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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!

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

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Obama.
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4 comments

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

President Obama Brings Hope to the Nation and the World February 1, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Uncategorized.
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1 comment so far

Throngs of people descended on Washington D.C. and well-wishers the world over gathered together last Tuesday to watch as Barack Obama took the oath of office and before our eyes became our president.  Most people, here and abroad, were filled with a new hope and a nearly unbridled optimism.  President Obama has inspired us with his own hopefulness and his courageous belief that good people, working together, can change our world.   He has reached us with his mantra, which, as he wanted, we’ve adopted as our own.  “Yes we can.”  Times are tough here, everybody knows that, but we feel stronger because President Obama is moving his family into the White House.

 In 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the first Republican President of the United States in dark days. The question that demanded an answer was what would become of slavery.  Slaveholders in the south argued angrily that they should be able to take their ‘property’ with them west.  But resistance was strong.  Former Whigs and Democrats, in 1856, left their old political homes to form the Republican Party in opposition to slavery’s expansion into the western territories.  Activists in the new party went further and called for an immediate end to slavery, and many southerners feared an end to their way of life.

 And 1861 found Frederick Douglas, a charismatic black abolitionist, courageously leading those who called out for an end to slavery and for equal rights for African Americans.  Douglas, while he maintained that Lincoln was the white man’s president who also helped blacks, said too that Lincoln was the only white leader with whom he had spoken who showed not one bit of prejudice toward black Americans.  And, as the nation fought and Lincoln began to work toward the emancipation of slaves, he and President Lincoln developed a warm relationship.

 It was a frighteningly dark time in our history.  In the four short months between the day President Lincoln was elected and the day he took office, seven southern states withdrew from the Union, formed the Confederate States of America, and inaugurated Jefferson Davis President.  Causing further alarm were the stirrings of secessionist sentiments in the five border states.  Though Lincoln remained hopeful to the end that war could be prevented, within weeks of his taking office, the country was fighting a long, brutal war with itself that would cost the lives of more than 600,000 Americans.  

 Lincoln did not live to see the people, in December 1865, ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery across the nation.   This was a tremendous step forward in the battle for equality, still the struggle necessarily continued after America freed African Americans from the bondage of slavery – for there were fundamental and urgent questions to answer about what that liberty would mean in their day, and in our day.

 In 1961, one hundred years later, John F. Kennedy became our first Catholic President on a platform of civil rights, promising laws prohibiting employment discrimination, the right to an adequate education, the right of labor to organize, and, among other things, an increase in the minimum wage to meet the right to earn enough to provide adequately for oneself and one’s family. 

 And in 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr., that generation’s great dissenting leader, led the march for equality under the law for those African Americans who still did not possess the right to sit next to a white person and mind their own business.  Their struggle would continue after Kennedy’s assassination, after King’s assassination, after Robert Kennedy was taken.  (By 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson had passed more civil rights legislation than any other President in our history, most notably President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act (1964), which banned discrimination in public accommodations, and Johnson’s Voting Rights Act (1965), which prohibited states from denying citizens the vote on the basis of their race.)  But, even after these struggles the work wasn’t over, as, by way of but one example of too many to list, states refused and resisted the right of black children to attend the schools of white children. 

 And too that year, in the heat of the summer, the man who became our president last Tuesday was born in Kansas, in the very heart of America, to an intellectual African father and a bright, idealistic white American mother.  In his books, he tells us that he grew up with love, guidance and nurturance, with the childhood privilege of attending an elite school, and with the knowledge that life is complicated.  He earned coveted slots at Columbia University and Harvard Law through hard work and natural intelligence.  By the accounts of many who’ve watched him over the years, though, the Barack Obama we see today has grown into the man he is through deep reflection and disciplined commitment.  

 President Obama, like many of us, sees in Abraham Lincoln an inspirational leader.  And the two men share common characteristics and ideals.  Lincoln, too, was an eloquent speaker, a man of supreme confidence and ambition.   Lincoln, too, was a man who grew into his own intentionally and thoughtfully.  Obama, like Lincoln, believes in the power of reason and of passion.  And Lincoln said, too, while finding it difficult to wait his turn in hard times, “There is one president at a time.”  Importantly, they share a deep reverence for the ideal of equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  President Obama calls these words, “our starting point as Americans… our common creed.”  President Lincoln said that equality is government’s “leading object.” 

 Through our struggles, America has been blessed with its share of great leaders.  We have long had great African American leaders, dissenting leaders who’ve carried a heavy weight and won hard battles – many through sheer determination.  But President Obama is the first African American President of the United States of America.  And whether fair or not, the mantle he carries brings with it an additional responsibility to the ideal of equality.  From the beginning our country has struggled in answering this call.  We’ve fought bitterly.  At times we have covered our ears and our eyes.  But in times of bold leadership and engaged citizenship we have expanded liberty’s reach and deepened its impact.   We have put a lot of bad ways behind us, and under President Obama’s leadership we hope to see the march for equality gain some good ground.  We hope to see the guiding light of equality take root in his policies, and foremost in his approach to rebuilding our economy. 

 President Obama ran a long, hopeful campaign that, too, was important because it showed us how elections can be won with dignity – and it modeled well, though not perfectly, the values it espoused.  Now he takes office and his agenda is filled to overflowing.  Americans are focused on our economy because is in tatters at a time when our country is deeply in debt, and because what everyone agrees on is that it will get worse.  We’re worried about our jobs, and with them our insurance, our house payments.  We’re worried because our kids aren’t learning well enough and we fear they will struggle to find security in tomorrow’s world.   But despite our fear, we are truly hopeful.  We don’t know how the world will look in two, four, or eight years…  But today we celebrate and feel like things are better.