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The Real Health Care Debate April 9, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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Published on Monday, April 9, 2012 by Truthdig

  by  Chris Hedges

The debate surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act illustrates the impoverishment of our political life. Here is a law that had its origin in the right-wing Heritage Foundation, was first put into practice in 2006 in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Mitt Romney and was solidified into federal law after corporate lobbyists wrote legislation with more than 2,000 pages. It is a law that forces American citizens to buy a deeply defective product from private insurance companies. It is a law that is the equivalent of the bank bailout bill—some $447 billion in subsidies for insurance interests alone—for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. It is a law that is unconstitutional. And it is a law by which President Barack Obama, and his corporate backers, extinguished the possibilities of both the public option and Medicare for all Americans. There is no substantial difference between Obamacare and Romneycare. There is no substantial difference between Obama and Romney. They are abject servants of the corporate state. And if you vote for one you vote for the other.

 

But you would never know this by listening to the Democratic Party and the advocacy groups that purport to support universal health care but seem more intent on re-electing Obama. It is the very sad legacy of the liberal class that it proves in election cycle after election cycle that it espouses moral and political positions it will not pay a price to defend. And since we have no fight in us, since we will not punish politicians like Obama who betray our core beliefs, the corporate juggernaut rolls forward with its inexorable pace to cement into place our global neofeudalism.

Protesting outside the Supreme Court recently as it heard arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act were both conservatives from Americans for Prosperity who denounced the president as a socialist and demonstrators from Democratic front groups such as the SEIU and the Families USA health care consumer group who chanted “Protect the law!” Lost between these two factions were a few stalwarts who hold quite different views, including public health care advocates Dr. Margaret Flowers, Dr. Carol Paris and attorneys Oliver Hall, Kevin Zeese and Russell Mokhiber. They displayed a banner that read: “Single Payer Now! Strike Down the Obama Mandate!” They, at least, have not relinquished the demand for single payer health care for all Americans. And I throw my lot in with these renegades, dismissed, no doubt, as cranks or dreamers or impractical by those who flee into the embrace of empty political theater and junk politics. These single payer advocates, joined by 50 doctors, filed a brief to the court that challenges, in the name of universal health care, the individual mandate.

“We have the solution, we have the resources and we have the money to provide lifelong, comprehensive, high-quality health care to every person,” Dr. Flowers said when we spoke a few days ago in Washington, D.C. Many Americans have not accepted the single payer approach “because people get confused by the politics,” she said. “People accept the Democratic argument that this [Obamacare] is all we can have or this is something we can build on.”

“If you are trying to meet the goal of universal health coverage and the only way to meet that goal is to force people to purchase private insurance, then you might consider that it is constitutional,” Flowers said. “Our argument is that the individual mandate does not meet the goal of universality. When you attempt to use the individual mandate and expansion of Medicaid for coverage, only about half of the uninsured gain coverage. This is what we have seen in Massachusetts. We do, however, have systems in the United States that could meet the goal of universality. That would be either a Veterans Administration type system, which is a socialized system run by the government, or a Medicare type system, a single payer, publicly financed health care system. If the U.S. Congress had considered an evidence-based approach to health reform instead of writing a bill that funnels more wealth to insurance companies that deny and restrict care, it would have been a no-brainer to adopt a single payer health system much like our own Medicare. We are already spending enough on health care in this country to provide high-quality, universal, comprehensive, lifelong health care. All the data point to a single payer system as the only way to accomplish this and control health care costs.”

Obamacare will, according to figures compiled by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), leave at least 23 million people without insurance, a figure that translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths a year among people who cannot afford care. Costs will continue to climb. There are no caps on premiums, including for people with “pre-existing conditions.” The elderly can be charged three times the rates provided to the young. Companies with predominantly female workforces can be charged higher gender-based rates. Most of us will soon be paying about 10 percent of our annual incomes to buy commercial health insurance, although this coverage will pay for only about 70 percent of our medical expenses. And those of us who become seriously ill, lose our incomes and cannot pay the skyrocketing premiums are likely to be denied coverage. The dizzying array of loopholes in the law—written in by insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists—means, in essence, that the healthy will receive insurance while the sick and chronically ill will be priced out of the market.

Medical bills already lead to 62 percent of personal bankruptcies, and nearly 80 percent of those declaring personal bankruptcy because of medical costs had insurance. The U.S. spends twice as much per capita on health care as other industrialized nations, $8,160. Private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume 31 percent of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single, nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year, enough, the PNHP estimates, to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.

But as long as corporations determine policy, as long as they can use their money to determine who gets elected and what legislation gets passed, we remain hostages. It matters little in our corporate state that nearly two-thirds of the public wants single payer and that it is backed by 59 percent of doctors. Public debates on the Obama health care reform, controlled by corporate dollars, ruthlessly silence those who support single payer. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Max Baucus, a politician who gets more than 80 percent of his campaign contributions from outside his home state of Montana, locked out of the Affordable Care Act hearing a number of public health care advocates including Dr. Flowers and Dr. Paris; the two physicians and six other activists were arrested and taken away. Baucus had invited 41 people to testify. None backed single payer. Those who testified included contributors who had given a total of more than $3 million to committee members for their political campaigns.

“It is not necessary to force Americans to buy private health insurance to achieve universal coverage,” said Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action. “There is a proven alternative that Congress didn’t seriously consider, and that alternative is a single payer national health insurance system. Congress could have taken seriously evidence presented by these single payer medical doctors that a single payer system is the only way to both control costs and cover everyone.”

© 2012 Truthdig.com

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Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

All U.S. Constituencies Oppose Obama’s “Individual Mandate” for Health Care April 3, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Race.
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Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

President Obama’s mandate to buy private insurance was born in the rightwing Heritage Foundation, and has not found a home among any actual constituency of the public – white, non-white, Republican, Democrat, college-educated or not. A new poll confirms that “Obama has based his plan on a scheme that nobody likes – even his most loyal supporters.”

 

All U.S. Groups Oppose Obama’s “Individual Mandate” for Health Care

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

The new poll shows that no significant constituency supports Obama’s individual mandate.”

When one takes a cursory look at where various groups in the nation stand on President Obama’s health care legislation – now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court – it appears the country is split along party and race lines. A new poll conducted by Princeton Research Associates shows 75 percent of Democrats support the Obama position, and 86 percent of Republicans oppose it, with so-called independents evenly split. The racial divide is similar. Sixty-eight percent of non-whites “strongly favor” or “somewhat favor” the overall health care law, with only 18 percent opposed. Whites are far more divided, with 33 percent favoring Obama’s law, and 47 percent opposed.

These numbers are, however, heavily influenced by what people think is in the law, and what side they think they should be on, based on their larger loyalties. It is doubtful that majorities on either side of the issue actually understand most of the law’s many provisions, some of which do not go into effect for several years. Therefore, many of the respondents are using the poll to register their broader preference for or against the incumbent president and his party. It is no surprise that majorities of whites and super-majorities of Republicans oppose ObamaCare, as Republicans call it, and more than two thirds of non-whites and three-quarters of Democrats support Health Care Reform, as Obama calls it.

However, most people do understand the central element of the law, the “individual mandate” that forces nearly everyone to buy health insurance from private companies, or face a fine. The new poll shows that no significant constituency supports Obama’s individual mandate, with only 28 percent of the overall public favorable to the scheme. Even non-whites, two-thirds of whom claim to support Obama on health care in general, balk at mandatory purchase of insurance from private companies. Fifty-three percent of non-whites give thumbs down to the individual health insurance mandate, as do 71 percent of whites. More Democrats are opposed to Obama’s individual mandate than favor it: 48 to 44 percent. And Republicans are off the scale in opposition, at 15 to 1.

Fifty-three percent of non-whites give thumbs down to the individual health insurance mandate.”

So, if the core of the Obama health care plan is the individual mandate, as both the administration and the Republicans contend in their arguments before the Supreme Court, then Obama has based his plan on a scheme that nobody likes – even his most loyal supporters.

There’s another interesting aspect to the new poll. It shows that only a hard core of one in four people want to tamper with Medicare as the Republicans do, with around two-thirds of all racial groups opting to keep the program the way it is, with the government paying doctors and hospitals directly for the service they provide to seniors.” Taken together, the poll indicates strong support for the core elements of the U.S. healthcare safety net, and rejection of private schemes, including Obama’s mandatory purchase of insurance from private companies. It appears that most Americans would rather have the option of dependable, direct health care paid for by the government – which was the case at the beginning of 2009, before Obama unveiled his health care scheme, when 60 percent and more of the American people favored single-payer health care. But Obama maneuvered them into a something they hadn’t asked for, and which, three years later, nobody wants. For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

Please Help Clarence Thomas Resign June 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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                                          Why is this man laughing?

So many people want to get rid of the ethically challenged Justice Thomas that CREDO has upped its petition goal, for the third time, to 150,000 signatures. To see why you should sign it, go here, here and here.

 

A Brief History of Clarence Thomas’ Ethical Entanglements

Ujala SehgalJun 19, 20115,370 ViewsComments (20)

The New York Times published a major report Saturday delving into the ethical questions posed by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his relationship with real estate magnate Harlan Crowe. These recent insinuations on Thomas’ ethics are only the latest in a long list that have been leveled at him. It’s not unusual for judges to have conflicts of interest, but, as Talking Points Memo put it, “when it comes to ethical complications on the nation’s highest court, Clarence Thomas takes the cake.” It’s worth it to review recent events.

Citizens United and the Koch Brothers. In January of 2008, Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia attended a political retreat run by the Koch brothers. Their subsequent ruling in the Citizens United campaign finance case reportedly  benefited the Koch brothers’ political activities. In early 2011, the advocacy group Common Cause asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into the propriety of the justices’ participation in the case, according to the Times.

Liberty Central and Mrs. Thomas. In January of 2010, Thomas’ wife, Virginia Thomas, founded a Tea Party-affiliated group called Liberty Central, the Los Angeles Times reports. The group opposes various progressive causes, including President Obama’s health care overhaul, which is an issue that many believe is certain to come before her husband’s court. Moreover, as part of her position, she would accept donations from various sources — including corporations — as allowed under campaign finance rules loosened by the Supreme Court. Virginia Thomas has since stepped down as head of the organization to take more of a back seat role.

The Missing Years of Financial Disclosure. In January of 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that Common Cause found that Virginia Thomas earned over $680,000 from conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation over five years, but the justice did not include it on financial disclosure forms, consistently checking no spousal income. Once the news came out, Thomas amended 13 years’ worth of disclosure reports to include details of his wife’s income, Politico reports. He wrote it was a “misunderstanding of the filing instructions.” Common Cause remained unconvinced.

Harlan Crowe and the Pinpoint Museum. In the most recent case, the Times reports that Harlan Crowe, a close friend of Thomas who once gave his wife $500,000 for Liberty Central, is now financing a multimillion-dollar restoration of an old Georgia cannery where Thomas’ mother once worked, at the Thomas’ behest. The problem here is that the ethics code that binds federal judges says judges “should not personally participate” in raising money for charitable endeavors, out of concern that donors might feel pressured to give or entitled to receive favorable treatment from the judge. In addition, judges are not even supposed to know who donates to projects honoring them. Supreme Court justices are not subject to the federal code of ethics, but other justices have said they adhere to it.

why you should sign it, go here, here and here.

 

The “Judicial Insider Trading” of Justice Clarence Thomas and Wife “Ginni” June 12, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Right Wing.
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Sunday 12 June 2011
by: Brad Friedman, The BRAD BLOG

He had inappropriate sexual entanglements with a number of women and lied about it repeatedly to the American people. Yet nobody — save for one Colorado law school prof— seems to be calling for Justice Clarence Thomas’ resignation for some reason.

That, even though Thomas, unlike Rep. Anthony Weiner, appears to have actually, and flagrantly, and repeatedly, broken the law.

As we reported in January, Thomas appears to have “knowingly and willfully” filed falsified Financial Disclosure Forms which withheld disclosure of nearly $700,000 his wife received from the rightwing Heritage Foundation for the better part of the last 20 years. Only once it was pointed out publicly this year did Thomas bother to file “self-initiated amendments” to the forms he had signed just above the legal warning in bold and all caps which reads: “NOTE: ANY INDIVIDUAL WHO KNOWINGLY AND WILLFULLY FALSIFIES OR FAILS TO FILE THIS REPORT MAY BE SUBJECT TO CIVIL AND CRIMINAL SANCTIONS (5 U.S.C. app. § 104)”

While there has been little indication that law enforcement is actually investigating the crimes of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice (which, as we pointed out in January, are punishable by up to $50,000 and/or 1 year in jail for each instance of falsification), last Friday when Thomas’ Financial Disclosure Form for 2010 [PDF] was released, the matter appears to have gotten shadier still, leading at least one government watchdog organization to describe what Thomas and his wife Virginia “Ginni” Thomas may be been doing as “Judicial Insider Trading.”

Connecting the dots, it would seem the couple made huge profits from Thomas’ participation and insider knowledge of last year’s Citizens United ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court, as we’ll show you below.

While Barack Obama’s DoJ seems to be looking the other way, there was one person in Congress trying to bring attention to this issue last week with hisConflictedClarence.com website: Rep. Anthony Weiner…

For some reason or another, Weiner has been distracted of late, so I was happy to pick up the ball today and cover the new Thomas disclosures on our radio show on L.A.’s Pacifica Radio affiliate, KPFK today. The audio from the show is below. But here are a few quick details, as promised.

Before posting the timeline, one very important point that hasn’t received nearly enough attention: during Thomas’ contentious confirmation hearings in 1991, he received a huge boost when an outside organization ran $100,000 worth of television commercials attacking those Senators who were threatening to vote against Thomas’ confirmation. That organization? A newly formed group called Citizens United.

Twenty years later, and without either Thomas disclosing it, or anyone in the media connecting the dots, Thomas decided in favor of the group in the now-infamousCitizens United v. FEC case, which has allowed a tsunami of corporate money into our political and electoral system.

It was that decision that allowed corporations to pour virtually unlimited money into 501(c)(4) non-profits that could, in turn, use the money to affect elections with millions of dollars in campaign ads, etc.

Ginni Thomas created one of those 501(c)(4) organizations just after oral arguments were argued before her husband in the Citizens United case, and somehow managed to raise some $550,000 in about two months’ time before the end of 2009.

Here, courtesy of Velvet Revolution’s ProtectOurElections.org campaign:

Sept 9, 2009: Citizens United argued.
Nov 6, 2009: Virginia Thomas launches her new Liberty Central 501(c)(4) organization, which raises 550K in 2009.
Jan 21, 2010: Citizens United decided.
March 15, 2010: Virginia Thomas announces that Liberty Central would “accept donations from various sources — including corporations — as allowed under campaign finance rules recently loosened by the Supreme Court.”
November 14, 2010: Liberty Central announces that Virginia Thomas would be leaving the organization.
November 16, 2010: Liberty Consulting incorporated in the state of Virginia.
February 4, 2011: Politico reports that Virginia Thomas had launched Liberty Consulting.
February 8, 2011: ProtectOurElections.org releases its expose of Liberty Consulting
February 12, 2011: Liberty Consulting website is deletedhttp://libertyinc.co/
February 23, 2011: ProtectOurElections.org files a formal bar complaint against Clarence Thomas requesting that he be disbarred on various grounds.

Note the date on which Ginni launched her 501(c)(4), Liberty Central, Inc., and note how quickly she was able to raise half a million dollars from it. And that was evenbefore she told the LA Times that the group would “accept donations from various sources — including corporations — as allowed under campaign finance rules recently loosened by the Supreme Court.”

Unlike for the past 20 years, Justice Thomas was able to understand the (incredibly simple) Financial Disclosure Form this time around, for 2010, well enough that he was able to list his “Spouse’s Non-Investment Income” including “salary and benefits” from both Liberty Central, Inc., and Liberty Consulting, Inc.

Unfortunately, the form doesn’t require him to specify how much she received from each, and Liberty Central has extended its deadline for filing its own disclosure forms until August. So, until then, we’re just left to speculate as to how much the Thomases made from those ventures, although the Disclosure Form does reveal that the Thomases invested some of their own money to start up Liberty Consulting, Inc. The form indicates that less than $15,000 was invested.

Setting aside the fact that common sense suggests Thomas should have recused himself from the Citizens United decision (which was decided by a 5 to 4 vote), given the $100,000 in ads from that group that benefited him when he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Ginni’s ability to profit from the decision is raising a lot of questions that should be answered.

Today, VR’s ProtectOurElections.org sent another letter [PDF] to the DoJ, including the newly released Financial Disclosure Form, asking the department to investigate a number of additional questions that have been raised by the new disclosures, including:

  • Was Mrs. Thomas tipped off to the Citizens United decision before it was rendered?
  • Did Mrs. Thomas launch Liberty Central to take advantage of Citizens United and did she receive any income as a result of Citizens United?
  • What happened to the $550,000 raised by Mrs. Thomas for Liberty Central (which is listed on its 2009 IRS 990 form)?
  • Did Mrs. Thomas raise funds for Liberty Central after the Citizens United decision and if so how much and what was it used for?
  • Is Liberty Consulting engaged in consulting Supreme Court litigants or potential litigants?
  • Is Liberty Consulting engaged in lobbying and if so is Mrs. Thomas lobbying for litigants before the Supreme Court?
  • Is Liberty Consulting a legitimate company or a conduit to raise funds for the Thomas family?

[And by way of my own disclosure, since, unlike Thomas, I happen to believe it's the right thing to do, VR is an organization co-founded by The BRAD BLOG.]

Bush Comparison Seen As Unfair to Dogs December 18, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, Media.
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http://operationitch.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/bush-comparison-seen-as-unfair-to-dogs/

David Swanson

December 16, 2008

This is the question now raised in Iraq: If they throw shoes at your face are you a combat troop or a noncombat troop? The answer may be important in helping to guide President Elect Obama’s strategy of reducing but continuing the genocidal occupation that has made a shoeless journalist one of the most beloved, if little known, people in the world overnight.

A related dilemma is this: If shoes become weapons, were the metal detectors, searches, and bribes to phony journalists successful? This strikes me as a similar question to the following: if box cutters become weapons, were the nuclear arsenal, the missile offense shield, and the empire of bases successful?
 

That all depends upon what the goal was, I suppose. If the goal encompassed the well-being of only one person, then success may have been achieved. Dallas mansion, six-figure speeches, and drunk golfing here I come! But no dog’s goal would ever be so narrow, and animal rights groups can be expected to speak out against Muntadar al-Zeidi’s comparison of George W. Bush to a dog. I also hope human rights groups will be closely monitoring the well-being of this shoe-throwing hero to billions.

I don’t advocate violence, even in response to violence, much less as substitution for words, and yet it seems to me that al-Zeidi has restored the good standing of journalists in the world. He’s punctuated his brief editorial with a statement in the universal language of television. A cream pie would have helped but would probably have tipped off the Secret Service to his plans. With the toss of two shoes, this journalist communicated more honest information to more people than a thousand New York Times exposes on aluminum tubes or expert commentaries on the Pentagon paid for by the Pentagon.

Here’s a little of what he communicated: no technology, no weaponry, and no propaganda can protect you from the results of mistreating millions of human beings. Iraq has been made a living hell. Everyone there has suffered and lost people they loved because of the callous greed and self-centered calculations of George W. Bush who has blood up to his shoulders after waging an illegal aggressive war for politics, money, oil, and bases from which to murder human beings in neighboring countries while seated at the safe distance of the Oval Office.

The question we should really ponder is not why al-Zeidi could be so impolite as to throw his shoes at Bush, but why the dozens of other shoes in the room remained on people’s feet, why no foot odor ever purifies the air at a White House press conference, why a man who throws his shoes at our president is more popular with the people I’ve spoken to here in O’Hare Airport in Chicago than our president himself and yet most Americans are not working with all the advantages we have to put our nation right with the people of Iraq by prosecuting and imprisoning not just petty crook governors of Illinois but also emperors whose nudity has to be exposed by other people taking off their shoes.

When I worked for ACORN six years ago and Bush was pushing a plan to eliminate welfare that had been written by a slimy character at the Heritage Foundation who believed pushing women to get married would do more good than transportation, child care, education, a living wage, or even protection from abusive husbands, we took a few hundred people into the Heritage Foundation building in D.C. and pelted the guy with shoes until he agreed to “walk a day in the shoes” of some of our members on welfare. He later did so, and it changed his mind to some degree, as he admitted to reporters covering the story.

When I worked to expose Bush’s war lies three years ago, we took a crowd of people with a petition from tens of thousands to present at the White House gate. When the guards would not accept our petition, we hurled hundreds of pages of white paper over the White House fence, scattering them all across the lawn of our finest public housing.

I recall these two actions only because it occurs to me that people often walk by the White House with shoes on their feet that could perhaps be put to better use.
_______
http://www.davidswanson.org

ABOUT AUTHORDavid Swanson is a co-founder of After Downing Street, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of Democrats.com.

Obama’s Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Education.
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duncan-and-obamaPresident-elect Barack Obama with his nominee for secretary of education, Arne Duncan. (Photo: Reuters) MORE “PLUS CA CHANGE …” YOU CAN BELIEVE IN (RH)www.truthout.org 17 December 2008

 

 

 Since the 1980s, but particularly under the Bush administration, certain elements of the religious right, corporate culture and Republican right wing have argued that free public education represents either a massive fraud or a contemptuous failure. Far from a genuine call for reform, these attacks largely stem from an attempt to transform schools from a public investment to a private good, answerable not to the demands and values of a democratic society but to the imperatives of the marketplace. As the educational historian David Labaree rightly argues, public schools have been under attack in the last decade “not just because they are deemed ineffective but because they are public.”[1] Right-wing efforts to disinvest in public schools as critical sites of teaching and learning and govern them according to corporate interests is obvious in the emphasis on standardized testing, the use of top-down curricular mandates, the influx of advertising in schools, the use of profit motives to “encourage” student performance, the attack on teacher unions and modes of pedagogy that stress rote learning and memorization. For the Bush administration, testing has become the ultimate accountability measure, belying the complex mechanisms of teaching and learning.

The hidden curriculum is that testing be used as a ploy to de-skill teachers by reducing them to mere technicians, that students be similarly reduced to customers in the marketplace rather than as engaged, critical learners and that always underfunded public schools fail so that they can eventually be privatized. But there is an even darker side to the reforms initiated under the Bush administration and now used in a number of school systems throughout the country. As the logic of the market and “the crime complex”[2] frame the field of social relations in schools, students are subjected to three particularly offensive policies, defended by school authorities and politicians under the rubric of school safety. First, students are increasingly subjected to zero-tolerance policies that are used primarily to punish, repress and exclude them. Second, they are increasingly absorbed into a “crime complex” in which security staff, using harsh disciplinary practices, now displace the normative functions teachers once provided both in and outside of the classroom.[3] Third, more and more schools are breaking down the space between education and juvenile delinquency, substituting penal pedagogies for critical learning and replacing a school culture that fosters a discourse of possibility with a culture of fear and social control. Consequently, many youth of color in urban school systems, because of harsh zero-tolerance polices, are not just being suspended or expelled from school. They are being ushered into the dark precincts of juvenile detention centers, adult courts and prison. Surely, the dismantling of this corporatized and militarized model of schooling should be a top priority under the Obama administration. Unfortunately, Obama has appointed as his secretary of education someone who actually embodies this utterly punitive, anti-intellectual, corporatized and test-driven model of schooling.

    Barack Obama’s selection of Arne Duncan for secretary of education does not bode well either for the political direction of his administration nor for the future of public education. Obama’s call for change falls flat with this appointment, not only because Duncan largely defines schools within a market-based and penal model of pedagogy, but also because he does not have the slightest understanding of schools as something other than adjuncts of the corporation at best or the prison at worse. The first casualty in this scenario is a language of social and political responsibility capable of defending those vital institutions that expand the rights, public goods and services central to a meaningful democracy. This is especially true with respect to the issue of public schooling and the ensuing debate over the purpose of education, the role of teachers as critical intellectuals, the politics of the curriculum and the centrality of pedagogy as a moral and political practice.

    Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, presided over the implementation and expansion of an agenda that militarized and corporatized the third largest school system in the nation, one that is about 90 percent poor and nonwhite. Under Duncan, Chicago took the lead in creating public schools run as military academies, vastly expanded draconian student expulsions, instituted sweeping surveillance practices, advocated a growing police presence in the schools, arbitrarily shut down entire schools and fired entire school staffs. A recent report, “Education on Lockdown,” claimed that partly under Duncan’s leadership “Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has become infamous for its harsh zero tolerance policies. Although there is no verified positive impact on safety, these policies have resulted in tens of thousands of student suspensions and an exorbitant number of expulsions.”[4] Duncan’s neoliberal ideology is on full display in the various connections he has established with the ruling political and business elite in Chicago.[5] He led the Renaissance 2010 plan, which was created for Mayor Daley by the Commercial Club of Chicago – an organization representing the largest businesses in the city. The purpose of Renaissance 2010 was to increase the number of high quality schools that would be subject to new standards of accountability – a code word for legitimating more charter schools and high stakes testing in the guise of hard-nosed empiricism. Chicago’s 2010 plan targets 15 percent of the city district’s alleged underachieving schools in order to dismantle them and open 100 new experimental schools in areas slated for gentrification.

Most of the new experimental schools have eliminated the teacher union. The Commercial Club hired corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney to write Ren2010, which called for the closing of 100 public schools and the reopening of privatized charter schools, contract schools (more charters to circumvent state limits) and “performance” schools. Kearney’s web site is unapologetic about its business-oriented notion of leadership, one that John Dewey thought should be avoided at all costs. It states, “Drawing on our program-management skills and our knowledge of best practices used across industries, we provided a private-sector perspective on how to address many of the complex issues that challenge other large urban education transformations.”[6]

    Duncan’s advocacy of the Renaissance 2010 plan alone should have immediately disqualified him for the Obama appointment. At the heart of this plan is a privatization scheme for creating a “market” in public education by urging public schools to compete against each other for scarce resources and by introducing “choice” initiatives so that parents and students will think of themselves as private consumers of educational services.[7] As a result of his support of the plan, Duncan came under attack by community organizations, parents, education scholars and students. These diverse critics have denounced it as a scheme less designed to improve the quality of schooling than as a plan for privatization, union busting and the dismantling of democratically-elected local school councils. They also describe it as part of neighborhood gentrification schemes involving the privatization of public housing projects through mixed finance developments.[8] (Tony Rezko, an Obama and Blagojevich campaign supporter, made a fortune from these developments along with many corporate investors.) Some of the dimensions of public school privatization involve Renaissance schools being run by subcontracted for-profit companies – a shift in school governance from teachers and elected community councils to appointed administrators coming disproportionately from the ranks of business. It also establishes corporate control over the selection and model of new schools, giving the business elite and their foundations increasing influence over educational policy. No wonder that Duncan had the support of David Brooks, the conservative op-ed writer for The New York Times.

    One particularly egregious example of Duncan’s vision of education can be seen in the conference he organized with the Renaissance Schools Fund. In May 2008, the Renaissance Schools Fund, the financial wing of the Renaissance 2010 plan operating under the auspices of the Commercial Club, held a symposium, “Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market in Public Education,” at the exclusive private club atop the Aon Center. The event was held largely by and for the business sector, school privatization advocates, and others already involved in Renaissance 2010, such as corporate foundations and conservative think tanks. Significantly, no education scholars were invited to participate in the proceedings, although it was heavily attended by fellows from the pro-privatization Fordham Foundation and featured speakers from various school choice organizations and the leadership of corporations. Speakers clearly assumed the audience shared their views.

    Without irony, Arne Duncan characterized the goal of Renaissance 2010 creating the new market in public education as a “movement for social justice.” He invoked corporate investment terms to describe reforms explaining that the 100 new schools would leverage influence on the other 500 schools in Chicago. Redefining schools as stock investments he said, “I am not a manager of 600 schools. I’m a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I’m trying to improve the portfolio.” He claimed that education can end poverty. He explained that having a sense of altruism is important, but that creating good workers is a prime goal of educational reform and that the business sector has to embrace public education. “We’re trying to blur the lines between the public and the private,” he said. He argued that a primary goal of educational reform is to get the private sector to play a huge role in school change in terms of both money and intellectual capital. He also attacked the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), positioning it as an obstacle to business-led reform. He also insisted that the CTU opposes charter schools (and, hence, change itself), despite the fact that the CTU runs ten such schools under Renaissance 2010. Despite the representation in the popular press of Duncan as conciliatory to the unions, his statements and those of others at the symposium belied a deep hostility to teachers unions and a desire to end them (all of the charters created under Ren2010 are deunionized). Thus, in Duncan’s attempts to close and transform low-performing schools, he not only reinvents them as entrepreneurial schools, but, in many cases, frees “them from union contracts and some state regulations.”[9] Duncan effusively praised one speaker, Michael Milkie, the founder of the Nobel Street charter schools, who openly called for the closing and reopening of every school in the district precisely to get rid of the unions. What became clear is that Duncan views Renaissance 2010 as a national blueprint for educational reform, but what is at stake in this vision is the end of schooling as a public good and a return to the discredited and tired neoliberal model of reform that conservatives love to embrace.

    In spite of the corporate rhetoric of accountability, efficiency and excellence, there is to date no evidence that the radical reforms under Duncan’s tenure as the “CEO” of Chicago Public Schools have created any significant improvement. In part, this is because the Chicago Public Schools and the Renaissance Schools Fund report data in obscurantist ways to make traditional comparisons difficult if not impossible.[10] And, in part, examples of educational claims to school improvement are being made about schools embedded in communities that suffered dislocation and removal through coordinated housing privatization and gentrification policies. For example, the city has decimated public housing in coveted real estate enclaves, dispossessing thousands of residents of their communities. Once the poor are removed, the urban cleansing provides an opportunity for Duncan to open a number of Renaissance Schools, catering to those socio-economically empowered families whose children would surely improve the city’s overall test scores. What are alleged to be school improvements under Ren2010, rest on an increase in the city’s overall test scores and other performance measures that parodies the financial shell game corporations used to inflate profit margins – and prospects for future catastrophes are as inevitable. In the end, all Duncan leaves us with is a Renaissance 2010 model of education that is celebrated as business designed “to save kids” from a failed public system. In fact, it condemns public schooling, administrators, teachers and students to a now outmoded and discredited economic model of reform that can only imagine education as a business, teachers as entrepreneurs and students as customers.[11]

    It is difficult to understand how Barack Obama can reconcile his vision of change with Duncan’s history of supporting a corporate vision for school reform and a penchant for extreme zero-tolerance polices – both of which are much closer to the retrograde policies hatched in conservative think tanks as Heritage Foundation, Cato Institution, Fordham Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, than to the values of the many millions who voted for the democratic change he promised. As is well known, these think tanks share an agenda not for strengthening public schooling, but for dismantling it and replacing it with a private market in consumable educational services. At the heart of Duncan’s vision of school reform is a corporatized model of education that cancels out the democratic impulses and practices of civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market or the prison. No longer a space for relating schools to the obligations of public life, social responsibility to the demands of critical and engaged citizenship, schools in this dystopian vision legitimate an all-encompassing horizon for producing market identities, values and those privatizing and penal pedagogies that both inflate the importance of individualized competition and punish those who do not fit into its logic of pedagogical Darwinism.[12]

    In spite of what Duncan argues, the greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures that offer the aura of accountability. On the contrary, it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, consigns 13 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services and defines rugged individualism through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools. Young people are under siege in American schools because, in the absence of funding, equal opportunity and real accountability, far too many of them have increasingly become institutional breeding grounds for racism, right-wing paramilitary cultures, social intolerance and sexism.[13] We live in a society in which a culture of testing, punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain for critical teaching and learning, it is easier to subject young people to a culture of faux accountability or put them in jail rather than to provide the education, services and care they need to face problems of a complex and demanding society.[14]

 What Duncan and other neoliberal economic advocates refuse to address is what it would mean for a viable educational policy to provide reasonable support services for all students and viable alternatives for the troubled ones. The notion that children should be viewed as a crucial social resource – one that represents, for any healthy society, important ethical and political considerations about the quality of public life, the allocation of social provisions and the role of the state as a guardian of public interests – appears to be lost in a society that refuses to invest in its youth as part of a broader commitment to a fully realized democracy. As the social order becomes more privatized and militarized, we increasingly face the problem of losing a generation of young people to a system of increasing intolerance, repression and moral indifference. It is difficult to understand why Obama would appoint as secretary of education someone who believes in a market-driven model that has not only failed young people, but given the current financial crisis has been thoroughly discredited. Unless Duncan is willing to reinvent himself, the national agenda he will develop for education embodies and exacerbates these problems and, as such, it will leave a lot more kids behind than it helps.

    ——–

    [1] Cited in Alfie Kohn, “The Real Threat to American Schools,” Tikkun (March-April 2001), p. 25. For an interesting commentary on Obama and his possible pick to head the education department and the struggle over school reform, see Alfie Kohn, “Beware School ‘Reformers’,” The Nation (December 29, 2008). Online: www.thenation.com/doc/20081229/kohn/print.

    [2] This term comes form: David Garland, “The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

    [3] For a brilliant analysis of the “governing through crime” complex, see Jonathan Simon, “Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear,” (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007).

    [4] Advancement Project in partnership with Padres and Jovenes Unidos, Southwest Youth Collaborative, “Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track,” (New York: Children & Family Justice Center of Northwestern University School of Law, March 24, 2005), p.31. On the broader issue of the effect of racialized zero tolerance policies on public education, see Christopher G. Robbins, “Expelling Hope: The Assault on Youth and the Militarization of Schooling” (Albany: SUNY Press, 2008). See also, Henry A. Giroux, “The Abandoned Generation” (New York: Palgrave, 2004).

    [5] David Hursh and Pauline Lipman, “Chapter 8: Renaissance 2010: The Reassertion of Ruling-Class Power through Neoliberal Policies in Chicago” in David Hursh, “High-Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning” (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

    [6] See: www.atkearney.com

    [7] “Creating a New Market of Public Education: The Renaissance Schools Fund 2008 Progress Report,” The Renaissance Schools Fund www.rsfchicago.org

    [8] Kenneth J. Saltman, “Chapter 3: Renaissance 2010 and No Child Left Behind Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools” (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2007).

    [9] Sarah Karp and Joyn Myers, “Duncan’s Track Record,” Catalyst Chicago (December 15, 2008). Online: www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/index.php?item=2514&cat=5&tr=y&auid=4336549

    [10] (See Chicago Public Schools Office of New Schools 2006/2007 Charter School Performance Report Executive Summary)

    [11] See Dorothy Shipps, “School Reform, Corporate Style: Chicago 1880-2000,” (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2006).

    [12] See, for example, Summary Report, “America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline,” Children’s Defense Fund. Online at: www.childrensdefense.org/site/DocServer/CPP_report_2007_summary.pdf?docID=6001; also see, Elora Mukherjee, “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools,” (New York: American Civil Liberties Union and New York Civil Liberties, March 2008), pp. 1-36.

    [13] Donna Gaines, “How Schools Teach Our Kids to Hate,” Newsday (Sunday, April 25, 1999), p. B5.

    [14] As has been widely, reported, the prison industry has become big business with many states spending more on prison construction than on university construction. Jennifer Warren, “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” (Washington, DC: The PEW Center on the States, 2007). Online at: www.pewcenteronthestates.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=35912

    ——–

    Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: “Take Back Higher Education” (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex,” (2007), and “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed,” (2008). His newest book, “Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?,” will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2009.  

    Kenneth Saltman is associate professor in the department of Educational Policy Studies and Research at DePaul University in Chicago. He is the author, most recently, of “Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools,” (Paradigm Publishers 2007), and editor of Schooling and the Politics of Disaster (Routledge 2007).

 

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