January 28, 2008

Homework time

When the public purse is not being spent for the public good, it becomes the task of each of us to do a fair amount of homework and become familiar with the terminology and ideology of capitalist fundamentalism. We really owe it to our children and grandchildren to smoke the vultures out.

There’s an interesting email written by George Schmidt, editor of Substance ("the newspaper of public education in Chicago"), in response to a question posed by Mike Fiorillo about Obama and his connections to the ed world. I was going to post this interchange here, but Ednotes has actually saved me the trouble. Read it in full over there, because it’s good stuff.

It is worth quoting the self-stated mission of Substance, because the paper sets admirable goals:

Substance is a monthly investigative newspaper devoted to in-depth reporting on the major issues facing public education. Our mission is to report facts and provide interpretations of the news about public schools unhindered by the biases against public education that currently infest both the "liberal" left and the "conservative" right. We are also pro-union, pro-child, and pro-democracy. Because of this, the news stories in Substance provide accurate information but never maintain the pretense of "objectivity." "Objectivity" as it is practiced by the major media in this case means slanting the news to reflect the biases of the millionaire and billionaire individuals and corporations that control the public's access to news and information.
We need newspapers like Substance as much as we need books like Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, which I wrote something about earlier this month.

With creeping privatization, unchecked corporatization, a diminished press and a sullied judicial system, it is no longer possible in times like these to form superficial opinions – party chatter, if you like – on the games they're playing with our schools.

Mike Fiorillo essentially asked Schmidt to elaborate on Obama's connections with Renaissance 2010 in Chicago. The description of this project on its website shows the shift that's taking place over there from public to corporate-sponsored education. You can see it in the in the governance structures mentioned in the last line of the Overview:
Renaissance 2010 seeks to create 100 high-performing schools in designated communities of need by 2010. These schools will be held accountable for performance through 5-year contracts while being given autonomy to create innovative learning environments using one of the following governance structures: charter, contract, or performance.
and also in the jargon used in Background paragraph just below it:
This bold plan closes chronically under-performing schools and sets up a competitive, community-based selection process to determine the best operator for each site.

Obama's relationship with Renaissance 2010 is important, as much as Hillary Clinton's is with the AFT and UFT in general, and with BloomKleinGarten in particular.

Parenthetically, but salient in evaluating Clinton's affinities with the corporate world, is that while she's not only (according to Ari Berman in the Nation) "more reliant on large donations and corporate money than her Democratic rivals, but advisers in her inner circle are closely affiliated with unionbusters, GOP operatives, conservative media and other Democratic Party antagonists," an analysis of her senatorial voting record prepared by Progressive Punch, the AFL-CIO and others gave her an overall progressive score of 93%. Based on its analyses, the LeftCoaster, pt.1, did not find Clinton merits being labeled a "Corporate Democrat." They've put out pts. two, three, and four as well.

The kind of unchecked privatization the country has experienced at the hands of the neocon ideologues over the past decade has meant that it is harder to distinguish the boundaries between governments and corporations. The players have a foot in each camp to varying degrees, and they are frequently all too willing to profit immensely from the public purse. The revolving door, as mentioned in the Shock Doctrine, has become a lofty arch.

How far each of the presidential candidates are willing to embrace the most manipulative and anti-social practices of corporate America is something that should be pretty much at the forefront of our thinking.

To this end, put Schmidt's comments about Obama up against an editorial he published a couple of months ago in the Substance about the Chicago school system and see if you get more perspective.

Picture Paul Bremer, the erstwhile "viceroy" of Baghdad, only without the boots. You now have Arne Duncan and his troupe of zealots privatizing everything in sight at the Chicago Board of Education and in the "Office of New Schools." Of course, just as Bremer would have been nothing without George W. Bush and the crazies in the Washington think tanks that write the privatization scripts for the world, so Duncan would just be another washed up former professional ball player if Mayor Daley and his corporate buddies weren't backing his massive privatization plans.

For the past six years, we've watched while Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan lied repeatedly to the public about how and why he was closing dozens of public schools. Duncan was not trying to improve public schools in Chicago for all children, but was in command of a ruthless privatization plan that is designed to undermine traditional notions of public education for urban children and replace them with a crackpot version of "market choice" that exists only for the wealthy and the powerful.

The key to Duncan's ability to get away with the Big Lie, however, is not Duncan's own eloquence, but the face that he has the backing of Chicago's ruling class. From the CEOs of the city's largest corporations (organized into the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club) to the editorial boards of the two power daily newspapers, Duncan's lies are amplified every day, and except for the pages of this newspaper and a few other places, unchallenged in the public arena where democratic debate is supposed to take place.

After we reviewed the school closings in Chicago since 2001, when Mayor Daley appointed Duncan the second "Chief Executive Officer" in CPS history, the shocking details began to become clear. Not only were poor black children being forced out of their homes (public housing reform, it was called), but they were also being deprived over and over of access to public schools.

Comparing Duncan's other work with massive privatizers like Paul Bremer (who headed up the Provisional Coalition Authority in Baghdad from 2003 to 2004), any clear-eyed reader can see the same pattern. These guys are not in the business of improving public school, but of stripping the assets from public services and turning unionized public servants into non-union public slaves.

For five years, we have watched thousands of people appear before the corporate stooges who constitute the Chicago Board of Education, trying to talk about what would be best for public schools. Every argument has been eloquent.

But the arguments don't really matter, because Arne Duncan and the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education are not in the education business, they are in the privatization and charter school business. Once the public understands that, at least people can stop wasting their time talking about what's best for the education of Chicago's poorest children. Duncan couldn't care less about that as long as his crimes — and they are crimes that flow from these lies — don't make the TV news or interfere with the agenda of his mentor Richard M. Daley.
You can't read everything to bone up on this election, but it seems like you have to do more than you ever had to before.

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