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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Obama signs 5-year extension of FISA law.

Oh, yeah.  Because why not?  It’s what we believe in now.

http://www.democraticunderground.com/1014351727

And see this excellent Glenn Greenwald article, written a few days ago, before the bill was actually signed:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/28/fisa-feinstein-obama-democrats-eavesdropping

 

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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in MIC, security state

 

Well, that sure didn't last long.

UPDATED below.

UPDATE 2 below.

For about a week or two there, we thought perhaps some of our members of Congress cared, they really cared!, and were making at least a milketoast attempt to pretend they worried about our rights.

The Feinstein Amendment mentioned in the article below may or may not have kept the US government from indefinitely detaining citizens.  Legal scholars are divided on how to interpret her amendment, which was apparently worded in a confusing manner.  It’s a moot point now, however, since our Congress has decided to remove the amendment and along with it, all doubt as to what their feelings are about habeus corpus, due process and indefinite detention.  These are the people we elected and who (nominally, anyway) serve the best interest of our citizens.

In a side note of passing interest, the 2013 NDAA also refers to the Central Bank of Iran as a terrorist organization.  The 2012 version called Iran’s bank a “money-laundering scheme”, words supplied by Timmeh Geithner, who ought to know a money-laundering scheme when he sees one, after all.  Now we are calling the bank itself a terrorist organization and implementing even more sanctions on Iran via this year’s NDAA.  This comes after allowing our own banks to crash the economy globally, not charging one single banker or hedge fund manager with a crime, giving the largest banks roughly 15 tt dollars in bailouts, printing over 45 bb a month into infinity and just handing it to the banks (Bernanke’s current QE infinity action), and refusing to deal with the foreclosure crisis (also caused directly by illegal maneuvers on the part of the banks).  Whose banks are terrorists?

Lawmakers in Washington have stripped an amendment from next year’s National Defense Authorization Act that could have kept the government from indefinitely detaining US citizens without charge or trial.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Michigan) told reporters on Tuesday that an amendment to the 2013 defense spending bill approved only two weeks earlier had been removed. That amendment, authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), was pitched as a solution to a clause in the current NDAA that allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens without due process or habeas corpus.

Under the 2012 NDAA, US President Barack Obama is affirmed the power to put any American citizen behind bars if he or she is suspected of assisting in any way with forces engaged in hostilities against the United States or its allies. That provision, Sec. 1021, says any person who commits a “belligerent act” against the country can be imprisoned indefinitely “without trial” until the vaguely-worded period of hostilities has come to an end.

Pres. Obama signed the 2012 NDAA into law on December 31 of last year, but included a statement at the time that condemned the powers under Sec. 1021 that he awarded himself.

“[M]y administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” the president wrote on New Year’s Eve. In the months since signing the current NDAA into law, though, the White House has relentlessly defended itself in federal court to ensure that it maintains that ability, despite a federal judge having ruled the clause unconstitutional.

Sen. Feinstein’s amendment, approved by the Senate earlier this month, declared that  “An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, unless an Act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.”

The Feinstein Amendment, co-sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), was described as its authors as being a one-and-for-all fix that would ensure the White House isn’t awarded the power to indefinite detain Americans in the new year. On Tuesday, though, Sen. Levin confirmed that members of a House-Senate conference agreed to remove that clause from the draft.

“The language of the Senate bill was dropped,” POLITICO quotes Sen. Levin as saying late Tuesday.  According to POLITICO Pro’s Juana Summers, Levin declined to elaborate and instead told reporters, “Basically, I won’t interpret that any further.”

Now with the removal of Sen. Feinstein’s amendment, the latest edition of the NDAA does not include any safeguards that prevent the president from ordering the extrajudicial imprisonment of any person suspected of ties to terrorism.

Because Sec. 1021 is worded as ambiguously as it is, journalists and human rights activists’ have asked the Justice Department to ban the White House from enforcing the powers provided under that clause. District Judge Katherine Forrest awarded the plaintiffs in a federal suit against the Obama administration an injunction earlier this year that keeps the government from using that ability, but a lone appeals judge placed a stay on that ban as requested by the White House.

Last year, Sen. Levin admitted before Congress that under the original wording of the 2012 NDAA, American citizens were excluded from the provision that allowed for detention. Once Obama’s officials saw the text though, “the administration asked us to remove the language which says that US citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section,” Levin said.

Now almost a year to the day later, Sen. Levin has again become the bearer of bad news to millions of Americans who may be subject to indefinite detention for another fiscal year.

According to attorney Carl Levin, a co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the federal case against the president, “if any journalist or activist is seen as reporting or offering opinions about groups that could somehow be linked not just to al-Qaeda but to any opponent of the United States or even opponents of our allies” then they can be detained under the current NDAA.

Journalist Chris Hedges, the lead plaintiff in that case, has said that the Obama administration’s insistence on fighting to hold on to those powers demonstrates the “White House’s steady and relentless assault against civil liberties, an assault that is more severe than that carried out by George W. Bush.”

Returning a request for comment to the Huffington Post on Tuesday, spokesperson for Senate committee leaders directed reporters to an excerpt allegedly added to the 2013 NDAA that says neither this year’s defense bill nor the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) “shall be construed to deny the availability of the writ of habeas corpus or to deny any Constitutional rights in a court.”

According to the Obama administration and the appeals judge that granted a stay on Judge Forrest’s injunction, the AUMF does do exactly that. Under the 2012 NDAA, the president is reaffirmed his power to indefinitely detain Americans as granted in the post-9/11 legislation approved nearly a decade earlier.

Raha Wala, a lawyer with Human Rights First, tells HuffPo that the new wording added to the proposed NDAA “doesn’t do anything of substance.” According to Wala, who specializes in national security law, “It doesn’t ban indefinite detention within the United States or change anything about existing law.”

Congress will have to fully accept the latest NDAA before it is sent to the White House for President Obama to sign. His administration has suggested they would recommend a veto over a separate clause related to the Guantanamo Bay military detention center, although a similar threat was announced last year only for the president to sign the NDAA into law regardless.

http://on.rt.com/5ytxln

UPDATE, Friday, 21 Dec.

Regarding the 2013 NDAA: John McCain, once a prisoner of war himself, believes whomever the sitting president is should have the right to lock up Americans indefinitely.

Of the four main negotiators on the defense bill, only one of the Democrats, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), opposes domestic indefinite detention of Americans. The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), believes detaining Americans without charge or trial is constitutional, and only voted for the Feinstein amendment because he and some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate convinced themselves through a convoluted legal rationale that Feinstein’s proposal didn’t actually ban the practice. Both of the main Republican negotiators, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif) and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) believe it’s constitutional to lock up American citizens suspected of terrorism without ever proving they’re guilty.

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/12/final-defense-bill-nixes-ban-indefinite-detention-us-citizens

Regarding the Spy on Everyone bill:  The renewal of the bill that allows eavesdropping and spying on US citizens, the FISA bill, may be passed without debate in Congress.  Our members of Congress appear to be frightened out of their wits.  More likely, they are simply play-acting, in the hopes we will buy into it.  They want us to be in a constant state of fear – fear of the mythical “Muslim terrorists”, who apparently have an amazing set of super powers and array of weapons, despite the fact that they all seem to inhabit some of the poorest nations in the world.  They want us to be afraid of each other.  That way, they can continue these Stasi-like programs and use our own money to create a virtual lock-down system, complete with spy cameras aimed at all of us and drones overhead, to keep us docile and wary of each other.  And maybe the propaganda and play-acting is paying off.  Very few of us seem to object to this shit.  Our money, by the way, makes its way into the hands of the best friends these guys have: the clandestine spy agencies and the weapons manufacturers.  Some of the remarks from our duly elected bed-wetters in Congress, cited in the FISA article below, remind me of how crazed and deranged Lindsay Graham sounded when he made these statements on the floor of the Senate. (This was at the end of Nov., in a discussion about the NDAA and Guantanamo Bay.  I think the writer politely left out Graham’s numerous exclamation points.):

“[…] Under the latest draft of the 2013 NDAA, the Pentagon will be prohibited from using governmental funds to relocate Gitmo detainees to a new facility in the US. The president vowed on the campaign trail leading up to the November 6 election that he would close the infamous military prison under a second term in office, but that promise was one he also waged back in 2008 with so far no sign of following though. Now a renewed interest in shutting-down Gitmo is being used by the White House to justify the administration’s refusal to accept a bill that challenges the draconian legislation that he signed into law and has fought adamantly in appeals court to uphold since.

“Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), a key figure in getting the indefinite detention provision added to the 2012 NDAA, insisted this week on renewed authorization of that clause while also advocating the continued operation of Guantanamo. Defending America’s current powers to prosecute suspected terrorists by any means necessary, Sen. Graham said both indefinite detention and a prison at Gitmo need remain options on the table for the sake of advancing American dominance in overseas military efforts.

When you’re fighting a war, the goal is not to prosecute people, the goal is to win,’ Graham said. ‘How do you win a war? You kill them, you capture them and you interrogate them to find out what they’re up to next.’

“ ‘Simply stated, the American people don’t want to close Guantanamo Bay, which is an isolated, military-controlled facility, to bring these crazy bastards that want to kill us all to the United States,‘ he told fellow senators during Thursday’s vote. ‘Most Americans believe that the people at Guantanamo Bay are not some kind of burglar or bank robber. They are bent on our destruction. And I stand with the American people that we’re under siege, we’re under attack and we’re at war.‘ […]”    http://on.rt.com/157v7j

Bear in mind that he is talking about prisoners who have been held for over ten years now without trials, tortured until broken, and many of whom are known to be innocent.

The FISA bill:

A Republican lawmaker is urging his colleagues in the Senate to approve without debate a bill that reaffirms the government’s power to place warrantless wiretaps on US citizens.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) asked his fellow lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week to quickly reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) before the end of the year. Should Congress fail to renew FISA by December 31, the amendments that were added to the bill in 2008 will expire and with it will be hindered the government’s ability to monitor the emails and phone calls of US citizens.

Under the FISA Amendment Act of 2008 (FAA), the government can eavesdrop on any online or over-the-phone communication, even of US citizens, as long as at least one party is reasonably believed to be residing outside of the United States. If that wasn’t evasive enough, though, the National Security Agency (NSA) has refused to answer questions from members of the country’s own intelligence community about how the act is applied.

Earlier this year, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado) were told by the NSA that the agency would be unwilling to fulfill their request for information on how many Americans have been targeted under the FAA.

“All that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” Sen. Wyden told Wired’s Danger Room back in June. “If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their communications collected under this law then it is all the more important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’ loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.”

Despite warnings from Sen. Wyden and others, though, the House of Representatives approved a renewal of FISA in September. Since then, the Senate has been tasked with reassessing the bill and determining if an extension should be granted to keep both FISA and its 2008 amendments on the books for another five years. With only days left before the bill expires, though, a solid discussion on the FAA seems unlikely to occur in Washington.

On Tuesday, December 18, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) asked his peers to push forward with FISA debates so that the matter of renewing or not the FAA can occur before the new year.

“FISA, this is an important piece of legislation as imperfect as it is, it is necessary to protect us from the evil in this world,” Sen. Reid said, according to The Hill. “We need to finish this by the end of the week.”

Sen. Reid’s call to act was rejected by Sen. Chambliss, though, who claimed that FISA is in fact so important that it should be renewed without any consideration.  [Teri’s note: Obviously, Chambliss felt Reid did not authentically sound quite frightened enough in his own remarks to pass muster.]

The Hill reports:
“Reid wanted S. 3276 to be considered with a limited number of amendments, but Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) objected and said he didn’t understand why the Senate couldn’t just pass the House FISA bill. He referred to a letter stating that the Obama administration supports the House-version.”

According to The Hill, Sen. Reid responded by reminding the floor that renewing FISA could have implications that are worth reassessing before a vote is held without debate.

“I will continue to work on a path forward,” Reid said. “But Christmas is not more important than this legislation. I hope I’m not offending anyone, but it isn’t.”

Days earlier, US News & World Report quoted Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) as saying, “Citizens generally assume our government is not spying on them,” but, “If they had any inkling of how this system really works, the details of which I cannot discuss, they would be profoundly appalled.

During House debates in September, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) had harsh words for FISA, saying, “Everyone becomes suspect when big brother is listening.”

“We’ve been told that we can’t even tell how many people are being subjected to this process located in the United States, and that we don’t know and they can’t tell us,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan ) pleaded earlier in the year in response to FISA talks. “I think we can get a little bit closer. There can be some reasonableness. It’s this kind of vagueness that creates in those of us in the Congress, suspicions that are negative rather than suspicions that are positive.”

“Why can’t we know how many people are affected by FISA amendment act in the US?” Rep Conyers asked. “This kind of vagueness creates suspicions.”[…]

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the sponsor of the FAA renewal, has claimed “Foreign nations continue to spy on America to plot cyber-attacks and attempt to steal sensitive information from our military and private sector industries,” and that Congress has “a solemn responsibility to ensure that the intelligence community can gather the information” necessary to hinder these attempts.

Earlier this year, Obama-appointed Attorney General Eric Holder defended the act, saying FISA “ensures that the government has the flexibility and agility it needs to identify and to respond to terrorist and other foreign threats to our security.”

http://on.rt.com/8nexxb

 

UPDATE 2, Saturday, 22 Dec.:

The 2013 NDAA has passed the House and Senate and now heads to the White House for Obama’s signature.  The Senate passed it by a vote of 81 – 14 and then scampered away to start their Christmas vacation.  Lindsay Graham will be spending his vacation in his new state-of-the-art survival pod next door to Dick Cheney’s.  Strange as it seems, Rand Paul sounded like the most sane person on the floor before the vote was taken.

The Senate passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act that was stripped of a prohibition of the indefinite military detention of US citizens on American soil by an 81-14 vote on Friday, but only after a furious dissent on the chamber’s floor by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who called it an “abomination.”

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 will now head to the White House, which had earlier pledged to veto the NDAA because it prevents the president from closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. It is unclear whether the president will follow through on the threat.

The NDAA is a reauthorization of the large budget bill that sets the budget for a wide range of military activities, but it has proven most controversial for a provision that critics say would allow the military to abuse its detention powers to lock Americans away on the mere suspicion of support for terrorist groups.

In November, a bipartisan group of Senators affixed an amendment to the NDAA that would have explicitly prohibited the military from detaining American citizens on US soil. But earlier this week, a House-Senate conference committee led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) stripped away that measure.

Paul, a libertarian Republican, voiced his opposition to the conference committee’s move in strong terms and urged his colleagues to vote against the bill.

“We had protection in this bill. We passed an amendment that specifically said if you were an American citizen or here legally in the country, you would get a trial by jury,” Paul said. “It’s been removed because they want the ability to hold American citizens without trial in our country. This is so fundamentally wrong and goes against everything we stand for as a country that it can’t go unnoticed.”

“When you’re accused of a crime in our country you get a trial, you get a trial by a jury of your peers, no matter how heinous your crime is, no matter how awful you are, we give you a trial,” he said. “This bill takes away that right and says that if someone thinks you’re dangerous, we will hold you without a trial. It’s an abomination.”

Citing past examples of injustice in America, including the military internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II, Paul asked, “will America only begin to regret our loss of trial by jury when the people have names like Smith and Jones?”

He also pointed out the open-ended nature of the so-called “war on terror,” which has now gone on for more than 11 years and shows no sign of letting up, even after the killing of Osama bin Laden. “When will your rights be restored if the battle has no end, and the battlefield is limitless, and the war is endless?” Paul asked.

But top Senators in support of the bill dismissed Paul’s charges as bogus, claiming that language in the NDAA preserves Americans’ constitutional right to trial by jury. Only when they ally themselves with foreign terrorist powers, they said, do Americans abdicate their rights as citizens.

Supporters of the NDAA like Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) pointed to new language in the conference committee report stipulating that “nothing” in the bill could construed to deny people of their rights in court — language that civil liberties advocates dismissed as meaningless, since the controversy is over whether those suspected of terrorism are afforded the right to trial in the first place.

In defense of the bill and in response to Paul’s claims, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said, “I don’t mind saying I think we’re at war.”

“How long does that war last? I don’t know. I can’t tell you. Am I supposed to know that? Can we not fight it unless we know the date it ends? America, is it part of the battlefield?” Graham said. “What do you think al Qaeda would love to do more than anything else? Come here and destroy the building I am speaking in.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/21/ndaa-indefinite-detention-bill-rand-paul_n_2347774.html

The 14 Senators who voted nay are: Grassley, Harkin, Crapo, Risch, Durbin, Rand, Franken, Merkley, Wyden, Lee, Leahy, Sanders, Barrasso, and Enzi.  (Thank you for the token interest in civil rights there, guys.  Too bad every one of you voted yea on last year’s NDAA, thus setting up the basic outline for this year’s.)

This bill authorizes $633.3 billion for Pentagon budget.  Which just goes to show that in some cases, the deficit and the ‘fiscal cliff’ don’t really matter all that much.  It depends on whether you are talking about spending money on helping the elderly, the unemployed, the poor, the halt, and the lame – which is bad, bad, bad spending, or if you are talking about spending money on just killing a whole bunch of these losers outright all over the globe – which is good spending.   Priorities, people.

In yesterday’s update, I included an article which  showed that Obama and Holder both support the renewal of the FISA bill.  For a little more on Eric Holder and his bewildering interpretation of US law, see this:  http://endthelie.com/2012/12/13/attorney-general-secretly-gave-government-power-to-create-store-dossiers-on-innocent-americans/#axzz2FmLJOIV0

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2012 in civil rights, Congress, security state, Wall St and banks

 

The Bill Gates curriculum: making little worker bees.

May I say first, for the record: fuck Bill Gates.  I am sick to death of rich fools who are allowed, simply by dint of being rich, to mess with our educational systems (Bill Gates and his fucking paperless schools), our food (Bill Gates and his fucking financial support of fucking Monsanto), and the air we breathe (Bill Gates and his fucking experiments with geoengineering in the atmosphere over New Mexico, soon to occur).

The push to change our school systems into places where our children are trained to be mere worker bees for Walmart or Lockheed is nearing completion.  The arts: music, literature, drama, fine arts, dance – these rich sources of creative impulse are deliberately being stifled and de-funded in order to present our students with a curriculum designed around the requirements of the Business World.  Our current business world sees no need for imagination, joy, self-expression and creativity in its worker population.

The Telegraph article (below) is being contested as somewhat inaccurate and misleading.  First, the Telegraph article:

American literature classics are to be replaced by insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014.

A new school curriculum which will affect 46 out of 50 states will make it compulsory for at least 70 per cent of books studied to be non-fiction, in an effort to ready pupils for the workplace.

Books such as JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird will be replaced by “informational texts” approved by the Common Core State Standards.

Suggested non-fiction texts include Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California’s Invasive Plant Council.

The new educational standards have the backing of the influential National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and are being part-funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jamie Highfill, a teacher at Woodland Junior High School in Arkansas, told the Times that the directive was bad for a well-rounded education.

“I’m afraid we are taking out all imaginative reading and creativity in our English classes.

“In the end, education has to be about more than simply ensuring that kids can get a job. Isn’t it supposed to be about making well-rounded citizens?”

Supporters of the directive argue that it will help pupils to develop the ability to write concisely and factually, which will be more useful in the workplace than a knowledge of Shakespeare.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9729383/Catcher-in-the-Rye-dropped-from-US-school-curriculum.html

 

The designers of the new curriculum (am I allowed to say ‘designers’?  sounds a bit artsy-craftsy to me)  say the damn teachers just can’t read and that the new guidelines call for 70% of all texts to be non-fiction, but not necessarily 70% of texts in English or Literature classes, and that there are no banned books.  To be fair to the “confused” teachers, the specifics regarding allowable and recommended “good” books  are to be found only in a footnote on page 5 of the guidelines.  The guidelines mean 70% of texts studied by high school seniors when all coursework is taken together.  I.e., English teachers can use literature, poetry, and works of fiction as much as they want, as long as the other classes the kids take, combined, make up the 70% non-fiction requirement.  (Lower grades have lower percentages of non-fiction required, it gradually builds up to the 70% by senior year.)  Of course, there is an inherent problem here: most reading is done in English class.  I don’t see how the math or science teachers can make up the 70% number by themselves; surely a large chunk must come from the class which relies most heavily on reading.

Obama’s “Race to the Top” program is a mere re-gifting of the Bush “No Child Left Behind” program.  More standardized tests, with the lowest performing schools; i.e., those most in need of funding and help, being completely de-funded and dismantled.  These will presumably be replaced by corporate charter schools.  Or perhaps not replaced at all.  The intent of the program is unclear, unless the most obvious is the most true – the intent is simply to deny free education to the poorest neighborhoods in the nation.

Here’s another article on the same topic (The Independent is the link sourced, although it appears they just copied an article from the WaPo.):

Changes to American school literature spark war over words

Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post
Monday, 3 December 2012

As states across the country implement broad changes in curriculum from kindergarten through high school, English teachers worry that they will have to replace the dog-eared novels they love with historical documents and nonfiction texts.

The Common Core State Standards in English, which have been adopted in 46 states and the District, call for public schools to ramp up nonfiction so that by 12th grade students will be reading mostly “informational text” instead of fictional literature. But as teachers excise poetry and classic works of fiction from their classrooms, those who designed the guidelines say it appears that educators have misunderstood them.

Proponents of the new standards, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, say U.S. students have suffered from a diet of easy reading and lack the ability to digest complex nonfiction, including studies, reports and primary documents. That has left too many students unprepared for the rigors of college and demands of the workplace, experts say.

The new standards, which are slowly rolling out now and will be in place by 2014, require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12.

Among the suggested nonfiction pieces for high school juniors and seniors are Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” “FedViews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration.

English teachers across the country are trying to figure out which poetry, short stories and novels might have to be sacrificed to make room for nonfiction.

Jamie Highfill is mourning the six weeks’ worth of poetry she removed from her eighth-grade English class at Woodland Junior High School in Fayetteville, Ark. She also dropped some short stories and a favorite unit on the legends of King Arthur to make room for essays by Malcolm Gladwell and a chapter from “The Tipping Point,” Gladwell’s book about social behavior.

“I’m struggling with this, and my students are struggling,” said Highfill, who was named 2011 middle school teacher of the year in her state. “With informational text, there isn’t that human connection that you get with literature. And the kids are shutting down. They’re getting bored. I’m seeing more behavior problems in my classroom than I’ve ever seen.”

But the chief architect of the Common Core Standards said educators are overreacting as the standards move from concept to classroom.

“There’s a disproportionate amount of anxiety,” said David Coleman, who led the effort to write the standards with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Coleman said educators are misinterpreting the directives.

Yes, the standards do require increasing amounts of nonfiction from kindergarten through grade 12, Coleman said. But that refers to reading across all subjects, not just in English class, he said. Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said.

Social studies teachers, for example, could have students read the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birmingham Jail letter, while math students could read Euclid’s “Elements” from 300 B.C.

The standards explicitly say that Shakespeare and classic American literature should be taught, said Coleman, who became president of the College Board in November. “It does really concern me that these facts are not as clear as they should be.”

The specifics are spelled out in a footnote on page 5 of the 66-page standards.

In practice, the burden of teaching the nonfiction texts is falling to English teachers, said Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University: “You have chemistry teachers, history teachers saying, ‘We’re not going to teach reading and writing, we have to teach our subject matter. That’s what you English teachers do.’ “

Sheridan Blau, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, said teachers across the country have told him that their principals are insisting that English teachers make 70 percent of their readings nonfiction. “The effect of the new standards is to drive literature out of the English classroom,” he said.

Timothy Shanahan, who chairs the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said school administrators apparently have flunked reading comprehension when it comes to the standards.

“Schools are doing some goofy things — principals or superintendents are not reading,” Shanahan, who was among the experts who advised Coleman on the standards, said.

Sandra Stotsky, who wrote the outgoing Massachusetts’s pre-K-to-12 standards, which are regarded as among the best in the nation, said the Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction is misguided.

Tackling rich literature is the best way to prepare students for careers and college, said Stotsky, who blames mediocre national reading scores on weak young adult literature popular since the 1960s.

“There is no research base for the claim that informational reading will lead to college preparedness better than complex literary study,” said Stotsky, a professor at the University of Arkansas.

At a convention of English teachers in November, Stotsky got an earful. “They hate the Common Core; they hate the idea they have to teach nonfiction,” she said.

Stotsky and others have accused Coleman, who studied English literature at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, of trying to elevate fact-based reading and writing at the expense of literature and creative writing.

In a speech last year at the New York State Education Building, Coleman derided the personal essays that characterize most writing in primary and secondary schools.

“Forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with . . . [that] writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a [expletive] about what you feel or what you think,” Coleman said, according to a recording. “What they instead care about is, can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me? It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’ ”

In an interview, Coleman said U.S. students must learn to read complicated text of all sorts.

“One of the striking things in American education is that reading scores at the fourth-grade level have been frozen for 40 years,” he said. “We’ve hit a wall in reader literacy that these standards respond to.”

Nonfiction reading can excite some students, said Nell Duke, who teaches language, literacy and culture at the University of Michigan. “Some students really prefer factual kinds of texts,” she said, noting that some studies have suggested boys especially prefer nonfiction. “Historically, elementary schools haven’t given kids much opportunity to read that kind of text. For those kids, reading storybook after storybook about talking animals could be a bit of a turnoff.”

Curriculum and academic standards have traditionally been determined by states and local communities. That has resulted in uneven results, with some states using lax standards while others are more rigorous. Sporadic efforts to create consistent, national standards have come and gone.

Several years ago, the National Governors Association began pushing the idea of common standards in English and math. The Gates Foundation invested tens of millions of dollars in the effort to write them. The Obama administration kicked the notion into high gear when it required states to adopt the common standards — or an equivalent — in order to compete for Race to the Top grant funds.
By this year, 45 states and the District of Columbia had signed onto the math and English standards. Minnesota has adopted only the English standards; Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia have not adopted either.

The standards are designed to ensure that, for the first time, third-graders in Maine will acquire the same knowledge and skills as their peers in Hawaii. States will begin testing students against the new standards in 2014, making it possible for the first time to compare test scores across communities and states.

English teacher J.D. Wilson agrees with much of what the standards aim to accomplish. But he is disturbed by the subtle shift the new standards are already causing in his classroom at Wareham High School in Wareham, Mass.

“Reading for information makes you knowledgeable — you learn stuff,” Wilson said. “But reading literature makes you wise.”

Wilson has wrestled with which poems to cut from his lesson plans and which nonfiction to teach instead. And then he hit upon an idea.  This fall, he has taught “Literature Is Not Data: Against Digital Humanities,” “Shakespeare, a Poet Who Is Still Making Our History” and “Who Killed the Liberal Arts?” They are all essays that emphasize the value of literature.

Here are some of the works recommended under the Common Core State Standards in English:
•    “The Canterbury Tales,” by Geoffrey Chaucer
•    “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
•    “As I Lay Dying,” by William Faulkner
•    “Common Sense,” by Thomas Paine
•    The Declaration of Independence, by Thomas Jefferson
•    “Declaration of Sentiments,” by the Seneca Falls Conference
•    “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglass
•    “Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences,” by John Allen Paulos
•    “Working Knowledge: Electronic Stability Control,” by Mark Fischetti
•    “Politics and the English Language,” by George Orwell

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/changes-to-american-school-literature-spark-war-over-words-8375195.html

 

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

The circle of friends.

Okie-dokie.  Here’s our democracy now.  An article from the Telegraph:

Eric Schmidt declines Obama cabinet post
Google chairman Eric Schmidt has publicly declined to join the Obama administration in the new year after a rumoured offer for the post of Treasury Secretary.

Mr Schmidt, 57, was offered the job of Treasury or Commerce Secretary or a new “Secretary of Business” slot, according to the Washington Examiner.

An anonymous strategist for the Democrats told the newspaper: “Nobody’s better positioned for a Cabinet job, if he wants one.”  [Teri’s note: you may want to take stock of the fact that this anonymous strategist uses the words ‘better positioned’ rather than ‘well-qualified’.]

Mr Schmidt’s rebuttal was swift, however, as he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview yesterday: “I said last time and I’ve said again that Google is my home. I have no interest in working for the federal government”.

Mr Schmidt played in a key role in the re-election of President Barack Obama last month, helping to oversee Google’s $700,000 donation to his campaign.

Since Mr Obama took up the US presidency in 2008, he and Mr Schmidt have maintained a close relationship, appearing together at the company’s Montain View, California headquarters in 2007.

Google’s Super PAC campaign committee gave $2.1 million to the Democrats and $715,000 to Republican candidates this year.

Mr Schmidt also helped to promote Obama’s jobs bill in 2011 when the President asked Congress for a new round of stimulus spending and was faced with deadlock after Republicans rejected key elements of the plans.

The Google CEO has more than 30 years of experience in the technology industry, and has worked for the search engine giant since 2001.

The news comes as Anna Wintour, the Editor-in-Chief of US Vogue, was announced as a possible candidate for the post of US ambassador to the UK or France.

Wintour co-hosted a $40,000 a head event in June at actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s home, and in August hosted a Connecticut dinner that cost $35,800 per person at movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s house. By the end of the campaign she was one of Mr Obama’s top ten fundraisers.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/9723401/Eric-Schmidt-declines-Obama-cabinet-post.html


And what of this woman Obama wants to be our ambassador to France or England?

Anna Wintour, OBE (born 3 November 1949) is the English-born editor-in-chief of American Vogue, a position she has held since 1988. With her trademark pageboy bob haircut and sunglasses, Wintour has become an institution throughout the fashion world, widely praised for her eye for fashion trends and her support for younger designers. Her reportedly aloof and demanding personality has earned her the nickname “Nuclear Wintour”.[…]

Wintour has been a supporter of the Democratic Party going back, prominently, to Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate run and John Kerry’s 2004 presidential run and serving Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential runs as a “bundler” of contributions. In 2008 and 2012, she co-hosted fundraisers with Sarah Jessica Parker, the latter being a 50-person, $40,000-a-plate dinner at Parker’s West Village town house with Meryl Streep, Michael Kors, and Trey Laird, an advertising executive, among the attendees. She has also teamed with Calvin Klein and Harvey Weinstein on fundraisers during Obama’s first term and Donna Karan has been amongst the attendees.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Wintour

What do these two people have in common?

1) Neither is qualified, in the least, for the positions they are being asked by the President of the United States to fill.  Being the CEO of a income- and asset-hiding tax-shirking company does not qualify one to be the Treasury Secretary.  And I don’t care if they mean the Secretary of the Treasury (Timmeh Geithner’s spot – although it was certainly enough to get Timmeh in) or the US Treasurer (a different office).  Being a fashion mogul does not make one a diplomat.  (No doubt she is cold enough to be a US diplomat in these days, however, when the basic requirements for diplomacy are being able to laugh at the torture and assassinations of others, and holding the belief that threatening and sanctioning other countries is the key to diplomacy.  Wintour was the model for “The Devil Wears Prada”, after all.)  Did I have to point that out?  Well, okay, not to you perhaps, but most Americans, sadly…..

2) Both are rich.  Very.

3) Both gave enormous sums of money to Obama and the Democratic Party, which is apparently enough to overlook item number 1.

4) The positions are being offered purely as thank you gifts to some very wealthy donors and make a joke out of the idea of “QUALIFIED NOMINEES”.

This same circle of friends, by the way, are the people who are advising Obama on the “fiscal cliff” negotiations – at his invitation.

Obama, CEOs join forces in budget-cutting campaign
By Patrick Martin 
14 December 2012

In coordinated statements this week, the Obama White House and leading representatives of American big business announced their support for an agreement that would combine minor increases in taxes on the wealthy with sweeping cuts in the entitlement programs on which tens of millions of elderly, retired and disabled people depend.

Obama signaled the intensification of the effort to use the concocted emergency of the “fiscal cliff” to justify historic cuts in entitlement programs, in an interview with Barbara Walters for the ABC News program 20/20. The interview will be broadcast Friday night, but key quotes were made public by ABC on Tuesday evening.

On December 31, the tax cuts first enacted under the Bush administration in 2001 will expire. The Obama administration’s position is to extend the tax cuts for individuals making under $200,000 a year and families making under $250,000, while allowing the tax cuts to expire for those above that level.

The result would be a modest increase in the tax rate on the wealthiest Americans from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, restoring the tax rate that prevailed in the 1990s, but well below the rates levied under the Reagan administration, let alone in the 1950s and 1960s, when the top income tax rate approached 90 percent.

Obama told his ABC interviewer he expected to reach an agreement with the leadership of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on extending most of the Bush tax cuts. “I’m pretty confident that Republicans would not hold middle-class taxes hostage to trying to protect tax cuts for high-income individuals,” he said.

He added, “If the Republicans can move on that then we are prepared to do some tough things on the spending side.Asked by Walters if this would include raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67, Obama indicated he was willing to consider it, voicing only the reservation that such a change wouldn’t cut enough from the federal deficit.

“When you look at the evidence it’s not clear that it actually saves a lot of money,” he said. “But what I’ve said is let’s look at every avenue, because what is true is we need to strengthen Social Security, we need to strengthen Medicare for future generations, the current path is not sustainable because we’ve got an aging population and health care costs are shooting up so quickly.”

In the Orwellian discourse that now pervades official Washington, “strengthening” a social program means not obtaining the resources necessary to sustain it, but slashing benefits or eligibility to the level set by increasingly inadequate funding. No big business politician, of course, suggests “strengthening” the CIA or Pentagon in that fashion.

The pace of discussions in Washington has picked up since a closed door, one-on-one meeting between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner December 9. The following day, the White House further reduced its proposal for total tax increases, from $1.6 trillion over ten years to $1.4 trillion, although Boehner has not budged on his initial offer of $800 billion. Several congressional Democrats said they were prepared to go as low as $1.2 trillion or even $1 trillion to reach a bipartisan deal.

The tax increases would be dwarfed by the spending cuts, which will make up between two-thirds and three-quarters of a deficit-reduction package totaling $4 trillion over ten years.

White House press secretary Jay Carney emphasized that the Obama administration had only one bottom-line demand, a token rate increase for the wealthy, and would not draw the line against any of the spending cuts demanded by the Republicans.  “There is a deal out there that’s possible, and we do believe that the parameters of a compromise are pretty clear,” Carney said Tuesday. “What is required is agreement by Republicans to some specific revenues that includes raising rates on the highest earners.”

A powerful group of corporate executives publicly sided with the Obama administration’s position in the ongoing negotiations with House Republicans.

The Business Roundtable, headed by former Michigan Republican Governor John Engler, issued a statement Tuesday dropping its opposition to tax rate increases for the wealthiest Americans, provided this was combined with significant cuts in entitlement programs. “We now feel that the only compromise after the election that’s possible is one … of comprehensive and meaningful tax and entitlement reforms,” said Engler.

Some 160 corporate CEOs signed the statement calling for tax increases and spending cuts, including many who had publicly endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and given significant amounts to his campaign. Among the signers were David Cote of Honeywell, Rex Tillerson of Exxon, Douglas Oberhelman of Caterpillar, Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical, Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric and Alexander Cutler of Eaton.

Groups of financiers visited the White House for consultations, including a half dozen bankers December 10, among them representatives of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. A group of hedge fund managers met Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett December 12, while utility executives met with Gene Sperling, head of the National Economic Council, the same day. The Obama administration has proposed an overhaul of corporate taxes next year, including a reduction in the corporate income tax rate to no more than 25 percent. […]

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Obama “has been quietly sounding out Democratic leaders about spending-cut options,” noting, “Obama has said he’s willing to make decisions Democrats will find difficult if Republicans will bend on tax rates…”

Among the measures discussed, all included in the tentative deal struck between Obama and Boehner in July 2011, which ultimately collapsed, are raising the age of eligibility for Medicare, and reducing cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government-funded retirement and disability benefits, which would cut $113 billion and $200 billion respectively over the next ten years.

Other measures are undoubtedly under discussion in the back-channel talks between the White House and congressional Republicans. Washington Post online columnist Ezra Klein cited Tuesday a comment by right-wing Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who told him, “We’ve had conversations where [President Obama] told me he’ll go much further than anyone believes he’ll go to solve the entitlement problem if he can get the compromise.”

The measures under discussion in Washington are both reactionary and deeply unpopular. A new McClatchy-Marist poll published Tuesday found that the only option for deficit reduction that had popular support was an increase in taxes on the wealthy, endorsed by more than 60 percent of those polled.

Every other option had majority opposition, in most cases overwhelming, including raising taxes on low and middle-income families (74 percent opposed), raising the eligibility age for Medicare (59 percent opposed), cutting Medicare spending overall (74 percent opposed), cutting spending on Medicaid benefits for the poor (70 percent opposed), reducing the tax deduction for home mortgage interest (67 percent opposed). Remarkably, self-identified Republican voters opposed every one of these proposals, as did self-identified Democrats.

http://wsws.org/articles/2012/dec2012/cuts-d14.shtml

This exemplifies the state of our country now.  The rich own the system and run the show.  They know nothing about the positions or responsibilities they are being asked to fulfill, and are uniquely unqualified to serve.  They have no concept of or concern for the conditions in which most Americans now find themselves living; in fact, they caused the downward spiral themselves, but are nonetheless called upon for “advice”.  You will see, as time drags on, that the same names within this exclusive circle of friends come up more frequently.  It is really a small circle, in the grand scheme of the earth’s population (indeed, even within the population of the US alone); a group of perhaps 500 or 1000 people, incestuously connected via business ties and yacht parties.  We condemn the third world dictatorships for their assignment of buddies to important cabinet and government positions.  We sneer at countries where the advice sought and listened to by the head of the government comes from friends and business pals.  We call the practice “cronyism”.  We call these countries oligarchies.  We call them “banana republics” and “undemocratic”.

And this is who we are.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2012 in corporatocracy, economy