Archive for November, 2008

Child abuse under color of education reform

Assisted Suicide of a Generation

Five KIPP schools in the San Francisco Bay had an attrition rate of 60% between 5th and 8th grade, giving ammunition to KIPP’s detractors. Conversely, if teachers would reinvent high school during their spare time, then we could re-engage alienated teens. And so goes the blame game.

So, why not focus on highly mobile and excessively absent students? After all, there must be a rational limit to the scorn we can heap on educators for their inability to help children who are not in school. It is manifestly impossible for teachers, who already have their hands full, to reach out and rescue many of those children who miss school too much. New York City has 392 people to monitor 200,000 students who are chronically absent, but the district adopted the predictable response – blame the principals.

Robert Gates is a very bad man

Obama, Ask the Kremlin about Gates

Nearly 16 years ago, during the last transition from a President Bush to a Democrat, Moscow made an extraordinary gesture to Washington: The Kremlin supplied a summary of its intelligence information about secret U.S.-Iranian contacts in the 1980s.

If Gates is kept on he will, amongst other things, seek to destroy evidence of fraud and torture. It is also very likely he will seek to sabotage Obama.

Gates to stay at defense

Via Think Progress.

The American military will remain a homphobic, misogynist, proture center of imperial hubris.

Better progressive bloggers

Were you horrified by the primary? Were you appalled by the way allegedly progressive bloggers adopted right wing talking points against Hillary Clinton? Were you sicked by the intimidation tactics of the Obama fan base?

Do you like gardening? Do you understand that in hard times gardening and knitting are political acts?

Do you support single payer insurance? Do want to pass Medicare for All?

One blog, more than any other, has stood against right wing talking points, against intimidation, and for Medicare for All, CorrrenteWire. Now CorrenteWire is asking for your help. Please reward good work.

Child abuse under color of the law

Federal Judge Denies Relief to Guantanamo Teenage Detainee

Bob Somerby on education deform speak

Special report: Back-to-school week!

Part 2—Easy to be fatuous: Many scribes find it “easy to be hard” when they talk about public schooling (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/21/08). The rules of the game are fairly simple: They scold those troubling teachers’ unions—and the troubling pols who support them.

Beyond that, many scribes find it easy to churn perfect pap about public schools—to type tired bromides about “reform,” thus avoiding actual thought. The Washington Post took this standard approach in Saturday’s editorial:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (11/22/08): Another [cabinet] selection that will merit scrutiny is Mr. Obama’s education secretary: Will the choice reflect his stated commitment to reform? Will it be someone with hands-on experience in education and a proven willingness to experiment? While the new president’s attention is understandably focused on the economy, not to mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s critical to have someone who comes to the education post with those credentials.

When it comes to Obama’s education secretary, the Post favors “reform”—it wants someone who’s “willing to experiment.” Meanwhile, everyone knows what these words mean when mainstream journalists discuss public schools. “Reform” means cracking down on teachers and teacher groups through ideas like merit pay and the ending of tenure. There may be some merit to these ideas—but few others seem to get mentioned.

In case we didn’t know what “reform” means in these parts of the Village, Fred Hiatt wrote a recent Post op-ed piece which made the point fairly clear.

It’s easy to be fatuous, we incomparably thought, after reading his column.

As usual, Hiatt’s piece took the form of a paean to DC schools chief Michelle Rhee. We mean that as a criticism of Hiatt, not of Rhee. Yes, this passage is utterly silly. But it was written by Hiatt:

HIATT (11/10/08): Rhee is hardly anti-teacher. One problem, she says, is that “our good teachers have not been told that they’re good.” And she is committed to helping teachers “who have the will but are underperforming—that is essentially the biggest challenge for the District for the next couple of years.”

But she won’t compromise on the notion that every student can learn to read, write and do math; that their ability to do so should be measured; and that if they’re not learning, it’s not their fault—it’s the schools’.

In a way, you can’t blame Hiatt for that sort of talk; it’s the type of chatter that’s routinely churned by “educational experts.” But Hiatt is being fatuous when he says that “every student can learn, write and do math” (whatever so vague an assurance might mean)—and he builds a straw man when he goes on to say that “their ability to do so should be measured.” (Few oppose sensible measurement.) Duh! The question isn’t whether “every student can learn;” the question is how much various students can learn, at what point in their public schooling. The larger question is what sorts of changes in instructional practice might help these students achieve these goals. Meanwhile, the desire to rush to the question of who’s “at fault” merely extends the problem. But Hiatt makes it clear, at the start of his piece, that fault and blame are driving his vision. He opens with an anecdote designed to show that Rhee is high-minded and good—while an unnamed principal is an uncaring villain. He then cranks out this standard text—although, within the Insider Press, churning such text is real easy:

HIATT: Rhee offers the ultimate in no-excuses leadership. She has taken on one of the worst public school systems in the nation and has pledged to turn it into one of the best within a decade. The usual excuses made for such schools—that they cannot possibly do better because their students are poor, or come from broken families, or haven’t been read to, or are surrounded by crime—Rhee does not accept. She has seen such students learn, Rhee explains, in her own classroom in Baltimore in the early 1990s, and in many other schools since.

Just as he drives a framework of “fault” and blame, Hiatt builds a framework in which people are looking for “excuses.” (It can’t be that they’re offering “explanations,” or describing real problems and obstacles.) Of course, it’s easy for pundits to say that we shouldn’t “accept…the usual excuses” about the progress of deserving students who may enter kindergarten far behind their middle-class peers. But those students’ achievements won’t increase just because Hiatt enjoys talking tough—because he churns familiar bromides as a replacement for thought. Once again, though, we have to cut Hiatt some slack, since he can quote “educational experts” saying the same goldarn things:

HIATT: Kati Haycock, president of the nonprofit Education Trust, says Obama is “absolutely unequivocal on, ‘Don’t tell me black kids can’t learn.’ It comes directly from his gut.” So maybe he will sympathize with Rhee’s conclusion that patience, tact and compromise are inappropriate when half your kids or more never graduate from high school.

We’re sure that Haycock is a fine person; Jonathan Kozol writes good things about her, and that’s good enough for us. But everyone knows that “black kids can learn” (whatever that vague assurance might mean); reciting this bromide makes “experts” seem noble, but it doesn’t make anyone smarter. The actual questions here are quite different: How much can this particular child learn, during this particular week, and what would be the best particular way to help him or her do that? Unfortunately, educational experts often like to cheerlead—and the Hiatts start acting like cheerleaders too. Soon, we find ourselves snarling at teachers, who surely must be “at fault” in these students’ “failure to learn.” (By which we presumably mean failure to learn enough.)

In the process, we may fail to notice how few real suggestions come from observers like Hiatt—other than the tired old bromides about things like merit pay.

In large measure, Hiatt’s piece concerns the wonders of merit pay—an idea which sometimes seem to have magical power in the world of the Village pundit. Who knows? Some form of merit pay may be a good thing—though we doubt that Hiatt has any idea, one way or the other. To our ear, his piece was the usual insider piece—a piece pundits churn again and again. He found it easy to be hard—when it came to those lazy teachers. When it came to the search for real ideas, he found it easy to be rather fatuous.

Meanwhile, his column turned—as these columns often do—on a certain miraculous tale. It’s easy to believe in miracles inside this mainstream celebrity press corps. When Post pundits talk about low-income schools, miracles tend to play a key role in their ruminations.

Tomorrow—Part 3: Easy to believe.

Rep. Nadler Moves to Prevent Pre-Emptive White House Pardons

Office of Rep Nadler

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-08), Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, introduced a Resolution in the House of Representatives demanding that President Bush refrain from issuing pre-emptive pardons of senior officials in his Administration during the final 90 days of office. H.RES.1531 is in response to President Bush’s widespread abuses of power and potentially criminal transgressions against our Constitution. The Resolution aims to prevent undeserved pardons of officials who may have been co-conspirators in the President’s unconstitutional policies, such as torture, illegal surveillance and curtailing of due process for defendants.

“This Resolution declares that we will not tolerate a last minute attempt by President Bush to shelter his cronies – cronies who may well be guilty of serious criminal offenses – from the full force of the law,” said Rep. Nadler. “President Bush must not excuse his own officials from possibly illegal acts committed outside the context of their official duties. Such pardons would merely obfuscate the truth and amount to a gross miscarriage of justice.”

Beyond preventing pre-emptive pardons, the Resolution also recommends the establishment of a special commission or select committee to investigate the potentially illegal activities – including abuse of pardon power – of senior Bush Administration officials. It also calls for the next Attorney General to appoint an independent counsel to investigate and prosecute any crimes.

The full text of the Resolution follows.

H. RES. 1531


Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the President of the United States should not issue pardons to senior members of his administration during the final 90 days of his term of office.

Whereas Article II, section 2, clause 1, of the Constitution of the United States provides that ‘‘[t]he President . . . shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment’’;

Whereas Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist #74, stated, ‘‘[a]s the sense of responsibility is always strongest, in proportion as it is undivided, it may be inferred that a single man would be most ready to attend to the force of those motives which might plead for a mitigation of the rigor of the law, and least apt to yield to considerations which were calculated to shelter a fit object of its vengeance’’;

Whereas the Supreme Court has observed that ‘‘[a] pardon reaches both the punishment prescribed for the offence and the guilt of the offender; and when the pardon is full, it releases the punishment and blots out of existence the guilt, so that in the eye of the law the offender is as innocent as if he had never committed the offence. If granted before conviction, it prevents . . . the penalties and disabilities consequent upon conviction from attaching; if granted after conviction, it removes the penalties and disabilities, and restores him to all his civil rights; it makes him, as it were, a new man, and gives him a new credit and capacity.’’ Ex Parte Garland, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 333, 380 (1866);

Whereas during the Constitutional convention, George Mason expressed the concern that a president could abuse his pardon power to ‘‘pardon crimes which were advised by himself’’ or, before indictment or conviction, ‘‘to stop inquiry and prevent detection’’;

Whereas James Madison responded to Mason’s concerns by stating that ‘‘[i]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty’’;

Whereas although not constitutionally binding, the Pardon Attorney’s regulations governing the granting of presidential pardons states ‘‘[n]o petition for pardon should be filed until the expiration of a waiting period of at least five years after the date of the release of the petitioner from confinement or, in case no prison sentence was imposed, until the expiration of a period of at least five years after the date of the conviction of the petitioner. Generally, no petition should be submitted by a person who is on probation, parole, or supervised release.’’ 28 C.F.R. 1.2 (2000);

Whereas on President George H.W. Bush granted a full, complete, and unconditional pardon to Elliott Abrams, Duane R. Clarridge, Alan Fiers, Clair George, Robert C. McFarlane, and Caspar W. Weinberger for all offenses charged, prosecuted, or committed in connection with the Iran-Contra Scandal in which he was alleged to have been involved;

Whereas in a press conference on February 22, 2001, President George W. Bush stated, ‘‘Should I decide to grant pardons, I will do so in a fair way. I will have the highest of high standards’’;

Whereas investigations by Congressional committees, and press reports, raise serious concerns that senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush may have committed crimes involving the mistreatment of detainees, the extraordinary rendition of individuals to countries known to engage in torture, illegal surveillance of United States citizens, unlawful leaks of classified information, obstruction of justice, political interference with the conduct of the Justice Department, and other illegal acts;

Whereas President George W. Bush has been urged to grant preemptive pardons to senior administration officials who might face criminal prosecution for actions taken in the course of their official duties; and

Whereas pardons issued during the lame duck period of a President’s term would not be subject to the judgment of the voters; Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That—

(1) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the granting of preemptive pardons by the President to senior officials of his administration for acts they may have taken in the course of their official duties is a dangerous abuse of the pardon power;

(2) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the President should not grant preemptive pardons to senior officials in his administration for acts they may have taken in the course of their official duties;

(3) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that James Madison was correct in his observation that ‘‘[i]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty’’;

(4) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that a special investigative commission, or a Select Committee be tasked with investigating possible illegal activities by senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush, including, if necessary, any abuse of the President’s pardon power; and

(5) the next Attorney General of the United States appoint an independent counsel to investigate, and, where appropriate, prosecute illegal acts by senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush.