Go Racist Team Name!

redskin2

No, really. Go.

Although “political correctness” and “PC” is now hurled as an epithet, within its definition is the radical notion that people should not deliberately be horrible to one another. Sure, Dinesh D’Souza has a right to call the African-American President of the United States a “boy” from the “ghetto“, but you don’t need a sociology degree to realize how that’s offensive on two levels. The President is a “man”, not a “boy”, and “boy” has historically been used to pejoratively refer to African-American adult males. President Obama also isn’t from the ghetto. Not all black people come from the ghetto. Not all behavior you deem beneath you is “ghetto”. People like Dinesh D’Souza make a good living by being horrible to others. He is not politically correct, and that’s a shame because civil society should live up to that adjective.

The Lancaster High School sports program calls itself the “Redskins”. There is a push on now to have the district re-name the team because some American Indians are offended by it. More to the point, however, the team name is objectively racist. After all, we don’t call teams “Whiteskins” or “Blackskins” or “Yellowskins”. The reason why has to do with the blatant and palpable racial overtones. Redskins is no different, no matter what the tradition or intent. Identifying an ethnic group or race based on their physical characteristics – here, a pejorative term for their skin color – is a slur. You’re highlighting how they’re different from you.

Search any dictionary – Merriam Webster, American Heritage, Dictionary.com, Kernerman Webster’s, Collins – they all define “redskin” as offensive, racist, anachronistic slang.

Some Lancaster residents inexplicably reject that.

“It’s a word. It’s a matter of context,” said Everett, president of Performance Advantage. “No one in this community would support the negative element associated with that name. We don’t subscribe to this negative connotation. It means a lot to people – dedication, achievement, commitment to excellence.”

The Lancaster School District has a choice to make here. Unlike the Washington Redskins, an NFL franchise, we’re talking about a school. If you were to go around spewing racial epithets at kids in the hall, you’d be subject to discipline. So, how does that jibe with having a racist team name? If a student referred to an American Indian kid as a “Redskin” or similar, he’d be punished, but we’re meant to believe that it’s ok to use that term if people are doing the important work of throwing balls hither and thither?

I’m not personally offended by the team name “Redskins”, but I see that many American Indians are. That’s enough to me to – again, reverting back to the core definition of “politically correct” – support changing the name so as to not offend our indigenous Americans with a racial epithet.

Proponents of the “Redskins” name say it evokes pride, bravery, tradition, and all of the good stuff with which we associate indigenous Americans. Here’s the logo:

The Lancaster School District’s mission is:

…to provide our students with a comprehensive educational program that will allow them to develop fully the necessary academic and social skills to become responsible and productive members of a democratic society.

Responsible and productive members of a democratic society. Part of being responsible within a democratic society is changing a team name that has a mere 67 year history, and is blatatly racist by every dictionary definition.

It’s so simple for the district’s school board to simply vote away a racist team name. There are literally thousands of alternative team names available to use, none of which are by definition disparaging to any historically oppressed ethnic or racial minority. What’s so hard to comprehend here? By the Lancaster School District’s own code of conduct (doc, emphases added),

Students are expected to behave, and to treat all students, teachers, school staff and others, with honesty, tolerance, respect, courtesy and dignity as per the LCSD Policy #7552 — Bullying in the Schools. Students should respect their peers, teachers, and school staff. Individual behavior should not interfere with the rights of others. Students are expected to use language that is appropriate in demonstrating respect for self and others. Profanity, vulgar language including, but not limited to, racial comments, and/or obscene gestures toward others will not be tolerated. Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

How are students expected to abide these basic disciplinary expectations if the district itself failes to do so? The example the district is setting is a poor one. Racist comments are not tolerated between students, but it’s ok for the school’s team and mascot to be a “redskin” American Indian?

The upshot of all of this is, in the big picture, how inconsequential a name change would be. Would Lancaster students, teams, and alumni have less pride in their school or alma mater if the team’s name was changed? Does changing the name of the team and school mascot lessen past glory or affect one’s affinity for the school? Of course not. A racist name chosen almost 70 years ago, before the Civil Rights Act and before Congress and the Courts came around to agreeing that our contemporary American society guaranteed to all citizens, regardless of race or color, the same basic civil rights, is due for a change. Especially when you’re talking about an oppressed people expelled from their homes by colonial invaders.

This isn’t the kind of thing you poll for; you don’t leave it up to majority vote. Just because the name is popular doesn’t make it less racial. Just because 50%-plus-one residents might support it doesn’t make it less violative of the district’s own code of conduct. Just because you’re purporting to use a racist term to highlight what you say are that group’s positive traits doesn’t make it less racist. We would never dream of using “Yellowskins” or some other racist term for a team to describe positive Asian attributes, nor would it be appropriate to use Nazi-era caricatures  to establish that Jewish people are good with money. These are examples of “political correctness”, too.

Appropriately enough for a school district, this is a teaching moment. Will Lancaster show its student body that it’s willing to follow the same code of conduct it expects kids to follow? Will Lancaster’s school district opt to be respectful of all races and ethnicities by changing the school’s mascot and team name to any one of a thousand inoffensive alternatives?

It seems to me that this hardly merits a controversy. High Schools should lead by example and name their teams using terms that aren’t overtly racist.

Paladino Mistakes Windmill for Giant

paladino2The Paladino descent into self-parody continues apace, as he opens up yet another front in his relentless war on everyone.

Last week, Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor and head of its Civil Rights Project, complained to the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights about Paladino’s efforts to dictate to and intimidate Orfield and his group. Orfield is not Paladino’s employee, but the head of an organization that the Buffalo school board retained to investigate complaints of racial discrimination in criterion school admissions. Orfield had strongly urged the board majority, including Paladino, to holf off on committing to any charter plans for the four “failing” schools until his group could finish its work and issue its recommendations.

Orfield’s complaint to the OCR was made public, and apparently threw Paladino into a rage. His skin is far too thin to tolerate any criticism, however mild. So, he fired off an intemperate, now-irrelevant letter to the OCR blasting Orfield. Most of it is just an ad hominem attack against Orfield.

Witness the reaction of a man whose companies rent space to – and profit from – charter schools:

To: Timothy Blanchard Director New York Regional Office Office of Civil Rights,U.S.Department of Education

From: Carl P. Paladino

Date: August 14, 2015

Cc: Everybody

Re: Gary Orfield

Mr. Blanchard, this is in response to an uninformed Buffalo News editorial and Gary Orfield’s letter to you dated February 10, 2015. I am writing as an individual member of the Buffalo Board of Education, (BOE) and I speak only for myself.

Contrary to Orfield’s letter, I am not the Chairman or leader of the BOE, however, I am a member who is incapable of being cowed by an academic elitist who knows nothing about our BOE’s reform intentions and actually seeks to have you admonish me and delay the implementation of our reform agenda. I intend to do what I was elected to do.

Orfield has an MA and PhD in political science. He appears to be a self-absorbed charlatan. He is not a person conducting a study, but rather an activist anti-charter zealot. He is an advocacy researcher, not an unbiased researcher. He is a paid lobbyist who uses Harvard and UCLA after his name because he admires himself much like Jonathan Gruber the MIT professor who wrote Obamacare.

Orfield purportedly was selected by a Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) committee because he was the cheaper of the two people who responded to the RFP. Actually I suspect a much more sinister process took place. Apparently, as has been past practice, no one from the BPS bothered to Google Orfield or look beyond his self-serving and deceitful response to the RFP to see who he really was. Appearances are he is a plant on a mission commissioned by the BOE minority to delay and frustrate the implementation of the reform agenda.

Orfield holds himself out as a “published anti-charter expert and noted speaker.” He ascribes an astonishing fraction of America’s educational failings to America’s obvious lack of “civil rights” in the public schools. He is known as the “segregation professor.” He has been accused of “breathtaking intellectual dishonesty.” He lobbies for busing and stands and speaks extensively against neighborhood schools and charters claiming they create segregation. See attached. He refers to New York schools as Apartheid schools. He supports “social passing-feels that testing is a means to force children out of schools. He has a predisposition to find segregation everywhere, especially in New York. He lacks any discernible objectivity. When considering the requirements of the RFP, he has fraudulently presented himself. Why would the BOE imagine hiring someone who intends to impose his socialist will on the District?

Buffalo’s only civil rights issue comes in the form of the desperate attitude of the BOE minority which consistently plays the race card for lack of any plausible argument against the reform agenda. They were the majority until this year and on their watch the BPS slid into the abyss of total dysfunction. The people of Buffalo voted overwhelmingly for change and reform installing the new majority. Self -empowerment and the ability to control money and jobs is more important to the minority than ending the urban cycle of poverty and giving 34,000 kids a fair opportunity for education no matter what the vehicle, which ironically is the mission of the BOE majority’s reform agenda.

Orfield lacks any objectivity and when considering the requirements of the RFP, he has fraudulently presented himself. We can expect him to include in any report he prepares language that would exclude any Charter School considerations.

Orfield’s letter to you illustrates that he intends to use the Buffalo Public Schools as his Petri dish for his socialistic social re-engineering. He concludes that obviously the BOE majority could not possibly have good intentions for minority children, an insulting and racist remark that illustrates his lack of objectivity. The majority’s reform plan was being prepared when the misguided complaint of the District Parent Coordinating Council (DPCC) was filed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR.) Knowing what they know today about the majority’s intentions, I expect that the DPCC would agree to withdraw their complaint.

The majority’s plan specifically addresses compliance with the “No Child Left Behind” legislation by using an array of vehicles to create seats in performing schools for implementation in 2015. It is shameful for Orfield to suggest that our children must suffer in underperforming schools for another school year so that he can finish his report sometime in the future.

The BOE majority seeks to correct bad policies administered in the past by the BOE minority when they controlled the majority together with an incompetent Superintendent which resulted in the conditions addressed in the complaint. We have 46 out of 57 schools failing. Our overall proficiencies in Math and English are approximately 10%. There are over 27,000 kids in failing schools who need to be relocated to performing schools. The suburbs and Catholics are closing schools for lack of students. High quality charters want to expand. We filled every seat in the performing schools and we now seek to expand or duplicate them. Is OCR going to delay these good efforts for another year to satisfy Orfield?

Orfield’s fraud in the inception of his contract and belligerency in trying to delay and frustrate the reform intentions of the BOE majority are not tolerable.

I will move to terminate his contract at the next meeting of the BOE.

Fraud? Orfield should sue for defamation – fraud is a crime, and Paladino should prove that up.

Query: the BOE’s minority-as prior-majority presided over not only the “failing” schools, but the “performing” ones, too. There are myriad reasons why the underperforming schools can’t seem to educate or graduate kids, but blaming it all on the BOE minority or the teachers’ union misses the mark.

“Petri dish for his socialistic social re-engineering” what on Earth does that even mean? This stems from Paladino figuring out that Orfield isn’t a Paladino clone anti-SAFE Act tea party activist, and is therefore a socialist. “Self-absorbed charlatan”, “activist anti-Charter zealot”, “sinister process”. Orfield has the nerve to oppose racial segregation, and this apparently sets Paladino into a rage.

Note the very careful, repeated (improper) use of the word “socialist”—Paladino uses “socialist” as an adjective for someone who opposes racial segregation. It bears mentioning, then, that Paladino is rather expressly advocating for illegal racial segregation; integration is “socialist social re-engineering”.

Following up on his intemperate segregationist rant, Paladino reproduces an article written by a xenophobic conservative activist slamming Orfield. He then reproduced a laundry list of things that Orfield has said or written about a variety of topics in order to establish that Orfield is a liberal academic who has the nerve to disagree with positions that Paladino holds. If you’re interested, you can visit a local tea party website and see the whole thing: it is basically a compendium of ad hominem attacks and character assassination by a state official against an academic who dared to raise an objection. Who cares if Orfield didn’t like John Ashcroft? Who cares if Orfield is a Democrat or a liberal? To Paladino, that alone is enough to disqualify anything from anything.

Except, of course, for the Democrats whom Paladino supports.

That is the danger of all of this. While it’s arguably ok for private citizen Carl Paladino to hurl his hateful invective at anyone who dares to even mildly disagree with his dogma, Paladino is an elected state official. Not only does he owe the schools a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of all students, but if he decides—as a state official—to issue fatwas and wage jihad against everyone who dares to threaten or thwart his thinly veiled efforts to privatize and profit from schools, Constitutional and civil rights issues suddenly arise.

As we already know from Orfield, Paladino clearly “shows deep disrespect for federal civil rights laws.” They – and Orfield – are mere impediments standing between Paladino and his ultimate goals.

Perhaps more chilling than Paladino’s own efforts to defame and censor a critic, the Buffalo News’ editorial page gently chides Paladino for his behavior. The News has been a friend to charter schools, so its tsk-tsk tone is to be expected; however, the Buffalo News gets everything right except two: that Paladino sincerely wants to help, and that he can be a force for positive change. There is no evidence of the former, and while he could be a “force for positive change”, he’ll have to start acting like a responsible adult and less like a petulant toddler. The News says that Paladino sets back his own goals if he “self-destructs”. Unfortunately, self-destruction is what Paladino does. No one is as good at it as he.

Let the anti-intellectual insult follies continue, I guess. But it’s 2015 and reversion to what arguably worked in the 1930s isn’t the way forward.

How to be Creepy

clownshoes

In this article about Cheektowaga politics, I referenced a story that was published on what I called an “irresponsible local website”, which accused Cheektowaga town Councilwoman Diane Benczkowski of working to “suppress” the details of an investigation into allegations of misuse of town resources by politically connected people.

I spoke with Ms. Benczkowski on Friday, and she explained that nothing could be further from the truth. The allegations against Mark Wegner at the highway department were not uncoincidentally raised just three weeks after she publicly accused Frank Max of falsifying overtime documents. An outside investigation was begun, and all of the details that were included in that online piece were improperly leaked from the town board’s executive sessions. Obviously, someone who was privy to that information improperly leaked the contents of what was discussed in executive session to that website. Whoever leaked it breached town policy and his  or her fiduciary duty as a town councilman.

In any event, it could hardly be appropriate to accuse Benczkowski of trying to follow procedures and policy in discussing sensitive investigations, which were ultimately referred in open session to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution of any wrongdoing. As I noted, it seems as if they’re taking complaints seriously and letting the professionals handle it, rather than turning the matter into a circus.

Benczkowski says that the exposure of Frank Max’s apparently improper timekeeping has resulted in a flurry of whistleblowing, and that many town employees are encouraged by the new town board’s willingness to examine and confront past misconduct in order to clear the air and drag good government into Cheektowaga once and for all. There may very well be more to come.

But investigations like this must necessarily be conducted in a professional and appropriate manner, in accordance with existing rules, laws, and procedures.

But to underscore how unabashedly opportunistic this website has become, its putative author sent two emails shortly after the slam against Benczkowski was published. One, amazingly enough, was sent to Benczkowski’s town email address (which is public and subject to FOIL), and contains a blatant solicitation, which would be hilarious if it wasn’t also reminiscent of the dirty business practices of the late Joe Illuzzi.  Note he also misidentifies Benczkowski as “supervisor”.

Not satisfied to let it go at just that, he also sent the following email to a very well-connected local businessman who has ties to Benczkowski:

He wrote an article accusing Benczkowski of “working to suppress Cheektowaga corruption scandal” but never spoke with her – never met her. He goes on to invite them to call him to give their side of the story after the fact. Oh, and by the way, can I have a job or sell an ad?

The danger with all this is that WGRZ actually cited the website as a source for the story it did on this issue. This is the Illuzzi Letter redux. It is not to be taken seriously.

Paladino Bullies the Wrong Guy

People of New York, be happy today. Be proud and pleased that you so effectively and decidedly dodged the “Carl Paladino for Governor” bullet that was aimed right at your heart back in 2010.

People of Buffalo, be concerned. Concerned not only because Paladino comports himself like a toddler in the throes of a perpetual temper tantrum, but because you have elected him to public office and he speaks for some of you – represents some of you. This isn’t about his general abhorrent demeanor and hateful joie d’ennui, but about bad governance, racial animus, intimidation, and interference.

Forget for a moment the hypocrisy of Paladino’s complaints about another board member forwarding around an email he didn’t like.

Carl Paladino believes that, by dint of his control of a Buffalo School Board majority, he is its dictator and can act in complete disregard of the rules or law. For a guy who enjoys referring to Governor Cuomo as “il Duce”, the hypocrisy is palpable. For someone who purports to be a defender of the Constitution, the hypocrisy is disappointing. For someone who pretends to be acting in the students’ best interests, the whole sordid thing is embarrassing. From the Buffalo News’ reporting, there was a letter that the Buffalo School Board had received from Gary Orfield,

“…a director at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, an independent civil rights research group. In September, the district hired the Civil Rights Project to review the admissions policies of the Buffalo Public Schools’ criteria-based schools, following complaints that the policies were racially biased.”

The letter is reproduced here, along with three emails between Mr. Orfield and Carl Paladino. Cue the “that escalated quickly” meme.

Orfield wrote to the director of the New York Regional Office of the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. In it, he references an exchange of emails he had in late January with Board Member Carl Paladino. He expresses concerns that  Paladino made “a clear effort to control my work and intimidate me.”

The local victims of Paladino’s intimidation and bullying are all to used to and familiar with his hate-filled vitriol, and more importantly the ease with which he gets away with it. But Dr. Orfield is from California and isn’t used to being pushed around.

The Buffalo school district and Office of Civil Rights agreed to carry out a study into the fairness of admission to Buffalo’s so-called “Criterion” schools. Orfield’s Civil Rights Project out of UCLA was hired to undertake an investigation and survey, and to make recommendations to the District and OCR regarding its findings. Its investigation is not yet complete.

When one group came to Orfield for his opinion on a turnaround proposal for a high school facing closure, Orfield said he could not offer any such opinion, and added that no major decisions regarding school space should be undertaken until his group had completed its investigation and made its recommendations, pursuant to their contract. Any decision to rededicate school space to some other use before Orfield’s investigation is complete, “could make solutions less workable or more expensive, possibly undermining the agreement”.

Paladino wrote to Orfield in response to that, and the emails are here and speak for themselves.

Orfield’s takeaway from Paladino’s reaction was this:

Orfield says that in 35 years of doing this,

He goes on to say what few have the courage to say,

Orfield responded to Paladino’s whining by maintaining his professionalism, starting with, “I was very sorry you could not make it to the session where I met with interested board members”. He continues,

It seems to me that hurrying major changes in the midst of a serious civil rights investigation needlessly risks more civil rights complaints because it limits future options and limits the work…it is much better to work things out professionally than to get involved in escalating investigations or possible enforcement or litigation that could risk federal funds and put great stress on the district and its leaders.

To this, Paladino lost what was left of “it”.

“Nonsense” with respect to the Justice Department? The federal government became involved in response to complaints of racial discrimination in the admissions process for Buffalo’s eight criteria-based schools. The team of researchers from UCLA just began its work in December.

Another pressing matter relates to four “failing” or otherwise underperforming schools, and proposals to turn them around. Paladino’s majority submitted a plan recently, which can be found here. It blames the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation for refusing to agree to adjust its work rules, and proposes phase-outs of three schools, setting up four new charter schools, and using “surplus” space in the schools being phased out for new and existing charters. It proposes to use the threat of closure as a negotiating tactic to force the BTF to surrender. Members of the community from each affected school also presented turnaround proposals.

The fact that these schools are labeled as “failing” aside, little if any of what is happening in the Buffalo district smacks of good governance.  Even more tragically, at a time when that district needs strong but responsive – if not compassionate – leadership, it has nothing of the sort.  Devolving instead into political grandstanding and backbiting, the reputation of the district suffers, and the students are used as pawns in a colossal game of chicken.

This is why Dr. Orfield’s accusation against Paladino’s apparent bad faith is so critical here. Without responsible people coming together in good faith to resolve differences, negotiate in the kids’ best interests, and to reach consensus, nothing gets accomplished. Threats and ultimatums don’t generally lead to good results – only resentment and power struggles.

If these people all truly have the kids’ best interests at heart, then it’s imperative that someone lead. Not just by barking orders, but by example.

Pity the poor parents and kids who suffer under this bombastic collection of self-interested amateurs calling themselves a board of education. For all the good progress that Buffalo has enjoyed over the past several years in other venues, the epic dysfunction of the city’s educational system casts a depressing pall over that progress.

Cheektowaga Politics: Making Other Towns Look Good

Political figure denies padding his pension - wivb.com 2015-02-12 06-21-28

Lest anyone think the City of Buffalo or state government in Albany have some sort of monopoly on dirty politics and bad government, Cheektowaga pops up to periodically remind us that stupidity and dysfunction can be found everywhere.

Let’s take former chairman of the Cheektowaga Democratic Committee, and current head of the Cheektowaga “Progressive Democrats” club, Frank Max. Although he’s a bit player in the WNY Progressive Caucus scandal, Max has been at war with whomever has been at the helm of the county Democratic committee for years, and for reasons that no rational person can recall. Max is also the former head of Cheektowaga’s sanitation department, and was unexpectedly ousted as chairman of the Cheektowaga committee this past December.  The newly constituted committee blasted Max’s conduct and handling of committee finances.

In December, Max and his club held a fundraiser. Here’s a somewhat shaky picture of the invitation that was sent out.

I have no idea how the turnout was, or how much money was made.

That’s because Max hasn’t filed any proper disclosure. The “Progressive Democrats” juggernaut boasts a warchest of $2.02, that’s after expenses of $5.00 since the 32 day post-general election disclosure.

Friends of Frank Max” and “Frank Max” both filed statements of no activity.

So, where did the December fundraiser money go?

On another note, at least one irresponsible local website has accused Cheektowaga’s town government of attempting to cover up or silence allegations of monetary irregularities.  On the contrary, town government commissioned a private investigation, and allegedly found that town asphalt millings had allegedly been misappropriated for private use, and that people had improperly been paid for work that wasn’t done. Not uncoincidentally, the highway superintendent is Mark Wegner, who replaced Frank Max as chairman of the town Democratic Committee last year. On Tuesday, the town council voted unanimously to refer the investigation’s findings to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office.

It strains credulity to suggest that the town council, Democrats, or Councilwoman Diane Benczkowski are trying to cover up or “suppress” an investigation that the town commissioned and referred to law enforcement. On the contrary, it seems as if they’re taking complaints seriously and letting the professionals handle it, rather than turning the matter into a circus.

If anything is political, it’s Max partisans leaking false information to irresponsible websites. Wegner says it’s a predictable political witch-hunt; Max has it out for Wegner for obvious reasons, but he apparently has beef with Benczkowski because she accused him of falsifying overtime records in an effort to pad his pay and pension.

Cuomo vs. the Teachers

975130674778966961.jpg (1600×1200) 2015-02-10 06-35-54

Courtesy the Albany Project

The quoted text below is an open letter to Governor Cuomo penned by seven recent New York State “teachers of the year.” It comes in response to the Governor’s astonishing criticism of teachers—not the teachers’ union, but teachers themselves—during his state of the state address in January.

It also comes with the context of something confusingly referred to as the “Gap Elimination Adjustment.” The GEA is Albanyspeak for “starving public schools to help balance the state’s budget.” Some might say that the GEA starves schools of funding to cover Albany’s own profligate overspending, and that underfunding schools will lead to poor results and will help promote the school privatization agenda.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment pulls money out of local districts, placing financial hardship on them and forcing them to raise school taxes in order to adequately fund basic district needs. It should come as no surprise that, when given the opportunity, Albany picks the most harmful and cynical way to “govern.”

Dear Governor Cuomo: We are teachers. We have given our hearts and souls to this noble profession. We have pursued intellectual rigor. We have fed students who were hungry. We have celebrated at student weddings and wept at student funerals. Education is our life. For this, you have made us the enemy. This is personal. Under your leadership, schools have endured the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the tax cap, which have caused layoffs and draconian budget cuts across the state. Classes are larger and support services are fewer, particularly for our neediest students.

We have also endured a difficult rollout of the Common Core Standards. A reasonable implementation would have started the new standards in kindergarten and advanced those standards one grade at a time. Instead, the new standards were rushed into all grades at once, without any time to see if they were developmentally appropriate or useful.

Then our students were given new tests — of questionable validity — before they had a chance to develop the skills necessary to be successful. These flawed tests reinforced the false narrative that all public schools — and therefore all teachers — are in drastic need of reform. In our many years of teaching, we’ve never found that denigrating others is a useful strategy for improvement.

Now you are doubling down on test scores as a proxy for teacher effectiveness. The state has focused on test scores for years and this approach has proven to be fraught with peril. Testing scandals erupted. Teachers who questioned the validity of tests were given gag orders. Parents in wealthier districts hired test-prep tutors, which exacerbated the achievement gap between rich and poor.

Beyond those concerns, if the state places this much emphasis on test scores who will want to teach our neediest students? Will you assume that the teachers in wealthier districts are highly effective and the teachers in poorer districts are ineffective, simply based on test scores?

Most of us have failed an exam or two along life’s path. From those results, can we conclude that our teachers were ineffective? We understand the value of collecting data, but it must be interpreted wisely. Using test scores as 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation does not meet this criterion.

Your other proposals are also unlikely to succeed. Merit pay, charter schools and increased scrutiny of teachers won’t work because they fundamentally misdiagnose the problem. It’s not that teachers or schools are horrible. Rather, the problem is that students with an achievement gap also have an income gap, a health-care gap, a housing gap, a family gap and a safety gap, just to name a few. If we truly want to improve educational outcomes, these are the real issues that must be addressed.

Much is right in public education today. We invite you to visit our classrooms and see for yourself. Most teachers, administrators and school board members are doing quality work. Our students and alumni have accomplished great things. Let’s stop the narrative of systemic failure.

Instead, let’s talk about ways to help the kids who are struggling. Let’s talk about addressing the concentration of poverty in our cities. Let’s talk about creating a culture of family so that our weakest students feel emotionally connected to their schools. Let’s talk about fostering collaboration between teachers, administrators and elected officials. It is by working together, not competing for test scores, that we will advance our cause.

None of these suggestions are easily measured with a No. 2 pencil, but they would work. On behalf of teachers across the state, we say these are our kids, we love them, and this is personal.

Some backstory on the Cuomo war with teachers is found here.

To add insult to injury, the Cuomo administration refuses to release to school districts estimates of how much state aid they’ll receive this year. Instead of helping local taxpayers and districts by maintaining some level of predictability in the process—if not adequately funding by finding other ways to “adjust” the state budget in order to accomplish “gap elimination”—Cuomo’s Albany is keeping them in the dark and making it painful for districts to formulate their own budgets.

Are districts to assume they’re receiving the same state aid as last year, or are they to assume no aid whatsoever and shunt all of the lost funding on local taxpayers? If it’s the latter, districts throughout the state will face outright tax revolt, and the goal of the wealthy privatizers will be closer to reality—as a reminder, here’s the thumbnail equation:

1. De-fund the schools;

2. Cut electives and programs; fire teachers;

3. Break the teachers’ union;

4. Label schools as “low performing”;

5. Create “charter” schools;

6. Segregate better students into charters; exclude troubled, poor, and special education students;

7. Ensure that charters rent space from private landlords;

8. Profit.

Chris Collins Sides with Big Telecom on Net Neutrality

content

Net neutrality is shorthand for the notion that all web traffic should be treated equally. The reason why net neutrality is important can be boiled down to a simple example.

Without rules enforcing net neutrality, your internet service provider can deliberately slow down certain content while speeding up other content, and hold internet traffic hostage.

This isn’t a hypothetical example – not only is it actually happening, but at least one content provider, (Netflix), has been forced to bribe an internet service provider, (Comcast), to allow its traffic to be delivered to consumers unmolested.

Without net neutrality being somehow codified, ISPs will have the right to hold all sorts of content hostage in this way. Imagine if the company that delivers electricity to your home could extort money from the generating company you chose, or if Verizon could extort more money from the long distance carrier with which you’ve contracted.

That’s why the FCC is moving to reclassify the internet as a public utility. This ISP extortion harms consumers and competition. ISPs must not have the legal right to dictate your content to you, particularly content that you pay for separately.

ISPs are, naturally, going to sue to keep the right to extort money, remain uncompetitive, interfere with contracts that you – as a consumer – have executed, and dictate what you can and can’t watch. Even more predictable is that Republican corporatist anti-consumer shills like Chris Collins (NY-27) have sided with big telecoms over consumers; protecting Goliath from David.

Last week, Collins issued a press release,

“Plans to reclassify the Internet under Title II pose a direct threat to Internet freedom,” he said. “The FCC’s actions threaten the innovative culture that makes the Internet one of the world’s greatest technologies. Additionally, these actions will add further uncertainty to the net neutrality debate.

“Here in Congress, under chairmen Thune and Walden, we have proposed draft legislation that would achieve the goal of protecting Internet consumers through the bright-line rules that net neutrality proponents are calling for in a way that limits burdensome regulations from crushing innovation.”

Consumer protection is “burdensome regulation” because it prevents big telecoms from throttling content that you pay them to access. It “crushes” innovative ways for telecoms to extort money from consumers and from content providers.

The reason why Collins and his Republican colleagues can’t be trusted to protect net neutrality is that until very recently they didn’t support it, even conceptually.

[Republican John] Thune’s [Senate Commmerce Committee] includes Sen. Ted Cruz, who in November called net neutrality “Obamacare for the Internet.” Now, Cruz “looks forward to having a vigorous discussion on how we can best ensure the Internet remains a forum for freedom and innovation” as the FCC eyes stricter regulations, according to a Cruz spokesman.

We’re meant to believe that the very people who derided net neutrality as “Obamacare for the Internet” are suddenly totally concerned about implementing net neutrality legislation? To call this disingenuous would be an understatement. The Republicans are spooked because reclassifying the internet as a public utility would forever codify these consumer protections and the authority would rest with the FCC rather than the political whims of the corporatist congress.

Collins’ own constituents are begging him to reject net neutrality, because Obama.

Collins told Roll Call how he had a sign in his office in the Rath Building that read, “In God we trust – all others bring data”. But what if the data isn’t favored by Time Warner and can’t reach its intended recipient? Until recently, Collins objected to any sort of net neutrality rules. Even now, while purporting to promote a Republican alternative to the FCC’s plan, he rejects the notions behind net neutrality as anti-competitive, harsh regulations.

When it comes to you accessing the internet data you pay your ISP to provide – whether it be Netflix or political content – Chris Collins sides with the ISPs’ right to limit and regulate what you can and can’t access.

That’s just bad policy and dumb government. Chris Collins sides with big telecom over you, the consumer.

The Banality of Albany Corruption

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Sheldon Silver lost his speakership because he’s been indicted on corruption and bribery charges. So far, it’s been a banner year for antidemocratic and corrupt practices to be shown the light of day. The common denominator is bad government, and why we elect horrible people to

1. ICYMI, the Buffalo School Board has abandoned all pretense of being responsible public servants.

2. Brooklyn Democrat, serial sexual harasser, and former Assemblyman Vito Lopez is settling lawsuits alleging that he was a creepy sex fiend misogynist groper. Well, that is to say that the state is settling these allegations to the tune of $545,000.  It’s taxpayer money – Lopez is only personally on the hook for about $35,000 of it. This isn’t just Lopez’s disgrace, but sheds light on how corrupt and shameful Sheldon Silver’s Assembly had become.

3. Former State Senator George Maziarz is accused of directing his staff to destroy campaign finance information soon after federal investigators began sniffing around. It might be ok to follow standard record-destruction timelines, but not so much if you’re simultaneously destroying evidence.

4. Former State Senate President, Democrat Malcolm Smith, was convicted of bribery charges last week.

Federal prosecutors had charged that Smith, with the help of $200,000, tried to bribe his way onto the GOP ballot by spreading money around to GOP power brokers. Smith was arrested in 2013, but continued to serve as a rank-and-file state senator, though his fellow Democrats did not allow him to conference with them. He was ousted by voters in Queens last fall in a Democratic primary election.

Also charged in the case was former Queens Republican boss Vincent Tabone. Smith, as a Democrat, needed to secure backing from GOP leaders in order to qualify for a place on the 2013 mayoral ballot on the GOP line. Tabone was convicted along with Smith Thursday. A former New York City councilman, Daniel J. Halloran III, had already pleaded guilty in the case.

Did you catch that? Smith was convicted of trying to bribe Republicans in Queens to give him a Wilson Pakula to run for Mayor on the Republican line. Electoral fusion is legalized corruption, and I have to imagine that this sort of quid pro quo is not at all unique to Mr. Smith.

5. Here’s another depressing story from the Albany Project. This one is about Cuomo mega-donor Leonard Litwin, a New York real estate tycoon. Litwin donated $1 million to Cuomo’s re-election campaign and $500,000 to the state Democratic committee, underscoring the toothless pointlessness of our campaign finance rules. Litwin also happened to be client of the small law firm Goldberg & Iryami, which is linked with the Sheldon Silver corruption prosecution and specializes in Article 7 real estate tax challenge suits. Litwin used the LLC loophole to get all that money (including $200,000 to Silver), to recipients.

Litwin recently booked a $260 million sweetheart loan through the NYS Housing Finance Agency to finance a luxury apartment project in Manhattan. The NYSHFA was run by a Cuomo appointee who was recently promoted, and is now Cuomo’s chief of staff.

Back when John McCain was a serious person, he’d talk of campaign finance reform to abolish what he called the “iron triangle” of special interests, money, and legislation. In New York, no one with any real authority has seriously taken up that cause, except for a federal prosecutor in Manhattan. In New York State politics, that triangle isn’t made of iron, it’s made from graphene, which is stronger and more expensive.

Furthermore, if anyone is to take up the cause of cleaning up state politics, they’ll have to lead by example and not cop out and be just as corrupt as everyone else.

I think we deserve better than this. Don’t you?

The BPS and its Shiny New Police State

The underlying goal isn’t unique to the Buffalo School District. Throughout New York State, tea party reactionaries have aligned themselves with the state government to bring about a simple equation.

1. De-fund the schools;

2. Cut electives and programs; fire teachers;

3. Break the teachers’ union;

4. Label schools as “low performing”;

5. Create “charter” schools;

6. Segregate better students into charters; exclude troubled, poor, and special education students;

7. Ensure that charters rent space from private landlords;

8. Profit.

That’s more or less what’s being attempted in Buffalo. It’s a district that has more than its share of socioeconomic crises, but instead of helping the most troubled and disadvantaged kids, powerful, monied interests now controlling the district seems to be writing them off. Instead, it’s moving forward with publicly funded private, exclusive charter schools, not all of which are all that high performing, either, thank you very much.

It’s not just Buffalo, by the way. In tony, conservative Clarence, a small but well-funded band of tea party activists have succeeded in de-funding the schools, which in turn led to cutting teachers, programs, electives, and every social worker in the district. Kids suffer so that some of western New York’s wealthiest residents can save pennies on their tax bill. No district, teacher, board, or student is safe from this new American movement to destroy public education.

But what apparently happened Thursday at a hastily organized public Buffalo Board of Education meeting is something new and chilling. Kevin Gibson is the Secretary of the Buffalo Teacher’s Federation, and has every right to be present at a Buffalo school board meeting, and to speak. He began his remarks with, “My name is Kevin Gibson, and I’m a teacher in Buffalo”. Just a few weeks ago, he gave this powerful presentation, blasting one local charter as being just as “low performing” as any other school.

But this Thursday, Gibson never got a chance to speak. It was a public meeting, and a public comment period. But when Gibson got up, this happened. Keep an eye on Larry Quinn, who seemingly has no patience for this job that he ran for and to which he was elected.

That is simply incredible. He wanted to make “one quick point” and ask “one question”, but was able to do neither. Watch Larry Quinn wave his arm majestically, motioning to the police to silence and remove Gibson from this public meeting in front of an elected board of public servants on public property. Watch tea party “liberty” activist Carl Paladino sit there like a lox, and do and say nothing. Carl Paladino, of all people, talks a big game about liberty and freedom and constitutional values, but when confronted with a genuine opportunity – as a publicly elected official – to carry out those values, he balks. Coward.

Carl Paladino, Larry Quinn, and the rest of the school board majority have created a fascist little banana republic for themselves. Rather than righting a dysfunctional ship, they have raised the dysfunction to hitherto-unheard of, comical and undemocratic levels.

Quinn interrupts Gibson and has him confirm that he’s a member of the BTF, and says that “this isn’t a BTF issue” before the police officer removes Gibson from the public meeting. What difference does that make? Gibson is a member of the public who has a stake in the Buffalo School District, and he had every right to speak at a public meeting within the rules. He wasn’t speaking out of turn, and never got a chance to begin his point. His membership in the BTF is irrelevant to his right to address the board during the public comment session of a public meeting.

When given any political power, Carl Paladino and Larry Quinn and their allies on the school board behave like every fascist in history. Shut down debate, use the police to stifle dissent.

This is an utter outrage.

Fox Terror Network

Moaz

Muath al-Kasasbeh during the Hajj

 

Every time the so-called “Islamic State” releases a gory, vicious, inhuman snuff film, normal, civilized people who use social media call on everyone to not share the video or its images. Why? Lots of reasons. Snuff films aren’t exactly high art, worthy of sharing. Watching someone being murdered shouldn’t be reduced to rubbernecking or entertainment. It adds insult to the fatal, abhorrent injury – that is a person who had a family, love, hopes, and dreams. Innocent, the murdered victim’s last, agonizing moments oughtn’t be how he or she is remembered. 

But aside from all of the “because we’re human beings” reasons, there’s an even more important one – the “Islamic State” death cult wants you to share those videos.  They want people to see these slickly produced HD images of slaughter because they want to terrorize you, and they want to recruit more homicidal psycopaths and bloodthirsty teenagers. 

It should go without saying, then, that responsible mainstream western media also wouldn’t publicize, share, or otherwise promote ISIS propaganda. Until this week, that was true. 

What’s changed? ISIS released a video that shows a captured Jordanian Air Force pilot being burned alive in a locked cage. Reading that sentence is, itself, horrifying. Seeing the images should be unthinkable. Yet certain right-wing media outlets, including Fox News, have chosen to release and share the ISIS video showing a human being burned alive.

There’s nothing so low that Breitbart wouldn’t stoop to, but Fox News? Here’s how it justified what it did:

The reason we are showing you this is to bring you the reality of Islamic terrorism and to label it as such. We feel you need to see it.” After displaying the images, Baier added, “Having seen the whole video, it is something you cannot unsee. Horrific and barbaric, as well as calculating and skilled at high-tech propaganda.” FoxNews.com later uploaded the full-length, 22-minute video on its site.

Well, no. You can’t unsee it, and it’s horrific and barbaric. But I don’t need to see it to know that. Previous ISIS execution films have shown a masked man beheading helpless, innocent captives.  In what way is that act of beheading a living person more or less horrific or barbaric? If barbarism and brutality are now on the Fox News menu of acceptable content, why an immolation but not a beheading? What part of the reality of “Islamic terrorism” are we not meant to understand, and how does a burning advance that discovery more than a beheading?

What’s happening, though, is that Fox News is now a willing, knowing ISIS partner. ISIS produced, shot, and directed the immolation of Muath al-Kasasbeh, but it needed a distributor to get it to as wide an audience as possible. By selling murder to its viewers, Fox has now become part of the ISIS propaganda machine. It is for ISIS what al Jazeera was for bin Laden a decade ago.

What we can glean from this is that some media think that it’s too much for Americans to see images of the flag-draped coffins of our fallen heroes, but watching a man being burned to death in a cage is something we’re not only supposed to see, but Fox wants us to see as part of its own political agenda.

Make no mistake – by sharing and showing these images, Fox News is a direct, knowing participant in ISIS’ terrorism.

1 2 3 102