Archive for August, 2011

A Message from Michelle Rhee

August 29, 2011

Michelle Rhee is nothing if not convinced of her own genius, reality be damned.

Despite serious questions about her ethics during her miraculous three year teaching career, despite her outright rejection by proxy by the people of D.C, despite her corporate sponsored reputation as an educational messiah cracking beneath the mass cheating that occurred during her tenure as chancellor of DC schools,  (and her abject refusal to address the same ), despite the abject failure of the corporate reform campaign to improve anything despite a decade of dominance, Michelle Rhee is running around the country determined to tell you exactly how to think and how to save America’s schools.

Since her termination as DC schools chief, the lady has kept herself busy with her corporate sponsored a movement to transform public education.   Rhee’s idea of transforming public education is to hand it over to corporations — not that she’d ever admit it.    Somewhere I read that Rhee has vowed to raise a billion dollars to defame, undermine and slander teacher unions   Of course, Rhee did not use that language even as that is exactly what she and her employers in the corporate  reform movement do and can do.  No, what Rhee claims to do is to “take on” the “all powerful ” teacher unions who are destroying our nation’s youth and which will soon be found to be the cause of cancer and perhaps death in all forms.
To be sure Rhee knows all the right people  to raise that kind of  money. is Rhee’s very profitable non-profit vehicle designed for the job.

Meanwhile, she’s also become a sweetheart of union busting governors — Democrat or Republican; it makes no difference these post -partisan days — from coast to coast.

Rhee’s organization is, of course, part of a billion dollar “campaign” rather than a “movement” and you would think that Rhee, whose devotees seem to consider her the greatest educator in the history of the sperm cell, would know the difference between the two words.  Then again, since the entire corporate reform blitzkrieg is a campaign claiming it’s a movement – and better still, a grass roots movement — what the big deal?   What’s in a word, after all?

At any rate, lo and behold, not an hour ago  I was somehow the recipient of a message from the divinely inspired Miss R that I believe it my duty to share with you all.   As always, Michelle wishes to help you help put students first rather than last which is, of course, where bad teachers and the unions that protect them wish to relegate them.  As always Michelle wants to do this by firing all manner of bad teacher as to have the $ to retain “great” teachers.   The problem, Michelle states passionately in her voice-over to the accompanying video, is “ an outdated system called last in first out. “  This is  also called seniority.

Michelle never bothers to explain why seniority is suddenly “out dated” or how to identify a “great” teacher but…so what ? We all know what and who’s she’s aiming at, don’t we?  Michelle than follows up with the same load of theoretical horseshit proclaimed by Hoover Institution economist Eric Hanushek in the shameless, grossly dishonest, and  highly effective propaganda film Waiting For Superman in which Rhee not only stars but actually fires a principal on camera.

We’re talking an Olympian badass here !

Anyway, see for yourself what our girl is up to these days.

I must say this for Michelle Rhee: she is shrewd, very shrewd.  Producing this crap for a living is a whole lot easier and infinitely more lucrative than teaching ever was and ever will be.

Irene in New York: Images from the Morning After

August 28, 2011

These photos were taken in East River Park, the East Village and the Lower East side before noon the morning after the hurricane. It appears the worst is over and, down here at any rate, that the damage is minimal. People were walking everywhere accessing the storm.  Still strangely quiet due to the lack of cars and buses.

Images of a Shut Down City: Hurricane Irene Nears New York

August 28, 2011

Intrigued by the silence and emptiness that seemed to pervade a city that is, at times, nothing short of cacophony,   as evening fell under a light drizzle I headed out on my bike to take a look around and take it all in.  On the way I snapped a few photos and was hoping to snap a whole lot more but then the drizzle turned to downpour and it was time to head home.

As I rushed past the Bowery shelter I could not help but notice that the line of silent soaking men standing in the downpour hoping to get in was at least 100 strong.

The sight was jarring and put many things in perspective.

A Silent City: New York Awaits Hurricane Irene

August 27, 2011

New York City, at 5:03 on a Saturday afternoon in August, is silent. Eerily silent.   Four days after experiencing the aftermath of an earthquake – an event that shook my 100-year-old building so badly I fled it in terror, kittens in hand  — the city is almost completely shut down in preparation of Hurricane Irene. Excepting the days immediately following 9/11, I do not recall anything like it.  The subways ceased running at noon.  The buses will soon follow if they have not already.    Entire sections of the city are being asked to evacuate. The streets around me, generally  raucous by this hour, are void of humanity.

Hard to tell how much of this is really necessary and how much of it is Bloomberg trying to redeem his reputation after his epic bungling of the snowstorm a few months back.   Time will tell. One friend suggested that city officials were seizing the opportunity, at least in part, to practice an emergency city shut down operation in light of the London riots.  Could be.  To be sure, that event did not go unnoticed.

One thing for certain: New Yorkers are preparing for the worst. Bars and shops have closed and the supermarkets, if they were open at all, had lines of 100 people or more.

Still, stoic resignation and even some good cheer is the mood of the day as far as I can see.  And there is kindness of the type that is not in the least unusual in New York in times of collective trouble when our better angels tend to appear.  Walking down Ave A with my daughter at 10:00 this morning,  I am called by a restaurateur who has decided not to open shop and so is handing out bags of bread and bags of salad to any passerby who’d like them lest they go to waste.  A good gesture in a tense hour.

Just looked out the window.  The rain has ceased but the streets remain empty and silent. It will be an interesting night.   If the rain stays away I intend on cycling round a bit.  Days and night like these are too weird not to experience fully.

Let us see what is to come.

The Tea Party at the Fair

August 22, 2011

Just back from a little trip to Grahamsville, New York in Sullivan County where we stayed overnight with some old friends and visited the 132nd Annual Little World’s Fair in Grahamsville Fairground.

The fair is a hoot, what with all variety of  prize farm animals on display, rides for  the kiddies and delicacies such as candy apples, cotton candy, and for those with a with a  curious palate, deep fried Oreos.

I was not curious.

Amidst all this was a heavy and very conspicuous presence of the Tea Party, both in an official capacity – they had their own booth set up, as did the Republican and Democratic Parties – and in the form of lots and lots of middle aged overweight white guys who strolled the grounds wearing determined faces, Tea Party baseball hats and  Tea Party tee shirts of various kinds.

And what tee shirts they are!

If the Tea Party’s insane demands in the ongoing and infantile debacle over the debt ceiling were not enough to  convince you that at least a good part of your nation has entered some as-yet-to-be-named dementia, check  out these tee shirts.

In Tea Party land Obama, he who is wholly beholden to corporations, he, who has continued and extended both of Bush’s criminal wars in which 800,000 innocent souls have been murdered by US forces over lies that no one has been held accountable for; he who is doing all he can do to give the US public school system over to corporations, he who gave failed or criminal bankers a trillion dollar, no strings attached loan, is somehow of all things, a communist.


At the same time Obama –or at least his close political associates like Nancy Pelosi – is    a Nazi.

Or maybe a Nazi–Communist.

At any rate, without question Obama hates freedom and America, which as all patriots know are the same thing.

After musing over these rabbit-brained sentiments for a while, and after getting a good  look at some of the Tea Party faithful, I decided that a discussion with such folk was not likely to be fruitful or enlightening.  Besides, they scared the shit out of  my daughter.

As it happened, the booth for the Democratic Party was directly across the way so I ambled over, peeked in, and, as befitting a child of the working class, a son of a union man and a union man myself, was heartily welcome. I asked them how they were dealing with the fellows across the way whose eyes I could feel boring into my back.  They were extremely civil in tone and asked me if I had read the Tea Party placards.  I told them I had read some of them and that my favorite was the one that read: “ US Youth unemployed after 45 years of excessive regulations of  US manufacturing.” I took this to be an appeal for the abolition of troublesome child labor laws.  But that was not the sign they wanted me to see.  The sign they wanted me to see had the Tea Party accusing the Democratic Party of calling the former “terrorists”  while the Tea Party reminding the Dems that the same was said of  George Washington.

Touché!  Now that’s what I call a high minded political argument!

Then the confab grew strange.  One of the three men asked me if I was going to vote for somebody or other for some local office.  I explained I was visiting from New York City They asked what I did there and  I told them I was a public school teacher.  “So you’re under attack too” , one of them said, adding that his parents were from the Lower East Side and had been unionized garment workers and that he, himself, was a union member.  Yes, I replied, teachers are under attack and are so on a federal level, a state level and, in Bloomberg’s New York, on the level of the city.  Yes, they understood that Bloomberg was “a problem”, but were baffled by my accusations about the state and federal government.  “Do you mean charter schools,” one asked.  No, I replied, I did not mean merely charter schools although  that was part of the problem.  I meant the union busting privatizing policies of the two men whose pictures hung prominently in their booth: Governer Andrew Cuomo and President Barack Obama.

The three men looked at me with Little Orphan eyes.  It was clear they had no idea of what I was talking about and I began to suspect they thought I was a Tea Party person playing with them.  I asked them if they were aware that Cuomo had accepted the maximum legal contribution from Tea Party benefactors, the Koch brothers.  I asked them if they had forgotten Andrew’s vows that the first thing he would do as governor was “go after the unions.”  I asked them if they could discern any sense, any sense at all in Cuomo’s refusal to support taxing rich people.  I asked the if they could  discern any connection at all between  the policies of Andrew Cuomo and those of his father, Mario Cuomo or, in fact, any New York Democratic politician of note in the  past 100 years.

The men grew visibly disturbed, admitted that “things had changed” and then reminded me that Cuomo’s main rival, Carl “I’m mad as hell! “ Paladino, he of the baseball bat, would have been worse.   I conceded that he may have been but pointed out that Cuomo’s policies were far more similar to Paladino’s than they would like to admit. In any case, what kind of endorsement is that?  Yes, it’s true, our man has no principles, is a corporate whore, and will betray working people that much the more by steadily moving the party further and further to the right but the other guy… he’d do even worse somehow.

How inspiring!

The talk then turned to Obama and over the men fell an increasingly familiar air, as if discussing a once beloved cousin who was arrested for drug dealing or something of that sort.  In short, talk of the president who two years ago moved a nation now generated zero enthusiasm in a tent of his nominal supporters.  Indeed, theirs was an unmistakably air of baffled embarrassment.

To this I added rage.  I told the men that the American public school system had never encountered as insidious and pernicious an enemy as is the administration of Barack Obama; told the men that Obama’s signature education plan — Race To the Top – was nothing more than a union busting extortion racket that had no place in a democratic society, never mind a public school system and that in two years the man   had done more damage to schools, students   and teachers then George W. Bush could even dream of.  And Obama was only beginning: The end game was the de-profession of the teaching profession, the destruction of the teachers union (and eventually all unions ) and the handing over off the public school system —  the cornerstone of  public life in America —  to the same private sector  who have done such a  splendid  job of  bringing the world to the very edge of  economic collapse.

This, as they say, did not go over well.

A profound silence filled the air. I reminded these decent and well-meaning men that I was not the enemy. Indeed, I reminded then that I was incubated in a union household in which men such as Governor Al Smith and Franklin Deleno Roosevelt were heroes and in which the murdered Kennedy brothers were spoken of in reverence, not merely as Irish Catholic brethren who inspired the world, but as men of empathy and wisdom with courage enough to admit they were wrong and change their minds when such was the right thing to do. I reminded the men that the Democratic party they labored for and which I was expected to sentimentally support bore no relation whatsoever to the Democratic party in which I was raised and which help lift my family to a decent and dignified way of life.   Indeed, in many aspects it now functioned as a parody of such.

None of what I said was challenged.  Once again, one of the men repeated the feeble line about the other side being  even worse.  I have heard this now for years, indeed, for my entire adult life.  I have heard it from all manner of folk who ought to and do know better. I’ve heard it from a couple of fellow teachers at the Save Our Schools rally in DC in July  who defended the National Education Association’s pathetic decision to endorse Barack Obama even as his education policies demonize, demoralize and destroy their members all  across the country.  I hear it in the wind as the choice we are given — pathetic Obama or shill Mitt Romney or insane, spiteful Michelle Bachman or whomever the Tea Party will vomit up — comes into focus.

So, once again I am driven to the inescapable conclusion that in America, the land of the free and home of the brave, politics have boiled down to this horrific, pathetic and suicidal equation: if you think your life will suck under Y, think how much more it will suck under X.

And yet we have the gall to say we are free.

I know not a single, thoughtful soul who is enthusiastic about the Democratic Party.  Not a one.  I know and have seen much enthusiasm in the Tea Party, particularly among those who do not understand that their beloved party was founded and is in large part funded by billionaires who despise them; by those who cannot distinguish between someone who holds a different opinion from them and a communist or a Nazi.

I am fearful, very fearful of the country my little girl will grow up in.