge victorious and continue the president’s successful anti-poverty programs which have helped millions make the transition from poverty to middle class status.  As the poor advance socially, it is hoped they will begin to feel that they have a stake in the system and Brazil’s democracy will become more stable and robust as a result.

Brazilian authorities, however, are concerned that outsiders may ignore such advances and focus instead upon their country’s horrific drug-related crime scene, urban favelas and startling rural injustice.  In an effort to burnish Brazil’s image, Lula recently told SECOM, the president’s own Secretariat for Social Communication, to focus laser-like on international public relations.  In tandem with Lula’s desires, SECOM has sought to give Brazil a makeover by emphasizing the country’s solid democracy, robust economy, pacifist-oriented diplomacy and environmentally sustainable policies.  SECOM directs its efforts at journalists, opinion makers, investors, academics and students while conducting key seminars, trips and interviews.


The Brazilian PR Juggernaut


Much to my surprise, SECOM recently contacted me via the New York public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard, asking if I would like to take part in an all expense paid trip to Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia to witness Brazil’s election and final presidential debate.  During the five day trip, I would have the opportunity to speak with political scientists, non-governmental organizations and representatives from the major presidential campaigns.  What is more, I would also have access to regulators overseeing the election and organizers would even set up a visit to Brazil’s Upper Electoral Court.

In the midst of the summer doldrums, I jumped at the chance.  When I learned, however, that the trip would be partially funded by Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras, also known as Eletrobras, a state-controlled Brazilian utility involved in the hydropower industry, I started to wonder why SECOM would be interested in sponsoring me in particular.  In my book, No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010), I rip the Brazilian hydropower industry for its environmental record, specifically in regard to methane emissions which exacerbate climate change.  In an e-mail, I asked Fleishman whether I would be at liberty to ask whatever questions I saw fit during the trip and to later report on my findings.  Of course, Fleishman responded, adding that all comments were considered to be entirely on the record.

The trip, I learned, was to be organized by Apex Brazil, the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency.  An entity which has done much to marshal Brazil’s vast economic might, Apex represents more than 10,000 companies organized in more than 70 different sectors ranging from agribusiness to housing to entertainment and machinery.  The list of Apex-supported products is exhaustive and includes everything from biscuits to coffee, from meat to equipment for the service of Brazil’s ethanol industry and from aircraft parts to yerba maté tea.  Headquartered in Brasilia, Apex also maintains branches in Beijing, Dubai, Miami, Havana, Warsaw and Moscow.  If that was not enough, the agency plans to open new business support centers in Luanda and Brussels.  Buzzing with activity, Apex sports 300 employees working around the clock to enhance their country’s international profile.

I don’t know why, exactly, Eletrobras as well as other sponsors Petrobras, the Brazilian state oil company, and Banco do Brasil would be interested in funding a press junket to South America though perhaps the companies believed they would benefit, in a general kind of way, from media coverage of the election.  In a long-term sense, if the election were to go off without a hitch, then this in turn would improve Brazil’s political standing and thereby attract outside investment.  Moreover, in advance of the 2016 Olympic Games set for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is intent upon securing its international reputation.

After reading up on Fleishman-Hillard, I began to understand why I might have been included in this particular press junket.  The PR firm, along with its Brazilian public relations partner Companhia de Noticias or CDN, recently won an award for their “Green Diplomacy” campaign highlighting Lula’s global influence on the environmental sustainability issue.  Fleishman is really pressing the environmental angle: prior to my departure for Rio the PR firm sent me an e-mail stating that Environment Minister Isabella Teixeira would be in New York and would like to meet with me.


The main thing here that does
Manage to fascinate
Is if you lack character, what’s
Left to assassinate?


From Kabul

“Islam is a great religion” appears to be the mantra of the day,
mouthed by many, including a variety of world leaders. It has since
occurred to me that the constant parroting “Islam is a great religion”
in some convoluted fashion contributes to the dehumanizing of Muslims.
Borders and cultures disappear as we stereotype anyone who practices
Islam. Yet, though many of us could give a speech on the difference
between culture and religion, somehow all of that theory slides off
our brain and we happily lump all Muslim people together because they
practice Islam.

I have lived in Kabul now for about a year. I’ve had the privilege of
being able to get a peek inside the proverbial veil and want to give
you my perspective of some aspects of the everyday culture of the
Afghan people. A large section of the Afghan population is nomadic. I
am not writing about them as I have not got close to anyone in this
group. I am mainly talking about people who most likely share the kind
of demographics as the readers of this article – middle class and

A child is born. “It’s a boy!!” He will continue the family name and
take care of his parents. Huge numbers of relatives and neighbors are
invited on the sixth day – Shab-e-Shash – evening-of-the-sixth. I was
invited to one and took a friend with me. We entered to find at least
50 other women sitting tightly against each other along the perimeter
of the living room. We sat down in one corner and wondered if we had
been impolite by not individually greeting everyone, even though we
knew no one. We had. We made up for it by overdoing the good-byes.

This brings me to Afghan greetings – an overwhelming, elaborate and
complex set of rituals for the uninitiated. I am invited and I enter
the house. The hostess comes up, grasps my hand and kisses me three,
four, five, six times on my cheeks while unleashing a series of
sentences at the same time: how are you, are you tired, is your health
ok, is your family ok, welcome to my home, may you live long. I am
supposed to do the same, but even after a year I helplessly
hyperventilate as I cannot keep up. I’m entrenched in the polite, how
are you, I’m good, thank you. End of greeting.


I emailed friends that this might happen;
It could become a sensation
And give her a chance to say Republicans
Are good for job creation.

These outfits didn't just appear out of thin air
For our kids' enjoyment.
Halloween entrepreneurs, thank the GOP for
Fighting unemployment.


The conservative foundation's sister organization, Heritage Action for America, is looking for $200,000 to launch the mother of all campaigns to kill health care reform.

Whether it is sports, dating, politics, or even health care reform, timing is everything. For the Obama Administration, last week's kick off of the implementation of health care reform legislation - six months after it was signed into law - will probably have little positive effect on the upcoming mid-term elections. For conservatives, ObamaCare as object of evil is always a viable target; viable enough for the Heritage Foundation's Ed Fuelner to think  that the time is right to launch a "Money Bomb" campaign aimed at helping the conservative foundation and its sister organization, Heritage Action for America (http://heritageforamerica.org/), kill "Obamacare." ("Money Bomb" is a relatively newly (the 2007 presidential campaign of Ron Paul) coined term referring to a grassroots fundraising effort held over a short time period.)

Fuelner, on behalf the Washington, D.C. mega-foundation (http://www.heritage.org/) he heads, recently sent out an email titled "Repeal Obamacare Money Bomb." Why the Heritage Foundation, described by Matt Bai in a February 25, 2009 New York Times Magazine article as the "Parthenon of the conservative metropolis" -- "with its $60 million budget and eight-story complex, complete with housing for 60 interns, two auditoriums and two broadcast studios" -- needs to breathlessly launch a "Money Bomb" in order to raise a piddling $200,000 isn't quite clear. That would seem like pocket change to Fuellner.

(MyHeritage.org recently pointed out that to mark the celebration of its 45th year of publication, the Washingtonian magazine named Fuelner on its list of "the 45 Americans who have shaped our nation's capital most." The Washingtonian noted that Fuelner is credited with 'all but invent[ing] the modern Washington think tank.'")

Fuelner pointed out that since "Obamacare was passed," six months ago, the Heritage Foundation has called "for its total repeal." Now, "Heritage Action for America, The Heritage Foundation's advocacy-based sister organization has an aggressive strategy for repeal." And in order to implement its "strategy" Heritage needs to raise $200,000 by Friday, October 8.

"In June," Fuelner wrote, Heritage Action for America "embarked on a national campaign to repeal Obamacare." It began "laying the legislative and political groundwork for repeal in the House of Representatives [and it is] ... teaming up with members of Congress and candidates to ensure that health care remains a critical issue in November and beyond." After all, Fuellner noted, "the fight against Obamacare has only just begun."

According to Fuelner, "Heritage Action's strategy is in motion. Its impact is already visible.... Consider what they're doing":

-- "Pushing for repeal in Congress. Shortly after its launch, Heritage Action worked with Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to file Discharge Petition 11, a parliamentary procedure that would force a re-vote on Obamacare. To date, 173 members of the House of Representatives have signed the petition, from both parties. 218 signatures are needed to force a re-vote. Heritage Action is holding accountable those members who voted against Obamacare but haven't signed on to repeal it. King praised 'the effectiveness of the efforts of the Heritage Action team' as critical to the petition's success."

-- "Building an activist network. Armed with a new activist website, Heritage Action is establishing a grassroots network of concerned Americans, particularly in key Congressional districts.  They are providing the American people with the tools to engage the repeal debate, join it, and make a difference."


The queen of the tea party's dad worked

As a clown --- say what you will

But, if nothing else, it clearly suggests that

She has some big shoes to fill.  


Except for the rich, more than half the country may vote against their own best interests come November 2.  This is surely the result of the constant drumbeat of negative rhetoric and innuendos from the Republican Party, and the well funded and over reported Tea Party that arose from the GOP's figurative ashes.  Tea Party candidates offer some of the most inane campaign promises in history, providing voters with another route that is in opposition to their interests.  You have to wonder just what people are drinking that they would tie their horse to such a wagon.



Over the past week, the anti-gay organization founded by Maggie Gallagher has been on a bus tour across California stumping for the GOP's Senate Candidate, Carly Fiorina. Similar to its nationwide anti-same-sex marriage bus tour last summer, this one is also drawing tens of people!


There is one thing you can say for certain about the National Organization for Marriage; it's always up to something ... and that something invariably has to do with The Gay.

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