Saturday Cartoon Fun: U.N. Edition

I Won An Award!!

Momma Politico apparently decided I was worthy of an award. Seeing as how I have never received an award, I am not just humbled, I am astounded, surprised, caught off guard, and very, very proud to accept the Honest Scrap award. I will try to remain honest, and scrappy.

There are rules for this award. They are rather arduous.
Honest Weblog Award Rules:
1. You must brag about the award.
2. You must include the name of the blogger who bestowed the award on you and link back to that blogger.
3. You must choose a minimum of seven (7) blogs that you find brilliant in content or design.
4. Show their names and links and leave a comment informing them that they were prized with the Honest Weblog Award.
5. List at least ten (10) honest things about yourself. Then pass it on with the instructions!
So here are my 7 blogs that I find brilliant in content or design:

1. Pharyngula is great because PZ never seems to let up. Ever. I like that in a blogger.

2.  Jay McDonough at swimming freestyle always has something interesting, whether it be health policy commentary, an obscure video of an even more obscure musician, foreign policy advice, and some Bruce.

3. 3quarksdaily is just plain brilliant.

4. Newstalgia is full of old recordings from radio and records. It's not just fun, it's a great resource.

5. If you like history then The Edge of the American West is for you. Always smart, usually funny too.

6. I was recently turned on to Joe Bageant, a Virginia blogger who writes Deer Hunting With Jesus, is one of the smartest, maybe the smartest, southern progressive I have read. This guy is salt of the earth wisdom with a world-class intellect.

7. Last, but not least is Robert Reich's blog. He was Clinton's Secretary of Labor and now teaches at Cal Berkeley. I've met him, and know people who know him. He is a wonderful, brilliant, sweet, positive, good guy. Too bad Obama didn't use him. Our loss.

Now for the 10 things about myself, an anonymous blogger.

1. I am a man.  Yes I am.

2. I am a single father.

3. I blog out of frustration (surprised?).

4. I had a cancerous tumor removed from me, and I take a drug in case they didn't get it all and it comes back.

5. I worry for America, and if Obama, the guy I supported so strongly, will pull off all the things it looks like he won't pull off.

6. I had a friend a few years back who called me a "hippie-republican" because I had a ponytail and didn't like being told what to do. She was my boss. We did it.

7. I shouldn't have told you #6.

8. My dad died of a different cancer than me.

9. I can play Friend of the Devil fast or slow.

10. I thought this was fun, difficult, and now, I can hit "publish" finally.

There it is. Thanks again to Perry for the award, and congratulations to the blogs above, as they are now winners too.


Arne Duncan Gave A Speech. Let's Rip It To Shreds!

From D-Ed Reckoning:
Great teaching and school leadership are but two components of delivering a great education. There are many other needed components and the Secretary doesn't know what they are because if he did, he would have adopted them in Chicago when he ran that school district. But he didn't and Chicago remains a poorly performing district.

The other problem is that no one knows how to convert an average teacher into a great teacher. The great teacher argument is based on statistical games.
Whether it’s in rural Alaska or inner-city Detroit, everyone everywhere shares a common belief that education is America’s economic salvation.

They see education as the one true path out of poverty – the great equalizer that overcomes differences in background, culture and privilege. It’s the only way to secure our common future in a competitive global economy.
That belief is wrong. America's economic well-being depends it part on our ability to create educated workers, but if we don't grow enough of them at home, it's pretty easy to brain drain the rest of the world for talent as we've been doing for decades. American education is for the well-being of Americans, not so much for America.
Ouch! There's more at the link.

"A Fondness For The Quaint Old Constitution"

Entangled Giant
By Garry Wills

George W. Bush left the White House unpopular and disgraced. His successor promised change, and it was clear where change was needed. Illegal acts should cease—torture and indefinite detention, denial of habeas corpus and legal representation, unilateral canceling of treaties, defiance of Congress and the Constitution, nullification of laws by signing statements. Powers attributed to the president by the theory of the unitary executive should not be exercised. Judges who are willing to give the president any power he asks for should not be confirmed.

But the momentum of accumulating powers in the executive is not easily reversed, checked, or even slowed. It was not created by the Bush administration. The whole history of America since World War II caused an inertial transfer of power toward the executive branch. The monopoly on use of nuclear weaponry, the cult of the commander in chief, the worldwide network of military bases to maintain nuclear alert and supremacy, the secret intelligence agencies, the entire national security state, the classification and clearance systems, the expansion of state secrets, the withholding of evidence and information, the permanent emergency that has melded World War II with the cold war and the cold war with the "war on terror"—all these make a vast and intricate structure that may not yield to effort at dismantling it. Sixty-eight straight years of war emergency powers (1941–2009) have made the abnormal normal, and constitutional diminishment the settled order.

The truth of this was borne out in the early days of Barack Obama's presidency. At his confirmation hearing to be head of the CIA, Leon Panetta said that "extraordinary rendition"—the practice of sending prisoners to foreign countries—was a tool he meant to retain.[1] Obama's nominee for solicitor general, Elena Kagan, told Congress that she agreed with John Yoo's claim that a terrorist captured anywhere should be subject to "battlefield law."[2] On the first opportunity to abort trial proceedings by invoking "state secrets"—the policy based on the faulty Reynolds case—Obama's attorney gen- eral, Eric Holder, did so.[3] Obama refused to release photographs of "enhanced interrogation." The CIA had earlier (illegally) destroyed ninety-two videotapes of such interrogations—and Obama refused to release documents describing the tapes.[4]

The President said that past official crimes would not be investigated—certainly not for prosecution, and not even by an impartial "truth commission" just trying to establish a record. He said, on the contrary, that detainees might be tried in "military tribunals." When the British government, trying a terrorist suspect, decided to use some American documents shared with the British government, Obama's attorney general pressured it not to do so. Most important, perhaps, was the new president's desire to end the nation-building in Iraq while substituting a long-term nation-building effort in Afghanistan, run by a government corrupted by drug trafficking and not susceptible to our remolding.

Even in areas outside national security, the Obama administration quickly came to resemble Bush's. Gay military personnel, including those with valuable Arabic-language skills, were being dismissed at the same rate as before. Even more egregiously, the Obama administration continued the defiance of the Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause, which requires states to recognize laws passed by other states, when it defended the Defense of Marriage Act, which lets states refuse to recognize gay marriages legally obtained in another state. Many objected when Dick Cheney would not name energy executives who came to the White House in 2002, though Hillary Clinton, as First Lady, had been forced to reveal which health advisers had visited her. Yet the Obama team, in June 2009, refused to release logs of those who come to the White House. (It later reversed itself, but only in response to a lawsuit.)

Some were dismayed to see how quickly the Obama people grabbed at the powers, the secrecy, the unaccountability that had led Bush into such opprobrium. Leon Panetta at the CIA especially puzzled those who had known him during the Clinton years. A former CIA official told The Washington Post, "Leon Panetta has been captured by the people who were the ideological drivers for the interrogation program in the first place." A White House official told Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, "It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that turning around the huge secret empire built by the National Security State is a hard, perhaps impossible, task. After most of the wars in US history there was a return to the constitutional condition of the pre-war world. But after those wars there was no lasting institutional security apparatus of the sort that was laboriously assembled in the 1940s and 1950s. After World War I, for instance, there was no CIA, no NSA, no mountain of secret documents to be guarded from unauthorized readers, no atomic bomb to guard, develop, deploy, and maintain in readiness on land, in the air, and on (or in) the sea.

Now a new president quickly becomes aware of the vast empire that is largely invisible to the citizenry. The United States maintains an estimated one thousand military bases in other countries. I say "estimated" because the exact number, location, and size of the bases are either partly or entirely cloaked in secrecy, among other things to protect nuclear installations.The secrecy involved is such that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy did not even know, at first, that we had nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey.

An example of this imperial system is the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.[5] In the 1960s, to secure a military outpost without fear of any interference from indigenous peoples, the two thousand Chagossian inhabitants were forcibly expelled, deprived of their native land, and sent a thousand miles away. (It is the same ploy we had used in removing native peoples from the Bikini and Enewetak atolls and Lib Island, so that we could conduct our sixty-eight atomic and hydrogen bomb tests there.) Though technically Diego Garcia is leased from the British, it is entirely run by the United States. It was the United States that expelled the Chagossians and confiscated their property. Diego Garcia has become a vast armory, as well as a storage and staging area and harbor and launch site, from which supplies and air strikes are fanned out over the Middle East, especially to the Persian Gulf and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. No journalists are allowed to visit it. It was funded on a vast scale by various deceptions of Congress. Even the leasing terms with Great Britain were kept secret, to avoid congressional oversight.

That is just one of the hundreds of holdings in the empire created by the National Security State. A president is greatly pressured to keep all the empire's secrets. He feels he must avoid embarrassing the hordes of agents, military personnel, and diplomatic instruments whose loyalty he must command. Keeping up morale in this vast, shady enterprise is something impressed on him by all manner of commitments. He becomes the prisoner of his own power. As President Truman could not not use the bomb, a modern president cannot not use the huge powers at his disposal. It has all been given him as the legacy of Bomb Power, the thing that makes him not only Commander in Chief but Leader of the Free World. He is a self-entangling giant.

On January 25, 2002, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales signed a memo written by David Addington that called the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and "obsolete." Perhaps, in the nuclear era, the Constitution has become quaint and obsolete. Few people even consider anymore Madison's lapidary pronouncement, "In republican government the legislative authority necessarily predominates." Instead, we are all, as citizens, asked to salute our commander in chief. Any president, wanting leverage to accomplish his goals, must find it hard to give up the aura of war chief, the mystery and majesty that have accrued to him with control of the Bomb, the awesome proximity to the Football, to the Button.

Nonetheless, some of us entertain a fondness for the quaint old Constitution. It may be too late to return to its ideals, but the effort should be made. As Cyrano said, "One doesn't fight in the hope of winning" (Mais on ne se bat pas dans l'espoir du succès).

— September 10, 2009

[1]Jane Mayer, "The Secret History," The New Yorker, June 22, 2009.

[2]Charlie Savage, "Obama's War on Terror May Resemble Bush's in Some Areas," The New York Times, February 18, 2009.

[3]John Schwartz, "Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets," The New York Times, February 10, 2009. See also my recent discussion of the Reynolds case, "Why the Government Can Legally Lie," The New York Review, February 12, 2009.

[4]Evan Perez and Siobhan Gorman, "Obama Tilts to CIA on Memos," The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2009; R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, "CIA Fights Full Release of Detainee Report," The Washington Post, June 17, 2009.

[5]See David Vine, Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia (Princeton University Press, 2009). See also the review by Jonathan Freedland, "A Black and Disgraceful Site," The New York Review, May 28, 2009.

Project Censored: Schools More Segregated Now

Here is more evidence that what we are doing today to attempt to close the achievement gap is actually making things worse, as so many have said for so long.

We know that poverty is the biggest roadblock to achievement, yet all the education reformers seem to be able to do is blame teachers and find ways to further segregate kids while the reformers themselves make millions. Disgusting.
US Schools are More Segregated Today than in the 1950s

The Civil Rights Project, UCLA, January 2009
Title: “Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge”
Author: Gary Orfield

Student Researchers: Melissa Robinson and Rena Hawkins
Faculty Evaluator: Sangeeta Sinha, PhD
Southwest Minnesota State University

Schools in the United States are more segregated today than they have been in more than four decades. Millions of non-white students are locked into “dropout factory” high schools, where huge percentages do not graduate, and few are well prepared for college or a future in the US economy.

According to a new Civil Rights report published at the University of California, Los Angeles, schools in the US are 44 percent non-white, and minorities are rapidly emerging as the majority of public school students in the US. Latinos and blacks, the two largest minority groups, attend schools more segregated today than during the civil rights movement forty years ago. In Latino and African American populations, two of every five students attend intensely segregated schools. For Latinos this increase in segregation reflects growing residential segregation. For blacks a significant part of the reversal reflects the ending of desegregation plans in public schools throughout the nation. In the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, the US Supreme Court concluded that the Southern standard of “separate but equal” was “inherently unequal,” and did “irreversible” harm to black students. It later extended that ruling to Latinos.

The Civil Rights Study shows that most severe segregation in public schools is in the Western states, including California—not in the South, as many people believe. Unequal education leads to diminished access to college and future jobs. Most non-white schools are segregated by poverty as well as race. Most of the nation’s dropouts occur in non-white public schools, leading to large numbers of virtually unemployable young people of color.

Schools in low-income communities remain highly unequal in terms of funding, qualified teachers, and curriculum. The report indicates that schools with high levels of poverty have weaker staffs, fewer high-achieving peers, health and nutrition problems, residential instability, single-parent households, high exposure to crime and gangs, and many other conditions that strongly affect student performance levels. Low-income campuses are more likely to be ignored by college and job market recruiters. The impact of funding cuts in welfare and social programs since the 1990s was partially masked by the economic boom that suddenly ended in the fall of 2008. As a consequence, conditions are likely to get even worse in the immediate future.

In California and Texas segregation is spreading into large sections of suburbia as well. This is the social effect of years of neglect to civil rights policies that stressed equal educational opportunity for all. In California, the nation’s most multiracial state, half of blacks and Asians attend segregated schools, as do one quarter of Latino and Native American students. While many cities came under desegregation court orders during the civil rights era, most suburbs, because they had few minority students at that time, did not. When minority families began to move to the suburbs in large numbers, there was no plan in place to attain or maintain desegregation, appropriately train teachers and staff, or recruit non-white teachers to help deal with new groups of students. Eighty-five percent of the nation’s teachers are white, and little progress is being made toward diversifying the nation’s teaching force.

In states that now have a substantial majority of non-white students, failure to provide quality education to that majority through high school and college is a direct threat to the economic and social future of the general population. In a world economy, success is linked to formal education. Major sections of the US face the threat of declining education levels as the proportion of children attending inferior segregated schools continues to increase.

Rural schools also face severe segregation. In the days of civil rights struggles, small towns and rural areas were seen as the heart of the most intense racism. Of 8.3 million rural white students, 73 percent attend schools that are 80 to100 percent white.

Our nation’s segregated schools result from decades of systematic neglect of civil rights policy and related educational and community reforms.

According to the UCLA report, what is needed are leaders who recognize that we have a common destiny in an America where our children grow up together, knowing and respecting each other, and are all given the educational tools that prepare them for success in our society. The author maintains that if we are to continue along a path of deepening separation and entrenched inequality it will only diminish our common potential.


Tuesday Cartoon Fun: For You Edition

The Lack Of Usefulness In Testing

Interesting and somewhat revealing look at the efficacy of standardized testing in education.

Testing Vet Reveals How to Fix Standardized Tests

Todd Farley has a new book: "Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry." It was an intriguing read, but I told him it didn't go far enough. He had dramatized the weaknesses in the many tests he graded, but did not explain to us poor realists what we should put in their places. At first he resisted my suggestion, but I told him I was sure, if he thought about it, he would come up with something. He did:

1) The reason I wrote my book is because I think no one has any idea how totally ridiculous large-scale assessment is (especially the open-ended items). That's what I hope my book reveals, a system that is just staggeringly, laughably ineffective. I think the efforts to make that process "standardized" or "objective" have taken all meaning away from the work, and the end result is that now all the testing industry produces are numbers, random numbers. I really do think that information is the most important aspect that I bring to the debate about testing. Having said that, I do believe there are some things that can be done to make that assessment much more effective.

2) This is simply a logistical issue, but I think from now on student tests need to be scored by one person at one time. Currently, most large-scale assessment (including the vaunted NAEP) are chopped into bits, with a student's mutliple-choice answers going one place, their short answers going another, and their long answers somewhere else. That means if a student answers ten questions about "Charlotte's Web," for example, question 1 might be read and scored by Bob on Monday, question 2 by Mary on Wednesday, question 3 by George on the NEXT Thursday, etc etc. Sometimes weeks go between the scoring of questions 1 and 2 or 3 and 4, which seems to me to take so much away from what a student might be trying to say. While this is done for various reasons in the testing industry (training, money, deadlines, etc.), it also means a student's test is scored almost entirely without context.

Surely this is done so that each answer is given an "objective" read by some dispassionate employee (not to mention the fact you can then train unqualified people to do the simple task of scoring by having them search for random words), but it also means we are reading an answer to question 2 without knowing how a student answered question 1. In my opinion, this totally takes away from a broad understanding of a student's knowledge. Decisions end up being made based more on picayune things like what words show up on the paper, not so much what those words might mean (i.e. we accept "bubbles" but not "sizzles" in a question about the definition of "boiling", etc.). In the current system that means 5 or 10 or 15 or people might all end up doing some of the scoring/grading on each kid's test. That is not being "objective." It is an unrealistic assessment of a child's understanding.

In the scoring centers, it also takes away from the sense of responsibility that we feel about kids: if I was scoring one student's entire test, I'd become invested in it, but in the current set-up I'd just be scoring Question 2 (i.e., "What is the theme of this story?") for about three straight days and would completely lose any feel that I was assessing actual children. It just totally becomes a muddled mess of words at that point, not students. Ergo, I think what has to happen is that some person completely qualified in a subject area (such as an English teacher reading English tests, math and math, etc.) should read and score each test in its entirety, not just chop them all up into bits. If it costs more to hire actual educators instead of random people off the street, that's still what I think makes more sense.

3) And so, what I think SHOULD happen is what happened on the best assessment I ever worked on: the state of Washington's Goal 2 classroom-based assessments. Interestingly enough, Washington has a state test (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) for reading and math, the usual high-pressure, mandatory tests that many teachers/parents argue against AND that also happen to be part of the horrible system my book and I impugn (in fact, a lot of my early scoring career was working on WASL reading and writing). Of less importance to the state is the Goal 2 tests (for History, Civics, Health/PE/, and the Arts--Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, Dance), but those tests were Classroom-Based Assessments that were written and scored by the state's teachers in conjunction with Riverside Publishing--they weren't just handed off to the test company with no idea what was really happening next. For those tests, scoring systems were established on the state-level, and then local teachers in those subject areas were entrusted to read the tests, view the performances and assess the results. It seemed to me this way you had some sort of central management (state gov't providing standards on what should be learned and what constituted acceptable and unacceptable results), plus teacher participation in the scoring process that to me means qualified people would give serious reviews of student work, a massive improvement on the current state of bored, unqualified temps making snap judgments based on the fleeting glances they give student work. Even if we don't think it's a good idea for teachers to assess their own students' work, then teachers can cross-grade within a district (which happens at the college-level).

Jay, I don't know that my suggested system is perfect, but it is a massive improvement on the foolishness that now occurs.

Those Crappy Teachers

A comment from Michael Fiorillo I think we should all take seriously:
As a teacher, I’d be the last one to minimize our (potential) importance in the lives of students, but as others have pointed out, “Why the obsessive focus on incompetent teachers, to the complete exclusion of other professions and fields?”

The US has a shamefully high infant and maternal death rate: why aren’t OB-GYNs being targeted with the same passion?

The US has lower life expectancy than other developed nations: where are the witchhunts against primary care doctors and other health care professionals (let alone the real “death panels,” the insurers)?

The US incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth, most of them minority, and many of them warehoused in private, for-profit prisons, providing a structural incentive for continuing incarceration: where are the corporate think tanks, foundations and PR firms making noise about this “Civil Rights Issue of Our Time?”

The reason those debates have so little “juice” is because these fields have already been privatized, with free reign given to those who would count, measure, control and commodify and market everything. Public education, along with Social Security, is the last major universal, public good left to be taken over by the hedge funds, private equity parasites and venture capitalists. Thus, this unending campaign against teachers and their unions, and this absurd debate about teacher quality.

I’m not proposing witchhunts. My point is that this very discussion proves the success of corporate ed deform in framing the issue of education solely as one of teacher quality. Even the unions have allowed themselves to be suckered into this twisted, unfair discourse, which they can only lose.

Do you want to improve the lives of poor and minority students? Then improve the lives of poor and minority students: provide their parents with living-wage jobs, adequate housing, medical, dental and mental health care and, yes, adequately funded schools with committed (sorry, TFA) and qualified teachers. Until we open up that debate, teachers will be shouted into a corner by arrogant know-nothings with thick wallets, pursuing their own interests in the name of “The Underprivileged.” [emphasis mine]

As for edu-scientist (now that’s a hot one), I’d like to quote Norbert Wiener, a mathematician and early computer scientist, and coiner of the term “cyber:”

“The success of mathematical physics led the social scientist to be jealous of its power without quite understanding the intellectual attitudes that had contributed to this power. The use of mathematical formulae had accompanied the development of the natural sciences and became the mode in the social sciences… so the economists (MF: and “psychometricians” as well the overwhelming majority of ideologically-subsidized “education researchers”) have developed the habit of dressing up their rather imprecise ideas in the language of the infinitesimal calculus.”

Norbert Wiener, “God and Golem, Inc.”

I know this dates me, but every time I hear a DOE/Ed Deform mouthpiece say “Research shows that…”, while pulling some self-serving nonsense out of their butt, I think of the old Trident gum ad:”Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend Trident to their patients who chew gum.”

Yeah, that’s the ticket.
h/t ednotesonline

Insurance Companies Need Our Help (And $$$)

h/t swimming freestyle


Dear Mr. President

Dear President Obama,

The progressives, Democrats, Independents, Republicans and Greens who elected you did so because we trusted and believed you were the man who could bring the change we so desperately needed after such a dismal time in our country. You told us you would end the war. You told us you would close Gitmo. You told us you would be honest and open and transparent. You told us you would fight for Universal health care. You told us you were soundly against DADT, and wanted to repeal DOMA.  You told us lots of things that we wanted to hear and believed were possible. So we elected you.  We still think these things are possible too.

As you surely know, being the tech hound you are, the progressive blogosphere is not happy with you. In fact, though only anecdotal, of the 145 people who voted in my tiny little poll on my blog, 95 are disappointed in you. It's not scientific, but it shows me something--you are failing. You are losing your base. You have lost me and about 95 others I know of.

I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to have had so much hope only to have that hope squashed by the very hope itself (you!). I convinced many people that you were our best chance to put the country on the right track. I donated money, made phone calls, and got into arguments. I am now wondering why.  It feels a bit like this:

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. We got fooled again?

You have yet to scream at the top of your lungs that you won't settle for anything less than a public option for health care (a far cry from universal health care, but a good start). You even got Pharma to make it look like they are helping, with their $100 million ad campaign (what percentage of their revenue is $100 million? Minuscule.). Most of us know that is a pittance, is toothless, and is an attempt to trick us. Screw you. Screw them! Maybe if they committed $100 billion...

Remember LBJ? Remember Viet Nam? Have you learned anything from the history of that war? We were caught in the middle of a civil war. We lost 50,000 soldiers, the war, our confidence, the government (Nixon subsequently won), and the people. There was no way for LBJ to extricate himself because he listened to folks he respected who agreed with him. You need to start listening to those who disagree with you. Those who disagreed with LBJ turned out to be right. Find your George Ball and listen!

You had our confidence in the beginning. Then you began to equivocate. Release the pictures of abuse or not? Keep up the secret domestic spying or not? Give war prisoners trials or not? Fight for universal health care or not?  End DADT or not?  You decided NOT.  Bad decision.  Bad for America, not just you, not just Democrats specifically; America.  Sasha.  Malia.  My son.

And what's with the giving banks billions without constraints?  You do know Paul Volker, right?  Do you still talk to him?  You should.  I think he works for you.

You must be bold. You must use your abilities to do what's right, not what's possible. I know the bromide that says politics is the art of the possible; you seem to believe that's all you can shoot for. Aim high! Higher!Possibilities are endless, as long as you work.  That's what you're preaching to the kids with your bball buddy and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  Or is that just more hot air?

At this point I need to be convinced there is a reason to support you. You don't have my support anymore. Maybe what I mean is I don't trust you anymore. I will support the things I agree with you on, but I have little faith they will get done. I have lost hope. What a pity.

Yes We Can.

Yes We Did.

But You Didn't.

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