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My Letter to President Obama & Congress Re Torture Under the Bush Administration April 24, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
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9 comments

Dear President Obama and Members of Congress:

It is the legal duty of our Justice Department to investigate serious allegations of torture, to prosecute ALL those reasonably suspected of such atrocities, and to punish those who are found responsible.  And it is your duty, as our leaders, to encourage, not hinder, such an investigation.  President Obama’s statement that ‘this is a time for reflection, not retribution’ is a statement that, in my mind, does not pass muster. For, bringing criminals to trial is not retribution, rather it is justice.   The legitimacy of our criminal justice system rests on the principle that NO American is above the law. President Obama’s rational for neglecting the duty to launch an investigation, here, is not one he or any other well-trained lawyer would ever use toward an ordinary citizen believed to have committed heinous crimes, and I believe that he is seriously misguided and disingenuous to use it as a rationale for neglecting his duty to uphold the laws of our country in this instance.

In making this statement, you, President Obama, make a mockery of our criminal justice system which is in place to seek and bring  justice and, thereby, to negate the need for wronged individuals to seek retribution.   In promising  justice to all, it serves to discourage and, where necessary, to  punish retribution.

Further, if we are to be, and be seen as, a just country, it is imperative that we investigate ALL charges of illegality regardless of the social standing or power of the accused. To do otherwise brings disgrace on you as our leaders, brings the disdain of the world upon us, and undermines our belief in the fairness of our justice system.

Moreover, we would not tolerate such a statement on behalf of other world leaders, particularly if their countrymen had tortured Americans.  Rather, we would demand that those who refused to meet their duty to see that justice was done be themselves prosecuted for their neglect.

As an American citizen, an American trained lawyer and one of your supporters, President Obama, I fully and completely reject your exceptionally flawed reasoning here.  You are abdicating responsibility and furthering the idea of American exceptionalism.  I am utterly shocked and dismayed that would ever utter such a statement.

According to the recently released bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report, the Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush distorted the meaning and the intent of our anti-torture laws.  The administration then went out of its way to rationalize the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.  Because substantial evidence exists, it is your duty to see that an investigation of these allegations is made.

I agree with Amnesty International that our leaders must ‘establish and support a non-partisan, independent commission of distinguished Americans to investigate this matter.’  This commission must examine Bush Administration actions and policies regarding  the detention, treatment and transfer of detainees after the 9/11 attacks.  It must also deeply consider the consequences of those actions and policies and provide a comprehensive report on its findings and its recommendations for making future policy in this area.  I agree, too, that this commission must be ‘independent, backed by the full force of law, and adequately funded.’  Do not forget that it is our government’s  legal obligation to uphold the laws of our nation and to prosecute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

Finally, I reiterate Amnesty International’s request that President Obama’s Administration make public all relevant policy memos that argued for, documented, and/or established the basis for detainee treatment, including their subjection to coercive interrogation techniques under the  Bush administration.  In order to fulfill your promise of transparency in government, President Obama, you must see to it that the truth is made known about the abuses that were committed in our names.  We have the right to know.

Sincerely,

Suzanne Robinson

Below, I add a partial response I made to one of our readers:

Your comment regarding your desire to see those who sanctioned waterboarding receive a little of their own medicine is so poignant because there are many Americans who share your sentiment – that those who were culpable should experience that which they had a hand in bringing upon others. That’s why I find another statement made by President Obama – that it is time for us to move on, to heal – so entirely maddening and, frankly, more than a bit frightening.

Moving on – in a way that is healthy for our country, for democracy, for our peace of mind – necessarily includes the regaining of some sense of right and wrong, some sense of a limit to otherwise unchecked and dangerous power.

While no one can undo what has been done, our government can and, I think, must demonstrate for us and for the world that in America these atrocities do not go unanswered. It is only then, I think, that we may truly heal. It is only then that we can move on with any faith that our government will, acting on our behalves, uphold our values and our laws.

For me, one bottom line is this. If a democratically elected government does not meet this duty to its citizens – the duty to severely punish torture at the hands of those entrusted with the power of public office – we are left with nothing but to live in fear of our government.

Thanks to condron.us and alpha inventions, two great resources for bloggers!

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Pirates! Danger!!! High Seas Adventure! (By Elizabeth Burke) April 23, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
5 comments

Ahoy Matey! Shiver me timbers, pirates are in the news again.

For the first time in 200 years, pirates boarded an American ship. The ship, called the Maersk Alabama, is actually Dutch-owned, but it carries US Government cargo and, as such, must be registered as American and travel with an American crew.

When attacked, those feisty, tough American sailors disabled the ship and turned the tables on the scaliwags after an aborted hostage swap. “Captain Awesome” Richard Phillips, from Underhill, VT, gave himself up to secure the lives of his crew. He was immediately taken hostage, lowered into a lifeboat (later to be found disabled) and ferried out into the ocean with guns pointed at his head. America, hungry for the ripped-from-the-pages-of-a-Tom-Clancy-novel-tale, sat on the edge of its collective seat.

With the US Navy racing to the rescue in the US Destroyer Bainbridge, circling the Mearsk Alabama like a giant steel shark; the P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft flying overhead; Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force, the FBI all involved in the stand-off (!), I kept waiting for Tom Cruise to come dangling off a Black Hawk Helicopter, scoop up Captain Richard Phillips from the tiny lifeboat bobbing in the ocean and hand him safely into the arms of his weeping and grateful wife. Roll Credits!

Certainly, this was my take on the high-seas madness unfolding earlier this month.

Two worlds – this one and my theoretically pacifist one – diametrically opposed, collided as I read the paper on my daily subway ride , taking in every detail of the latest Somali pirate attack.

Make no mistake, these modern day pirates of the Somali Coast are very armed and very dangerous. They act like a pseudo high-tech militia and often dress in military fatigues. They operate GPS systems and satellite phones to coordinate attacks from small, fast speedboats attached to a larger mothership.

The pirates use rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank rocket launchers and automatic weapons to capture large, slow-moving vessels like the 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama, which was carrying food aid from USAID and other agencies to help malnourished people in Uganda and Kenya.

What?

For God’s sake, they attacked a ship on a humanitarian mission bringing food to starving people.

Have they no shame?

This isn’t like the Saudi oil tanker they got last month. This is a ship with a heart, doing good deeds, keeping people alive. I have no doubt the pirates missed that irony.

But perhaps the biggest irony, completely missed by these privateers, is the name of the very tanker that was their ultimate undoing. The USS Bainbridge is named after Commodore William Bainbridge, a naval officer who played an important role in eliminating the pirates that plagued shipping off the African coast over 200 years ago.

According to the watchdog group the International Maritime Bureau, since January 2009, pirates have staged 66 attacks, six in just one week, and they are still holding 14 ships and 260 crew members as hostages. There were 111 attacks in 2008, and more than half that number have already occurred in the first four months of this year. Hauls from those attacks covered payment for that Saudi oil tanker and a Ukrainian ship loaded with military tanks, both of which were later released.

The stakes are high. Last year, pirates made off with about $80 million in ransom money, making this the most lucrative industry in Somalia. There is very little risk to the pirates, as most ship owners are more than willing to shell out the cash in exchange for the lives of the crew.

It’s simply good business. What merchant marine is going to sign up to work for a company that would allow them to be killed over cargo? Yet, daily, ships need to sail. Goods need to be delivered. And crews are needed to run the ships. For those involved, it’s just another day at the office. These companies would rather pay out a few million than risk losing business because they can’t get a crew to sail.

Except the Americans. We are having none of this. You attack one of ours, and IT IS ON! Americans do not make deals with kidnappers, and we do not make deals with pirates. Payoffs would only stand to fund further thievery and kidnapping .

The pirates did not expect the heroic crew to fight back and re-take the ship. They did not expect the Captain to offer himself up.   A sailor who spoke to the Associated Press said the entire crew had been taken hostage but managed to seize one pirate and then successfully negotiate their own release.

Yay! I love American moxie and that kind of take charge, EFF you spirit. The crew pretended to surrender, a family member told CNN. When the pirates let down their guard, Big Mistake, the Americans jumped them, overpowering them with sheer force and tricks learned from the ship’s second in command, Captain Shane Murphy – whose father, Captain Joseph Murphy, just happens to be a pirate-attack expert at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. What luck!

The Captain, truly heroic, offered himself as a hostage to secure the safety of his 20-man crew, whereupon he quickly found himself in a boat with 4 heavily armed, battle-tested pirates, adrift and out of fuel. Unlike the captain, these men had nothing to lose.

Because the waters off the Somali coast are infested with these roaches of the sea, NATO already has five warships in the Gulf of Aden and is planning to deploy a permanent flotilla to the region this summer. According to the Huffington Post, the Navy said it would take 61 ships to control the shipping route in the Gulf of Aden, which is just a fraction of the 1.1 million square miles where the pirates have operated. A US backed international anti-piracy coalition currently has 12 to 16 ships patrolling the region at any one time.

Along the Somali coastline, an area roughly as long as the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, pirate crews have successfully held commercial ships hostage for days or weeks until they were ransomed. In the past week, pressured by naval actions off Somalia, the pirates have shifted their operations farther out into the Indian Ocean, expanding the crisis.

This expanding pirate territory will make it even more difficult to patrol, and with US legal authority limited in International waters, it is unclear how much we can actually do to prevent these attacks. That is why we had to strike hard and fast. I’m no pirate-fighting mastermind, but what choice did we have?

It’s the US Freaking Navy for crying out loud. We have all those sexy Navy Seals and *sigh* Army Delta Force men swarming the decks on the US Destroyers itching to get in the fight. I could only imagine their muscles twitching under their tight black t-shirts, crew cuts all a-bristle, ready for action. Ahhh….

Then, with 3 perfectly aimed shots, in the dark of night, on bobbing water, it was over.

The Pirates fatally underestimated the skill, patience, and pure nerve of three Masters of the (my) Universe, the US Navy SEALs! Not only did the FBI successfully negotiate to allow the tiny doomed lifeboat to be towed by the Bainbridge, the boat was surrepticiously towed even closer so my new He-Men Heroes could have a better chance of safely taking the pirates out without causing the death of Captain Phillips.

Unbelievable! Really! This was the shot in the arm we all needed. Something this whole country can feel good about. You would have to be truly black-hearted to see any criticism of the Administration, the military or the choices made to use killing force.

Finally, the Maersk Alabama, with the crew on board, but still missing their Captain, got on its way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, its original destination, to fulfill their humanitarian mission of feeding starving nations.

While the crew continued their mission in Kenya, the high seas negotiations got underway. And as we all know now, it ended in mythic, movie-like purity: 3 shots fired, 3 pirates dead, and 1 pirate on the way to New York City for the first pirate trial in well over 200 years.

Stung by the ease in which we got our ship and crew back safely, the Somali pirate community has called for an all out war with any ship hoisting the US flag. So the stakes are now higher than ever.

On Tuesday, April 14th, the Liberty Sun, a US flagged cargo ship bound for Mombasa, Kenya, was attacked by Somali pirates, according to a NATO source with direct knowledge of the matter.

And, following the tough stance the US has taken with the high-seas hijackers, it now seems the rest of the world has decided to stand up to these brutish invaders and fight back.

According to CNN reports, Canadian and British vessels are on NATO patrol to prevent a second hijacking of a Norwegian ship that the Pirates captured after a seven-hour chase, but then released. There is currently no formal procedure for HYPERLINK “http://topics.edition.cnn.com/topics/NATO” NATO personnel to follow once they have apprehended pirates. Their weapons are confiscated and they are then typically given provisions and released. But it’s a start.

As more countries decide not to play into the greedy hands of these despicable people, the tensions and level of danger will be raised.

So, this story has not ended, nor has my fascination. I will be coming back to these tales of high seas hijinks in the coming months. Meanwhile, my thoughts and prayers are with the heroic Captain Phillips, his family and the entire Kick ASS American crew of the Maersk Alabama. And also, of course, with those unnamed Navy SEALs who will be playing a starring role in my dreams for nights to come.

Welcome New Readers, Sorry For Our Absence, Some Updates And A Bit On Prejudice!! April 18, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
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We’ve had so many new visitors over the past couple of weeks, and I want to say welcome to you all!  Welcome!  Unfortunately, this new burst of readers coincided with some difficulties on the blogging end of things, and I apologize for not getting up new material for the past two weeks.  We generally post every Friday, and I will work hard to maintain that schedule going forward.

I want to touch base about a couple of things.  First, I will put up new posts Monday (both mine and Liz’s).  We had the misfortune of being hacked just before Good Friday!  Can you believe it?  Before the holy holiday? Anyway, the misguided soul blocked my access to the Word Press server, and I couldn’t even get access to make Liz the administrator so she could post for us.  My apologies to Liz, who worked very hard and fast to write a timely piece, only to have it sit in my inbox for over a week.  It is out of date now, but she is making it current again, and you will see it Monday.  I wrote a piece especially for Good Friday, and I will hold it until another appropriate time.

From time to time I may be absent, but I will try to make that as infrequent as possible.  After being hacked, which was bad enough in itself, I had to contend with a more serious issue.  I have a terrible back and a relatively small accident left me in more pain than I’ve suffered in years.  So instead of writing, I’ve been going from doctor to doctor, getting all kinds of spinal injections and other fun things…  I’m starting to feel better, though, and it doesn’t often get so bad.  My doctors and I are considering several options to address the problem long term.  Send wishes that they don’t strongly advise another surgery, as I really do not what to take that route, and I will likely decline in any event.

But enough about my woes!  I have been contemplating adding new writers on a regular basis, but I am putting that idea on hold for now.  I am turning much of my attention to writing a book.  I know… can you believe it?  Just a few months ago, I was terrified of writing for the consumption of others, now I’m taking on a huge project, and I am very excited.  

I will write about African American politics from the time of the American Revolution through the Civil War era.  And, guess what lucky readers… I will begin to share some of that work with you here.  Now, stop!  I see you out there… my sister is sitting in the front row rolling her beautiful eyes, saying, ‘OMG, I don’t want to read history.’  But it’s really fascinating.  Just you wait.  For example….

This week I will tell the stories of two fights.  One a rite of passage; the other, a fight for life.  One involves Abraham Lincoln; the other, Frederick Douglass.  I’m sure you can guess which is which.  Had the outcomes been different, these two physical encounters could have changed the course of American history.  

I often say that reading history, especially when you focus on a few historical figures, is like watching the West Wing (only you have to read it and they have horses rather than cars… details!).  But the people are every bit as interesting.  I read about their public lives, yes, but I also read about their private lives, and I read all I can find about their inner lives.  I will try to keep it interesting.  

I will still write about today’s politics.  Sometimes I will link history to the present, sometimes I will stay in the present.  Either way, I’m having great fun, and I hope you will too!

So, again, welcome to all our new visitors.  And a big thanks to our regulars.

Before I move on, I would like to encourage everybody to leave comments.  I want this to be a learning experience for me, and you all have valuable perspectives and knowledge that I don’t.  So help me learn and keep things lively!

… So now to prejudice.  It’s such an awful thing, and we’re all susceptible to it, try as we might not to be so closed minded.  I was reminded of it this week when a friend posted a video from ‘Britains Got Talent’ on Facebook.  Susan Boyle stepped on stage to sing for the judges and a large audience in the audition phase of the show.  When they asked her how old she was and she replied that she was 47, the crowd and the panel reacted rudely because she looks a bit older than her age.  She then got rather sassy, which brought more tortured faces (and lots of applause, some of which may have been in her favor, but some was decidedly not).

Now, she could look younger with just a few changes as part of what made her appear older was her hairstyle and her clothes.  Still, she is a little overweight (which puts her in the majority in today’s world, right?).  And she could benefit from some strengthening and toning exercises (again, who among us could not?).  But, what, really, does that have to do with her ability to sing?  Are physical beauty and talent intertwined?  Well, those present evidently thought the two connected, and scoffed at her before she even began to perform… you can see for yourselves.  Suffice it to say, I think this should remind every one of us to be less hasty in our judgements.  

 

Happily, she won every one over within seconds, and everybody there seemed genuinely happy for her.  We are, I think, at our cores, good spirits.  So let’s remember and honor that part of us (and, yes, I’m talking to myself, too).  

I’ll close here for now.  Please come back Monday, and check in each week for new posts!  In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend!

Best,

Suzanne

Celebrities Gone Weird! (by Elizabeth Burke) April 3, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Celebrity.
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11 comments

OK, now that you have read all of Suzanne’s incredibly researched, well written, thoughtful blogs on the state of education, the President, Commerce picks, etc, after you perused the amazing poetry and continued to read the other exceptional articles her guests have written, it’s time for a little LizTime®!  

No politics this week. I am too aggravated over actions of certain celebrities/actors/performers.  As a classically trained stage actor (ahem ahem), I find it especially infuriating to read about the latest round of vacuous attention-whoring.

I spent years of my life, OK three years, where I did two things:  work full time and attend the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts full time. I had very little free time, was broke and tired ALL the time, and I thrived. I truly believe to be an actor is a calling, an art form of which to be proud.  I work hard to be taken seriously in my craft – only to feel pulled down by the few big names behaving like over- indulged narcissists. 

Enter Gwyneth Paltrow.  Who won an Oscar at 26 for a movie that was, well, not great.  Her parents are famous – her mother is Blythe Danner, star of stage and screen and a truly brilliant actress, and her father Bruce Paltrow, Producer and Director of several TV hits. Her Godfather is Steven Spielberg. 

(And, no, this is not sour grapes because she was practically delivered on stage. The late, great, and sorely missed Natasha Richardson was born into British Stage Royalty. I loved everything she did and never ceased to be mesmerized by her raw talent and beautiful spirit. Not so much Gywneth.)  

Lately, this over-indulged, over-applauded, actress has been very busy marrying her Rock Star, having 2 oddly-named children and shouting to anyone who will quote her about the fabulosity of her life. She needs everyone to know how great it is and how important her “work is.” So much so that she scorns the idea of working at all. 

“I don’t really understand the concept of having a career, or what agents mean when they say they’re building one for you. I just do things I think will be interesting and that have integrity. I hate those tacky, pointless, big, fluffy, unimportant movies.” 

Ha Ha! Me too Gwynnie! “I just have no more bad habits to give up.” God I hate you.  Isn’t she lucky not to have to care about agents, her career, or making worthless crap like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow? Oh, and Gwneth? I’ll take your meaningless agent.

So while the rest of us marinate in the mundanity of the recession, this Paragon of British Living has created (or her people did) a website called GOOP. Her initials is seems. How funny! Isn’t Gwynnie clever? The theme is “nourish your inner aspect.” WTF does that even mean???  Honestly, where does she come up with this gibberish? Did one of her yoga/trainer/macro foodie friends call her up and say “OMG! I had a spiritual journey in my dream last night after I drained the soybeet juice from the solar fridge and here is your new theme!!”  It’s all such HYPERLINK “http://thesaurus.reference.com/browse/affected”affected and HYPERLINK “http://thesaurus.reference.com/browse/artificial”artificial cleverness that I am a little embarrassed for her. 

With GOOP, you too can enter Gwynnie’s Realm of Perfection. I tremble a little, am I good enough? Skinny enough? Blonde enough? Full of s**t enough? YES I AM! Except for the blonde part. In we go…

Make. Go. Get. Do. Be. See. These are the pages within this magical world and I can barely wait to start nourishing my inner Aspic. When you enter “Get” Gwyneth breathlessly tells you all about her fab everyday uniform. Now I assume, these are the looks our new BFF thinks every gal should own. 

Gwynnie recommends every girl have a pair of Guiseppe Zanotti Booties, an uber high-end brand where the sandals(!) start at $595. I can only imagine what the Booties go for. My rent? Probably. Her plain black Shift Dress by Shell Kare is a mere $545, $610 with a belt! I cannot continue in “Get” because you know there are more inanities and I simply cannot travel down a road where spending $600 on the simplest of shifts is deemed necessary for a woman’s wardrobe. 

Clicking on “Do” her chipper voice tells us: “Do dance cardio five times a week for at least 30 minutes and by summer you will see a change you will be proud of!” Well that and not having to work full time, take care of the kids (gasp! No nannies?), feed the family (no chef), clean the house (no maid), pay the bills (no business manager), sleep with the husband (well, have you seen most husbands??) …and so reveals the totally out-of-touch, self-absorbed narcissist.

As I got sadder and more insecure in the knowledge I will never be cool or rich enough and neither will my friends, I can only muster up the energy for quick bites. 

“See” is where her preposterously faux-literati “friends” show us how stupid we are by explaining Serious Literature to us. An example of a friend’s pick: “My mom is reading this book right now, which reminded me of how provocative and exciting it is. One of my favorites, The Life of Pi is a fantastic discussion igniter about religion and other important stuff.”) Okaaay…Next is “Make” which makes me feel HYPERLINK “http://thesaurus.reference.com/browse/inconsequential”inconsequential because I can’t gush at how lucky I am to eat at my fab famous chef friend Mario Batali’s house!! Lastly is “Go” When in Paris stay at the Ritz, eat foie gras, and throw those Zanotti’s at the peasants. 

This reality-deprived, spoiled adult does not seem to have any idea that in February alone the number of unemployed persons increased by 851,000 to 12.5 million, and the unemployment rate rose to 8.1 percent. Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has increased by about 5 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 3.3 percentage points. 

We leave the clueless one thinking it absolutely normal to spend what amounts to my rent on a pair of boots that will likely be worn about twice, to turn our attention to Gwynnie’s one time mentor, Super Freak Numero Dos. Madonna. 

Now, while Gwyneth and her Marie Antoinette-ish attitude merely irk me, this crazy old Cougar infuriates me. Why she feels this need to adopt more innocent children from Malawi is beyond me. Her nannies must be overwhelmed as it is.

I don’t mean to make light of adoption, but this psychopathic egoist actually believes she will mother this new child. When exactly? Between her toyfriends? Husbands? Tours? Gratuitous photo shoots? Kabbalah worshipping? Various Photo Ops? Recording new (unasked for) albums? 

The gym alone must take 8 hours a day to create that string cheese look of her arms. Don’t tell me that little boy, David Banda, she adopted last year feels like she’s his mother! My sister has 2 children and is a stay at home mother. I see how hard she works, how involved she is with her kids, their friends, activities and school, all the while looking fabulous, organizing charitable events, keeping her house beautiful and her husband happy, all by herself. Trust me, her kids know damn well who their mother and primary caregiver is.

I cannot comprehend the level of selfishness you have to have to buy another child only to hand them off to a nanny to raise.  Although, by all accounts, the Material One will make the journey so she can show how much she cares. But what then? She isn’t finished with her Sickly Sweet tour or her latest romantic conquest, the young and pliable Jesus. So what, she drops the new kid off at one of her homes into the hands of an overworked nanny? This is a four-year-old child. Not a baby who nurses and sleeps. This little girl, ironically named Mercy, will feel scared, different, lonely, and confused without the comfort of familial love to keep the scary things at bay.  

Save The Children has asked Her Materialness to please refrain as they say international adoptions are unnecessary, some feeding the criminal “adoption industry.” They said that, barring exceptional circumstances, children should be kept in the care of their extended families or within their communities. 

In essence, children are not items to be crossed of your to-do list. But as we all know, The Musically Challenged one knows better than us common folk and will continue to do whatever she wants to whomever she wants.  Even though this child has living relatives, including a grandmother fighting for custody, I have no doubt that this adoption will go through and the family’s desires will be overruled so Mercy can have a seemingly better life.

 I wonder how much money changed hands. Seriously, how much does a little African child cost? A school? How many boxes of David’s used baby clothes, like those she sent to his village a few months ago, did it take?

Malawian law requires an 18- to 24-month assessment period before adoption. But not for Her Momminess. Apparently, this law is only for people like me. Yet, Austin Msowoya, legal researcher with Malawi’s Law Commission, played down concerns that a second adoption by Madonna would violate any laws. 

Msowoya said the best interests of the child needed to be considered, whether this was staying in an orphanage in Malawi or getting “an education with Madonna.” Huh? Does he imagine this AARP pop star spending time home-schooling her new addition? Really? 

This is the most transparent violation of a law to appease a famous celebrity and it really makes me angry. Being a celebrity these days is like living on Mt. Olympus. You are impervious to any laws, be it US or International. Drink too much and crash your car? No jail time! Beat up your girlfriend with the pictures to prove what a monster you are? Not Guilty! Buying children from poverty stricken countries? Come on in! 

Maybe this is what happens when your star shines bigger and brighter than most of the people in the world. Maybe one forgets where they came from (Detroit, Madonna, not London.) Maybe the fawning, sycophantic assistants and employees that surround them give a surreal sense of reality.

Imagine you have all these people surrounding you, assuring you how special, important, talented, beautiful and most of all how Right you are.  Maybe even cynical me might just start believing my own press. 

Until I get to test that theory on my own, it just makes it harder for me and my fellow performers to answer the question “What do you do?” Because of the outlandish, self involved, and plain stupid behavior of some performers-cum-celebrities, I feel self-conscious saying I’m an actor. Because you get the look, the raised eyebrow, and the immediate feeling like you were just judged and it didn’t go well.  It is embarrassing to say ”I am an actor,” and just know the person in front of me is thinking, “weirdo.” 

Education Reform: Is this a Joke? (Part lll of lll) April 3, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Obama.
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Remember when Dennis Miller was a liberal and went on his truly hilarious rants.  Well those days are gone, and nothing you will read here if even remotely funny, but I’m going on a rant!

Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun Times: Obama to Push for Merit Pay in Education Speech: There is little doubt that Lynn Sweet is an uncritical Obama fan. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a strong supporter.  But I think that our friends owe it to us to tell us when they think we are off track.)  Anyway, as usual, here she quotes the president favorably, citing as a ‘key proposal from the White House’,

“The President will increase teacher quality by dramatically (italics mine) expanding successful performance pay models and rewards for effective teachers, scaling up federal support for such programs in up to an additional 150 school districts nationwide.”

What she doesn’t do is ask any questions. How will the administration determine who is an effective teacher? By standardized tests that are widely criticized by teacher after teacher and virtually every school advocate on the left as not measuring true learning, but only rote learning and memorization? Tests that are graded differently in different states so that the results are virtually meaningless? In fairness, the president did promise to revamp the tests to measure things like analysis and critical thinking and to set a national standard to get rid of regional differences. But there is still much to be done before teachers can be judged by the same criterion. I’ve spent the last week reading everything I could find about Arne Duncan, and, in doing so, I’ve read the comments of 117 school teachers in Chicago. Not one spoke favorably of Duncan, and there are common themes of which we are all already aware, but of which we do not speak. At least not in Washington, including in the current administration. One teacher, who left the profession after only a few years, tells a common story.

In Teaching’s Revolving Door, an article by Barbara Miner which appears on the Rethinking Schools website, a teacher named Eiaine moved, at her own request, from “a suburban school so well funded that she taught with science books that weren’t yet available on the market” to an urban school. She asked for the transfer because she felt a calling to help students in an African American low-income neighborhood. Here, she found that her science textbooks were more than 20 years old, that some had entire chapters missing, and that there weren’t enough, even of those, to go around.

My guess is that the students in this school aren’t performing so well – that this would probably be considered a “failing” school, and, according to President Obama’s stated approach to education reform, would be shut down. It would be shut down without ever being provided the resources that are a prerequisite for learning. Can we truly expect great success stories from schools in such dire circumstances? And a lack of books wasn’t all she found. She also reported that, because the school was so poorly funded and because her students had a late lunch period, “by the time they got to the cafeteria, sometimes the food was gone.” In the winter, she said, “the boiler routinely broke and there would be minimal heat.” And, besides a lack of resources, she reports that there was virtually no support from district administrators. Does her students’ failure to score well on standardized tests make her a “bad” teacher – one that should be fired? Are teachers to be held accountable for these indefensible injustices? With all the talk of holding teachers accountable, why no mention of accountability on the part of policy makers – on those who allocate money to schools? Why do we accept Republicans’ (and now, neoliberal Democrats’) nonsensical ramblings about liberals “just wanting to throw money at the problem.” Well, when children don’t have school books or food or heating, I would strongly argue that their school needs more money. Should we really shut down our public schools without ever giving them the opportunity to succeed? President Obama hasn’t committed himself otherwise.  He never speaks of the unjust ways in which schools are funded.  He never mentions that some kids have no books.  He never asserts that this is unfair… that it is discrimination wrapped in the ridiculous rhetoric of ‘bad’ teachers.  Why is this?  I wish I had an answer… as I’m do those who give their all, despite their lack of resources, to help our children learn and flourish.

 

 

Our Children

Our Children

 

 

Now it is true that the president has promised to provide more training for teachers, but he has not provided any details. For how many teachers? Enough to make a difference? And what teachers? How will he determine who gets training and who gets the axe? I’m sure there are bad teachers out there. There are bad workers in every field. But his assault on them is outrageous. Can we count the times he has referred to bad teachers? As if their morale wasn’t low enough already. The teachers who ask to be placed in an urban school, with all the problems that come along with the move, deserve higher pay, but their pay is lower. They deserve more training in how to deal with problems that don’t arise in many well-funded suburban schools, but they get the least. They deserve to be credited with their choice to face these conditions – the choice certainly doesn’t come from pursuing their own self-interest. Rather, they want, more than anything, to help children who need it the most. So how can we look them in the face, acknowledge their lack of books, training, institutional support, computers, even pencils and call them bad teachers because their students don’t perform as well as their counterparts in affluent areas? I am angry this week, and I think rightfully so. It is a disgrace.  President Obama speaks of past heros like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  But President Bush’s team are the ones who think highly of his Education Secretary.  I am angry.  I am hurt.  And I feel betrayed by this man who asked us to hope.  I did hope, but I never hoped for this.
In all fairness, President Obama, in making a promise to pay “well-performing” teachers more did also promise to base their evaluation on student progress, rather than basing them solely on test scores. But, even with this promise, he is attempting to put out a forest fire with a garden hose. For he has promised funding to increase teacher pay in 150 school districts. One hundred fifty! We have 14,900 school districts in this country. And by his own count, the student drop-out rate is worst in 2,000 of them. Given these numbers, I do not hold out much hope that increasing the pay of some teachers in 1% of our school districts will turn around our public schools. A far bigger commitment is necessary. But he has not made that commitment. Nor has he uttered a single word in support of equitable funding. He’s worked in these neighborhoods. He knows what’s going on. So where is his commitment to the principle of equality?
Take Elaine. After just a few years, she left teaching. And, as the author points out, multiply her decision thousands of times and you get an idea of one of the most serious problems facing schools. Her research reveals that school districts must hire about 270,000 new K-12 teachers every fall to replace those who have left the profession. And, she found that “the problem of teacher turnover is especially acute among new teachers, with as many as half of new teachers leaving within five years.” Not surprisingly, the problem is worse still in urban districts where it takes only three years for half of new teachers to leave. This is especially bad for kids in urban districts who are already less likely to have continuity in their lives. Imagine they find a teacher who inspires them, who motivates them, who simply shows that she believes in them. And then she leaves. Do we have to guess the effect this has on those students? I think not.
I have come to support the idea of charter schools under certain circumstances. But the circumstances under which Arne Duncan operated in Chicago leave me saddened and angered. First of all, he shut down small community schools rather than huge urban schools. Smaller schools, I think, provide the better environment and are most likely to be turned around with the proper tools. Adding insult to injury, reports are that the student whose schools he closes are often not the students who get to attend the new Ren10 schools, often charter schools. Rather, their neighborhood is being gentrified along with the school closures, new, more affluent families move in and send their kids to the new schools, while the children who once lived there (or even some who still live there) are often sent off to other ‘failing’ schools. I said, last week, that I would report back on his admirers and his critics. Well, critics are much easier to find. The only folks who speak well of him are corporate interests and folks from the Bush administration. Hope? I’m finding it hard.

But don’t take my word for it.  Consider this report from the Christian Science Monitor.
“Chicago students have shown some strong gains under Duncan. The percentage of elementary students meeting state standards increased from 38 percent to 65 percent during his tenure. But results at high schools give less to cheer about: Test scores have stagnated, with just under 30 percent of students meeting standards, according to Catalyst Chicago, a newsmagazine that reports on education reform. A change in testing procedures, moreover, has muddied the year-to-year comparisons…
The district closed, replaced, or overhauled the management at more than 60 low-performing schools. But Catalyst found that, early on, only a small percentage of students displaced by school closings ended up at the new and improved schools. Many landed at other schools that were on academic probation.”

Or see Obama’s Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling on the Truth Out website.

“Far from a genuine call for reform, (attacks on public schools) 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.
Right-wing efforts to disinvest in public schools as critical sites of teaching and learning and govern them according to corporate interests is obvious …. The hidden curriculum is… that always underfunded public schools fail so that they can eventually be privatized.

 
Duncan’s neoliberal ideology is on full display in the various connections he has established with the ruling political and business elite in Chicago.  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.  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.  (Do we think this was accidental????)
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.   (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.”

 
 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.
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.”

I think this says it better than I – I hope my readers who are less radical than I return, but I feel justified in my anger, and, worst of all, helpless to do much about a situation that calls for all of us who care about educating ALL of our children to stand up and be heard.  I hope you will join me.

and, thank you condron.us