Archive for September 2010

Education in a postDaley Chicago

Is there a glimmer of hope for post-Daley Chicago?
Whittier Elementary School’s grass-roots community, led by a handful of school mothers, opposes the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) plan to demolish the adjacent field house and replace it with an astroturf field. Instead, they want the building to be turned into a library. Whittier school has a only tiny book collection, and there is no public library close by. The central office says the field house is not structurally sound, but the community has gotten a second opinion that the structure needs only a few repairs.
So, Whittier parents and local school council (LSC) members, along with students, teachers, and community members in this predominantly Latino Pilsen neighborhood of Chicagol are occupying the field house to prevent the city from pulling what we in Chicago call a “Meigs”.
In the middle of the night on March 31, 2003, Mayor Daley sent bulldozers to Meigs Field for a midnight razing of the city’s small lakefront airport. Despite agreements to keep the field open and with airplanes still sitting on the tarmac, Daley’s bulldozers dug three huge Xs across the runways.
The Mayor’s April Fool X’s are still there, a testament to the arrogance of power.
Few efforts to oppose Daley have worked during his 21 year reign. A notable exception is the 2001 Mothers’ Day sit-in in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, another predominantly Latino neighborhood west of Pilsen. The mothers went on a hunger strike for 19 days to get a new high school for the community. Little Village Lawndale High School Campus opened four years later, a testament to the people power that survives even under Daley.
Will it be safe to like LSCs again?
Alejandro Escalona, a new hire at the Chicago Sun-Times, recently wrote about the Whittier field house sit-in as it headed into its third week.
His report is remarkable for the extensive, kind words he has for local school councils, the elected parent-majority school governing bodies in CPS, hated by Mayor Daley and usually ignored by the local press.
Perhaps even more remarkable is his quote from mayoral candidate and current City Clerk Miguel del Valle, who visited the Whittier site and talked about the importance 1988 Chicago school reform bill that created the councils.
Contrast this with Mayor’s Daley’s recent radio interview comments about LSCs, which, he said in Daleyese, had “not gone well.”
In reality, LSCs have “gone well,” according to the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Its 1997 study of LSCs found that 77% functioned well. Follow-up studies were also positive.
Other research has shown that low-performing schools with effective councils had vastly better results between 1999-2005, as measured by test scores, than similar schools where the central office had taken over the LSC’s governing role.
But since 2004, many Chicago schools have lost their councils as a result of Renaissance 2010, Daley’s signature schools program. Run by former CPS CEO Arne Duncan, now U. S. Education Secretary, R2010 has closed over 80 schools and opened about 100 new ones. Ironically, LSCs have a better track record than R2010, which has been judged a failure by many measures.
PURE recently filed a state appellate court case against CPS for dissolving LSCs in R2010 schools and replacing them with advisory councils selected by the Daley-appointed Board of Education.
Parent determination likely to outlast Daley
During their occupation of the Whittier field house, parents have begun building a neighborhood library from supporters’ donations of books and other materials. The Sun-Times’s Escalona praises their efforts:
Is it possible that arrogance and autocracy are on their way out in Chicago? Or will they simply find a new host?

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Thank You Sir May I Have Another Spearhead NAFTA Gut the Public Option Get Labors Endorsement

Rahm Emanuel was the chief legislative proponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement under President Clinton. As an investment banker, he publicly campaigned on the pages of the Wall Street Journal to give China Most Favored Nation Status. Under President Obama, he was the chief architect of the deal that coddled insurance and drug companies by negotiating away the public option – a public option that union leaders said was crucial for their support of health care legislation.
I could go on and on with examples from Emanuel’s career just like this. You know the story – and I won’t bore you with it. And so considering this record of doggedly opposing the labor movement’s most basic public policy priorities, you might expect that in Emanuel’s newly announced run for Chicago mayor, labor movement leaders would at least remain neutral. You might even expect labor to consider funding a full-fledged campaign against Emanuel in a race where there are expected to be many viable and more progressive candidates.
According to Politico, you would be wrong:
Let’s set aside the hideously – almost laughably – dishonest attempt to say Rahm Emanuel was a progressive force inside the White House, and let’s instead look at the deeper truth this anecdote highlights – the truth about why progressives are so powerless right now.
In my recent book, The Uprising, I devoted a chapter to the rank corruption, cronyism and insiderism that plagues the Institutional Left in Washington, D.C. – specifically, a form of corruption, croynism and insiderism whereby leaders of “progressive” organizations regularly sell out their organizations’ missions on behalf of their fellow D.C. insiders. This is not a universal plague – there are, indeed, some terrific and honest progressive organizations in the nation’s capital. But it is a widespread phenomenon – and this McEntee/Emanuel story is about as perfect an example of that phenomenon as I’ve ever seen.
That it comes from a political actor as amoral as McEntee is no surprise. Remember, while McEntee is paid by workers’ hard-earned wages to jealously champion those workers’ agenda regardless of party, McEntee made headlines in 2007 telling Democratic congressional leaders that he would personally crush labor-oriented groups looking to exert pressure on Democratic legislators:
So with McEntee, this is certainly par for the course. And while Politico notes that his personal endorsement is not an official endorsement by AFSCME, the announcement goes a long way to further highlighting how progressives outside of Washington have been undermined by those purporting to act in their name inside of Washington.
This kind of thing is a huge, huge problem for an obvious reason that goes way beyond one race in Chicago and way beyond animus toward one career ladder-climber like Emanuel: When progressive organizations offer support to those politicians who have undermined those organizations goals, those organizations are sending a clear message. They are telling all politicians that they can expect support regardless of whether those politicians ignore progressive demands.
Call this the “Thank You Sir, May I Have Another!” dynamic. It’s totally destructive – and the more we become aware of it, the more we can understand how to counteract it in the cause of rebuilding a truly principled labor movement that is so critical to this country and to the progressive cause.
Here’s hoping other unions in Washington and across the country don’t follow McEntee’s lead.

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New York Must Learn the Lessons of a Valuable Federal Program

Today a small but highly effective provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) expired. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund (TANF-ECF) accounted for a tiny proportion of ARRA dollars — a mere three-fifths of one percent — yet it created a quarter of a million jobs and kept countless families from hunger and homelessness.
The benefits of these types of programs ripple throughout the economy. Food stamps, for example, create a whopping $1.73 of activity for every dollar of state investment. The equivalent multiplier for corporate tax cuts is a measly .30.
In New York, TANF-ECF created over 4,000 jobs, mostly through a transitional jobs program that placed low income people in private companies and public agencies.
Take James Graham, a Brooklyn native. For years he participated in the City’s Work Experience Program, which puts welfare recipients to work in unpaid jobs. The lack of pay and training opportunities frustrated him, so he joined Community Voices Heard, a grassroots group that organizes with low-income people for good jobs.
Last June, James’ fortune seemed to turn. He secured a parks maintenance job for $9.21 an hour. The position, like all jobs created by the TANF-ECF, is temporary. In a better economy, James could use his new skills to secure permanent employment. But he is pessimistic that the sluggish job market will afford him real opportunities.
Though the US House of Representatives passed an extension of TANF-ECF twice, the Senate is unlikely to follow suit. Many states are ramping down their programs, dismantling infrastructure that took months to build.
According to the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, New York has managed to extend its program through December with regular TANF funds. Come January, people like James will have even less of a chance of finding jobs.
This is a real shame. With 800,000 residents officially unemployed – and countless more under-employed or too discouraged to search for work — New York is facing a jobs crisis of mammoth proportions. And we can’t count on Washington to rescue us.
In light of New York’s revenue shortfall, a projected $14 billion in 2011, it may seem like slashing the safety net and capping spending is our only option. That isn’t so.
Last spring, the Center for Working Families issued a proposal for a temporary tax on high-end Wall Street bonuses that would generate between $4.7 and $6.9 billion without harming the finance industry — more than enough to extend New York’s TANF-ECF programs.
That’s not the only option for revenue generation. We could partially roll back the rebate on the stock transfer tax which currently benefits wealthy, high volume traders, bringing in at least $3 billion.
And of course we must also save by eliminating real waste. Getting rid of state contracts with private employers who perform work that can be completed in-house at less cost is one place to start.
The fate of TANF-ECF lies with decision makers Washington DC. But New Yorkers can apply its lessons. Next year, when our elected leaders convene in Albany to make difficult spending choices, we should join James and his peers in reminding them that the way to recovery is through high quality jobs programs and supports for struggling families.

Meg Whitmans Lack of Truthiness on Immigration

Many are having a difficult time believing Meg Whitman now that she’s embroiled in a “nanny scandal.” Given her blatant hypocrisy and deception as a candidate on where she stands on the issue of illegal immigration, is it any wonder?
As for the scandal, Whitman says she followed the law in hiring nanny Nicky Diaz Santillan, didn’t know she was here illegally and had to fire her when she found out. Diaz Santillan says Whitman employed her for nine years, knew she was here illegally since 2003, then threw her to the curb when Whitman was gearing up for the California governor’s race.
However the facts shake out in this drama, the facts are already in on Whitman’s truthiness regarding the larger issue at play here. Take a look this new America’s Voice fact sheet entitled “Whitman vs. Whitman on Immigration.” We report, you decide:
October 2009: At a campaign stop in San Diego, near the U.S./Mexico border, Whitman calls for a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, asking her audience: “Can we get a fair program where people stand at the back of the line, they pay a fine, they do some things that would ultimately allow a path to legalization?” (Sign On San Diego)
September 2010: During her first debate against Democratic opponent Jerry Brown, Whitman announces her opposition to “a path to legalization” for undocumented immigrants. (Sacramento Bee)
February 2009: Whitman announces that former Governor Pete Wilson will serve as her campaign manager. Wilson championed California Proposition 187 in 1994, which would have kept undocumented immigrants from enrolling in public school or using other public services. The proposition passed, but was struck down by the courts. (Meg Whitman for Governor)
November 2009: In front of an audience of Latino supporters at a campaign appearance in South El Monte, Whitman apologizes on behalf of the Republican Party for Proposition 187. She says: “We must provide services to children and health care services. It’s the right thing to do and was well decided by the courts. I think it has had an overhang on the Republican Party and I am sorry about that. We need to move beyond that.” (San Gabriel Valley Tribune)
May 2010: In her radio ad “Tough As Nails,” Whitman says that “illegal immigrants should not expect benefits from the State of California”—endorsing the principle behind Proposition 187. The ad also features Pete Wilson, who says, “I know how important it is to stop illegal immigration, and I know Meg Whitman. Meg will be tough as nails on illegal immigration.” (Los Angeles Times, YouTube)
June 2010: Whitman releases 2 Spanish-language television ads during the World Cup to appeal to Latino voters. The ads say, “She respects our community. She’s the Republican who opposes the Arizona law, and she opposed Proposition 187.” (Sacramento Bee, YouTube)
July 2010: On a radio talk show appearance, Whitman says: “I would let the Arizona law stand for Arizona. […] My view is you gotta let the states do what they gotta do until the federal government proves they can secure these borders.” (Sacramento Bee, Wonk Room)
August 2010: On another appearance on a radio show, Whitman says, “I oppose the Arizona law — have from the beginning.” (Wonk Room)
It just might be that Meg Whitman is telling the truth about the latest “nanny scandal.” But given her lack of truth-telling on the immigration issue, it’s no wonder so many people have their doubts.
Cross-Posted at America’s Voice.

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Religious right figure doesnt want UN to stand against gay persecution

In a hysterical screed published by the American Family Association’s One News Now, Matt Barber of the right-wing Liberty Counsel sets his aim at the United Nations:
As par for the course with One News Now, Barber’s insane comments are the only thing published about the U.N.’s actions.
Here are some facts that the One News Now article omitted:
So what the United Nations is actually trying to do is to eliminate persecution against lgbts in other countries.
And apparently to Barber, this persecution, which in some cases includes jail time and physical violence, embodies “traditional values.”
You know, there are times when I get frustrated because I feel that I’m not communicating just how hypocritical and hateful some members of the religious right actually are.
Then someone like Matt Barber comes along and makes my job so much easier.

Putting the Contract in Private Security Contractors

Today we look at is another law journal article. It is noteworthy not only for its content and recommendation, but also for its author.
The article is “No More Nisour Squares: Legal Control of Private Security Contractors in Iraq and After,”published last year in the Oregon Law Review (Vol. 88, No. 3) .
The author is Charles Tiefer. In addition to being a professor at the University of Baltimore Law School he is also a commissioner on the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As you would expect he accepts that the use of private security contractors is here to stay. He is also concerned with “how to control the abuses and injuries of private security contractors” so we do not have more Nisour Squares, when Blackwater guards, some of whom claim they faced a threat, opened fire on civilians, killing seventeen Iraqis.
He notes that the problem of private security abuses and injuries is part of the broader trend toward the privatizing of military effort. In turn, this effort has produced accountability issues reduce support for the U.S. government’s efforts both in Iraq and in the world.
The U.S. Congress has attempted to deal with these problems by amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to cover private security employees and applying the amended Military Extraterritorial Jurisdictional Act (MEJA). Others see the solution in civil suits under existing statutes such as the Alien Tort Claims Act.
But, to paraphrase social scientists Tiefer thinks that these efforts, while laudable, and perhaps even necessary, are not sufficient. Thus, he advocates what he calls the “contract law” approach.
In the much-expanded form proposed in this Article, the “contract law” approach would use government contract requirements, contracting tools and sanctions, contract-related claims, and distinctive contract-related suits to both control and remedy private security abuses and injuries.
Tiefer reminds us that soon after the Nisour Square killings the Departments of Defense and State implemented reforms, including new and stricter contractual requirements, departmental monitoring of contractor performance, and department-wide regulations in July 2009. But that is just the start:
Before going further let’s take a moment to see what Tiefer writes about problems with amendments to the UCMJ and MEJA. These have been pointed out before by other commentators but the fact that they still exist says a lot about how useful he UCMJ and MEJA are in dealing with actual crimes by contractors.
Tiefer see contracting law as a way of quality or best value in contractor’s work; something I touched on in this past post.
Contract law offers different methods to obtain additional qualities. These methods could be mandated as requirements. For example, to perform the highest level of duties, the rules incorporated in the contract could require particular sets of backgrounds for selected contractors.
Alternatively, the government could evaluate the firm’s additional attributes when deciding upon awarding contracts or task orders. Ordinarily, such awards may occur on a basis that does not fully gauge or reward quality, such as a lowest price offer that is technically acceptable. Instead, awards could occur on a basis that does gauge and reward quality. Awards could occur on a “best value” basis with a trade-off that puts the most weight on quality criteria and puts only limited weight on cost. Moreover, as successive awards of such contracts occur, the government could give weight in the later awards to the “past performance” on the early awards. Private security contractors may well argue that it is a hard challenge to avoid casualties to everyone under their protection, while at the same time completely avoiding casualties to local civilians. Counting “past performance” would reward those contractors who perform the best at those double challenges.
Similarly, a contract law approach may deal with postincident responsibilities. For example, the government could require firms to transfer individual employees involved in any incidents to less-demanding duties (e.g., from mobile convoy duty to static perimeter duty, either temporarily or for the duration of the contract). This could occur for individual employees implicated either in dubious judgment significantly below the criminal level or in multiple instances of near-dubious judgment.
The attraction of Tiefer’s approach is obvious. It does not require Congress to pass new laws. Instead it encourages government departments and agencies to use their existing power of writing contract specifications to encourage positive performance by contractors.
And Tiefer notes that the government has powerful tools at its disposal to ensure proper auditing of contracts by using Inspector Generals.
Before Nisour Square, and to some extent even after the event, some IGs did not see private contractor incidents as involving contract law issues. IGs could determine that incidents warranted some scrutiny by a criminal investigator but, apart from that, IGs had little or no role. However, the contract law approach lays the foundation for a much larger role for IGs. Now, the DOD would be rendering quality assurance requirements subject to audit. By creating much fuller incident reporting requirements, a contract law approach can establish a paper trail to monitor contractors, simultaneously with interview and other live evidence, to determine the actual quality of the firms’ employees. This partly concerns whether IGs see the subject in all its seriousness. They must not leave private security quality control to the DCMA after dangerous incidents have occurred. IG involvement sends a powerful message that is hard to send through other means, much like the message sent within police departments when weapon discharge incidents are investigated seriously. Contractors disinclined to take reporting requirements seriously would view the matter very differently when IGs scrutinize failures to make full disclosures or otherwise cooperate fully in inquiries.
Moreover, IGs should have a degree of independence that others in the particular department may lack. For example, it is common, and perhaps natural, that officials working with a particular security contracting firm come to bond with it. Natural as that bonding is, it does not make for an independent judgment of whether the contractor has fulfilled all requirements, including those relating to sparing local civilians from injury. An independent IG has a better chance of making an independent judgment.
Furthermore, an IG investigation could justify serious legal sanctions, contestable by the contractors if they so choose. These could include nonrenewing contractual option terms or partially or wholly terminating a contract for convenience. That, in itself, would not preclude the contractor from seeking more contracts. However, the sanctions in the most serious cases could go further, starting with adding negative ratings for past performance to the contractor’s record and, much more seriously, terminating a contract for default.
These steps do make it harder, sometimes much harder, for the contractor to seek more contracts. The steps may even constitute a substantial threat to a firm’s existence if it has nowhere else, other than the U.S. government, to turn to sell its services. But, these tools should be available in case an investigation uncovers a particularly bad problem. Moreover, contract law can reduce the impact on the government of an interruption of the provision of services when the government terminates a contract. Even under existing law, the government can take control of subcontracts and of work in progress during the termination of a contract. It would not be much of an extension for private security in a country like Iraq to provide via contract provisions or applicable orders that, during termination of a contract, the government has full authority to order the shifting of firm employees in the theater of combat to a different contractor (subject to the employees’ choice rights), similar to the process when the government shifts subcontracts.
Tiefer concludes that the contract law approach brings distinct advantages over other approaches.
First, it applies to the private military firms, rather than to their employees. The firms have the resources and status, which their individual employees alone do not, to initiate and improve major programs for preventing injuries or abuses – programs such as accreditation, training, and vetting of new hires. Second, the contract law approach uses, and conforms to, the main thrust of government contracting law and its apparatus, which is the system that purchases private military services and oversees the implementation of that purchase
Generalizing further, contract law tools in this context and in related ones may produce a virtuous cycle. Commentators on international law have tended to expect a “top-down” effect – that international agreements or principles on private security will bring about individual state regulation. Top-down international law may work. But, as a supplement, the elaboration of contract law tools by the United States in the context of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may affect both future U.S. action and action by other nations. For example, when the United States sets accreditation and training standards, both U.S. firms and third-country firms will seek to meet them. It then becomes simpler for other countries, such as those in the European Community, to institute similar standards; once the United States adopts standards, European firms that do business with the United States develop familiarity with, and a record of meeting, those standards.
The role of contract law tools in this context might serve as a model in other contexts.
For example, government contracting firms often play important environmental roles. They may clean up, store, process, or dispose of waste. [KBR burn pits anyone?] Criminal suit, civil suit, administrative action, international law, and other methods for dealing with problems with these firms may well work. Still, as a supplement, government contracting firms should come to comply with contract provisions on such matters and may be part of developing standards as to further provisions and strengthened contract oversight. This approach supplements, without supplanting, the other approaches.
Of course, contract law is only useful if “government departments making the contracts actually taking active oversight roles, rather than depending on neutral bodies like courts or international agencies or on private lawsuits. For many reasons, departments may not rush to do so. In any event, whether from inertia, capture, or sincere views of national interest, departmental officials themselves may not rush to exercise their contract law tools.”
Yet, “the significant steps taken after Nisour Square tell a different story. The increasingly used contract law tools, such as provisions requiring training and incident reporting, represented advances. Expanding that use did not require intervention by a neutral body, like a court or an international organization. Rather, the force of the public reaction – from Iraqis, Americans, and people of other countries – sufficed.”

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Livestrong or Livewrong

And now there is Contador.
The Tour de France winner has apparently failed a drug test that was conducted during one of the days he was riding to victory in July. Contador is reported to have tested positive for a minute amount of a substance named clenbuterol, which is said to reduce fat, increase muscle mass, and assist breathing. (Where does one apply for a prescription?)
Everything this drug does would be an advantage to someone trying to not only survive but also win the most difficult endurance contest humans have ever devised. Clenbuterol, given to cattle, also improves the quality of beef. In a news conference, that’s actually how Contador said he got the banned substance in his blood. He claims a friend brought steaks over from Spain when the team chef complained about meat at the hotel where the riders were staying. According to Contador, the clenbuterol must have been in his food.
That would be good if it were true. But recent Tour history indicates we are heading for another disappointment and a fallen hero. The names of the deniers are too many to list but they range from Floyd Landis to Tyler Hamilton and the lesser riders that are compelled to seek an advantage to either maintain the 34 mile-per-hour pace or fall behind; hit 70 homers or be just another slugger.
And then there is Lance.
Armstrong’s supporters believe he never, not once, never ever, cheated. Unfortunately, the behavior of others during Lance’s ascent to the top of the cycling world has made his achievements even more improbable in the rarified world of endurance sports. The peak of the doping era was from the late 90s into the middle part of the current decade and Lance excelled at a time when cheating was widespread. Is it fair to question his success? Can a non-doper beat all of those dope heads?
There is some evidence to suggest Armstrong is a bit of a genetic mutant. Several reports indicate that his ability to ingest and process oxygen, which is measured through a test called VO2 uptake, is far beyond normal. His work ethic is also legendary. Lesser athletes miss workouts, take an unscheduled day off, stay up late, have one beer too many; Armstrong did not have that reputation. His story is one of singular focus and the science of conditioning. He and his trainers, especially the e stimable Chris Carmichael, understood exertion, recovery, food, and peaking. Armstrong’s was the most calculated training program possibly ever designed for an endurance sport.
But is he really so gifted that he is able to outperform other talented and dedicated cyclists even as they are fortifying their own cardiovascular systems with pharmaceuticals? That is the question that turns Lance Armstrong into a suspect for investigators like Jeff Novitzky, the federal agent who built the case against baseball slugger Barry Bonds. Whatever his motivation, Novitzky appears good at his job and that is undoubtedly unsettling for Team Livestrong.
Novitzky, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigator, is concentrating partially on an event that is alleged to have occurred in the hospital when Lance was being treated for cancer. An Armstrong teammate, Frankie Andreu, who does commentary on the Tour de France for the Versus Network, and his wife, Betsy, supposedly heard Lance tell a doctor that he used performance-enhancing drugs. The question is one that likely would have had to be asked during the course of developing a chemotherapy protocol for a recovering cancer patient. Armstrong has denied the allegations but Andreu later acknowledged that he doped up when he was riding with Lance on the U.S. Postal Service team. Stories have also recently been published to suggest that there was widespread doping on the Postal team and bikes were sold to pay for drugs, which, if true, turns into the kind of fraud and federal crime that could destroy the reputation and career of Armstrong. Novitzky also has audiotapes of phone calls made to Betsy Andreu by an Armstrong friend that worked for Oakley sunglasses. They are surprisingly vitriolic and might have an impact on grand jurors hearing the case in Los Angeles.
These yarns, however, are either little more than internecine squabbles among gifted and jealous athletes or they are the unraveling of one of the greatest sports frauds since the Black Sox baseball scandal in 1919. No one even seems willing to contemplate the notion that Lance Armstrong might be a fraud. And what if he is? Is it necessary, at this point, to take him down and is it worth the tax dollars expended in this investigation? There ought to be some way to balance the good done by the Livestrong Foundation against whatever might be the outcome of an investigation and a trial. No one is suggesting we let a cheater be a hero or get away with a sham but where is this taking our culture?
I met Lance once when I did an interview with him after his first Tour de France win. He was abrupt and seemed not to want to be bothered with a TV crew, as he got ready to take off on a training ride. Cordiality and small talk did not seem to be a part of his portfolio. His answers were matter of fact and he did not appear to have any sense of wonder about what he had just accomplished. The man was all business. Lance wanted to ride and we were in his way so we stepped aside.
But Jeff Novitzky will not.
Also at

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Nobody Wins When We Regulate Out of Ignorance

For-profit higher education has become a political piata. Three Senate hearings have produced evidence of deceitful recruitment practices, unsustainable student-debt burdens, fraudulent promises of future jobs and high dropout rates at for-profit colleges. In response, Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, plans to propose legislation after the mid-term elections to curb industry abuses. Some for-profit critics would even like the schools to go away.
Like it or not, we’re stuck with for-profit colleges. The roughly 3,000 for-profit colleges and universities now account for 12% of all post-secondary students, and they are closing in on serving 2 million students. Financially strapped public colleges and universities are in no position to absorb a rush of new students should for-profits start closing because of tougher regulation.
The problem, lost amid the heated charges of widespread fraud in the industry, is that we too little about for-profit colleges to devise a proper regulatory framework for them. Leaders of traditional and for-profit colleges, locked in a cold war atmosphere for years, have stymied comparative research because they feared that objective data would either illuminate the strengths or demonstrate the weaknesses of for-profit colleges.
That has produced some yawning gaps in our knowledge of the fastest-growing sector in higher education. Consider:
We have no reliable industry-wide data on how many of the nearly 2 million students who begin classes actually complete a degree or certificate program. What exists, at best, are scattered reports issued by various colleges or sweeping analyses of the entire sector, none of which yield reliable information.
More important, there is virtually no research that tells us how for-profits compare in terms of graduation rates with their public- and private-school peers. A 2010 study by the Parthenon Group, an independent research organization, is one of the few that examines this question. Using U.S. Department of Education data from 1996-2001 to look at students seeking two-year degrees or certificates, it found that 65% of the students attending for-profit colleges earned the associate degrees or certificates, compared to 44% at community colleges.
Even that data, while encouraging, is hardly sufficient to serve as the foundation of a new regulatory schema.
There is no systematic data on how effective for-profit colleges are in helping their graduates land meaningful jobs and on how well they are prepared for them. This question goes to the heart of the proposed “gainful-employment” standard, currently under review by the Department of Education, that would cut federal aid to for-profit schools – a major source of their profits — if student-loan repayment rates fell below a certain level. Draconian rules would no doubt put many for-profit colleges out of business. But the best information we have on the jobs/debt questions is no better than back-of-the-envelope projections.
We just don’t know how successful for-profit colleges are in overcoming the educational obstacles posed by students who need remedial classes in, say, math and English. If students are unable to correct their academic deficiencies, they will be unlikely to complete their studies. This is not only a problem in for-profit schools. More than two-thirds of all students in higher education require some remedial classes, but they are disproportionately represented in for-profit colleges, as well as community colleges. It is these students – older and poorer than their four-year public and private school counterparts – who overwhelmingly make up the new populations that must be tapped if we are to turn out more college graduates. They are also the same students most at risk of dropping out and defaulting on their loans.
There are some promising signs that the for-profit industry is opening its doors to research that will help fill in our knowledge gaps. Corinthian Colleges and the University of Phoenix have recently agreed to participate in research projects comparing their effectiveness against that of selected public institutions. The Career College Association, which represents 1,500 mostly for-profit colleges and universities, will host a major panel on comparative research at its annual convention next summer. And Kaplan University will share data on student performance with the chancellor’s office of the California Community Colleges.
Still, a plea for more research at a time when some critics have likened for-profits to subprime mortgage lenders and called for their extinction might seem quixotic. Yes, protect students from the industry’s worst abuses. But before we construct an ambitious regulatory framework, let’s see if the budding cooperative spirit between traditional colleges and for-profits produces research that could help us devise one based in reality.
It is not simply to the benefit of for-profit colleges that they succeed. By some estimates, we need to produce 22 million new degree-holders over the next eight years to meet the demands of our information-based economy. We cannot meet that goal if we over-regulate an industry out of ignorance.
William Tierney and Guilbert Hentschke, professors of education at the University of Southern California, are the co-authors of “New Players, Different Games: Understanding the Rise of For-Profit Colleges and Universities.”

Suck Toad Democrats The New Democratic Right

My eyes about popped outta my head yesterday morning when I read, in the Wall Street Journal, confirmed by the New York Times, that 47 Democrats had presented House Speaker Pelosi with a letter threatening to vote to keep tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans. Pundits write that these 47, together with their Republican allies, have enough votes to prevent the House from voting with the 98% of the people whom these “Representatives” obviously do not represent.
(A list of 44 of the 47 is available from Talking Point Memo, last week. Who are the other three? Please comment if you know.)
The 47 take an unusual tack designed to thwart criticism. They don’t talk about removing taxes on the 2%’s income per se. That would be too blatant. They talk instead about capping taxes on capital gains and dividends, the less visible forms of wealth that constitute most of the income that the 2% earns. The Democratic turncoats claim that capping taxes on capital gains and dividends will create jobs and enable everyone to invest in a more prosperous future. That’s rich (no pun intended): most Americans don’t receive capital gains and dividends to protect. Most never did; and those that did had them pretty much devastated by the 2%’s shenanigans over on Wall Street. (For which the 2% got bailed out. See how many new jobs that created?)
I wondered who would dare to call themselves Democrats and yet feel so completely free to rebuke their president, their leadership in the House, and the majority of their constituents — to go completely orthogonal on the Democratic base. So I took a gander. What I discovered was an ambitious lot of louts who see the defeat of the president and the rest of the Democrats in Congress as a door that opens on power: the power to be minions to the wealthy, as servile as the Republicans whom they use as a foil, but slicker, more concierges than butlers. The kind of Democrats the 2% could take a hankering to.
The leader of this cabal is John Adler, a first-term Congressman from southern New Jersey’s Third District, a swing district that tilts Republican — i.e., a wealthy enclave that includes rolling estates on the Pennsylvania border and for its eastern boundary, some of New Jersey’s loveliest and secluded beaches. If Adler is a man of his people, it’s a different people from the rest of us. His campaign website touts all the usual platitudes about the middle class and its travails, his endorsements by the VFW and the Sierra Club, his love for his wife and kids, and so forth and so on. In short, he is an East Coast Babbitt, the kind of character you’re likely not to recognize in the shopping mall.
Interestingly, Adler is doing well in his campaign, leading his Republican opponent by at least 9 points in recent polls. What possibly could be his motivation to get behind a tax policy that’s been proven a failure over and over again, the last time for the last eight years? Power. Take care of the rich and they take care of you. (So long as you’re useful, John.)
I didn’t recognize most of the other “Representatives” on the List of Shame, but I do know two from my homestate, California — and strange bedfellows they are!
Jim Costa is a reliable champion of the well-off, a lifelong pol from California’s Central Valley who’s been through the legislative-lobbyist door so many times I can imagine he’s just a little dizzy (or ditzy, as the case may be). Costa comes from smack-dab in the middle of the state, the fiscally conservative, socially liberal (sort of) area around Fresno. He’s been there long enough. Being from the Central Valley — I mean, for a lifetime — Costa now hangs around maybe a little too much for a staunch Democrat with agribusiness millionaires and lately, high-tech executives. Costa seems a shoe-in for re-election, and he doesn’t need the cash. So what’s his motivation? Owning the Congress. Power.
I wasn’t surprised to see Costa’s name on the list — and I wasn’t surprised to see Loretta Sanchez’ name, either. Well, maybe a little. Sanchez is self-identifies as a Blue Dog, which in past Orange County parlance would translate to a flaming Red. Not anymore: her specialties are military and security issues. She’s a political rising star, a Democrat riding California’s changing demographics to reconquer Orange County, long the home of “old” (as in pre-Depression, not pre-20th Century) money, movie stars like John Wayne and Bob Hope, the John Birch Society, and a fair share of mondo-war types on the county’s southern fringes where it borders on Camp Pendleton, a huge Marine base (and one of the most beautiful, best-preserved stretches of coastline in Southern California, all praise the Halls of Montezuma and the Shores of Tripoli). Richard Nixon holed up in Orange County. But an influx of Latinos, Vietnamese, and assorted other non-Kansas types have been pressing on Orange County from the north and east.
Sanchez is the result. Her 47th District encompasses the more diverse northern part of the county including the county seat Santa Ana, Anaheim (home of Disneyland), and an assortment of small cities and towns that used to be farmland and citrus orchards only a half-century ago. She doesn’t run away from healthcare reform as many Blue Dogs do — in her district, doing so would be fatal given that in her district, a lot of lower-income people are living in higher-cost proximity to the coast. She’s kind of a middler, strong on early childhood care and women’s rights, less so with minority constituencies than her name and background might suggest. Above all, she’s into technology. I tried to deduce from all the clues why she would advocate keeping capital gains and dividends tax-free, given how few of her constituents are (as the pollsters put it) “members of the investing class.” Only one reason I can see. Power.
I imagine the same holds true, more or less, for the remaining 44 Suck Toads.
The Suck Toad Democrats aren’t pushing on Pelosi to drop progressive taxation because they’re afraid of the Republicans. For the most part, they aren’t. For the most part, they’re pretty solidly in place due to gerrymandering and straddling the purple. The Suck Toad Democrats are pushing on Pelosi — and by proxy, the president — because they perceive the Democratic Party to be cratering and they want to be the survivors — on the side of Big Big Money, the 2% — when the deal goes down. In their opinion, they, not the Republicans, should become the servants of the 2%. The Suck Toad Democrats will become the Sleeked Down Democrats, savvy social liberals, committed fiscal conservatives, every intelligent wealthy person’s idea of what a 21st century politician should be about.
And why shouldn’t they? They’re smarter; better connected in terms of successful family, friends, and colleagues; have been successful in their prior lives — and they are determined to be the ones left behind, when kinder, warm and fuzzy, but obviously naive liberals have been lifted out of their seats and flown away to the political afterlife, to sit at the knee of Jimmy Carter. How interesting.
Of course, the letter regarding taxes means nothing per se. Steny Hoyer and his Old School cadre got there first. They haven’t the vision of Adler and Crew, but they have the procedural means to block a vote being taken. These political veterans really do fear a vote, for the good of the Democratic Party (or at least their own seats). But don’t be surprised if the Adlerites are back in 2011 — “apres nous, le deluge” — with arms outstretched to the 2%. This may seem a small footnote to 2010’s political diary, but it’s not. It’s a big deal: right-wing Democrats without the stigma of slavery and lynchings. Given the whole nation’s lurch to the right, perhaps their time has come. Which means the rest of us are going to have to rethink what it means to be a Democrat. As in Germany before the war, does one choose to be merely a conservative or a radical rightie?
We progressives might have to do some inventing ourselves.
UPDATE: Gov. Landrieu of Louisiana seems to be a Suck Toad Democrat, also. For pro-oil industry reasons, she’s defying the President, obstructing appointment of a new OMB director (who, as Bernie Sanders has pointed out, may be something of a Suck Toad himself.) And who can ignore Senators Lieberman, Ben Nelson, or the soon to be departing Blanche Lincoln?
Suck Toads a-plenty!

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UK Labour Leadership Elections The Brothers Miliband

“The desired effect is what you get when you practice your interplanetary funksmanship” — George Clinton”
Though I can think of a few people funkier than the Miliband brothers, David and Ed, it is indisputable that their contest for the leadership of British Labour Party created, in the end, the desired effect for the Party, measurably strengthening it for the struggles ahead.
The central dilemma for Labour Party members in this election was whether to support David Miliband, the most credible and accomplished candidate in the field — who also conducted the broadest and most interesting campaign — knowing that by electing him Leader, they risked revivifying the now discredited New Labour, Blairite establishment of the Party.
Astonishingly, and by a very, very slim margin, the Labour Party said no, implicitly rejecting the old status quo. Instead they elected the younger brother, Ed Miliband, less because of who he is, than what he’s not.
In his acceptance speech Tuesday, Ed Miliband, echoing John F Kennedy, declared that he was in fact the candidate of a new generation, and that New Labour is dead. Whatever his failings, Mili-E is certainly correct about these twined suppositions.
For me personally however, the most interesting part of the speech was where Mili-E begins to hold forth about Values.
In eschewing ideological politics for the politics of values, it is not so much JFK that Miliband is invoking but Robert Kennedy: yes, the younger brother. And the red thread that runs through the values argument is not the Socialist argument of Ralph Miliband, the Jewish immigrant Marxist father of the brothers, but rather a strain of radical Catholicism that also ran through Robert Kennedy’s late political framework.
For a politician who will need to confront both the hegemony and destructive immorality of the world political-economic order as well the furious, defeated neo-liberal wing of his own Party, this is a clever stance, and it might just win the day for Ed Miliband.
It is also an argument tailor made for opposing the draconian budget cuts that the current Tory-Liberal government is about to implement even in the teeth of the ongoing long… recession. By this time next year, or even next spring, as the streets of British cities fill with rage and protest, it is the values argument against the immorality of a Finance driven system, utterly without them, that will hold sway on the streets of the UK.

Save Baseball Expand the Playoffs and Shorten the Season

Now that the Steroids Era is over, Major League Baseball needs new juice. One way to stimulate interest is to expand the post-season playoffs and shorten the regular season.

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Virtuous Circle of Teaching and Research

Over the last thirty to forty years, higher education in America has viewed contributions to research as an essential part of its mission. Professors are expected to participate in shaping their scholarly fields, and students are expected to learn not just the wisdom of the past, but how to produce knowledge in the present. At large universities, though, the research function often seems to dwarf the dedication to undergraduate education. At several of the Ivies and other schools that compete for academic prestige, senior faculty often have little to do with teaching those preparing bachelor degrees, and graduate students or other part-time instructors wind up taking on the bulk of college teaching. The tenured professors work mostly with graduate students, preparing them for careers that, too, are expected to center on research.
In recent years the folly of this system has become increasingly evident: there are few tenure-track jobs for the graduate students being trained to work in the most specialized domains, and undergraduates are often left to wonder how courses taught by these narrowly trained specialists are supposed to connect to their lives after college. As smaller institutions emulated the research universities, the publish-or-perish mentality became a core part of faculty culture, with specialized journals publishing for small groups of colleagues offering the most professional prestige.
There has recently been plenty of strong criticism of the cultivation of esoteric research in higher education. Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus have argued that universities are wasting resources and failing students, in part because of the premium put on faculty research rather than teaching. Hacker and Dreifus have been teaching in New York for decades, and they have also been prolific authors. But in their recent book, Higher Education?, they argue that schools have been distracted from their core educational mission by adding on the obligation to contribute to scholarly fields.
Mark C. Taylor, Wesleyan graduate, long time professor at Williams and now Chair of the Religion Department at Columbia University, has recently published what he calls a “bold plan” to respond to the contemporary crisis on campus. Noting how the focus on research has driven a wedge between faculty and student interests, he diagnoses “the identification of specialization with expertise.” Narrow specialization should be the great enemy of educators because it leads to silos of inquiry with little opportunity for surprising intellectual exchange. But specialization has gone hand in hand with professional prestige, something that schools have been chasing for decades.
Taylor’s main argument is that our overspecialized colleges and universities are increasingly divorced from the hyper-connected world defined by “webs, not walls.” Networks of interconnectivity rather than isolated expertise are defining our world, and higher education will become obsolete if it doesn’t plug into these new forms of knowledge creation. (I’ve taken my comments here from my review of the book in the LA Times.)
How are these critiques relevant to the future of liberal learning in this country? The search for prestige through specialization, whether it takes place in athletics or the English department, can often take place at the expense of a well-rounded experience for undergraduates. However, the “virtuous circle” of teaching and research can powerfully affect both the form and content of higher education to benefit students. The key is being able to show the relevance of the research to undergraduates. Many of my Wesleyan colleagues have been deeply affected in their scholarly work by what they learn from students in the classroom. Similarly, our students know that we continue to learn with them through the work we do in our fields…we are not just imparting information to them that somebody else imparted to us.
Some of best teachers at America’s liberal arts colleges are also the most serious and original researchers, and all of us remain dedicated to undergraduate education even as we produce scholarship for specialized audiences. So, even though I think Hacker, Dreifus and Taylor are right to worry about severe overspecialization (with its associated bureaucracy) in certain fields, I think they might say more about the positive feedback loop that can connect the classroom and the archive, the science lab and the lecture hall. And we should note that these contemporary critics of education are themselves also researchers, and this hasn’t seemed to undermine their professed love of teaching.
Whether it is in economics or in religious studies, art history or computational biology, we want our faculty and students to learn to translate the specific things they learn into terms that have broader relevance. I recently saw a great example of this in a poster session for young biochemists. Sure there was specialization, but there was also an understanding of what is at stake in the experiments and an ability to describe the work for the non-expert. Showing a wonderful talent for translating their efforts in terms even I could understand, students explained to me their work on RNA, on modeling the structure of particular carbon based molecules, and on the translation of proteins. My head was spinning, but they showed me what was at stake in the work they were doing.
There are plenty of things to improve in American higher education, but we must be careful to preserve our ability to educate students broadly and deeply by engaging faculty in projects that are both scholarly and pedagogical. Specialization without the capacity for translation can undermine effective teaching. But many small colleges and universities do promote “intellectual cross-training” precisely because our professors remain active scholars, scientists and artists, exemplifying a love of learning that can be made powerfully relevant to their undergraduate students.

The F Word Its the Economy Not the Bloggers

It seems odd to quote Bill Clinton when it’s Obama’s recycling of Clintonite politicians that has helped get us into this mess, but there it is. “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Americans are angry with the Obama administration, and the Obama administration is angry with–bloggers? The left-leaning media? What’s wrong with this picture?
The vice president says “Stop whining.” Obama says “Buck up.” Robert Gibbs rants about the “professional left.” All of them seem to forget who put them in office. Last week blogger Susie Madrak told David Axelrod: “Liberals and bloggers feel like we’re the girl you take under the bleachers but won’t be seen with in the light of day.”
And Glenn Greenwald noted to Politico, people’s anger “has very little — basically nothing — to do with what bloggers have been saying, and everything to do with the fact that there are no jobs and millions of people are having their homes foreclosed.”
I wish it wasn’t the case, but it’s true: people would have much less time for Tea Parties and Glenn Beck if there wasn’t so much fear out there about the fate of the nation, and a more defiant fight-back being mounted by Democrats.
Bill Clinton knew that, though his solutions — deregulation, “welfare reform” and NAFTA — created a house of cards that staggered twice and then collapsed two years ago. Now we’re dealing with that fallout, and the fact that Obama put Clinton people in charge of trying to fix the economy. That’s the problem. It’s not Glenn Greenwald or Marcy Wheeler or Rachel Maddow or me. Thank you very much.
As Richard Trumka said, it’s jobs, jobs, jobs. The money media love the story that the lefty media are the problem because it preserves their place as the good guys. I wish we had that much power. The reality is, as we’ve said before, the best antidote to fake class solidarity is the real kind.
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at and Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on

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Tony Curtis Actor Artist Sex Symbol Father and Savior of Stallions

Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz, but many, like legendary director Stanley Kubrick, considered him the embodiment of royalty. He portrayed Antoninus in Kubrick’s Roman epic Spartacus. He hobnobbed in the highest social circles. He married beautiful women (five to be exact, including Janet Leigh and his most recent companion Jill Curtis, formerly VandenBerg). Tony is the father of Jamie Lee Curtis (whose mom is Janet Leigh) and four other children. On September 29, 2010, Tony Curtis died of cardiac arrest at his Las Vegas home.
Tony Curtis ruled from a facade throne in la-la land, then dazzled for decades in Sin City and ended up presiding over the very real and noble task of helping stallions pass to greener pastures at the Shiloh Horse Sanctuary (a nonprofit organization that he co-founded with wife, Jill Curtis). I ran into him in Rome on June 29, 2009, where he sang the praises of a life well lived – even if he was, at that time, viewing it from a “broken down chariot” – his wheelchair. “Ciao Bella!” Tony across the hotel lobby, waving and winking up at me. The mirth of his smile and the lilt of his greeting was still the wild child superstar, albeit in an old man’s body.
My interview with Tony Curtis was impromptu and short. Without the opportunity to research his 140 films, I could only name two off the top of my head (Spartacus and Some Like It Hot). However, Tony didn’t care. “Don’t worry, honey,” Tony assured me. “This is the interview you really want. Everyone already knows my films any way. This will be something more.”
As Jill Curtis reminds us, “”All Tony ever wanted to be was a movie star. He didn’t want to be the most dramatic actor.” However, in 1959, Tony Curtis was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of John ‘Joker’ Jackson in The Defiant Ones. He may have passed himself off as just a movie star, but his legacy in film, art and even poetry was a bright light in the sky for the 85 years he was alive.
Natalie: What’s your favorite movie that you’ve starred in?
Tony Curtis: I really can’t say. The movies were built around the culture and what was happening in the world at the time. Each is important in its own way.
Do you think movies are key to helping humanity understand their world and perhaps even transform the times?
They are simply important to the individual who sees them. I did love stories. Gangster stories. Guy meets girl. Guy gets the girl.
How do the Italians feel about your films? Are you popular here in Italy?
I was very popular in Rome for what I represent to the Roman audience, which is freedom. The Romans loved the impudence, the joy, the pleasure and the pain of life. Romans won’t be chastised for these things.
What would you tell Americans about the magic of Rome, of what it feels like to stand in 2,000-year-old ruins?
I feel that I represent part of them. The ruins that I see, feel and sense here, now, in this moment of my time on Earth. The statues are broken down and seeking renovation. We all are. We are a product of the time we live in. I, like these ruins, have the strength and joy of being simply who I am.
With no regrets? No apologies or unfulfilled dreams?
If I failed in projecting anything, that is my fame. My fame is what I’ve contributed with my failures and my successes. I am like granite, broken, abused and refreshed by what has happened. My broken heart. My chariot that doesn’t work. I am all of these things.
You can learn more about the legacy of this famous film star at his website, Tony’s autographed memoir American Prince is available.
Tony Curtis has a nonprofit organization devoted to the rescue and care of abandoned horses that are destined for the slaughter house (and Verona, Italy, no doubt), called Shiloh Horse Sanctuary, which he established and operated with his wife, Jill Curtis.

National Immigration Conference Kicks Off but Can It Shift The Debate

Hair tightly braided and red, white, and blue flags in hand, two mischievous girls ran through the ballroom aisles towards their mother. There she sat, next to 28 others who were about to become American citizens, smiling anxiously as she looked out towards the Boston Harbor. Tigist Asrat, 31, arrived in New England from Ethiopia ten years ago. Fleeing first political unrest then bondage, Ms. Asrat sought asylum in the United States–she came to this country, she said, “for freedom.” After five years waiting for a green card and five more to become a citizen, she explained what this day meant to her: “today is a big day for me. I have been waiting for so long.” Minutes later, after repeating the citizenship oath and pledging allegiance to her new country, tears trickled down her face as she looked at the document that proved that she was finally a citizen.
Wednesday’s naturalization ceremony set the stage for this week’s National Immigrant Integration Conference (NIIC), hosted by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). The title of this year’s conference is “Becoming Americans”, and over 400 advocates, public servants, and researchers working on immigration issues have come together to discuss issues ranging from immigration’s economic impacts to immigrants’ civic and political engagement.
On this night, a warm early autumn breeze came in off the water, but the serenity of the conference’s opening scene masked the polarized nature of immigration politics in America. Damian Thorman, National Program Director of the Knight Foundation (a conference sponsor), reflected, “Sometimes I wish that those who oppose immigration had seen what we saw today…29 individuals from 14 countries living out the creed, ‘E Pluribus Unum.'” The following morning, governor Deval Patrick (D-MA), added, “I get that illegal immigration is a serious national problem. But, in order to have a serious national solution, we need to have a serious national conversation. We don’t have that right now. What we have, more often than not, is hate-mongering.”
Immigrant rights advocates currently face what Mr. Thorman described as a “hostile political environment,” in which Arizona’s SB 1070 law has inspired copycat legislation in over 20 states , and Republicans in Congress have proposed repealing the birthright citizenship provision of the 14th Amendment. The challenge for advocates, according to Paul Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation (another conference sponsor), is: “how do we overcome the ambivalence in our country about immigration?”
The conference title, “Becoming Americans”, suggests one piece of these immigrant rights advocates’ efforts to foster more constructive political debate. By focusing on fixing the legal immigration system, NIIC organizers hope to generate momentum to reclaim the political center. They have shifted away from the divisive debates about “illegal” (or undocumented) immigrants and “amnesty” (or legalization) and toward issues that may be more winnable in the short term, like access to English language instruction.
But some on the Left may be concerned that immigrant advocates are turning away from talking about the widespread legalization of undocumented workers, which has been the core of the nation’s debate on immigration reform. After all, if immigrant advocates stop talking about the fate of eleven million undocumented people in the country, might widespread legalization suffer the fate of the public option in the health care debate? Critics of the movement have already highlighted how much Democrats and pro-immigrant groups compromised on an “enforcement-first” framework in the last several years–which has led deportations under President Obama to surpass those under President Bush–with no legislative progress to show for it. Many immigrant rights advocates have been left wondering: how far to the Right do we have to go, and when can we push back?
These same advocates may also take umbrage with another piece of the conference’s frame. Mr. Knight explained that the conference focus on naturalization and integration of people here legally helps shift the frame to “patriotism, not activism.” Such a frame risks failing to acknowledge the contributions of the millions of immigrants and allies who have taken to the streets on immigration issues over the past few years. These marches proved critical in pushing back against the restrictionist Sensenbrenner bill passed by the House in 2006 and the more recent SB 1070 law in Arizona. As Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, recently explained: “the one secret weapon of the immigrant rights movement that no other contemporary movement has on such scale is numbers and intensity and passion. There have literally been millions of people who have marched over the last few years for immigration reform–probably the largest mobilization on any issue in American history. So this community has a lot of bargaining power.”
Major mobilizations have repeatedly won the immigrant rights movement meetings with–and pledges of support from–the White House. Without activism, then, what would the nation’s political conversation and immigration policy look like today? Moreover, what would the political landscape for immigration reform look like in 2011 if the Republican Party wins control of the House of Representatives?
Despite Mr. Thorman’s pronouncement, conference organizers do not appear to be rejecting activism so much as betting on “immigrant integration” as a politically palatable frame that can also bring significant political change. Many conference leaders have, after all, led marches and mobilization over the past few years. At this conference, however, they repeatedly emphasized how increasing the naturalization rate and increasing civic engagement among naturalized citizens holds the prospect for broader political change through mass enfranchisement. Mr. Thorman pointed out that, with 8.5 million current green card holders nationwide, expediting the naturalization and integration process will lead to “more naturalized citizens,” who, as voters, can push recalcitrant politicians to help “construct smart solutions to immigration.”
Similarly, Mr. Bhargava recently opined that: “immigration reform has the potential to be a structural change in the politics of the country that will make the country more generous to immigrants in the future. In other words, it will empower a voting bloc over time, it will empower a constituency that will not stand for, or be so vulnerable to, demagogic attacks.”
Back at the naturalization ceremony, just across from Ms. Asrat, sat Steffan Berelowitz, a new citizen who came to the United States at age 13 from South Africa. For 27 years, Mr. Berelowitz watched American politics from the sidelines, with opinions that he could not express through the ballot box. He explained: “I’ve been a green card holder for a long time. Today means I can vote; I can participate in the political process.”
Fixing the system for naturalizing and incorporating legal immigrants into this country’s social and political life will undoubtedly be a critical part of any future immigration reform effort.
Still, what remains unclear is whether pro-immigrant advocates can shift the debate in the short term with their latest centrist appeal. In 2007, the principal national immigration reform group, the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), felt obliged to follow as the Senate debate on immigration moved sharply to the Right, before a comprehensive immigration bill ultimately failed. Since then, CCIR’s successor, Reform Immigration FOR America, has upgraded the movement’s communications platform and geographic coverage in key parts of the nation. But the movement has faced a tidal wave of anti-immigrant bashing, particularly among Republicans in the run-up to the primaries. This has put pro-immigrant advocates squarely on the defensive in this debate. With the mid-term elections fast approaching, the question looming over the NIIC conference remains: can these advocates wrest back control of the country’s immigration debate from the restrictionist Right?

LA Metros Misguided Critics The Local Party of No

Now that my kids are older, I need a really good reason to go to Anaheim. Which is why when I got an invitation to attend last week’s Urban Land Institute (ULI) California High-Speed Rail TOD (transit oriented development) Marketplace at the Anaheim Convention Center the location wasn’t my first choice. But since it was ULI, which always puts on a great meeting, there I was driving to Anaheim. Yup, driving, and alone to boot.
When the California high-speed rail and the new Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) are completed I will be one of the first on board, but given a late night the evening before and the fact that the conference started at 8 am, plain old vanilla Metrolink from LA’s Union Station just wasn’t an option. So before 7 I stuffed myself into the car and drove the less than blissful 43 miles to Anaheim. For those who like numbers that’s the 405 to the 10 to the 60 to the 5. Which always reminds me of Tom Lehrer singing New Math.
To make matters worse, I was only able to stay through the morning before life called me back to West LA. Still, I am glad I attended and had the chance to listen to several outstanding presenters including Andreas Heym, Director of International Development at AREP (SNCF Group) and Jeff Heller of Heller Manus architects.
Heym from the French national rail operator gave an inspiring presentation about the decades-old growth of France’s high-speed rail (TGV) system to both large and small cities throughout France. His talk and slides effectively demonstrated how high-speed rail has been an economic spark plug for the many cities and regions that are now part of the TGV network.
Heller’s talk focused on the development of China’s high-speed rail stations and brought back fond memories of my own positive experiences with the Shanghai Maglev and high-speed rail during a 2008 trip to China.
No self-respecting American of any political persuasion can look at China’s success with high-speed rail and rail travel generally without crying over how far we are from what the Chinese have achieved.
Heller soberly summed up where the US is today when it comes to infrastructure investment in high-speed rail and public transportation when he said, “I go to China and everyone wants to get stuff done. I come back here and not everyone wants to get stuff done.” If only, as he concluded, more Americans would acknowledge that traveling by rail is a much left stressful way to travel than air travel we might be further along than we are now.
Though I had been summoned back to LA early there was no way I was leaving the vicinity of the Anaheim Convention Center without a quick stop at Joe’s Italian Ice on Harbor Blvd in Garden Grove. Joe’s is the best and the Bada Bing Cherry ices loaded with chunks of fruit didn’t disappoint. Between the conference and the ices the drive to Anaheim was almost worth it.
And what about LA? While it was good to get back to the big city from Ciudad de Disneyland, if you care as I do about public transportation it has been no picnic here as of late. Am I the only one getting indigestion listening to the opposition to Metro’s thoughtful blueprint for building out Expo, the Wilshire Subway, the Gold Line, the Crenshaw Corridor and other critical transportation projects. And it is not just a handful of Beverly Hills and Cheviot Hills homeowners who are kvetching? For some curious reason the still influential Los Angeles Times, LA Observed and less reputable media like the LA Weekly are joining the local Party of No bandwagon against the County voter-approved push for more public transportation for LA.
The source of my annoyance with Metro’s critics is their disingenuous focus on traffic in Metro’s environmental impact report. Of course Metro has no control over the region’s natural population growth. No one does! Just look at New York, Chicago, Paris and London, all cities with great public transportation systems as well as clogged streets and highways. Metro’s subways, light rail and buses are about mobility for those who choose to ride or have no alternative, not about clearing the freeway so you can drive downtown from Tarzana at rush hour as if everyone else stayed home from work. Since no one can promise us that, what is missing from this debate is common sense and intellectual honesty on the critics’ part.
Fortunately, there are smart media voices in this town who get what Metro is trying to do and give back with an edgy humor that puts the No’s in their place.
I am talking about writers like Amy Silverstein who has penned a fun piece in Neon Tommy entitled, “Westside Subway Will Do Little To Stop People From Making Babies, L.A. Media Say.”
The article skillfully skewers the critics with a line, about how the “Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, and LA Observed found that improving our city’s public transportation will not stop traffic-causing babies from being created.”
Silverstein’s witty piece was only outdone by the blog LAist which takes first prize in the title department for a story called, “MTA Wants To Environmentally Impact LA Weekly’s Face After School In The Parking Lot.”
With so much important stuff to report on in this town it is a shame the LA Times, LA Weekly and LA Observed feel the need to slam the hard working professionals at Metro who are trying to make this a better city. Bravo to Neon Tommy and LAist for keeping it real and to Metro for building, maintaining and operating the trains, light rail and buses this city needs.

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15 Top EcoFriendly Yoga Products for National Yoga Month

September is National Yoga Month, and as the month comes to a close it seems high time to offer a guide of ecofabulous’ favorite companies and products. While yoga can be incredibly good for you, many of the products that support your poses are anything but healthy. Shouldn’t everything associated with your yoga practice be as conscious as your asanas? My team and I have curated a list of yoga apparel and accessories that are as smart as they are centering. Read below to learn how you can ditch the icky PVC mat for one made of natural latex (recycle your old one!), and help you commit to purchasing gear that is produced without pesticides. Namaste!
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This small New York-based company combines high quality organic cotton from Turkey, adds a touch of spandex for a little stretch, and then brightens the whole package with gentle soy-based inks to create some of the softest eco-friendly yoga pants and tops in the most brilliant colors, like the kitkat tank pictured here ($40).
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Canada anaesthetist accused of sex assaults on patients

Canada anaesthetist accused of sex assaults on patients

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Canada anaesthetist accused of sex assaults on patients
A Toronto anaesthetist has been accused of sexually assaulting 29 women under his care, police have said.
Dr George Doodnaught, 61, is believed to have assaulted the women while they were under anaesthesia and undergoing surgical procedures, police said.
Most assaults took place at North York General Hospital, police said.
Dr Doodnaught was charged in March with three alleged assaults. Police urged other victims to come forward, and 26 new charges were announced on Thursday.
Dr Doodnaught, an anaesthetist since 1981, was sacked from the hospital in February when the police investigation began. The alleged assaults occurred between June 1992 and February 2010, .
“We are extremely concerned that this number of people has come forward to police with allegations and we understand this is a difficult process for those patients and their families,” North York General Hospital said in a statement.
Dr Doodnaught has yet to face the allegations in court.


Remembering Tony Curtis

Reminiscent of Some Like it Hot, Tony Curtis was zooming along in a little dinghy to meet me at the dock. It was 1996, during the Cannes Film Festival, and he was staying on Dodi Fayed’s yacht. Good thing I brought security because the minute he got off the boat, people began crowding around us. Tony was walking tall, proudly wearing his French Legion of Honor medal, as we headed to a book signing for his autobiography. Before I could blink, hundreds of people were escorting us to the bookshop, and when we reached the street with the bookshop, thousands of people were there waiting, cheering. I’ve never seen anything like it. After signing so much his fingers were aching, we hopped in an escape vehicle, but not before fans started jumping on the hood, pounding the windows, throwing themselves on the trunk. Tony laughed and laughed, loving every minute. He turned to me and said, “You gotta tell Jill, you gotta tell Jill.” Jill was his girlfriend who later became his wife.
Tony loved being famous. Once we were driving in L.A. and he wanted to show me something, so we hopped on the 101 freeway and soon he pointed with excitement and said, “Okay, get in the right lane, slow down, slow down. There! There it is!” He was pointing to a gigantic, fantastic mural of Tony Curtis circa 1953. He slapped his leg and laughed with total glee. In the 1950s, Tony was so famous and popular that he could make any movie he wanted. He decided to make a movie with his idol, Cary Grant, on a pink submarine. Not only was he charming and good looking with great screen presence but he could also act. Just rent The Sweet Smell of Success and The Defiant Ones (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award).
I was lucky enough to have produced a movie with Tony Curtis and another with Jack Lemmon. The only Hot star missing from my filmography is Marilyn Monroe, but she died before I was born. Tony would often relay the story of a costume designer on Some Like it Hot telling him that he had a better ass than Marilyn Monroe’s.
Tony loved life and lived it to its fullest. But there was another side to Tony: He was also a fragile, wounded human. He once told me the story of his brother dying when he was a kid and how his mother blamed him, as well as how she used to beat him. He told me that when his son died from a drug overdose, Billy Wilder told Tony that it was his fault for setting a bad example. Tony never stopped thinking about his son. He would make diorama boxes that were filled with everyday objects that were somehow connected. There is something beautiful about these pieces of art as they conjure up images of his childhood and images of him trying to understand his own existence. Simple, thoughtful, fragile, beautiful and artistic: All aspects of a man who at one point was the biggest star in the world.

Wrestlemania Linda McMahons Senate Campaign

I’m Linda McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. And I’m running for senator of the Nutmeg State. I’m not a professional politician, a “Washington insider.” I’m a Washington outsider, a rebel, an iconoclast — like Stone Cold Steve Austin. And I’m willing to spend $50 million of my own money to buy the election.
First, I would like to thank all the little people that have made this campaign possible — the midget wrestlers: Little Beaver, Lord Littlebrook, Mini Vader. (Although there’s no truth to the storyline that Hornswoggle is my husband Vince’s illegitimate lovechild. This is Connecticut, not Alaska, you know.) Then I’d like to take the opportunity to address the issues that matter to this country:
The economy. Governments don’t know how to stimulate the economy; small business owners like me — net worth $1.2 billion — know how to stimulate the economy. (Okay, maybe the Xtreme Football League wasn’t such a good idea. You can’t hit a home run every time at bat.) First, declare all your talent “independent contractors” even though you ban them from wrestling for other franchises. Second, refuse to provide them with health care benefits. Third, don’t renew their contracts when they’re too injured to wrestle anymore. That’s the way to keep the prices of all those wrestling action figures and t-shirts down.
Taxes. They say two things are inevitable — the Undertaker at Wrestlemania and taxes. High taxes have had this nation’s corporations in a sleeper hold too long, cutting off the carotid artery of commerce, oxygen-depriving the brain of business. It’s high time we broke that hold and piledrived corporate taxes into the ground. The fact that the WWE would benefit is strictly coincidental — like when a wrestler just “happens” to find an illegal foreign object hidden in his tights.
Illegal aliens. This issue hits close to home. There have been lots of great Latino wrestlers — Tito Santana, the Guerrero Brothers, Ray Mysterio Jr… Many of them are here illegally — why do you think they wear masks? Some people want to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. I’ve got a better idea — let’s build a giant steel cage around Mexico. Mexicans who make it out and touch American soil automatically receive a WWE contract and a shot at the Intercontinental title.
Drugs. Some of our wrestlers make Arnold Schwarzenegger look like, in the words of Classy Freddie Blassie, a “pencil neck geek.” Back in the 1980s, the WWE was rocked by a steroids scandal. We instituted a strict drug testing policy — then cancelled it because it wasn’t “cost effective.” Since then, steroids have permeated the rest of professional sports — Mark McGwire looks like Hulk Hogan. I think it’s time for the U.S. to rethink its drug policy and decriminalize steroids. If it’s good enough for America’s pastime, it’s good enough for professional wrestling. (So some wrestlers die of drug-related causes — you can’t make an omelette without breaking necks.)
Foreign policy. From the days of Sgt. Slaughter, the WWE has always stood for a strong foreign policy. (The Sarge is more of a war hero than my opponent Richard Blumenthal, who’s systematically inflated his military record — like a wrestler on steroids.) I’ve got a solution to the Iranian problem: how about a match between our two toughest jabronis — say John Cena vs. the Iron Sheik? Okay, the Iron Sheik’s getting a little long in the tooth — he’s replaced the Camel Clutch with Dentu-Grip–but he’s still a Hall-of-Famer. Winner gets hegemony over the Middle East. Just kidding — we’re still going to give Iran the “atomic drop” anyway.
Finally, I’d like to challenge my opponent to a series of debates. He can pick the format — steel cage, lumberjack match, hardcore rules… I guarantee victory — as long as Vince is the special guest referee. I’m Linda McMahon. Professional wrestling may all be fake, but I’m dead serious about becoming a Senator. As Kurt Angle used to say, “it’s real, oh, it’s very real.” (Hey, at least I’m not Christine O’Donnell. That witch sounds like she’s been drop-kicked too many times in the head.)

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School Pride Must See TV

Susie Castillo, former Miss USA and MTV host, says succinctly, “I steer clear of reality shows. Most of them are crap.” It’s a view I share, at least when it comes to makeover shows. And yet NBC’s School Pride which premieres on October 15 may have viewers rethinking the value of such programs. It features Castillo – along with three others – tackling the urgent need to give America’s children safe and appealing schools in which to learn.
The show’s premise is hardly revolutionary: the four telegenic hosts arrive at a school that is virtually crumbling around its student body and vow to overhaul it in the space of seven days (10 days in the premiere.) But the innovative – and tear-inducing – twist is that the entire community is enlisted in the effort. In the pilot sent to me by NBC, the focus is on Enterprise Middle School in Compton, California. Rats, lack of equipment, a football field full of gopher holes and a seemingly indifferent principal are just some of the issues that plague the school. The two young men – Angel and James – who narrate the school’s woes are so appealing and intelligent that you pray for someone to intervene on their behalf. But the surprise is that all the students and faculty are enlisted to help in the school’s makeover. You see them painting, cleaning, and doing all the other hard work necessary to turn their school around.
Additionally, local businesses – including a construction company – are asked to volunteer their labor and materials in the effort. Parents join in too. If it takes a village to raise a child, here it takes a city to make a school shine. I defy anyone to watch the first show and not shed a tear as the school system’s facilities director – and father of an Enterprise student – breaks down when he sees the school’s newly renovated gym. It is TV at its very best. No one individual or family benefits from the good work done on School Pride. Instead an entire community, and perhaps nation, shares in the investment. As Castillo says, “Better learning environments result in increased test scores.” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an appearance at the renovated school, though he appears to blame lots of others for the sorry state of California schools before finally admitting “government” might have a role to play. Still, the students and faculty seem awestruck by his appearance at Enterprise.
Susie Castillo – known for her role on House of Payne and her many hosting gigs as well as that Miss USA crown – urges students and parents at schools everywhere to “watch School Pride, take the ideas and go fix up your school. Don’t wait for a TV show to do it. Empower yourselves.” She knows whereof she speaks. Growing up the child of a single mom in Methuen, MA, she dreamed of being an actor. Toward that end, she decided that winning a national title would give her a leg up in Hollywood. “But pageants are expensive and my mom didn’t have the money. So I went door to door to local businesses and asked them to sponsor me. Some gave me $20, some gave me $100.”
This is similar to the model used – on a much grander scale – by School Pride. “We ask for the support of businesses in the community,” says Castillo. “We asked Home Depot, Bing, Microsoft…and anyone can do that. You just have to be willing to make the call.” She points to a school in Detroit which is featured on the show. A Community and Media Arts school, it was lacking equipment. Thanks to donations from businesses, the school now has an entire Media Arts Center with state-of-the art facilities.
School Pride is more about the students than about the buildings, and you won’t easily forget the ones you meet on this show. Castillo says of Angel from Compton, “That young man ripped my heart out of my chest. He was so focused. He is the first generation in his family born in this country, and he wants to be President. He’s got everything planned out for his future, just like I did at his age.” At the end of the first show, you find out that Angel was his class valedictorian. It’s hard not to cheer for him.
The show’s executive producers are Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Denise Cramsey (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and True Beauty). Castillo is more than just a beautiful face; she has a degree in Interior Architecture and Design and actually helps with redesigning classrooms. She also identifies strongly with many of the students and hopes to send them a message: “You’re not stuck at any point in your life. There’s a big world out there and you can dream big.”
School Pride spent the summer fixing up schools in California, Michigan, Louisiana and Tennessee. When the show airs on Friday, October 15 at 8:00 p.m., I urge families across the country to tune in for an hour of hope and possibilities. It is the perfect antidote to the vapid and violent programming that so often dominates our televisions. Plus, if it snags good ratings, School Pride might be coming to a community near you.

Obamas Wars The Real Story Bob Woodward Wont Tell

Just one year before the publication of “Obama’s Wars,” Bob Woodward became a player in his own book-in-progress. He morphed into his true identity: Warrior Bob. Actually, there’s an even deeper persona, Agent Woodward–but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
In June of 2009, Woodward traveled to Afghanistan with General Jim Jones, President Obama’s National Security adviser, to meet with General Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of forces there. Why did Jones allow this journalist to accompany him? Because Jones knew that Woodward could be counted on to deliver the company line–the military line. In fact, Jones was essentially Woodward’s patron.
The New Republic’s Gabriel Sherman wrote at the time that
In September of last year, McChrystal (or someone close to him) leaked to Woodward a document that essentially forced President Obama’s hand. Obama wanted time to consider all options on what to do about Afghanistan. But the leak, publicizing the military’s “confidential” assertion that a troop increase was essential, cast the die, and Obama had to go along. Nobody was happier than the Pentagon–and, it should be said, its allies in the vast military contracting establishment.
The website Firedoglake chronicled the developments in a pungent essay:
This episode highlights a crucial aspect of Bob Woodward’s career that has been ignored by most of the media. Simply put, Woodward is the military’s man, and always has been.
For almost four decades, under cover of his supposedly “objective” reporting, Woodward has represented the viewpoints of the military and intelligence establishments. Often he has done so in the context of complex inside maneuvering of which he gives his readers little clue. He did it with the book Veil, about CIA director William Casey, in which he relied on Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, a rival of Casey’s, as his key source. (Inman, from Texas, was closely identified with the Bush faction of the CIA.) The book was based in part on a “deathbed interview” with Casey that Casey’s widow and former CIA guards said never took place.
Typically, Woodward uses information he gets from his main sources to gain access to others. He then gets more secrets from them, and so on down the line. His stature–if that’s the word–as a repository of this inside dope has been key to the relentless success machine that his media colleagues have perpetuated. The New York Times review of his Obama book laid out the formula:
In Obama’s Wars, Mr. Woodward, as usual, eschews analysis and commentary. Instead, he hews to his I Am a Tape Recorder technique, using his insider access to give readers interested in inside-the-Beltway politics lots of granular detail harvested from interviews conducted on background, as well as leaked memos, meeting notes and other documents. Some of this information is revealing about the interplay of personality and policy and politics in Washington; some of it is just self-serving spin. As he’s done in his earlier books, Mr. Woodward acknowledges that attributions of thoughts, conclusions or feelings to a person were in some cases not obtained directly from that person, but from notes or from a colleague whom the person told–a questionable but increasingly popular method, which means the reader should take the reconstructed scenes with a grain of salt.
And then, thanks to all this attention, and even with that grain of salt, the book went to #1.
But might there be more to Woodward and his oeuvre than just questionable work practices? Well, let’s see. Woodward granted former CIA director George H.W. Bush a pass by excluding him from accounts of Iran-Contra, which occurred while the notorious intriguer was vice president under the notoriously hands-off Ronald Reagan. (When I asked Woodward about this for my book Family of Secrets, he replied, “Bush was…What was it he said at the time? I was out of the loop?”) Later Woodward got exclusive access to H.W.’s son. He spent more time with George W. Bush than did any other journalist, writing several largely sympathetic books about his handling of Iraq and Afghanistan before playing catch-up with prevailing sentiment and essentially reversing course.
Now, for a bit of cognitive dissonance. Woodward’s signature achievement–bringing down Richard Nixon–turns out not to be what we all thought. If that comes as a surprise, you have missed a few books, including bestsellers, that put pieces of this puzzle together. (My book, Family of Secrets, has several chapters on the real Watergate story, but there are others that present detailed information, including those by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, James Rosen, Jim Hougan and others.)
Here’s the deal: Bob, top secret Naval officer, gets sent to work in the Nixon White House while still on military duty. Then, with no journalistic credentials to speak of, and with a boost from White House staffers, he lands a job at the Washington Post. Not long thereafter he starts to take down Richard Nixon. Meanwhile, Woodward’s military bosses are running a spy ring inside the White House that is monitoring Nixon and Kissinger’s secret negotiations with America’s enemies (China, Soviet Union, etc), stealing documents and funneling them back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They then give what they stole to columnist Jack Anderson and others in the press.
That’s not the iconic Woodward of legend, of course–so it takes a while for this notion to settle in the mind. But there’s more–and it’s even more troubling. Did you know there was really no Deep Throat, that the Mark Felt story was conjured up as yet another layer of cover in what became a daisy chain of disinformation? Did you know that Richard Nixon was loathed and feared by the military brass, that they and their allies were desperate to get Nixon out and halt his rapprochement with the Communists? That a bunch of operatives with direct or indirect CIA/military connections, from E. Howard Hunt to Alexander Butterfield to John Dean–wormed their way into key White House posts, and started up the Keystone Kops operations that would be laid at Nixon’s office door?
Believe me, I understand. It sounds like the “conspiracy theory” stuff that we have been trained to dismiss. But I’ve just spent five years on a heavily documented forensic dig into this missing strata of American history, and I myself have had to come to terms with the enormous gap between reality and the “reality” presented by the media and various establishment gatekeepers who tell us what’s what.
Given this complicity, it’s no surprise that when it comes to Woodward’s latest work, the myth-making machine is on auto pilot. The public, of course, will end up as confused and manipulated as ever. And so things will continue, same as they ever were. Endless war, no substantive reforms. Unless we wake up to our own victimhood.

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FolkRocking Sustainably

Crossposted with www.thegreengrok.Branding with a sustainable theme is becoming more common.
Last month, Duke’s Nicholas School was visited by Roz Savage, who solo-rows the world’s oceans in part to bring an environmental message to the public. Last night, we were treated to a concert by The Giving Tree Band, an eight-man acoustic collective from Kendall County, Illinois.
The Giving Tree Band Folk-Rocks the Nicholas School
The group, led by brothers Todd and Eric Fink, on banjo and guitar respectively, categorizes itself as an “indie folk-rock” band. Seven of the band’s eight musicians play string instruments with Justin Forsythe keeping the beat on drums. Their roots-oriented sound (caveat: I am no music critic) is tight and rich, the men’s voices strong and well-matched. Their blend of guitars, banjo, mandolin, violin, and upright bass (et al instruments) gives the music a mix of country, folk and bluegrass bona fides with a beat and drive that are definitely rock and roll. I got a sense of The Band.The Giving Tree Band’s performance was joyous and unrestrained — these are talented guys who are into their music and not terribly concerned about looking cool. (They often dress like throwbacks from the early 20th century though last night they performed in jeans and T-shirts.)
Frequently the musicians bobbed up and down like rhythmic jumping jacks, sometimes several of them in unison and other times going solo. Clearly, there was some choreography at play but it was definitely not Alvin Ailey. The dancing, kneeling and twirling to the music were at times humorous, but also quite infectious. I thoroughly enjoyed it all.
The Band’s Sustainable Practices
The other part of the band’s presentation was about their commitment to sustainability. In Todd Fink’s words, they hope through their music and practices to “build and inspire a culture of sustainability and peace.” Toward that end, he explained, they:
choose their instruments with sustainability in mind, using vintage instruments whenever practical and, when not, choosing new instruments constructed with naturally fallen, reclaimed, or sustainably grown woods and topped off with non-toxic finishes;when touring, travel by a biodiesel-powered bus, camp out, and frequent mom-and-pop restaurants and local co-ops and farmer’s markets that specialize in organic, local produce; andendeavor to make their musical products as low-impact as possible.
On this last point, they really seem to go the distance. They offset their home studio’s electricity use with wind energy
credits, and produce their CDs with 100-percent post-consumer and/or
renewable materials (e.g., veggie inks and corn cellulose) instead of
plastic. In fact, their Great Possessions CD, released last year, is billed as a 100-percent carbon-neutral (or, to use Eric Fink’s preferred term, “carbon-free”) success story. (For the month it took them to lay down and mix the tracks, the band commuted by bike between a state park in Wisconsin, where they camped out and cooked over a campfire, and the nearby solar-powered Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, where they converted a conference room into a makeshift recording studio. Watch video about the recording.) Of course, the band also lets you forgo the becoming-more-antiquated-by-the-day
CD thing entirely by downloading their music from their Web site (not
intended as an endorsement).
My impression is that The Giving Tree Band is the real deal, that their commitment to the environment and sustainability is genuine and sincere. I also find it interesting that more and more folks in the public arena are choosing to incorporate sustainability into their brand; perhaps that decision is motivated in part by self-promotion, but if so, it still sends a message about the importance of the issue and challenges their fans to follow suit. It’s a self-reinforcing trend.
One More Note on the Environment
There was one aspect of their performance that was ever so slightly disappointing — call it a musical lacuna, of sorts. At least for me, the rhythms, melodies and tone of the music I heard last night did not hearken to images or feelings of the natural world. And, as far as I could tell, and mind you I had a hard time hearing the lyrics at times so I may be off-base, their songs’ themes and lyrics often lacked as strong a tie-in to nature or the environment as I’d expected.
On the other hand, I listened around a bit online today and did find some lyrics that make that connection (e.g., in their song “The Stream,” the “rain becomes a river, the river dries, becomes a cloud” and in “Light from the Sun” they sing, “I wanna go where the green grass grows, picking cat tails”). So maybe these themes were there last night but didn’t come across to me as strongly as the standard stuff I picked up on about love and loss and life.
You may find it a minor point, but, for me it’s an important one. I understand that an artist’s creation is a very personal statement and whatever comes out is just that and can’t be prescribed or ordered up like a milk shake. But I’m always surprised to find an absence of environmental themes and sensibilities in the work of artists who claim to feel a great connection to the natural world and aspire to inspire an environmental ethic in others. The world can definitely use more popular artists who strike those chords.
Overall, it was a rocking night of music and a lively discussion about how a group of young men have committed themselves to sustainability as well as their music. I might not have bobbed up and down, but I’m sure my foot, in its own unchoreographed way, was tapping along to the rhythm. Hard not to.
The band, which has been around in various line-ups for six years, likes to say that “the story of The Giving Tree Band is still being written.” So, even if I missed the beauty and fury of Mother Nature coming through their folk sounds last night, given their obvious talent, I’d bet there’s much more to come from these green musicians.

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In The Public Interest ForProfit Education Programs Giving Some a Raw Deal

A college education is practically a necessity in the 21st century. President Obama highlighted this by setting a goal to regain the world lead in college completion by 2020. More graduates with a high value, low cost education will strengthen the social and economic fabric of our country.
This is why it’s a problem when a growing number of specific educational programs plunge their students headlong into unmanageable, and often unrecoverable, student debt.
Rapidly increasing student debt has serious consequences. After graduation many college graduates experience impassable financial obstacles that prevent important life decisions like buying cars and homes, and even getting married and starting a family. Borrowers who cannot repay face wage garnishment and even seizure of tax refunds and social security benefits. High debt also drives students away from social valuable careers like childcare or teaching, even if that is the career they trained for. Paying for college to accumulate unmanageable levels of debt is never good, and never a way to get ahead after graduation.
In the fall of 2010 the US Department of Education began a process of rule reform to protect the federal financial aid program from waste and fraud, and to protect students from staggeringly high debt levels. One of the rules defines what it means for programs to prepare students for gainful employment, something they are already required to do. Programs where students regularly take out huge loans that they can’t repay may be cut off from federal grants and loans. The new rules were released in July of 2010 and will effect programs that are less than two years at public and non-profit schools and most programs at for-profit schools.
While the majority of college programs that must adhere to the rule are at public and non-profit private schools, for-profit colleges are fighting the rule tooth and nail to protect their profits. For-profit education programs run by the biggest education corporations receive $24 billion in taxpayer investment annually, accounting for almost 90% of their total revenues. This revenue mainly comes from federal aid, including loans that are pushed onto students.
Students at for-profit colleges borrow more and at higher levels than any other school. In 2008, 96% of students at for-profit colleges borrowed loans compared to 15% at community colleges. Those who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a for-profit college in 2008 had student debt that averaged $33,050. This volume of debt is so unmanageable that some for-profit colleges have up to 30% of their borrowers in default. For-profits have piled so much debt on their graduates that students now represent 43% of all federal student loan defaults even though they make up about 10% of college students.
No student wants to graduate with unmanageable debt. The Department’s new rules will rein in the most abusive and over-priced programs that drive students into debt. By eliminating the most toxic education programs, students will be able to choose from more cost effective and higher quality programs.

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