Guest Commentary (5084)
SHAMUS COOKE FOR BUZZFLASH/TRUTHOUT
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.
SUE PASTIN FOR BUZZFLASH
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.
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF FOR BUZZFLASH/TRUTHOUT
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.
TONY PEYSER FOR BUZZFLASH
The main thing here that does
Manage to fascinate
Is if you lack character, what’s
Left to assassinate?
SANTWANA DASGUPTA FOR BUZZFLASH/TRUTHOUT
“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
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.
TONY PEYSER FOR BUZZFLASH
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
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH
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.
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."
TONY PEYSER FOR BUZZFLASH
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.
PATRICIA A WELLER FOR BUZZFLASH
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.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH
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.
MARC PERKEL FOR BUZZFLASH
Republicans are all in on voter anger. They have one and only one strategy for the 2010 election. They are counting on the voters being so angry that they forget who made them angry in the first place.
But what would happen if the Republican voter anger plan fails? What if Democrats hold on to their majorities? What if the same thing happens in 2010 that happened in 2006 and 2008? What would happen is that it would be game over for the Republican party. Anger is their only plan and if it fails then there is nothing else. Republicans are more vulnerable than they have ever been. If Democrats merely show up to vote this year then the Republicans are gone.
HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH
This is a Greco-Roman nation, gathered in a Hodenosaunee longhouse.
As they wrap themselves in the Constitution they mean to shred, that is the self-evident Truth the Tea/GOP Party ultimately cannot face.
Our legal godfathers---the ones Glenn Beck loves to conjure---were Deistic liberal humanists whose core beliefs he hates.
They dumped that tea because they despised the corporation that owned it and the idea of empire it (and today's corporate-military right) stood for.
The very first phrase of this nation's defining document, the Bill of Rights, says:
"Judaeo-Christian? Not a chance."
The grassroots farmers that made the Revolution were free-thinking hemp growers. Their favorite scribe, Tom Paine, was the son of a Quaker whose Age of Reason assaulted the church with unsurpassed fury. Today's Tea/GOP would have it burned.
Our greatest genius, Ben Franklin, was a proud and joyous sexual adventurer. His very presence today would induce howls of (envious) outrage from the religious right.
It was Franklin who most loved Native America. He introduced himself to the French as "an American savage." He stamped the Hodenosaunee (Iroquois) gifts of personal freedom and a democratic confederation into the soul of the new nation.
More formally, our tradition of direct voting, still alive in many New England towns, where the Revolution was born, was conceived in Athens, 508 BC. The Republic ("if you can keep it," as Franklin warned) came from Rome, 509 BC.
The federal structure adopted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, was---with Franklin's mentoring---based on the Iroquois Confederacy. That union was born at latest 1540 AD. It sustained a functioning democracy for at least 250 years, still longer than the US has been in existence.
The matriarchal Hodenosaunee were defined by a love of nature and communal land stewardship. Open dialog was as easily accepted as abortion and homosexuality. Along with so many other lethal diseases, Original Sin was an unwanted import.
It is the humanistic liberalism of America's Founders that STILL enrages today's neo-Puritan Tea/GOP. The Jefferson they love to claim fathered at least five children with his slave Sally Hemings, thirty years his junior. Some were conceived while he lived "alone" in the White House.
He and Franklin and Madison and Paine had no time for the Christian faith. It's by their intelligent design that Jesus appears nowhere in the Constitution. Their liberal Deism said a Creator got the universe going, installed the laws of nature, endowed humans with free will (and inalienable rights), then left.
Franklin's disdain for church services spices his autobiography. Jefferson clipped all references to a divinity for Jesus out of his personal Bible. Paine's Age of Reason still enrages the official church. Madison's First Amendment enshrines disdain for an official religion. Unitarianism in all its liberal diversity was shared by presidents two through six, including two Adamses, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe.
Their system of checks and balances was based on the Socratic proposition that with the freedom to dialog, human reason will prevail. Thus the First Amendment's very first phrase exalts freedom from Religion, ie separation of church and state, a phrase coined by Jefferson, demanded by the new nation as a whole.
Like virtually all other American farmers, Washington and Jefferson raised serious quantities of hemp, and made good money from it. Franklin owned a paper mill that ran on it. All may well have smoked its psycho-active cousin, now known as marijuana. If you told them the nation they founded would make this versatile herb illegal, they would laugh at you.
They'd be equally horrified to hear the Foxist Tea/GOP claiming them as icons in a sectarian crusade for repression and empire.
Today's religious right is an unholy fusion of theocratic authoritarianism---which our Founders hated above all---and corporate tyranny, whose tea they pitched in Boston harbor.
Along with George III, there's nothing they loathed more than the anti-human hypocrisy we hear from the Foxist Legion.
Likewise, Beck, Pailn, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and their ilk would have shrieked with rage at the actual Franklin and Paine, Jefferson and Madison, not to mention the populist farmers and sailors, workers and women who fought and died for the Revolution we all Revere (yes, him too!).
So next time those Tea/GOP phonies gaze off in the distance to claim kinship with the Founders, remind everyone you know who really did win that Revolution and write that Bill of Rights.
Those hemp-growing, tree-hugging, corporate-hating deistic free loving and free thinking present-at-the-creation Americans believed above all that the Truth would keep us free.
Now more than ever, it's our patriotic duty to prove them right.
This is the ninth installment of a project that is likely to extend over a two-year-period from January, 2010. It is the serialization of a book entitled The 15% Solution: A Political History of American Fascism, 2001-2022. Under the pseudonym Jonathan Westminster, it is purportedly published in the year 2048 on the 25th Anniversary of the Restoration of Constitutional Democracy in the Re-United States. It was actually published in 1996 by the Thomas Jefferson Press, located in Port Jefferson, NY. The copyright is held by the Press. Herein you will find Chapter 8. You can find a complete archive of the chapters published to date on TPJmagazine.us (lower right hand corner of the home page) as well as the Disclaimer, the cast of characters, the author's bio, cover copy, and several (favorable) reviews.
A fairly recent commentator had this to say about the book: "I am in the middle of reading The 15% Solution. For some reason I assumed it was a recent publication. About 100 pages in I looked to see when it was published. It was published in 1996. That absolutely shocked me. What it was saying then is exactly what is happening now. The race-baiting, anti-homosexual crap that takes one's attention away from what is actually happening, and it was written about 15 years ago. Even the 14th amendment controversy is discussed in this book, as well as so much more - ownership of the media, talk radio, etc. This is truly frightening, and if the Dems do not wake up and fight, I fear there is much worse to come." Indeed!
BOB KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASHDrone warfare - assassination by unmanned aircraft - is arguably one of the most hellish spawns of the modern military-industrial era, and its use is becoming routine in the Af-Pak war, yet (what else is new?) there's no debate about it at the level of national policy, just a shrug and a void.
The nation's future is itself on a sort of autopilot. It belongs to the market forces, in tandem with the reckless, short-term strategic interests of the Pentagon and the politics of empire. There's no moral voice at the core of this system - not even, any longer, a voice of common sense. We live in a spectator democracy: Our role is to gape at the spectacle. The news cycle runs 24/7 and tells us nothing, if the act of "telling" includes in its meaning an invitation to participate.
Like the students who sat in at segregated lunch counters and otherwise disrupted the nation's Jim Crow status quo nearly half a century ago, we have to find a way to interrupt the false consensus of military-industrial America at the level at which it wages war and engages with the rest of the planet. Doing so takes persistence and courage - and sometimes a breakthrough occurs.
I bring you the Creech Air Force Base 14: Father John Dear, Dennis DuVall, Renee Espeland, Judy Homanich, Kathy Kelly, Father Steve Kelly, Mariah Klusmire, Brad Lyttle, Libby Pappalardo, Sister Megan Rice, Brian Terrell, Eve Tetaz, Father Louis Vitale and Father Jerry Zawada.
A year and a half ago, they were part of a 10-day vigil outside the base in Indian Springs, Nev. (about 35 miles from Las Vegas), protesting the Predator and Reaper drone flights over Afghanistan and Pakistan that are remotely piloted from the base. At the end of the vigil, these 14 activists entered the base illegally, carrying a letter, according to Kathy Kelly of the Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence, "we wanted to circulate among the base personnel, describing our opposition to a massive targeted assassination program." They were arrested and charged with trespassing.