Friday, December 31, 2010

America's cracked political system

US politics, often decried for its 'partisanship', is all too bipartisan – in its deeply dysfunctional consensus on tax and wealth
  • sachs
  • Nancy Pelosi John Boehner
    Then House minority leader John Boehner (Republican, Ohio) looks on, past then speaker Nancy Pelosi, as President Obama speaks to the press before a meeting with bipartisan congressional leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, 2009. Photograph: Reuters/Jason Reed America is on a collision course with itself. This month's deal between President Barack Obama and the Republicans in Congress to extend the tax cuts initiated a decade ago by President George W Bush is being hailed as the start of a new bipartisan consensus. I believe, instead, that it is a false truce in what will become a pitched battle for the soul of American politics. As in many countries, conflicts over public morality and national strategy come down to questions of money. In the United States, this is truer than ever. The US is running an annual budget deficit of around $1tn, which may widen further as a result of the new tax agreement. This level of annual borrowing is far too high for comfort. It must be cut, but how? The problem is America's corrupted politics and loss of civic morality. One political party, the Republicans, stands for little except tax cuts, which they place above any other goal. The Democrats have a bit wider set of interests, including support for healthcare, education, training, and infrastructure. But, like the Republicans, the Democrats, too, are keen to shower tax cuts on their major campaign contributors, predominantly rich Americans. The result is a dangerous paradox. The US budget deficit is enormous and unsustainable. The poor are squeezed by cuts in social programmes and a weak job market. One in eight Americans depends on food stamps to eat. Yet, despite these circumstances, one political party wants to gut tax revenues altogether, and the other is easily dragged along, against its better instincts, out of concern for keeping its rich contributors happy. This tax-cutting frenzy comes, incredibly, after three decades of elite fiscal rule in the US that has favoured the rich and powerful. Since Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, America's budget system has been geared to supporting the accumulation of vast wealth at the top of the income distribution. Amazingly, the richest 1% of American households now has a higher net worth than the bottom 90%. The annual income of the richest 12,000 households is greater than that of the poorest 24m households. The Republican party's real game is to try to lock that income and wealth advantage into place. They fear, rightly, that, sooner or later, everyone else will begin demanding that the budget deficit be closed in part by raising taxes on the rich. After all, the rich are living better than ever, while the rest of American society is suffering. It makes sense to tax them more. The Republicans are out to prevent that by any means. This month, they succeeded – at least for now. But they want to follow up their tactical victory, which postpones the restoration of pre-Bush tax rates for a couple of years, with a longer-term victory next spring. Their leaders in Congress are already declaring that they will slash public spending in order to begin reducing the deficit. Ironically, there is one area in which large budget cuts are certainly warranted: the military. But that is the one item most Republicans won't touch. They want to slash the budget not by ending the useless war in Afghanistan, and by eliminating unnecessary weapons systems, but by cutting education, health and other benefits for the poor and working class. In the end, I don't think they will succeed. For the moment, most Americans seem to be going along with Republican arguments that it is better to close the budget deficit through spending cuts rather than tax increases. Yet, when the actual budget proposals are made, there will be a growing backlash. With their backs against the wall, I predict, poor and working-class Americans will begin to agitate for social justice. This may take time. The level of political corruption in America is staggering. Everything now is about money to run electoral campaigns, which have become incredibly expensive. The midterm elections cost an estimated $4.5bn, with most of the contributions coming from big corporations and rich contributors. These powerful forces, many of which operate anonymously under US law, are working relentlessly to defend those at the top of the income distribution. But make no mistake: both parties are implicated. There is already talk that Obama will raise $1bn or more for his re-election campaign. That sum will not come from the poor. The problem for the rich is that, other than military spending, there is no place to cut the budget other than in areas of core support for the poor and working class. Is America really going to cut health benefits and retirement income? Will it really balance the budget by slashing education spending at a time when US students already are being outperformed by their Asian counterparts? Will America really let its public infrastructure continue to deteriorate? The rich will try to push such an agenda, but ultimately they will fail. Obama swept to power on the promise of change. So far, there has been none. His administration is filled with Wall Street bankers. His top officials leave to join the banks, as his budget director Peter Orszag recently did. Obama is always ready to serve the interests of the rich and powerful, with no line in the sand, no limit to "compromise". If this continues, a third party will emerge, committed to cleaning up American politics and restoring a measure of decency and fairness. This, too, will take time. The political system is deeply skewed against challenges to the two incumbent parties. Yet, the time for change will come. The Republicans believe that they have the upper hand and can pervert the system further in favour of the rich. I believe that they will be proved wrong. • Copyright Project Syndicate, 2010

To Fix Education: Fire Human Teachers, Hire Holograms (Satire)

Submitted by

Thu, 12/30/2010 - 11:30am.

"50 years later, our generation
's Sputnik moment is back," President Obama declared at a recent speech at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; this time, however, we aren't just losing to the formidable U.S.S.R., but now are being beaten senseless by wimpy little nations like Finland, for cripes sake.
hankfully, in Shanghai we have a far more scary-looking foe than Finland, one actually worthy of replacing the Red Scare.  Fifty years after Sputnik, we still have a healthy fear of a communist takeover of our country, which has been fed not only by Glen Beck's chalkboard conspiracy theories, but also by the reality that China owns most of our debt, a fact feverishly exploited by both liberals and conservatives to grab votes in the midterm election.  Now, in outperforming us in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), these communist children have given us a "wake-up call," as Obama concludes, demonstrating that we are "in danger of falling behind," and waking up to a Red Dawn.

Our imploded economy, and the subsequent Red Scare, has led to a sudden, well-publicized "crisis in education," one which  - of course! - has nothing to do with the imploded economy, and everything to do with poor performing teachers, and inefficient, poorly run schools, a refrain popularized by the documentary Waiting for Superman, promoted by billionaires Bill Gates and Oprah, and one that has made a star of former Washington D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee. Fixing the "educational crisis" is also the policy that underlies Obama's Race to the Top, a policy that places faith in the free-market  - yes, the same free-market that imploded the economy  - to fix education, and to make sure that we beat those dastardly commies in the classroom, and thus, the global economy.   That, and of course, we can regain our honor by besting those bothersome, socialist Finns, who outperformed us, and don't even believe in competition in education! An important cause of our "educational crisis", Secretary of Education Arne Duncan points out in a speech before American Enterprise Institute, a powerful neo-conservative think-tank, is inefficiency.  In "Bang for the Buck in Schooling," Duncan pushed superintendents to look to their inner CEOs for ways to cut all that fiscal waste, and to "make tough decisions that will pay off long term, including rethinking teacher compensation and class size and integrating technology into school systems."

Here is a modest proposal for America, one that will help our educational system become far more efficient, one that will help us get considerably more "bang for our buck" out of public education by integrating technology and thus dramatically reducing wasteful overhead: holograms.

Yes, to win the Race to the Top, we should fire human teachers, and hire holograms.

Think this is mere science fiction?

In Japan today (who also beat us on the PISA), Hatsune Miku is the first holographic star, playing to sold-out audiences.   The product of cutting edge software, Miku appears on stage as a real person, and is, according to Huffington Post "incredibly realistic," and has been drawing a massive following.  While the initial cost of the software may be pricey, unlike a human star, Miku won't require travel expenses, five-star lodging, specialty water from the Amazon, the Betty Ford Clinic, beefy security guards, a greedy agent, nor, well, anything other than a steady power supply and a competent programmer. What's more, Miku can play live at simultaneous locations around the world, rather than a single location, and won't say or doing anything embarrassing  - that is, unless programmed to!

Unlike Miku, teachers are human beings, and humans - even non-stars - are exceptionally expensive: each individual expects fair compensation in trade for their specialized labor, including a wage commensurate with cost of living, health care, and retirement when they have completed decades of public service.  What's more, humans can only be in one place at a time, and can only provide effective attention to a limited number of students at a single time. Thus, to run an entire educational system, one which serves nearly 80 million children and adults we need to hire millions of human teachers, which requires billions of our hard-earned tax dollars, all for an enterprise that that doesn't appear to produce any clear profits. 

Unfortunately, these human teachers don't seem to appreciate how expensive they are, and often stand in the way of efforts to lower costs, and make education more cost-effective - imagine just how much money we can save through simple math, by increasing class sizes to 40 and 50 students, rather than the paltry national average of half this.

Worst of all, human teachers have conflicting ideas of how education should work, and all too often, they say and do things in the classroom that do not prepare students for standardized tests, nor their careers.  For example, many human teachers don't believe constant standardized testing to be an effective way to capture the learning process, and some even believe these tests harm substantive learning. These wayward teachers use class time to explore unquantifiable wastes of time such as imagination, creativity and empathy, none of which can be accurately assessed in metrics, nor converted into reliable data points, nor analyzed into standard deviations, and bar graphs. These teachers don't seem to appreciate Public School Operating System designer Bill Gates declaration that  "If you want something to be excellent, it can't go unmeasured."

Unlike Miku, unlike the latest edition of Windows, human teachers don't always do what they are commanded to do!

Hal could solve all the inefficiencies inherent in public, human education.  Rather than hire millions of fallible, inefficient humans, hire a single holographic teacher, Hal, to perform in all classrooms across America at the same time. Just as industry thrived from automating manufacturing processes, so will education under Hal, who can simulate effective education, sans all the pesky human costs and problems.  Hal won't require a living wage, health care, nor will he form unions, nor will he ever - ever - deviate from the lesson that his programmers in Washington, DC, have designed.
Hal will provide a frictionless, perfectly efficient transfer of information to students' minds, at a fraction of the current cost.
Think this is too big a leap for the public? That they won't accept a human-less educational experience?  That they still want actual, breathing humans in the classroom with their children?
Hal wouldn't be that big of step beyond what many college students already experience, as they "attend" their lecture class with 1400 other students via Webcast, and take many classes online with a teacher they never meet, all from the comfort of their dorm room.  Further, programs like Accuplacer - used by many universities already - can automatically grade student writing, at a fraction of the cost of even low-paid, coffee-addicted, grumpy graduate teaching assistants.

What does it matter if the teacher exists or not, in the first place?  If we accept Automatic Teller Machines to dispense cash, why won't we accept Automatic Teaching Machines to dispense information?

We are already on the path to Hal, who may be here sooner than we think. Holograms aren't far from the home, according to virtual reality visionary Jaron Lanier, author of  You Are Not a Gadget, who sees a future in which mass broadcasting will be transformed into "telegigging," where a performer could be "telepresent" via holographic projections.  He predicts that within five years, holographic technology may be in our homes.  And given how much money can be made in the emerging educational market - especially when we downsize millions of obsolete human teachers - there will be a new breed of educational entrepreneurs that will be highly motivated to move holograms from the home, to the classroom.

Bill Gates and his team can serve as the primary programmers for Hal: they have the technical infrastructure, and have already invested half a billion dollars in quantifying the qualities of an effective instructor. With these metrics, Gates will be able to produce an algorithm to program Hal, one that could inform exactly what material to cover, at what pace, and how, precisely, to respond to all types of students in all situations. Future versions of Hal will include realistic simulations of sympathy, if the student is stuck amidst a messy divorce, or dealing with the death of a parent. Hal can extend a holographic arm of sympathy for an ailing student, without fear of any sort of real, human touching that might result in a lawsuit - and again, at a fraction of the cost.

And all of this new technology will finally make education profitable, pumping billions into our economy, rather than just taking from it.

Humans will still play a vital role in supporting Hal: we will need technical support if the projector has problems, which can easily be outsourced to Microsoft branch offices in more cost efficient countries, like India.  To update content, the ruling political party can select a panel CEOs of major corporations to manage the Central Bank of Knowledge (based on Google servers), that will hold all the information that students need to know in order to stay competitive in the global marketplace.  The Central Bank will download into Hal's mainframe at any time, and from there, directly into students' minds.

The only inefficiency left in the Public School Operating System will be the human students themselves, who have the unfortunate tendency to act irrationally, much like their human teacher counterparts.  These human students may have a crush on the girl across the room, or want to socialize with a friend; they may feel sad for some inexplicable reason, or more generally, have emotions that deviate from Hal's educational algorithm, and thus, combating Shanghai in the global war for jobs.

This is an easy bug to fix, though. Simply replace the students with holograms.

Bronx Teacher on Teach for America

Ilana Garon

Ilana Garon

Posted: December 29, 2010 12:15 PM
Seven years ago, when I began teaching high school in the Bronx as a NYC Teaching Fellow, I had every expectation of being the next Socrates. I had just completed a rigorous summer training program that I naïvely assumed would give me all the skills I needed to connect with my young charges and open their minds to the lyricism of Robert Frost's poetry or the pathos of Shakespearean tragedy. Through my determination, tenacity, and love of learning, I would not only ensure that my students passed their Regents exams; I would teach them to love English, and by extension, to take the whole of their studies more seriously.

The students had other ideas. My most vivid memory of those first two years involves a group of kids known by their teachers as the "sunshine class." (The kids traveled in blocks, so several teachers had the same group at different points during the day.) That season, the cafeteria served little bags of baby carrots to the students during lunch; two periods later, those same baby carrots -- carefully pocketed, instead of eaten -- would be launched at the back of my head whenever I turned to write on the board. No amount of yelling, threatening, or pleading ceased the onslaught; I was unable to turn around fast enough to catch the culprits, and the kids knew it.

They might have been throwing vegetables because my lessons sucked. Looking back at the journal entries I wrote at the time, it is quite apparent to me that despite the intensity of my summer program and the classes I was taking at night, I had no idea what I was doing. In one entry, I describe having the students draw pictures to illustrate scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird -- to what end, I haven't a clue. In another journal entry, I pat myself on the back for the high scores my students received on a test -- one that, when I unearthed it from a folder several years later, I found to contain purely factual questions, requiring no deeper analysis whatsoever. I'm not sure why I thought it was important to test the students on the ages of the characters in Walter Dean Myers' YA book Monster; these days, I'd be much more concerned with their analysis of the moral gray area presented by the book's protagonist.

When I think back on these things, I cringe. Not only did I not become the next Socrates, a paradoxical thing happened -- the longer I stayed in teaching, the more I realized how much I didn't know. As the months and years passed, I learned that teaching is one of those evolving skills without any real end; you're always learning how to do things better. I could never have known early on how lousy I really was. Maybe that's for the best, or else I'd have been too demoralized to stay put. In retrospect, I realize I hit my stride around the end of my second year. It was only at that point that I'd accumulated a body of useful teaching materials, gained the confidence to manage a classroom of rowdy teens, and most importantly -- through trial, error, and watching more seasoned teachers -- developed some sense of what good pedagogy entailed. None of these were things I could have been taught in any training program; they were gains I could only have made through experience.

Unfortunately, the two-year mark -- which is pretty much exactly the time it takes for an average teacher to get "good" -- is the duration of the commitment required by most alternative certification programs, including my program (NYCTF), Teach for America, and the regional teacher corps programs across the country that fall under the umbrella of the New Teacher Project. During most of their tenure in these programs, the majority of new teachers are not only under-qualified for certification, but also completely clueless.

Last week, an "anomaly amendment" was inserted into Congress's Continuing Resolution (a stop-gap that allows the government to continue functioning in the absence of an official budget.) The amendment in question allows teachers who are in an alternative certification program, regardless of the amount of time they've been teaching or whether or not they've obtained licensure in their respective states, to be considered "highly qualified" under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) regulations. It comes as no surprise that the amendment received a major push from Teach for America, a program whose mission is to place inexperienced teachers, most of whom are fresh out of college, in high needs schools across the country.

The passage of this Continuing Resolution (and by extension, this amendment) is problematic for several reasons. There are obvious criticisms of alternative certification programs -- the funneling of money and resources into teachers who generally leave when their commitment is up, the fact that placing these new, inexpensive teachers in schools often takes away jobs from experienced (and comparatively more expensive) teachers.

But independent of those critiques, allowing novices to be considered "highly qualified" absolves school districts of their responsibility to attract and retain teachers who possess true skill and experience. Instead, it allows them to tell parents and students, particularly those in the high-needs schools where participants in alternative certification programs are overwhelmingly placed, that all teachers are "highly qualified" without any accountability.

In the wake of heated debates about ways in which teacher efficacy can be most effectively judged, this current move seems particularly misguided. Instead of putting tried and true teachers in the classrooms that need them most, the amendment allows a perpetuation of the status quo: high-needs schools serve as a training ground for the most inexperienced teachers, the majority of whom leave before they ever have a chance to be truly useful to the communities and profession that they serve. For NCLB to then allow this fact to be hidden from parents behind meaningless designations seems not only ineffectual, but downright unethical. Yes, there will always be new teachers, and yes, these newbies are often placed in schools that struggle to fill positions -- but one simply cannot call a club a spade.

There is no way I was "highly qualified" in my first years; to be honest, I'm not sure anyone could have said I was even that competent. In fact, the evaluations I received from my Assistant Principal during those first two years -- many of which were just barely "satisfactory" -- indicated what any moderately observant person could figure out: that I had a lot of work to do before I could become "good." It was only with experience and the consistent support of a network of professional peers -- the latter of which was, in my view, the most significant "take-away" from my NYCTF experience -- that I finally learned how to teach. To deny the crucial learning curve of those formative years in any teacher's career undermines not just the education of high-needs students, but the integrity of the teaching profession itself.
Seven years ago, when I began teaching high school in the Bronx as a NYC Teaching Fellow, I had every expectation of being the next Socrates. I had just completed a rigorous summer training program th...
Seven years ago, when I began teaching high school in the Bronx as a NYC Teaching Fellow, I had every expectation of being the next Socrates. I had just completed a rigorous summer training program th...
Read more from Huffington Post bloggers:
Larry Strauss
Larry Strauss: Quality Education, By Any Means Necessary

Teaching should be pure joy. That so many of us are frustrated and alienated -- some to the point of despair -- is intolerable. We can end the suffering by making 2011 the year of the subversive educator.

Daily News Reports on Cancellation of Jamaica HS Play

Queens school cancels rework of Greek classic because it criticizes outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein

Friday, December 31st 2010, 4:00 AM
Principals at Jamaica HS and Queens Collegiate, housed in the same building, banned joint production based on 'Antigone' after deeming it too harsh on exiting schools boss Joel Klein.
Photo Illustration by Isaac Lopez/News
Principals at Jamaica HS and Queens Collegiate, housed in the same building, banned joint production based on 'Antigone' after deeming it too harsh on exiting schools boss Joel Klein.
Queens school officials banned a student play this month out of fear that it was too critical of outgoing Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg.
The Jamaica High School and Queens Collegiate students wrote the play after reading the Greek tragedy "Antigone" in a course called "The Actors Studio," taught at Queensborough Community College.
The play paints a picture of unequal treatment at the two schools, which share one building. Collegiate is a new and growing school, while the Education Department is trying to close Jamaica for poor performance.
Instructor Brian Pickett received an email the day before the performance that principals at both schools had decided to ban it.
"They both had issues with the script and are concerned about implications and negative references to the [Education Department] as well as the chancellor and mayor," the email stated.
The students wrote their play after reading "Antigone," in which King Creon decrees that one of Antigone's brothers will receive a proper burial, while the other is "left out for the birds to feed on."
They also read "The Island," a play about two political prisoners who stage "Antigone" to protest apartheid in South Africa.
The students dubbed their production "Declassified, Struggle for Existence: We Used to Eat Lunch Together." Klein takes the place of King Creon, and Antigone and her sister are students at the two schools.
"We were shocked," said Bibi McKenzie, 15, a junior at Jamaica, who was in the class. "They didn't give us a chance. They said it would cause problems, but students from both schools wrote the script."
Pickett said that after the class read "Antigone," he urged students to relate it to current issues. The planned school closing came up repeatedly, as did the difference in resources given to each school.
Students also discussed Collegiate's reputation as the "privileged" school and Jamaica as the "failing" school, and how that affected the way students viewed one another.
"There were no big arguments in class," said Pickett. "We created an alternative to that competitive or contentious environment that existed in the relationship between the two schools."
Neither principal could be reached during the holiday week, and the Education Department declined to comment.
In a letter to Klein and Bloomberg last week, Student Press Law Center director Frank LoMonte wrote, "It is difficult to think of a more educationally and civically unsound action that a principal could take than to order students to refrain from speaking out on a matter of public concern regarding the quality of education they are receiving."
"I felt it was discriminatory," said Jamaica senior Afsan Quayyum, 18. "I had a lot of hope about this play. I wanted everyone to know what we face in the school every day. It was our story."

Read more:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bill Gates and Randi Weingarten

Can the billionaire philanthropist and the president of the American Federation of Teachers find common ground—and fix our nation’s education system?

Daniel Lyons
by Daniel Lyons
Bill Gates and Randi Weingarten in Washington, D.C. Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum for Newsweek
Bill Gates and Randi Weingarten in Washington, D.C.
Our schools are lagging behind the rest of the world. Why is that? How did we fall so far behind?
Gates: Well, it’s the big issue. A lot of other countries have put effort into their school systems. So part of it is the competition is better. The Chinese, who have a 10th of our wealth, are running a great education system. There are some things we can learn from other systems. They have a longer school day in most countries, and a longer school year in most countries. And some of them have elements of their personnel system that are worth learning from.
Weingarten: What we’re seeing is that the United States, instead of moving ahead, is actually stagnating. We’re basically in the same place we’ve been, and these countries have moved forward. They’ve spent a lot of time investing in the preparation and support of teachers. Many of them teach a common curriculum, very similar to the common standards that Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have been supporting. And they create the tools and conditions that teachers need to teach, and they have mutual respect and accountability. So kids have a role in terms of education, parents have a role in terms of education, teachers have a role in terms of education, and policymakers do as well.
Gates: I agree with all that, except we spend more money by every measure than any other system. Any way you look at it we spend by far the most money. So that is a dilemma. What are we going to do to get more out of the investments we make? Are there practices in terms of helping teachers be better that we can fit into our system? What can you do to help the teachers be better? You know, a quarter of our teachers are very good. If you could make all the teachers as good as the top quarter, the U.S. would soar to the top of that comparison. So can you find the way to capture what the really good teachers are doing? It’s amazing to me that more has not been invested in looking at how does that good teacher calm that classroom? How does that good teacher keep the attention of all those kids? We need to measure what they do, and then have incentives for the other teachers to learn those things.
Weingarten: Football teams do this all the time. They look at the tape after every game. Sometimes they do it during the game. They’re constantly deconstructing what is working and what isn’t working. And they’re jettisoning what isn’t working and building up on what is working, and doing it in a teamlike approach. We never do that investment in public schooling. What’s happening in Finland is they do that investment in the graduate schools of education before people become teachers. They recruit a very select group of people who become teachers. Now it is also true that Finland has a 5 percent poverty rate and the United States has a 20 percent poverty rate. But there’s this notion of really figuring out what the best teachers do and trying to scale that up.
Bill, you mentioned that the top quarter of our teachers are very good. But that’s probably the case in Finland, too. It can’t be the case that every teacher in Finland is some amazing teacher.
Gates: They actually run a personnel system, which is kind of an amazing thing. You have a review, and you’re told what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. If over a period of time you’re not improving, then you move to another profession. So, Finland, Korea, Singapore—they run teacher personnel systems. In the U.S. we have one of the most predictive personnel systems mankind ever invented—try to remember how many years you’ve worked, and you will know your salary.
Weingarten: Our schools have to be fundamentally different today than they were 100 years ago, 50 years ago. And yet our schools are still organized for the industrial age rather than the knowledge economy. We need to work together to try to figure out a good evaluation system that’s based upon multiple measures and says to a teacher, this is what you’re doing right, and this is what you’re not doing right, and based upon a lot of different things, how do we improve? And if we can’t improve, how do we find a way to counsel you out of the profession? That’s what we’re trying to do.
You say “counsel people out of the profession.” Is that something you can’t do now?
Gates: Under the Colorado law or under the Washington, D.C., system, if the measures show you as being ineffective, I think it’s two years in a row, then you’re up for review, and despite your seniority you can be let go.
Weingarten: Actually, in almost all places if you don’t do well under an evaluation system, you can be let go. The tenure process is supposed to simply be a fairness process. The reality is that managers don’t do their jobs.
Gates: There is no evaluation. For 90 percent of the teachers in America there’s no feedback. Now, we don’t need to argue about how it got that way. Was that the management? Was it the union? That is the way it is. And there aren’t many professions like that. So that’s got to change. It’s got to change in a way that’s a positive message for teachers, and that’s not high overhead, and that’s not capricious. A lot of people moved ahead just using the [student] test scores [to measure teacher performance], which I would claim is better than doing nothing. But it’s not as good as what we’re trying to craft together, where you have these other measures, like videotaping classrooms, peer interviews, and student interviews.
Weingarten: When I taught, the way in which we got evaluated is what I used to call the drive-by evaluation. Somebody would come in for 20 minutes with a checklist and that would be your evaluation. So it was clearly a snapshot. The tests are a snapshot. Neither one of them gets you to this point where you can use an evaluation system to help teachers continually improve and to help kids learn. But that work has to get done collaboratively. School systems by and large do not work collaboratively. They basically work on conflict. Conflict is the status quo in education. In Pittsburgh and in Hillsborough County, Fla., two of the places where the Gates Foundation has heavily invested, you see a culture of working together to make these changes.
Randi, you’ve talked about moving from the industrial age into a knowledge economy. But aren’t unions just relics of the industrial era? Does the concept of a union itself make sense in a knowledge economy?
Weingarten: Of course it does. You look at the different countries that are vastly more successful than we are, and they’re all unionized.
Gates: Yeah, but you won’t find any other country that has the work rules that we have. Go read the American Federation of Teachers New York work rules. It’s a mind-blowing document. They [other countries] don’t have anything like this. There is nothing that says you only have to work this many minutes on this, you only have to work this many minutes on that. In any of the top-10 countries you won’t have anything like that. We’re the only one without a real personnel system.
Weingarten: A lot of that is because the status quo has been this conflict. We have to break out of that. If you create a collaborative environment where teachers are trusted, you break out of the mold of the industrial economy, and the factory model, which is what a lot of these contracts are. Also, in places where the schools are working, people never look at the contract.
Should we have a national curriculum in the United States?
Gates: There’s actually a state-driven move to share standards. There is a resistance to it starting at the national level and being imposed by the national level. But that’s OK, because what happened is a few states took the lead and got together and said, hey, we want to share. And now we have 43 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have committed to use these standards, and that was not imposed by the federal government. Actually, it looks like we’re on a path where five years from now a lot of the states—and 10 years from now, almost all the states—will have a common curriculum. I think this is going to be a good thing. It’s going to drive some efficiency. This curriculum’s not just a standard where they arbitrarily pick things. It’s actually a better curriculum.
Weingarten: In the past we have focused on wide and not deep. What these other countries do is they focus on deep. So if you actually look at some work in Japan or in Singapore on mathematics, kids really understand fractions. They don’t just memorize what a fraction is. They don’t just say one half equals 50 percent and that’s memorized. They understand how you get there. What our new common standards do is they are deeper and fewer. They’re designed, again, around the idea of what do we need to do to help kids in the 21st century, in the knowledge economy? And what do we need to do if a kid goes to school one year in New York but next year in Washington, D.C.? How do we make sure that there are some really core concepts that are common so that we are taking into account the mobility of children?
What about this notion of giving tenure to teachers? That seems ridiculous.
Weingarten: Well, tenure is a proxy for fairness and a proxy to ensure that teachers are not treated arbitrarily and capriciously. But it shouldn’t be lifetime job security, and I think that when you start thinking about how to have good evaluation systems that actually align with the due-process system, then you have the best of both worlds. We do not have an epidemic of bad teachers. But we don’t support our teachers the way countries that outcompete us do. These other countries spend a lot of time figuring out how to prepare and how to support teachers and how to align teachers’ work with what kids ought to do.
Gates: No, we spend more on professional development than they do. We spend more on salaries than they do. We spend more on pensions than they do. We spend more on retirement health benefits than they do. But we have less evaluation than they do. In many districts you have to give advance notice before anybody can come into your classroom. That’s part of the contract. So there are some real differences in terms of the personnel system in these other countries.
Bill, when you talk I can hear the frustration in your voice. Does this stuff drive you crazy?
Gates: The only thing that drives anybody crazy is the results for the students, which right now nobody’s happy with. And so everybody wants to change. But how quickly they want to change, and what they want to change, everybody has their own ideas. I have a graph that shows spending from 1970 to now, and it goes up and up, while achievement is basically flat. Over the next period of time we need achievement to look more like that spending line. And unfortunately, because of fiscal realities, we’re going to have to fight for spending on K–12 to even stay flat.
To me, Bill’s graph seems to demonstrate the effect of organized labor on any industry. You could say the same thing happened in Detroit.
Weingarten: Well, it is the effect of organized labor and others in creating a middle class in this country. Ultimately we have to figure out how to maintain a middle class and yet also how to ensure consistent, high quality. That’s really the challenge that we have to do for workers, and that’s the challenge we have to do for kids.
Gates: These things take time. Even in the best case, if you improve teachers today, the country doesn’t see the benefit of that for 15 years or so. So to be in this business you have to have a long-term view. You know, when [New York] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg decided to get involved in the schools, he knew that the benefits were going to be way, way out there. So you can’t be too impatient.
Daniel Lyons is also the author of Options: The Secret Life of Steve Job

Go To Hell, Mayor Bloomberg: This Is Why We’re Angry

Good afternoon,

We just posted a photo comparing the road in front of Mr. Bloomberg's residence to the road in front of my residence. The difference is staggering, and shows just how little concern this administration has for our outerborough neighborhoods. I won't rant here; my indignation is already well-documented in the posts throughout the past two days. 

I'd appreciate it if you took a look at the photos and consider bringing exposure to this through your outlet. Thank you.

Kind regards,
Ned Berke
Sheepshead Bites
(347) 985-0633
(707) 581-8967 (fax)


Updates on Cathie Black

Several law suits and new legislation to address obstruction of NYS
Ed. Laws

Analysis: Mayoral control over NYC schools $ prepared targeted

NYS Education Commissioner David Steiner No Education License or
Certificate, Curriculum Vitae/Resume

NYS Education Commissioner David Steiner No Education License or
Certificate, Curriculum Vitae/Resume

Pt 1, Ed Crime Ring: Mayoral control, obstruction of...

Pt 2, Ed. Crime Ring: Mayoral control, obstruction...

NYC Chancellor Black, no master's degree, violates Ed Law: Duncan
visits NYC

Pt 1: Unraveling Black's NYC education siege $ insurrection against
NYS Ed. Laws

Pt 2: Unraveling Black's NYC education siege $ insurrection against
NYS Ed. Laws

Full Report: Unraveling Black's NYC Education Siege and Insurrection
against US laws

Steiner concocts gateway for Black's obstruction of the rule of law

NYS Commissioner Steiner: Education Administration Credentials?

Council on Foreign Relations: Bloomberg and Cathleen Black

New York City's Education Crises: Unqualified Leadership Supported by
Chief Infectious Disease Vaccine Developer.

Criminal enterprise: Partnership for NYC, supports Cathleen Black

Infectious disease vaccine developer chief supports Cathleen Black

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

America in Decline: Why Germans Think We're Insane

[YEAREND BAILOUT] Naziism's rise
A look at our empire in decline through the eyes of the European media.

The European Union has a larger economy and more people than America does. Though it spends less -- right around 9 percent of GNP on medical, whereas we in the U.S. spend between 15 to 16 percent of GNP on medical -- the EU pretty much insures 100 percent of its population.
The U.S. has 59 million people medically uninsured;132 million without dental insurance; 60 million without paid sick leave; 40 million on food stamps. Everybody in the European Union has cradle-to-grave access to universal medical and a dental plan by law. The law also requires paid sick leave; paid annual leave; paid maternity leave. When you realize all of that, it becomes easy to understand why many Europeans think America has gone insane.
Der Spiegel has run an interesting feature called "A Superpower in Decline," which attempts to explain to a German audience such odd phenomena as the rise of the Tea Party, without the hedging or attempts at "balance" found in mainstream U.S. media. On the Tea Parties:
Full of Hatred: "The Tea Party, that group of white, older voters who claim that they want their country back, is angry. Fox News host Glenn Beck, a recovering alcoholic who likens Obama to Adolf Hitler, is angry. Beck doesn't quite know what he wants to be -- maybe a politician, maybe president, maybe a preacher -- and he doesn't know what he wants to do, either, or least he hasn't come up with any specific ideas or plans. But he is full of hatred."
The piece continues with the sobering assessment that America’s actual unemployment rate isn’t really 10 percent, but close to 20 percent when we factor in the number of people who have stopped looking for work.
Some social scientists think that making sure large-scale crime or fascism never takes root in Europe again requires a taxpayer investment in a strong social safety net. Can we learn from Europe? Isn't it better to invest in a social safety net than in a large criminal justice system? (In America over 2 million people are incarcerated.)
Jobless Benefits That Never Run Out
Unlike here, in Germany jobless benefits never run out. Not only that -- as part of their social safety net, all job seekers continue to be medically insured, as are their families.
In the German jobless benefit system, when "jobless benefit 1" runs out, "jobless benefit 2," also known as HartzIV, kicks in. That one never gets cut off. The jobless also have contributions made for their pensions. They receive other types of insurance coverage from the state. As you can imagine, the estimated 2 million unemployed Americans who almost had no benefits this Christmas seems a particular horror show to Europeans, made worse by the fact that the U.S. government does not provide any medical insurance to American unemployment recipients. Europeans routinely recoil at that in disbelief and disgust.
In another piece the Spiegel magazine steps away from statistics and tells the story of Pam Brown, who personifies what is coming to be known as the Nouveau American poor. Pam Brown was a former executive assistant on Wall Street, and her shocking decline has become part of the American storyAmerican society is breaking apart. Millions of people have lost their jobs and fallen into poverty. Among them, for the first time, are many middle-class families. Meet Pam Brown from New York, whose life changed overnight. The crisis caught her unprepared. 
"It was horrible," Pam Brown remembers. "Overnight I found myself on the wrong side of the fence. It never occurred to me that something like this could happen to me. I got very depressed." Brown sits in a cheap diner on West 14th Street in Manhattan, stirring her $1.35 coffee. That's all she orders -- it's too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. She also needs to save money. Until early 2009, Brown worked as an executive assistant on Wall Street, earning more than $80,000 a year, living in a six-bedroom house with her three sons. Today, she's long-term unemployed and has to make do with a tiny one-bedroom in the Bronx.
It's important to note that no country in the European Union uses food stamps in order to humiliate its disadvantaged citizens in the grocery checkout line. Even worse is the fact that even the humbling food stamp allotment may not provide enough food for America’s jobless families. So it is on a reoccurring basis that some of these families report eating out of garbage cans to the European media. 
For Pam Brown, last winter was the worst. One day she ran out of food completely and had to go through trash cans. She fell into a deep depression ... For many, like Brown, the downfall is a Kafkaesque odyssey, a humiliation hard to comprehend. Help is not in sight: their government and their society have abandoned them.
Pam Brown and her children were disturbingly, indeed incomprehensibly, allowed to fall straight to the bottom. The richest country in the world becomes morally bankrupt when someone like Pam Brown and her children have to pick through trash to eat, abandoned with a callous disregard by the American government. People like Brown have found themselves dispossessed due to the robber baron actions of the Wall Street elite.
Hunger in the Land of the Big Mac
A shocking headline from a Swiss newspaper reads (Berner Zeitung) “Hunger in the Land of the Big Mac.” Though the article is in German, the pictures are worth 1,000 words and need no translation. Given the fact that the Swiss virtually eliminated hunger, how do we as Americans think they will view these pictures, to which the American population has apparently been desensitized.
Two mothers collecting food boxes from the charity Feed the Children.
Perhaps the only way for us to remember what we really look like in America is to see ourselves through the eyes of others. While it is true that we can all be proud Americans, surely we don't have to be proud of the broken American social safety net. Surely we can do better than that. Can a European-style social safety net rescue the American working and middle classes from GOP and Tea Party warfare?
Response from a reader:
Now you know why I understand the lure – and wisdom -- of socialism.  Few things frustrate me as much as the average American’s anathema towards spending enough of our income to strengthen our social safety net. We have never learned – nor do we want to accept the idea – that we are no stronger than our weakest link, that link being anyone of us who has “fallen through the cracks.”  We refuse to accept the moral responsibility for our fellow citizens, preferring to blame the unfortunate for laziness or shiftlessness or failure to plan properly for his/her welfare.  
Yes, those things occur but the average person prefers to hold his/her head up as a productive member of society.  Sometimes no matter how motivated a person is, bad things beyond our control happen.  Those of us secure in our own little world fail to see or accept this.  For a nation that calls itself  “Christian,” we have failed to learn one of the things that Christ spoke of repeatedly – treating our neighbor as ourselves. 
We think of ourselves as a generous nation – witness the Marshall Plan for Europe after WWII or our willingness to donate to the Red Cross when the latest disaster strikes.  Yet we shriek like mad at the prospect of shelling out enough of our income to provide universal health care or unemployment benefits that do not expire.  In this we are a “band-aid” people.  
We are unwilling to see the USA as it truly is, where corporate prosperity and capitalism run amok are never-ending threats to democracy.  Our tendency to allow the wealthiest among us to become even wealthier has happened again and again in our history, yet most of us know so little about our history that we do not recognize this fact, or we are too dishonest to admit it and work to change it.  
We need look no further than both Roosevelts – bluebloods if ever there ever was one -- yet both showed great concern for the most unfortunate among us.  Somehow or other, we’ve got to accept the idea that a strong federal government is better by far than the piecemeal social care we practice.  
Rampant nationalism in Europe is one of its ongoing and biggest problems, and its major threat to European unity.  But the EU’s “social contract” with its citizens puts ours to shame.   
I don’t know about you – and I’ve never breathed this to a living soul – but when I see the mess this country is in, I am thankful that my remaining time on earth is short.  I’m not sure I could stand the agony of seeing the country I have loved life-long come apart at the seams.  Yet this is exactly what will happen if we do not get our act together.

S.Korea schools get robot English teachers

by Jung Ha-Won Jung Ha-won – 
SEOUL (AFP) – Almost 30 robots have started teaching English to youngsters in a South Korean city, education officials said Tuesday, in a pilot project designed to nurture the nascent robot industry.
Engkey, a white, egg-shaped robot developed by the Korea Institute of Science of Technology (KIST), began taking classes Monday at 21 elementary schools in the southeastern city of Daegu.
The 29 robots, about one metre (3.3 feet) high with a TV display panel for a face, wheeled around the classroom while speaking to the students, reading books to them and dancing to music by moving their head and arms.
The robots, which display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, are controlled remotely by teachers of English in the Philippines -- who can see and hear the children via a remote control system.
Cameras detect the Filipino teachers' facial expressions and instantly reflect them on the avatar's face, said Sagong Seong-Dae, a senior scientist at KIST.
"Well-educated, experienced Filipino teachers are far cheaper than their counterparts elsewhere, including South Korea," he told AFP.
Apart from reading books, the robots use pre-programmed software to sing songs and play alphabet games with the children.
"The kids seemed to love it since the robots look, well, cute and interesting. But some adults also expressed interest, saying they may feel less nervous talking to robots than a real person," said Kim Mi-Young, an official at Daegu city education office.
Kim said some may be sent to remote rural areas of South Korea shunned by foreign English teachers.
She said the robots are still being tested. But officials might consider hiring them full time if scientists upgrade them and make them easier to handle and more affordable.
"Having robots in the classroom makes the students more active in participating, especially shy ones afraid of speaking out to human teachers," Kim said.
She stressed the experiment was not about replacing human teachers with robots. "We are helping upgrade a key, strategic industry and all the while giving children more interest in what they learn."
The four-month pilot programme was sponsored by the government, which invested 1.58 billion won (1.37 million dollars).
Scientists have held pilot programmes in schools since 2009 to develop robots to teach English, maths, science and other subjects at different levels with a desired price tag of five to eight million won.
Sagong stressed that the robots, which currently cost 10 million won each, largely back up human teachers but would eventually have a bigger role.
The machines can be an efficient tool to hone language skills for many people who feel nervous about conversing with flesh-and-blood foreigners, he said.
"Plus, they won't complain about health insurance, sick leave and severance package, or leave in three months for a better-paying job in Japan... all you need is a repair and upgrade every once in a while."

Labor Notes on Public Employees

Public Employees: Myths and Realities

Mark Brenner
    |  December 20, 2010
With all the venom directed at public employees these days, it’s hard to separate the facts from the attacks. Here’s a guide to common claims made about government spending, taxes, and public employees.
The Claim: Government employees are overpaid.
The Facts: The Economic Policy Institute measured state and local public workers against their private sector counterparts with the same age, experience, and education. They found that public workers earn about 11 percent less.
Public workers had better benefits on average, but even when health care and retirement were included, public workers were still 4 percent behind private sector counterparts.
Claims that state and local government workers are overpaid often fail to account for their education and experience. Fifty-four percent have at least a four-year college degree, compared to 35 percent in the private sector.
The Claim: The federal deficit is out of control.
The Facts: It’s true that this year’s budget deficit—projected to be 10.3 percent of U.S. economic activity—is the highest since World War II. Whether it’s a problem depends on your time frame and how we address it.
Short-term government spending was the only thing that kept the economy from cratering in 2008. It staved off a second Great Depression.
With no private sector investment in sight, public spending will be the only engine for job creation in the foreseeable future. Aside from the pain created by high unemployment, no jobs means no recovery for tax collections and therefore a widening deficit.
The deficit is a long-term problem if we do nothing, but before doing something we have to look at spending and revenues. The bulk of federal spending is on the military (22 percent) and health care, including Medicare, Medicaid, and children’s health programs (21 percent).
The obvious place to start trimming is today’s military budget, which is two and a half times what it was 10 years ago. Health care costs are also skyrocketing, because they are driven by for-profit health care. A single-payer system like “Medicare for all” would correct that.
The Claim: Taxes are too high.
The Facts: Depends whose taxes you mean. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, overall taxes in the U.S. are the third lowest among industrialized countries (only Turkey and Mexico are lower). Corporate taxes are also lower than in most other industrial nations.
But there are inequities—and they favor the rich. People at the bottom of the income ladder, the lowest 20 percent, pay almost twice as much of their income in state and local taxes as the top 1 percent. The poor pay 11 percent, the rich just 6 percent.
At the end of World War II corporations paid more than a third of all taxes collected by the federal government. Today they pay only 10 percent. The burden was shifted to individuals, and as taxes on the wealthy were cut over the last 30 years, the liability has been transferred to working people.
The Claim: The private sector is more efficient than government.
The Facts: Advocates claim outsourcing will save money. But after more than two decades of experience, reality isn’t so clear-cut.
Cost overruns combined with the cost of contract monitoring and administration often makes privatization more expensive than in-house services. According to a 2007 survey by the International City/County Management Association, more than one in five local governments had brought previously outsourced services back in house.
In most cases insufficient cost savings were cited as a primary reason. And where contracting out does produce savings, they typically come from lower wages and benefits for workers—not some supposed inherent superiority of business.
The Claim: Government waste, fraud and abuse are rampant.
The Facts: Government-bashers love to talk about overpaid, do-nothing bureaucrats, but if you’re looking for misused tax dollars your best bet is to scour the Chamber of Commerce’s membership list. Defense contracts and construction projects like the “Big Dig” in Boston hold taxpayers hostage with wildly inaccurate, often fraudulent cost estimates.
According to the Project on Government Oversight’s database of federal contractor misconduct, the top five defense contractors have racked up 156 instances of misconduct since 1995, totaling $3.57 billion in fraud and waste.


Public Sector, Public Good

Mark Brenner
    |  December 27, 2010
AFSCME members rallied in California against poverty wages and service cuts. Jim West
Dumping on public sector workers is so “common sense” these days that even a few fellow unionists are piling on. The head of the New York City building trades council, Gary LaBarbera, just joined the business-backed “Committee to Save New York,” a group formed solely to advance Governor Andrew Cuomo’s war on public sector unions’ pay and pensions.
Using a line lifted straight from the Chamber of Commerce, LaBarbera said that “without a fiscally sound environment, we will not be able to attract new businesses to the city.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

Chris Hedges on Orwell and Huxley


This excerpt from James Kunstler's blog posting today:

"The Jacobins of 1793 France were basically the Left. It took only five hundred or so of them to bully a nation of 30 million. The Jacobins of the USA in 2011 are basically the Right Wing, followers of Senator Jim DeMint, the mind-slaves of Rush Limbaugh and "students" of Prof Glenn Beck, and, of course, the worshippers of Sarah Palin. Their brand of politics might be labeled Nostalgic Sentimental Paranoid Know-Nothingism. They're proud and loud, pious and ignorant, so deeply insecure that they depend on flag lapel pins to remind them to care about their country, full of righteous anger about their own sexual impulses, the religious notions (or not) of other people, and the possible introduction of the rule of law in banking matters. They pretend to represent the folks freezing in their mobile homes who subsist on Froot Loops, but they're really protecting the country clubbers, the corporate poobahs, the fraudsters on Wall Street, and every other racketeer in the land - including their own class of political grifters.
The Obama Democrats, the putative Left Wing, are analogous to the pro-monarchy center of revolutionary France. Their ethical sanctimony is fake while they do everything possible to keep the rule of law out of money matters. They are most of all ineffectual and impotent, capable only of grandstanding hyped up Great Compromises that accomplish nothing, and probably doom the party to be chewed up by the machinations of their bloodthirsty adversaries on the right. It's hard to shed a tear for them, their performance has been so purblind and wimpish.
History has its own momentum and it is carrying the psychotic Right Wing into power. Fear not. After they stomp the moderates and the Left, they will themselves end up in an orgy of political cannibalism before somebody as yet unknown - perhaps some field brigadier just now in Afghanistan - steps up to say, "Look here, fuckers...." Meanwhile, America may have its own Bastille moment when something goes too far, some poor functionary at the Treasury Department gets scalped by a gang of 99ers, or a distressed physician goes after Glenn Beck in the student union of a Bible college, or... Gawd knows what."

2011: A Brave New Dystopia

Monday 27 December 2010
by: Chris Hedges  |  Truthdig | Op-Ed
2011: A Brave New Dystopia
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: ZakVTA, Jeremy Brooks)
The two greatest visions of a future dystopia were George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” The debate, between those who watched our descent towards corporate totalitarianism, was who was right. Would we be, as Orwell wrote, dominated by a repressive surveillance and security state that used crude and violent forms of control? Or would we be, as Huxley envisioned, entranced by entertainment and spectacle, captivated by technology and seduced by profligate consumption to embrace our own oppression? It turns out Orwell and Huxley were both right. Huxley saw the first stage of our enslavement. Orwell saw the second.
We have been gradually disempowered by a corporate state that, as Huxley foresaw, seduced and manipulated us through sensual gratification, cheap mass-produced goods, boundless credit, political theater and amusement. While we were entertained, the regulations that once kept predatory corporate power in check were dismantled, the laws that once protected us were rewritten and we were impoverished. Now that credit is drying up, good jobs for the working class are gone forever and mass-produced goods are unaffordable, we find ourselves transported from “Brave New World” to “1984.” The state, crippled by massive deficits, endless war and corporate malfeasance, is sliding toward bankruptcy. It is time for Big Brother to take over from Huxley’s feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumble-puppy. We are moving from a society where we are skillfully manipulated by lies and illusions to one where we are overtly controlled.
Orwell warned of a world where books were banned. Huxley warned of a world where no one wanted to read books. Orwell warned of a state of permanent war and fear. Huxley warned of a culture diverted by mindless pleasure. Orwell warned of a state where every conversation and thought was monitored and dissent was brutally punished. Huxley warned of a state where a population, preoccupied by trivia and gossip, no longer cared about truth or information. Orwell saw us frightened into submission. Huxley saw us seduced into submission. But Huxley, we are discovering, was merely the prelude to Orwell. Huxley understood the process by which we would be complicit in our own enslavement. Orwell understood the enslavement. Now that the corporate coup is over, we stand naked and defenseless. We are beginning to understand, as Karl Marx knew, that unfettered and unregulated capitalism is a brutal and revolutionary force that exploits human beings and the natural world until exhaustion or collapse.
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake,” Orwell wrote in “1984.” “We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin uses the term “inverted totalitarianism” in his book “Democracy Incorporated” to describe our political system. It is a term that would make sense to Huxley. In inverted totalitarianism, the sophisticated technologies of corporate control, intimidation and mass manipulation, which far surpass those employed by previous totalitarian states, are effectively masked by the glitter, noise and abundance of a consumer society. Political participation and civil liberties are gradually surrendered. The corporation state, hiding behind the smokescreen of the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and the tawdry materialism of a consumer society, devours us from the inside out. It owes no allegiance to us or the nation. It feasts upon our carcass.
The corporate state does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader. It is defined by the anonymity and facelessness of the corporation. Corporations, who hire attractive spokespeople like Barack Obama, control the uses of science, technology, education and mass communication. They control the messages in movies and television. And, as in “Brave New World,” they use these tools of communication to bolster tyranny. Our systems of mass communication, as Wolin writes, “block out, eliminate whatever might introduce qualification, ambiguity, or dialogue, anything that might weaken or complicate the holistic force of their creation, to its total impression.”
The result is a monochromatic system of information. Celebrity courtiers, masquerading as journalists, experts and specialists, identify our problems and patiently explain the parameters. All those who argue outside the imposed parameters are dismissed as irrelevant cranks, extremists or members of a radical left. Prescient social critics, from Ralph Nader to Noam Chomsky, are banished. Acceptable opinions have a range of A to B. The culture, under the tutelage of these corporate courtiers, becomes, as Huxley noted, a world of cheerful conformity, as well as an endless and finally fatal optimism. We busy ourselves buying products that promise to change our lives, make us more beautiful, confident or successful as we are steadily stripped of rights, money and influence. All messages we receive through these systems of communication, whether on the nightly news or talk shows like “Oprah,” promise a brighter, happier tomorrow. And this, as Wolin points out, is “the same ideology that invites corporate executives to exaggerate profits and conceal losses, but always with a sunny face.” We have been entranced, as Wolin writes, by “continuous technological advances” that “encourage elaborate fantasies of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, actions measured in nanoseconds: a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose denizens are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge.”
Our manufacturing base has been dismantled. Speculators and swindlers have looted the U.S. Treasury and stolen billions from small shareholders who had set aside money for retirement or college. Civil liberties, including habeas corpus and protection from warrantless wiretapping, have been taken away. Basic services, including public education and health care, have been handed over to the corporations to exploit for profit. The few who raise voices of dissent, who refuse to engage in the corporate happy talk, are derided by the corporate establishment as freaks.
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Attitudes and temperament have been cleverly engineered by the corporate state, as with Huxley’s pliant characters in “Brave New World.” The book’s protagonist, Bernard Marx, turns in frustration to his girlfriend Lenina:
'Don’t you wish you were free, Lenina?' he asks.
'I don’t know that you mean. I am free, free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody’s happy nowadays.'
He laughed, 'Yes, ‘Everybody’s happy nowadays.’ We have been giving the children that at five. But wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way.'
'I don’t know what you mean,' she repeated.
The façade is crumbling. And as more and more people realize that they have been used and robbed, we will move swiftly from Huxley’s “Brave New World” to Orwell’s “1984.” The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.
We increasingly live in Orwell’s Oceania, not Huxley’s The World State. Osama bin Laden plays the role assumed by Emmanuel Goldstein in “1984.” Goldstein, in the novel, is the public face of terror. His evil machinations and clandestine acts of violence dominate the nightly news. Goldstein’s image appears each day on Oceania’s television screens as part of the nation’s “Two Minutes of Hate” daily ritual. And without the intervention of the state, Goldstein, like bin Laden, will kill you. All excesses are justified in the titanic fight against evil personified.
The psychological torture of Pvt. Bradley Manning—who has now been imprisoned for seven months without being convicted of any crime—mirrors the breaking of the dissident Winston Smith at the end of “1984.” Manning is being held as a “maximum custody detainee” in the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 of every 24 hours alone. He is denied exercise. He cannot have a pillow or sheets for his bed. Army doctors have been plying him with antidepressants. The cruder forms of torture of the Gestapo have been replaced with refined Orwellian techniques, largely developed by government psychologists, to turn dissidents like Manning into vegetables. We break souls as well as bodies. It is more effective. Now we can all be taken to Orwell’s dreaded Room 101 to become compliant and harmless. These “special administrative measures” are regularly imposed on our dissidents, including Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was imprisoned under similar conditions for three years before going to trial. The techniques have psychologically maimed thousands of detainees in our black sites around the globe. They are the staple form of control in our maximum security prisons where the corporate state makes war on our most politically astute underclass—African-Americans. It all presages the shift from Huxley to Orwell.
“Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling,” Winston Smith’s torturer tells him in “1984.” “Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”
The noose is tightening. The era of amusement is being replaced by the era of repression. Tens of millions of citizens have had their e-mails and phone records turned over to the government. We are the most monitored and spied-on citizenry in human history. Many of us have our daily routine caught on dozens of security cameras. Our proclivities and habits are recorded on the Internet. Our profiles are electronically generated. Our bodies are patted down at airports and filmed by scanners. And public service announcements, car inspection stickers, and public transportation posters constantly urge us to report suspicious activity. The enemy is everywhere.
Those who do not comply with the dictates of the war on terror, a war which, as Orwell noted, is endless, are brutally silenced. The draconian security measures used to cripple protests at the G-20 gatherings in Pittsburgh and Toronto were wildly disproportionate for the level of street activity. But they sent a clear message—DO NOT TRY THIS. The FBI’s targeting of antiwar and Palestinian activists, which in late September saw agents raid homes in Minneapolis and Chicago, is a harbinger of what is to come for all who dare defy the state’s official Newspeak. The agents—our Thought Police—seized phones, computers, documents and other personal belongings. Subpoenas to appear before a grand jury have since been served on 26 people. The subpoenas cite federal law prohibiting “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” Terror, even for those who have nothing to do with terror, becomes the blunt instrument used by Big Brother to protect us from ourselves.
“Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating?” Orwell wrote. “It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself.”
Chris Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute. His newest book is “Death of the Liberal Class.”