Archive for November, 2009

Can You Pass the Bloomberg Civics Challenge?

November 13, 2009

Can You Pass the Bloomberg Civics Challenge?

In honor of his historic 90 million dollar victory over Bill Thompson and hence four more years of even more tremendous achievements to come, New Yorkers are herein challenged to take the Bloomberg Civics Challenge and see just how they measure up to the  mighty mind of Mayor Mike.  The civics challenge is designed in the form of a multiple choice test in honor of the hundreds of thousands of similar tests NYC school kids take every year under Mayor Mike’s bold data driven leadership. And boy, have those test scores soared !   Remember, when in doubt, pick C !

1) Reporters who ask Mayor Mike uncomfortable questions are

a)     Doing their job.

b)    Carrots.

c)     “a  disgrace”

d)    Insubordinate.

2) The best person to run the largest school system in the United States is

a)     A professional experienced educator who has worked his or her way through the ranks.

b)    A carrot.

c)     A former federal prosecutor with no educational background at all.

d)    A sensitive singer songwriter.

3) When faced with two referendums approving term limits, an ethical mayor in a democratic society should

a)     Submit to the will of the people.

b)    Have sex with a farm animal.

c)     Orchestrate a coup within the sleaze ridden City Council.

d)    Baby Carrots.

4) The finest and most efficient model for all human activity

is

a)     The corporate business model.

b)    Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu

c)     The corporate business model.

d)    The corporate business model.

5) The New York City Council should operate as

a) Jonathan Livingston Seagull

b) the law making  body of the City of New York  serving as a balance of power against the mayor in a “strong” mayor-council government model.

c) The mayor’s private brothel.

d) ice cream

6)When seeking reelection for, say, mayor of New York City, an appropriate gesture for a candidate to make to a prominent spiritual leader might be

a)     a promise of  more Michell-Lama Housing.

b)    A pledge of good government.

c)     A gift of one million dollars cash.

d)    Baby carrots

7)The inevitable result from a change in Mayer Bloomberg’s dictatorial control over the New York City’s Public School system would be

a)     A sane and responsible educational policy.

b)    Dramatically less turnover in the teaching profession.

c)     “ Riots in the street.”

d)    The end of the world.

8)Faced with the current economic crisis which of the following leaders would be best suited to govern New York City

a)     Mike Bloomberg

b)    Nicolae Ceausescu

c)     Mike Bloomberg

d)    Mike Bloomberg

9) In the ever more savage  world of  global competition, “effective”  teachers should  seek to enhance

a)  Critical thinking.

b)  Creativity.

c)  the ability to take multiple choice tests.

d)  real knowledge of history, literature,  art and science.

Answer Key:  1) c 2) c 3) c 4) c 5 c) 6 ) c 7)  c 8) c 9 ) c

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Bill Thompson and the Silence of Obama

November 6, 2009

Bill Thompson and the Silence of  Obama

Yesterday morning, the day after the election, I woke to a feeling of dread contemplating over coffee four more years of Mike Bloomberg in City Hall.  The feeling was similar if less devastating than the morning after George W. Bush’s curious victory in 2004.  On the coffee table in front of me lay the handful of Bill Thompson posters and pamphlets I did not find a home for in what was my first experience as a volunteer in a political campaign. Truth be told when I was moved to volunteer I was motivated more by disgust at and rage toward Mike Bloomberg than I was by love of Bill Thompson but the more I heard the man the larger a man he seemed to me to be.

Did I think he had a shot?  Well, I knew there was a well-spring of rage out there over Bloomberg’s over turning of term-limits and I knew many people who were sick and tired of the onslaught of luxury condos and the like but… for me it was more an act of faith and one of self respect than anything.  I needed to sleep at night knowing I did all I could do not to simply accept   what I considered and consider an act of extreme violence against all democratic principles and any notion of fairness.   I am, of course, referring to Bloomberg’s coup via   City Council.

Of course, I was aware of the endless polls predicting a Bloomberg landslide and, such was the onslaught via all  of the senses,  that  no sensate being could be unaware of the ceaseless ads for the  greatness of  Mayor Mike and ( especially toward the  end ) the untrustworthiness, incompetence, recklessness and poor dental habits of  the poor loser Bill Thompson.   I was also aware of how very powerful and wily players in the city’s Democratic  orbit – chief among them but  hardly alone the shameless Christine Quinn —  had soiled themselves and completely betrayed their  party and whatever principles they may have once pretended to  believe in to please the mayor  who would be king.

But I also knew that t there were some  —   John Lui and Bill De Blasio, chief among them,   who had stuck to their  guns and dignity and refused Mike Bloomberg’s entreaties to disgrace themselves for the betterment of Mike.    These people were with Thompson despite his seemingly hopeless, futile campaign. It was a matter of  party  loyalty and it  was matter of principle.

Now here it was the morning after and, to the shock of almost everyone in the city, the all-powerful Bloomberg had squeaked in by a margin of less than 5 %.   I sipped my coffee and studied one of the posters.  On  the right was a confident looking Thompson, arms folded, looking straight into the camera.  On the left was President Barack Obama, smiling staring into the  distance into  nothing in particular.  The poster, as it  turned out, was  about as close as Obama would get to Thompson, a man of  his  own party and a man heroically —  and I do  not mean that word ironically —  standing  up to a figure who publically  urinated on the rights of all eligible voters in New York City and paid  not even  a quality  of life ticket while  vowing to spend upwards of  $60 million dollars  to crush any  mere mortal  who dared oppose him. Bloomberg would eventually spend close to $ 100 million dollars.  No matter.  After all  others fled, Thompson stood his ground.  The press all but ignored him.  The man would have to set himself aflame to get any attention.  No matter.  Thompson pushed on.  Day after day.  Month after month.  Against enormous  odds.

There in the dawn light I asked myself, where was the president ?  Where was Obama ?

Why did  he  not help this man ?  Was Thompson not standing up to everything a good democrat and a good Democrat should stand up to: plutocracy, immense wealth, and the sleaziest kinds of politics possible.  Did he not stand for the things that a good democrat and a good Democrat would stand for: working class people, community control, affordable housing and so on.   So  why was  Obama silent ?

Oh yes, he endorsed   Thompson, kind of, via a spokesman even as he visited New Jersey three times actively campaigning for Gov. Jon Corzine. Two weeks ago when  Obama was actually in New York, he barely said hello to Thompson.

In effect, Obama abandoned Thompson.  In his silence you might even say he betrayed him. Worse,  Obama’s pathetic and feeble endorsement could  easily be read as a tacit, weasely endorsement  of  Bloomberg.   I kept thinking about that 5% margin.  Imagine if Obama had spent a single afternoon actively campaigning for Thompson with even half the enthusiasm he campaigned for Corzine.   Imagine if he had made but one commercial for the man.   Imagine he had done anything more than the nothing he did and you do not have to imagine Bill Thompson as the new mayor of New York.

The question, a question as far as I know nobody has yet bothered to ask Obama, is why?  Why did the President of the United States   do nothing, nothing at  all,  to help a fellow Democrat become mayor of the greatest and most influential city in the United States?

Why  would Obama not help a Democrat  running against a billionaire ( who voted for  John McCain ) who so  transparently believes himself to  be above the law ?

The mind boggles.  Dark thoughts seep in.  Obama has spent a good  deal of the first eight months of his presidency proving again and again and again he is  not  what he  appeared to  be, not what we  so desire  him to be, not  what we need him to  be.

The  question remains:  What is he ?  Who is  he ?  What does he  stand for ?

I hope for the  sake of this  nation that I’m wrong  but I think Barack Obama has more in common with Mike Bloomberg than he does with Bill Thompson.  More, I do not think it beyond the realm of possibility that some kind of hidden deal was made between the two.  Consider the issue of education “reform.” Consider that President Obama wants to do for the entirety of the United States what Bloomberg has done to a considerable extent in New York:  he has corporatized education, the better to  privatize.    Consider that before his disastrous selection of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education, President –Elect Obama was seriously considering the even more disastrous NYC Chancellor of Education Joel Klein, he who wet dreams over reducing teachers by 30 % and replacing them with the miracle of “distance learning.”   (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/nyregion/22bigcity.html?emc=eta1 )

Consider that Joel Klein, federal prosecutor with no education experience whatever, was hired to undermine the teachers’ union via non union charter schools, evisceration of tenure, idiot schemes such as  “merit pay”, data based evaluations of teachers based on their students test scores, and endless intimidation and pressure.  Consider that Barack Obama’s  and Arne Duncan’s  revealingly named “Race To The Top “ education reforms are demanding from states across the nation the exact same  insanity for such states to  be even  considered for federal  stimulus money they  so  desperately  need to need  to  survive.

Now consider that if elected Bill  Thompson vowed to immediately  fire Klein and replace him with a professional educator.  Consider that Bill Thompson spoke repeatedly and passionately about the craziness of endless testing and necessity of  subjects such as music and art.

Could this be the reason that Obama did nothing to help this decent, thoughtful and righteous man?   Could this be the reason  Obama, in effect, abandoned him like a dog on a highway ?

Make no mistake about it.  As our manufacturing base drifts from one slave wage nation to the next slave wage nation, education has come into the radar of the same kind of ruthless predators who so desperately desired to privatize social security.  Note well that the biggest financial backer of charters school is  Wal-Mart.  Note well that No Child Left Behind has mandated the federal government into every school in every nook and cranny across the continental United States. Note very well that there are billions and billions to be made in textbooks, tests, test prep, reading systems, writing systems and on and on and on — and let us not forget charter schools.   What Bloomberg wants  is  what Obama wants:  the privatization of the public  school system.

If this happens in the major cities – Chicago, Las Angeles, New York – the rest of the country will follow.  But first the unions must be destroyed or undermined.

Bill Thompson finds  such schemes silly or even insane.  Mike Bloomberg finds them visionary.

This, I believe and I fear is the reason for the silence of  Obama.  And what a cost,  this silence.

Mike Bloomberg’s Unwitting Gift

November 2, 2009

Mike Bloomberg’s Unwitting Gift

Having never met the man I cannot say for sure but I can only imagine that a businessman as cunning and ruthless and efficient as Mike Bloomberg seldom if ever makes a move without believing he can extract infinitely more of what ever it is he’s dealing with than what he’s put into it. One does not, after all, become the richest man in New York without, among other things, the gift of calculation to an extraordinary degree. One does not insidiously and with almost military precision and speed eviscerate  the votes of millions of New Yorkers in two referendums without Machiavellian manipulation and   calculation of a lazer-like  intensity and brutal ruthlessness.

So what exactly did Bloomberg calculate and what conclusion did he reach? Let’s be blunt:  Mike Bloomberg calculated (with the assistance of his ever active polling army) that he could, in effect, strip every eligible voter in New York of their constitutional rights, undermine the democratic process itself, insult the intelligence and tempt the integrity of the entire city and somehow you, I and everyone else would simply go along with it.  Or we would somehow forget it by the time the election came along. Or we would be hypnotized by Bloomberg’s ceaseless and omnipotent ads.   Or  maybe  we would just place it in parenthesis while  pondering  Mike Bloomberg’s monumental mayoral achievements without which the city would have sunk into eternal perdition.

What have we here?

What we have here is contempt for the people of New York and the democratic process on a level and to a degree that is nothing short of breathtaking.   “He did what?, ” I recall  people  exclaiming in utter disbelief the  day of his coup.  “How is that possible?” This was the question heard in households all over the city, save, perhaps in the 50 or 60 households of the   people who orchestrated the coup. Nobody knew.  We only knew it had happened.

The act was unprecedented  — not unlike and not unrelated to the problem poised by Bloomberg himself; that of a man with seemingly limitless political ambitions, little if any political integrity —  who solely because of his absurd wealth — posesses the ability and the inclination to strike fear into and demand compliance  even from those usually lording it over others.  Consider the behavior of the editors of the N Y  Times, the Daily News and the Post in the term limits affair.  Here were three men who dismissed Rudy Guliani’s similar attempt to retain his power, albeit for  weeks,  not an entire term, in the tone of  correcting a wayward child.  And this, mind you,  during the midst of Rudy-Mania, when “America’s Mayor ”  seemed to many to be the greatest man in the history of the sperm cell.

No such tone for Mike.  No.  New York needs Mike.  His  steady hand.  His wisdom.  His independence.  His finanical acumen to see us through these tough times.

And other breathless, obsequious  almost Hallmark level nonsense.

Reading  the absurd and contemptuous words of his devotees had led me to   believe   that Mike Bloomberg’s immense wealth, far from keeping him above  “special interests” , has allowed him to become   the most corrupting force in City Hall since the days of Jimmy Walker and before  that ,Tammany Hall.  Yes, it is a most casual and accepted corruption, far more subtle than that of Boss Tweed  —  but it is corruption none the less.  Bloomberg is  not on the take.  Bloomberg corrupts. Bloomberg tries to  put you on the take.   He  simply purchases who and what he  wants — political parties, City Councils,  ministers, elections, what have you.     In this kind of  corruption it matters not at all that Bloomberg himself  never dirties his hands.  He needn’t do so.  Others dirty their hands for him.  Consider  Calvin O. Butts, minister of the historic Abyssinain Baptist Church in Harlem and perhaps the most influencial African-American minister in the city.  Butts is supporting Mike  Bloomberg.  According to the New York Times, Bloomberg’s rival,  Mr. Thompson was reportededly furious at what he considered Butt’s  betrayal. ” But what he did not know,”  said the Times  “was that Mr. Bloomberg gave a $1 million donation to the church’s development corporation — roughly 10 percent of its annual budget — with the implicit promise of more to come. “What could I say to a man who was mayor, and was supportive of a lot of programs that are important to me?” Mr. Butts said in an interview before he endorsed Mr. Bloomberg.”  ‘

You could say, Pastor Butts,  that I’m not for sale, no ?  Can you not ?  Sadly, the scenario with Butts has repeated itself in city wide.

This is corruption.  Who other than Bloomberg has a million dollars to hand out willy nilly?  What, other than the basest form of  self interest — Bloomberg’s as well as whoever it is he  is  purchasing  —  is being appealed to and  manipulated here?

But most of all what we have here is a man with   essentially limitless capital and utter contempt for the democratic process and hence the rights of all others.   If ever a man embodied Justice Louis D. Brandeis’s dictum about democracy and wealth – “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both, — ”  it is Mike Bloomberg.

Bloomberg’s  shameless act was possible for one reason and one reason only: his  tremendous,  even insane wealth allows him to corrupt everyone who is corruptible until he gets what he wants. Indeed, this election is  nothing short of Bloomger’s attempt to corrupt an entire city.  Sure Mike, it’s OK to over turn millions of votes.   Anything is OK as long as Mike  gets  what Mike wants.  And what Mike wants is power, laws and the will of the people be damned.

Let us be clear.  You can rationalize and explain and excuse what Bloomberg did for rest of time — and you can rest assured, Bloomberg has already hired people, ivy league  educated people to be sure, to, as much as humanly possibly, do exactly that. And you can rest assured he pays them very well.

But, if you truly believe in   democracy what you cannot possibly do under any circumstances is justify Bloomberg’s act.  There is simply no getting around it:  Bloomberg undermined the    democratic process and people who believe in democracy neither do such nor accept such. Perhaps the presidency of  George W. Bush, which  began with its own undermining   of  democracy when the Supreme Court stepped in to  declare Bush the victor allowing the man to spend the  next eight years dismantling the constituion and Bill of Rights has subtly  eroded our sense of  belief to a place where repulsive acts like Bloomberg’s are somehow acceptable.  I hope and pray not.  But  consider the rage, the rightful rage that swelled in this  nation as the revelations of the Watergate scandal came to  light. And what was Watergate but the attempt  to undermine  of the democratic process ?  Yes, the stakes were infinitely higher and, yes, the procedure was different but the difference is in style and not in substance.   Both were intended to undermine the democratic process. The difference is  that Nixon failed where Bloomberg succeeded.  As yet anyway.  And while it is true that Bloomberg   did not actually hire a gang of CIA sleazebags to get his way, it’s also true that he did not have to.     Why should he when he can simply buy 29 sleazy members of our City Council led by disgraceful speaker Christine Quinn herself to steal your vote before you even knew what happened ?

Boom.

Done deal.

Next.

Nixon’s tawdry maneuver cost him the   presidency.  Bloomberg is hoping   that his slimy move will position him for the White House.

It may well  do that, but, for the moment it provides an opportunity for New Yorkers to rise to what Lincoln called “the better angels of  our nature.  ” In a sense, in a very  real sense this  election is  not about Mike Bloomberg and Bill Thompson at all.  From his eight years at City Hall anyone with eyes to see knows Mike Bloomberg. Every one in education, for one,  knows that his much vaunted reforms are a sham and that Bloomberg is the Bernie Madoff of test scores.  What sane man would place a half psychotic former federal prosecutor like Joel Klein in charge of the largest school system in the nation ?  But it does not matter if Mile Bloomberg was the greatest mayor in the  history  of the city  instead of the mediocrity that he is.  The man does not believe in democracy. The man believes he is a law unto himself.  The man holds us all in contempt.

Anyone who’s kept on eye on things in New York knows  Bill Thompson as well.   Bill Thompson is a decent and honorable man who is a true public servant.   I  have no doubt  that he would make a fine  mayor and I will have no trouble pulling the lever for him come Tuesday. Indeed, I will do so happily.

But this election is  bigger than these two men.

It is about plutocracy as opposed to   democracy. It’s  about the will of the people as opposed to the will of  an arrogant narcissistic billionaire mediocrity. It is  about deciding, as the  old  union  anthem went, “Which Side Are You On?”  There is no middle ground.  Not here.  Not now.

It provides New Yorkers with an opportunity to tell the Michael Bloomberg’s of the world and the rest of the nation  that we shall not be bought and our rights  are not for sale, Christine Quinn and Co. be dammed.    Above all it provides New Yorkers with a moment to affirm their belief in the sacredness of the democratic process and the will of the people.

These opportunities are Mike Bloomberg’s unwitting gift and seen clearly they are as  monumental a gift  as the arrogance that birthed it.  He  has calculated that we are too foolish, dumb, broken or   in awe of his magisterial powers to use it.

Let us hope we have the courage and the faith, in ourselves and in the democratic  system, to use it — for if we do not we are accepting and deserving of contempt.

And we will receive it.