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Thursday, 13 February 2014 07:28

Asphyxiating Education

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ClassDesks(Photo: Malate269)"The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."

This is how we talk about learning, growth and the human future?

Things are getting worse in the American classroom, not better. The experts and the special interests purporting to fix the educational system are continuing, instead, to asphyxiate it.

The grandiose quote, above, in which "our young people" show up as abstractions needing to be prepped for some simplistic, highly competitive imaginary future (fully understood by the experts), is part of the mission statement of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the Obama administration's showcase education reform initiative.

Just like the disastrous No Child Left Behind Act of the Bush era, in whose wake it follows, it's all about testing and uniform standards and the "rigorous" evaluation of schools and teachers; and it's clueless about the nature of childhood development, not to mention reality. Its primary mission, as with NCLB, is to pull education out of the hands and hearts of teachers and turn its administration over to politicians and their corporate sponsors. It both defunds and belittles the learning process.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CellJail(Photo: Andrew Bardwell)Last April, in a column titled Debtors Prisons, Once a 19th-Century Relic, Again Wreaking Havoc in US, I wrote: "The jailing of people unable to pay fines and court costs is no longer a relic of the 19th century American judicial system. Debtors' prisons are alive and well in one-third of the states in this country." Last week, I received a Press Release from the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union that appeared to strike a blow against this appalling phenomenon.

The release stated that "the Supreme Court of Ohio distributed a new 'bench card' to all of the state's judges, giving much needed instructions to avoid the unconstitutional practice of sending people to jail when they owe the court fines and are unable to pay. The Ohio Supreme Court's "bench card" was a definite blow to what had become the routine jailing in several states of people who were not able to pay fines imposed for a relatively minor crime committed."

Now, however, a new report by Human Rights Watch has revealed another way that poor people are being unduly financially burdened and, in many cases, imprisoned for not having enough money to pay their court-imposed fines. According to Profiting from Probation: America's 'Offender-Funded' Probation Industry, privately owned companies handling the probation of offenders are "routinely jailing probationers" for not being able to pay fees owed to those companies.

Private companies are Profiting from Probation

"Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand people to probation and place them under the supervision of for-profit companies for months or years at a time," Profiting from Probation points out. "They then require probationers to pay these companies for their services. Many of these offenders are only guilty of minor traffic violations like speeding or driving without proof of insurance. Others have shoplifted, been cited for public drunkenness, or committed other misdemeanor crimes. Many of these offenses carry no real threat of jail time in and of themselves, yet each month, courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees."

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BorderNotice(Photo: Makaristos)The Republican Party was supposed to be getting its act together for the midterm election. Instead, judging from the disarray on immigration reform, things may be getting even messier.

I'm referring to House Speaker John Boehner's embarrassing climb-down. After vowing for months that the House would finally take action on immigration, last week he surrendered. The bitterly divided Republican majority cannot agree on how to proceed. Apparently, this is supposed to be President Obama's fault.

If Boehner spilled gravy on his tie, he'd probably blame Obama. The fact is, Obama has done everything humanly possible to make it easier for Republicans to support sensible reform.

You know a party is dysfunctional when it can't take yes for an answer. Ostensibly, the GOP's big objection was to a sweeping, comprehensive bill such as the one passed by the Senate. Last fall, the Obama administration signaled its willingness to take a piecemeal approach, if necessary, in order to move forward. So what's the problem?

Um, Obama. And the Affordable Care Act. And, I don't know, maybe Jupiter and Saturn are in astrological misalignment.

Published in Guest Commentary

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

OlympicFlag(Photo: Makaristos)For Vladimir Putin, the winter Olympics is not about sports or international camaraderie. It's a carefully orchestrated propaganda opportunity to try to showcase the nation's athletes and show the world a Russia that, even with its great culture and arts, may exist only in the imaginations of those who believe in restoring the country's previous grandeur.

Sochi itself is not typical city for a winter Olympics. It's a sub-tropical city of about 340,000, located along the Black Sea. Its selection by Russia was to let the world believe that the country in winter is not Siberia but a resort, suitable for tourists.

Under Putin's personal direction, Russia spent more than 1.8 trillion rubles (the equivalent of about $51 billion U.S.) to build the Olympic village, with its buildings, stadiums, and infrastructure. This is a greater cost than all previous winter Olympics combined. It also includes cost over-runs and various forms of corruption. But, disregard that—that's an internal problem. Here are a few of the real problems.

Russia has had more than seven years to prepare for this Olympics. But by the first day of competition, some of roads were unfinished, water was undrinkable in many of the newly-built hotels, and the safety of some of the Olympics courses was still in question.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

VaticanCity(Photo: Diliff)Since Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) took dominion over the Holy See, there has been much speculation about which direction he might move the Catholic Church; how he was going to modernize and make the Church more accessible to more people.

Liberals have lauded him for his comments about income inequality and his openness and apparent willingness to usher in a new way of going about the business of being Pope. Some conservatives, however, have scorned him for his economic pronouncements, while maintaining that he isn't focusing enough on such culture war issues as birth control, homosexuality, and abortion.

With so many difficult issues to deal with, he has recently been handed a golden opportunity to deal with one of the most vexing of those issues: Child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and its aiding and abetting and subsequent cover-up by Catholic Church officials.

The most prudent move for Pope Francis to make in this regard is to accept the recommendations of the report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and, at the same time, open up the Vatican archives.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 06 February 2014 06:31

Bullying Is Bad, Except When We Do It

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BullyCops(Photo: Devinasch)The young guys were half a block ahead of us. Nothing was happening except that they were walking. A police car pulled up behind them, slowed to their pace, aimed a spotlight at them.

They were African-American (did you guess?), numbering maybe half a dozen. They weren't intimidated. Some of them stopped, stood staring at the police car, talking to it; this had obviously happened before. The spotlight continued to shine in their faces. Other young men crossed the street in front of the car and joined the crowd. The game went on for a while: the slow saunter, the cops driving along next to them, the light in their faces.

Chicago, Chicago! My kind of town, but not this. How weird to see the moment unfold as I was walking along Pratt Avenue, through my own 'hood. The energy I felt was immensely unpleasant — racial profiling, pointless discord. Young black men in Chicago have to know their legal rights; that's simply the way it works. These guys obviously did.

Suddenly the light snapped off. The police car accelerated, drove away. That was it. No further confrontation. The young men kept walking. I was an observer in an occupied zone.

"But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home."

Thus wrote Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, in an essay published at Truthout, called "Bully Nation." Their point is that, while suddenly bullying is a big deal and officially recognized as problematic, the public debate on the matter focuses almost entirely on troubled loners, when in fact no bully ever acts out of purely personal motives. Everyone acts within a social, cultural and political context, and that context is one that, in so many ways, rewards — indeed, reveres — bullying and domination.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

DanteSatan(Photo: Pantheon Books edition of Divine Comedy)Now that Harold Camping, the failed End Times prognosticator, has left this mortal coil, it is up to other conservative Christian evangelicals to carry on the outrageous. And carrying on the outrageous appears to be one of Pastor Robert Jeffress' major talents, albeit doing it in a much more affable way than many of his comrades.

Jeffress has a new book that claims President Barack Obama is paving the way for the Antichrist.

In addition to Obama paving the way for the Antichrist, according to the Christian Post's Melissa Barnhart, Jeffress' book, Perfect Ending: Why Your Eternal Future Matters Today, also "answers people's most pressing questions about heaven and what the end times will look like to Christians and those who do not believe in Jesus Christ."

Jeffress is not one of your fly-by-night conservative evangelical preachers; he's been around the block more that a few times. He is senior pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church, in Dallas, Texas; hosts a daily radio program called "Pathway to Victory" -- which is broadcast on more than 700 hundred stations; and, his weekly television show is seen on 1,200 television stations and cable systems throughout the nation and in 28 countries around the world, including China. He has written more than twenty books, and is a much sought-after speaker at evangelical Christian events, and is a frequent guest on Fox News.

He briefly attracted the attention of the mainstream media when in October 2011, after introducing Texas Governor Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., he told reporters that Mormonism was a "cult" and maintained that Mitt Romney was opposed to Christianity. A day later, after a Sunday morning service, he stood by his statements: "Mormonism is a false religion," he told Reuters. "It was invented 1800 years after the establishment of Christianity."

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 04 February 2014 06:26

Eugene Robinson | We Are Losing This Drug War

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

HeroinOD(Photo: Psychonaught)Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is yet another victim of the war on drugs. Prohibition is not working. It is time to try something new.

Hoffman, 46, was found dead in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment Sunday morning, apparently the victim of a heroin overdose. According to widely published reports, there was a syringe in his arm. Police found the place littered with small plastic bags stamped "Ace of Spades" or "Ace of Hearts" -- brand names that street dealers use.

Hoffman had lived through a familiar pattern: experimentation, addiction, rehab, abstinence, relapse, more rehab, more abstinence, another relapse.

Why would a man held in such high esteem, a man with so much going for him and so much to live for, risk it all by buying illegal drugs from a criminal on the street and then injecting them into his veins? For the same reason any addict uses drugs: to get high.

Perhaps this desire was a moral failing on Hoffman's part. Perhaps its origin lies buried in his personal history, with some trauma having triggered it. Perhaps it is written in his genetic code. I doubt we'll ever know for sure.

What we do know is that this need to get high is beyond some people's control. Our drug policy of prohibition and interdiction makes it difficult and dangerous for people like Hoffman to get high, but not impossible -- and makes these tragic overdose deaths more common than they have to be.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Cookie(Photo: Ubcule)If you know what's good for America, you will shut your door when the Girl Scouts come a knockin', and you'll "back away from those Girl Scout Cookies," conservative Christian groups are telling their constituents. It has nothing to do with evangelicals adopting gluten-free diets (although there is now a certified gluten-free Chocolate Chip Shortbread cookie), or concerns about eliminating fat from their diets. It's all about right-wingers charging Girl Scouts USA with supporting Planned Parenthood, pro-abortion role models like Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and organizations like Amnesty International, the ACLU, and the National Organization for Women (NOW).

And, now, thanks to the newly formed CookieCott 2014, Texas' Wendy Davis has been dropped into the middle of this year's ruckus.

None of the anti-GSUSA caterwauling is new to leaders of the 2.3 million member GSUSA or to conservative scolds who have been slamming the organization for years.

What is new, however, is a tweeting controversy which conservatives are trying to gin up in their own inimitable manner. CNSNews.com reported in early January, that during a conversation generated by a Huffington Post article and video panel discussion over possible nominees for Woman of the Year, "The Girl Scouts of America tweeted a link ... that praises pro-abortion politician Wendy Davis (D-Texas.)"

According to CookieCott 2014, "The Girl Scouts recently endorsed pro-abortion politicians Wendy Davis and Kathleen Sebelius as worthy role models for our children. In response, we're asking you to boycott Girl Scout cookies in 2014."

Published in Guest Commentary

JANE STILLWATER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

FloodJava2A Flood on JavaIt seems to me that the reason we get global warming in some places and global cooling in others should be as plain as the nose on your face -- at least to those of us who live in Berkeley.

Whenever it gets hot in Walnut Creek, over the hill from Berkeley, we always get a strong wind here as our own cooler air rushes over to balance out Walnut Creek's hotspots.

So global warming and cooling should clearly work in the same way -- except on a planetary scale. As Florida really heats up, for instance, cold air from the Arctic should rush in to balance temperatures out. And hurricanes and tornadoes appear to be getting bigger and nastier here to compensate for temperature changes somewhere else. All over the planet, increased warm areas are being balanced out by increased cold areas -- and vice-versa. That's my new climate-change theory and I'm sticking to it.

And Justice works the same way as well. We gotta have liberty and justice for all -- and not just for Poobahs and cartels. Because if we don't, it's all going to even out in the end eventually -- one way or another.

Everyone everywhere keeps track of these things.

And when justice only goes to the wealthy and not to the poor, things definitely get hotter in one spot and cooler in another.

Published in Guest Commentary
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