"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

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15 Dangerous Drugs Big Pharma Shoves Down Our Throats

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Oldspeak: Ambien, Lipitor, Crestor, Chantix, Yaz, Yasmin, Lyrica, Topomax, Lamictal, Humira, Prolia, Tamoxifen, Boniva, Prempro and Premarin: If you or anyone you know is on these “medicines” Rethink using them. They cause more illness than they “cure”. In the pharmaceutical industry’s rush to get drugs to market, safety usually comes last. Long studies to truly assess a drug’s risks just delay profits after all — and if problems do emerge after medication hits the market, settlements are usually less than profits. Remember, Vioxx still made money.”

From Martha Rosenberg @ Alter Net:

The following drugs are so plagued with safety problems, it is a wonder they’re on the market at all.It’s a testament to Big Pharma’s greed and our poor regulatory processes that they are.

– Lipitor and Crestor

Why is Lipitor the bestselling drug in the world? Because every adult with high LDL or fear of high LDL is on it. (And also 2.8 million children, says Consumer Reports.) No one is going to say statins don’t prevent heart attack in high-risk patients (though diet and exercise have worked in high-risk groups too). But doctors will say statins are so over-prescribed that more patients get their side effects — weakness, dizziness, pain and arthritis — than heart attack prevention. Worse, they think it’s old age!

“My older patients literally do without food so that they can buy these medicines that make them sicker, feel bad, and do nothing to improve life,” says an ophthalmologist web poster from Tennessee. “There is no scientific basis for treating older folks with $300+/month meds that have serious side-effects and largely unknown multiple drug interactions.” What kinds of side effects? All statins can cause muscle breakdown (called rhabdomyolysis) but combining them with antibiotics, protease inhibitors drugs and anti-fungals increases your risks. In fact, Crestor is so highly linked to rhabdomyolysis it is double dissed: Public Citizen calls it a Do Not Use and the FDA’s David Graham named it one of the five most dangerous drugs before Congress.

– Yaz and Yasmin

It sounded too good to be true and it was. Birth control pills that also cleared up acne, treated severe PMS (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD) and avoided the water retention of traditional birth control pills.

But soon after Bayer launched Yaz in 2006 as going “beyond birth control,” 18-year-olds were coming down with blood clots, gall bladder disease, heart attacks and even strokes. Fifteen-year-old Katie Ketner had her gallbladder removed. Susan Gallenos had a stroke and part of her skull removed. College student Michelle Pfleger, 18, collapsed and died of a pulmonary thromboemboli from taking Yaz, says her mother Joan Cummins.

While TV ads for Yaz in 2008 were so misleading that FDA ordered Bayer to run correction ads, Yaz sales are still brisk. In fact, financial analysts attribute the third quarter slump in the Yaz “franchise” of 28.1 percent to the appearance of a Yaz generic, not to the thousands of women who have been harmed.

Why is Yaz sometimes deadly? It includes a drug that was never before marketed in the U.S. — drospirenone — and apparently causes elevated potassium, heart problems, and a change in acid balance of the blood. Who knew? But not only is Bayer still marketing it, women do not receive “test subject” compensation for using it either.

– Lyrica, Topomax and Lamictal

Why would Americans take an epilepsy seizure drug for pain? The same reason they’ll take an antipsychotic for the blues and an antidepressant for knee pain: good consumer marketing. In August FDA ordered a warning for aseptic meningitis, or brain inflammation, on Lamictal — but it is still the darling of military and civilian doctors for unapproved pain and migraine. Lamictal also has the distinction of looting $51 million from Medicaid last year despite a generic existing.

All seizure drugs increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors according to their mandated labels. An April article in JAMA found seizure drugs linked to 26 suicides, 801 attempted suicides, and 41 violent deaths in just five years.

All three drugs can make you lose your memory and your hair, say posters on the drug rating site askapatient.com. Topamax is referred to as “Stupamax” in the military — though evidently not enough to ask, “Why am I taking this drug again?”

– Humira, Prolia and TNF Blockers

If you think pharma is producing a lot of expensive, dangerous injectables lately, you’re right. Yesterday’s blockbuster pills have been supplanted with vaccines and biologics that are more lucrative and safer…from generic competition, that is. The problem is, not only are biologics like Humira and Prolia creepy and dangerous — they’re made from genetically engineered hamster cells and suppress the actual immune system — the diseases they treat are “sold” to healthy people.

Recently, thousands of college students in Chicago found inserts in their campus newspapers hawking Humira for Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. (“Hate psoriasis? Love clearer skin,” says an ad on the Humira Web site featuring a pretty woman.) And earlier this year Prolia was approved by the FDA for postmenopausal osteoporosis with a high risk of fracture. Do healthy people really want to suppress their body’stumor necrosis factor (TNF) and invite tuberculosis, serious, possibly lethal infections, melanoma, lymphoma and “unusual cancers in children and teenagers” as the Humira label warns? Nor is it clear these drugs work. TheHumira label warns against developing “new or worsening” psoriasis — a condition it is supposed to treat.

– Chantix

How unsafe is the antismoking drug Chantix? After 397 FDA cases of possible psychosis, 227 domestic reports of suicidal acts, thoughts or behaviors and 28 suicides, the government banned pilots and air traffic controllers and interstate truck and bus drivers from taking Chantix in 2008. Four months later, some military pharmacies banned the drug, which reduces both cravings and smoking pleasure. In addition to Chantix’ neuropsychiatric effects (immortalized by New Bohemians musician Carter Albrecht, who was shot to death in 2007 in Texas by a neighbor after acting aggressively), Chantix is linked to angioedema, serious skin reactions, visual impairment, accidental injury, dizziness, muscle spasms, seizures and loss of consciousness. In defending an increasingly indefensible drug, Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation said last year, “Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States and we know these products are effective aids in helping people quit.” True enough — but if you smoke cigarettes you can still drive an interstate truck.

– Ambien

Sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata and Rozerem only decrease get-to-sleep time by 18 minutes according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

But Ambien has additional cachet compared to its soporific brethren: it is the drug Tiger Woods reportedly used when cavorting with his consorts; and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy was taking it when he crashed his Ford Mustang while driving to Capitol Hill in the middle of the night to “vote” in 2006.

In fact Ambien’s legendary somnambulism side effects — people walk, drive, make phone calls and even have sex while sleeping — has increased traffic accidents say law enforcement officials, with some drivers not even recognizing arresting police. Thanks to bad Ambien press, Sanofi-Aventis has had to run ads telling the public to get in bed and stay there if you are going to take Ambien. (Or you’ll break out in handcuffs, as the joke goes.) Ambien has also increased the national weight problem as dieters wake up amid mountains of pizza, Krispy Kreme and Häagen-Dazs cartons consumed by their evil twins.

– Tamoxifen

Is it a coincidence that Tamoxifen maker AstraZenaca founded Breast Cancer Awareness Month and makes carcinogenic agrochemicals that cause breast cancer? Both the original safety studies of Tamoxifen, which causes cancer, birth defects and is a chemical cousin of organochlorine pesticides, and its original marketing were riddled with scientific error. In fact, FDA objected to AstraZeneca’s marketing claim of breast cancer prevention and the casting of endometrial cancer as an “uncommon” event 10 years ago.

Yet today pharma-linked doctors still tell women to take Tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer even though an American Journal of Medicine study found the average life expectancy increase is nine days (and Public Citizen says for every case of breast cancer Tamoxifen prevents there is a life-threatening case of blood clots, stroke or endometrial cancer). A Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation study shows an example of Tamoxifen’s downside: 57.2 percent of women on continuous Tamoxifen developed atrophy of the lining of the uterus, 35.7 coexisting hyperphasia and 8.1 percent uterine polyps. We won’t even talk about eye and memory problems — or the Tamoxifen cousin, Evista, that pharma is also pushing which has a “death from stroke” warning on its label.

 

– Boniva

Why is the bisphosphonate bone drug Boniva available in a convenient, once-monthly formulation? Could patients balk at the fact that after you take it you have to avoid lying down for at least 60 minutes to “help decrease the risk of problems in the esophagus and stomach,” wait at least 60 minutes before eating or drinking anything except water, never take it with mineral water, sparkling water, coffee, tea, milk, juice or other oral medicine, including calcium, antacids, or vitamins, and of course, “do not chew or suck”? Nor should you take Boniva, say the warnings, “if you have difficult or painful swallowing, chest pain or continuing or severe heartburn, have low blood calcium or severe kidney disease or if severe bone, joint and/or muscle pain.”

Bone drugs like Boniva, Fosamax and Actonel are a good example of FDA approving once-unapprovable drugs by transferring risk onto the public’s shoulders with “we warned you” labels. The warnings are supposed to make people make their own safety decisions. Except that people just think FDA wouldn’t have approved it if it weren’t safe.

– Prempro and Premarin

You’d think Pfizer’s hormone drugs Prempro and the related Premarin and Provera would be history in light of their perks: 26 percent increase in breast cancer, 41 percent increase in strokes, 29 percent increase in heart attacks, 22 percent increase in cardiovascular disease, double the rates of blood clots and links to deafness, urinary incontinence, cataracts, gout, joint degeneration, asthma, lupus, scleroderma, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and lung, ovarian, breast, endometrial, gall bladder and melanoma cancers — pant pant. But you’d be wrong. Even as we speak, Pfizer-linked researchers are testing the cognitive and cardiovascular “benefits” of hormone therapy, in some cases with our tax dollars, at major universities. Even though thecancer rate in the U.S. and Canada fell when women quit hormone therapy in 2002 (as did the U.S. heart attack rate in women), pharma is rolling out HT “Light” for women who suffer from the “ism” of incredibly short memory.

 

Martha Rosenberg frequently writes about the impact of the pharmaceutical, food and gun industries on public health. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and other outlets.


Lessons To Be Learned From Paulo Freire As Education Is Being Taken Over By The Mega Rich

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2010 at 11:35 am

Oldspeak:”The banking system of education is no longer viable. The “Race To The Top” change being pushed is a variation on the same misguided system. Corporate and monied interests have taken control of the “education reform” debate, championing privatization, profit-driven charter schools, placing people with business backgrounds and no background or experience in education into positions of power to push forward education policy that emphasizes memorization, conformity and high stakes testing. Universities have been converted in to corporate funded factory farms, churning out widgets that fit well into their profit generating machines. ‘They are increasingly defined through the corporate demand to provide the skills, knowledge and credentials in building a workforce that will enable the United States to compete against blockbuster growth in China and other southeast Asian markets, while maintaining its role as the major global economic and military power.’ “

From Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

At a time when memory is being erased and the political relevance of education is dismissed in the language of measurement and quantification, it is all the more important to remember the legacy and work of Paulo Freire. Freire is one of the most important educators of the 20th century and is considered one of the most important theorists of “critical pedagogy” – the educational movement guided by both passion and principle to help students develop a consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, empower the imagination, connect knowledge and truth to power and learn to read both the word and the world as part of a broader struggle for agency, justice and democracy. His groundbreaking book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” has sold more than a million copies and is deservedly being commemorated this year – the 40th anniversary of its appearance in English translation – after having exerted its influence over generations of teachers and intellectuals in the Americas and abroad.

Since the 1980s, there have been too few intellectuals on the North American educational scene who have matched Freire’s theoretical rigor, civic courage and sense of moral responsibility. And his example is more important now than ever before: with institutions of public and higher education increasingly under siege by a host of neoliberal and conservative forces, it is imperative for educators to acknowledge Freire’s understanding of the empowering and democratic potential of education. Critical pedagogy currently offers the very best, perhaps the only, chance for young people to develop and assert a sense of their rights and responsibilities to participate in governing, and not simply being governed by prevailing ideological and material forces.

When we survey the current state of education in the United States, we see that most universities are now dominated by instrumentalist and conservative ideologies, hooked on methods, slavishly wedded to accountability measures and run by administrators who often lack a broader vision of education as a force for strengthening civic imagination and expanding democratic public life. One consequence is that a concern with excellence has been removed from matters of equity, while higher education – once conceptualized as a fundamental public good – has been reduced to a private good, now available almost exclusively to those with the financial means. Universities are increasingly defined through the corporate demand to provide the skills, knowledge and credentials in building a workforce that will enable the United States to compete against blockbuster growth in China and other southeast Asian markets, while maintaining its role as the major global economic and military power. There is little interest in understanding the pedagogical foundation of higher education as a deeply civic and political project that provides the conditions for individual autonomy and takes liberation and the practice of freedom as a collective goal.

Public education fares even worse. Dominated by pedagogies that are utterly instrumental, geared toward memorization, conformity and high-stakes test taking, public schools have become intellectual dead zones and punishment centers as far removed from teaching civic values and expanding the imaginations of students as one can imagine. The profound disdain for public education is evident not only in Obama’s test-driven, privatized and charter school reform movement, but also in the hostile takeover of public education now taking place among the ultra-rich and hedge fund zombies, who get massive tax breaks from gaining control of charter schools. The public in education has now become the enemy of educational reform. How else can one explain the shameful appointment by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of Cathleen Black, the president of Hearst Magazine, as the next chancellor of the New York City public school system? Not only does she not have any experience in education and is totally unqualified for the job, but her background mimics the worst of elite arrogance and unaccountable power. Surely, one has to take note of the background of someone who should be a model for young people when such a background includes, as reported in The New York Times: “riding horses at a country club where blacks and Jews were not allowed …. lending a $47,000 bracelet to a Manhattan museum … and [refusing] interviews since her appointment.”(1) With friends like Rupert Murduch, it should come as no surprise that she once worked as a chief lobbyist for the newspaper industry in the 1990s “fighting a ban on tobacco advertising,”(2) which is often targeted toward the young. It seems that, when it comes to the elite of business culture, ignorance about education now ranks as a virtue. Then, of course, there is the sticky question of whether such a candidate qualifies as a model of civic integrity and courage for the many teachers and children under her leadership. Public values and public education surely take a nose dive in this appointment, but this is also symptomatic of what is happening to public education throughout the country.

Against the regime of “banking education,” stripped of all critical elements of teaching and learning, Freire believed that education, in the broadest sense, was eminently political because it offered students the conditions for self-reflection, a self-managed life and critical agency. For Freire, pedagogy was central to a formative culture that makes both critical consciousness and social action possible. Pedagogy in this sense connected learning to social change; it was a project and provocation that challenged students to critically engage with the world so they could act on it. As the sociologist Stanley Aronowitz has noted, Freire’s pedagogy helped learners “become aware of the forces that have hitherto ruled their lives and especially shaped their consciousness.”(3) What Freire made clear is that pedagogy at its best is not about training in techniques and methods, nor does it involve coercion or political indoctrination. Indeed, far from a mere method or an a priori technique to be imposed on all students, education is a political and moral practice that provides the knowledge, skills and social relations that enable students to explore for themselves the possibilities of what it means to be engaged citizens, while expanding and deepening their participation in the promise of a substantive democracy. According to Freire, critical pedagogy afforded students the opportunity to read, write and learn from a position of agency – to engage in a culture of questioning that demands far more than competency in rote learning and the application of acquired skills. For Freire, pedagogy had to be meaningful in order to be critical and transformative. This meant that personal experience became a valuable resource that gave students the opportunity to relate their own narratives, social relations and histories to what was being taught. It also signified a resource to help students locate themselves in the concrete conditions of their daily lives, while furthering their understanding of the limits often imposed by such conditions. Under such circumstances, experience became a starting point, an object of inquiry that could be affirmed, critically interrogated and used as resource to engage broader modes of knowledge and understanding. Rather than taking the place of theory, experience worked in tandem with theory in order to dispel the notion that experience provided some form of unambiguous truth or political guarantee. Experience was crucial, but it had to take a detour through theory, self-reflection and critique to become a meaningful pedagogical resource.

Critical pedagogy, for Freire, meant imagining literacy as not simply the mastering of specific skills, but also as a mode of intervention, a way of learning about and reading the word as a basis for intervening in the world. Critical thinking was not reducible to an object lesson in test taking. It was not about the task of memorizing so-called facts, decontextualized and unrelated to present conditions. To the contrary, it was about offering a way of thinking beyond the seeming naturalness or inevitability of the current state of things, challenging assumptions validated by “common sense,” soaring beyond the immediate confines of one’s experiences, entering into a dialogue with history and imagining a future that would not merely reproduce the present.

By way of illustration, Freirean pedagogy might stage the dynamic interplay of audio, visual and print texts as part of a broader examination of history itself as a site of struggle, one that might offer some insights into students’ own experiences and lives in the contemporary moment. For example, a history class might involve reading and watching films about school desegregation in the 1950s and ’60s as part of a broader pedagogical engagement with the civil rights movement and the massive protests that developed over educational access and student rights to literacy. It would also open up opportunities to talk about why these struggles are still part of the experience of many North American youth today, particularly poor black and brown youth who are denied equality of opportunity by virtue of market-based rather than legal segregation. Students could be asked to write short papers that speculate on the meaning and the power of literacy and why it was so central to the civil rights movement. These may be read by the entire class, with each student elaborating his or her position and offering commentary as a way of entering into a critical discussion of the history of racial exclusion, reflecting on how its ideologies and formations still haunt American society in spite of the triumphal dawn of an allegedly post-racial Obama era. In this pedagogical context, students learn how to expand their own sense of agency, while recognizing that to be voiceless is to be powerless. Central to such a pedagogy is shifting the emphasis from teachers to students, and making visible the relationships among knowledge, authority and power. Giving students the opportunity to be problem posers and engage in a culture of questioning in the classroom foregrounds the crucial issue of who has control over the conditions of learning, and how specific modes of knowledge, identities and authority are constructed within particular sets of classroom relations. Under such circumstances, knowledge is not simply received by students, but actively transformed, open to be challenged and related to the self as an essential step toward agency, self-representation and learning how to govern rather than simply be governed. At the same time, students also learn how to engage others in critical dialogue and be held accountable for their views.

Thus, critical pedagogy insists that one of the fundamental tasks of educators is to make sure that the future points the way to a more socially just world, a world in which critique and possibility – in conjunction with the values of reason, freedom and equality – function to alter the grounds upon which life is lived. Though it rejects a notion of literacy as the transmission of facts or skills tied to the latest market trends, critical pedagogy is hardly a prescription for political indoctrination as the advocates of standardization and testing often insist. It offers students new ways to think and act creatively and independently, while making clear that the educator’s task, as Aronowitz points out, “is to encourage human agency, not mold it in the manner of Pygmalion.”(4) What critical pedagogy does insist upon is that education cannot be neutral. It is always directive in its attempt to enable students to understand the larger world and their role in it. Moreover, it is inevitably a deliberate attempt to influence how and what knowledge, values, desires and identities are produced within particular sets of class and social relations. For Freire, pedagogy always presupposes some notion of a more equal and just future; and as such, it should always function in part as a provocation that takes students beyond the world they know in order to expand the range of human possibilities and democratic values. Central to critical pedagogy is the recognition that the way we educate our youth is related to the future that we hope for and that such a future should offer students a life that leads to the deepening of freedom and social justice. Even within the privileged precincts of higher education, Freire said that educators should nourish those pedagogical practices that promote “a concern with keeping the forever unexhausted and unfulfilled human potential open, fighting back all attempts to foreclose and pre-empt the further unraveling of human possibilities, prodding human society to go on questioning itself and preventing that questioning from ever stalling or being declared finished.”(5) The notion of the unfinished human being resonated with Zygmunt Bauman notion that society never reached the limits of justice, thus, rejecting any notion of the end of history, ideology or how we imagine the future. This language of critique and educated hope was his legacy, one that is increasingly absent from many liberal and conservative discourses about current educational problems and appropriate avenues of reform.

When I began teaching, Freire became an essential influence in helping me to understand the broad contours of my ethical responsibilities as a teacher. Later, his work would help me come to terms with the complexities of my relationship to universities as powerful and privileged institutions that seemed far removed from the daily life of the working-class communities in which I had grown up. I first met Paulo in the early 1980s, just after my tenure as a professor at Boston University had been opposed by its President John Silber. Paulo was giving a talk at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and he came to my house in Boston for dinner. Given Paulo’s reputation as a powerful intellectual, I recall initially being astounded by his profound humility. I remember being greeted with such warmth and sincerity that I felt completely at ease with him. We talked for a long time that night about his exile, how I had been attacked by a right-wing university administration, what it meant to be a working-class intellectual and the risks one had to take to make a difference. I was in a very bad place after being denied tenure and had no idea what the future would hold. On that night, a friendship was forged that would last until Paulo’s death. I am convinced that had it not been for Paulo and Donaldo Macedo – a linguist, translator and a friend of Paulo’s and mine – I might not have stayed in the field of education. Their passion for education and their profound humanity convinced me that teaching was not a job like any other, but a crucial site of struggle, and that, ultimately, whatever risks had to be taken were well worth it.

I have encountered many intellectuals throughout my career in academe, but Paulo was exceptionally generous, eager to help younger intellectuals publish their work, willing to write letters of support and always giving as much as possible of himself in the service of others. The early 1980s were exciting years in education studies in the United States, and Paulo was really at the center of it. Paulo and I together started a Critical Education and Culture series with Bergin & Garvey Publishers, which brought out the work of more than 60 young authors, many of whom went on to have a significant influence in the university. Jim Bergin became Paulo’s patron as his American publisher; Donaldo became his translator and co-author; Ira Shor also played a important role in spreading Paulo’s work and wrote a number of brilliant books integrating both theory and practice as part of Paulo’s notion of critical pedagogy. Together, we worked tirelessly to circulate Paulo’s work, always with the hope of inviting him back to America so we could meet, talk, drink good wine and deepen a commitment to critical education that had all marked us in different ways.

Paulo, occupying the often difficult space between existing politics and the as yet possible, spent his life guided by the beliefs that the radical elements of democracy were worth struggling for, that critical education was a basic element of progressive social change and that how we think about politics was inseparable from how we come to understand the world, power and the moral life we aspire to lead. In many ways, Paulo embodied the important but often problematic relationship between the personal and the political. His own life was a testimony not only to his belief in democratic principles, but also to the notion that one’s life had to come as close as possible to modeling the social relations and experiences that spoke to a more humane and democratic future. At the same time, Paulo never moralized about politics; he never evoked shame or collapsed the political into the personal when talking about social issues. Private problems were always to be understood in relation to larger public issues. For example, Paulo never reduced an understanding of homelessness, poverty and unemployment to the failing of individual character, laziness, indifference or a lack of personal responsibility, but instead viewed such issues as complex systemic problems generated by economic and political structures that produced massive amounts of inequality, suffering and despair – and social problems far beyond the reach of limited individual capacities to cause or redress. His belief in a substantive democracy, as well as his deep and abiding faith in the ability of people to resist the weight of oppressive institutions and ideologies, was forged in a spirit of struggle tempered by both the grim realities of his own imprisonment and exile and the belief that education and hope are the conditions of social action and political change. Acutely aware that many contemporary versions of hope occupied their own corner in Disneyland, Paulo was passionate about recovering and rearticulating hope through, in his words, an “understanding of history as opportunity and not determinism.”(6) Hope was an act of moral imagination that enabled educators and others to think otherwise in order to act otherwise.

Paulo offered no recipes for those in need of instant theoretical and political fixes. I was often amazed at how patient he always was in dealing with people who wanted him to provide menu-like answers to the problems they raised about education, people who did not realize that their demands undermined his own insistence that critical pedagogy is defined by its context and must be approached as a project of individual and social transformation – that it could never be reduced to a mere method. Contexts indeed mattered to Paulo. He was concerned how contexts mapped in distinctive ways the relationships among knowledge, language, everyday life and the machineries of power. Any pedagogy that calls itself Freirean must acknowledge this key principle that our current knowledge is contingent on particular historical contexts and political forces. For example, each classroom will be affected by the different experiences students bring to the class, the resources made available for classroom use, the relations of governance bearing down on teacher-student relations, the authority exercised by administrations regarding the boundaries of teacher autonomy and the theoretical and political discourses used by teachers to read and frame their responses to the diverse historical, economic and cultural forces informing classroom dialogue. Any understanding of the project and practices that inform critical pedagogy has to begin with recognizing the forces at work in such contexts, and which must be confronted by educators and schools everyday. Pedagogy, in this instance, looked for answers to what it meant to connect learning to fulfilling the capacities for self and social determination not outside, but within the institutions and social relations in which desires, agency and identities were shaped and struggled over. The role that education played in connecting truth to reason, learning to social justice and knowledge to modes of self and social understanding were complex and demanded a refusal on the part of teachers, students and parents to divorce education from both politics and matters of social responsibility. Responsibility was not a retreat from politics, but a serious embrace of what it meant to both think and act politics as part of a democratic project in which pedagogy becomes a primary consideration for enabling the formative culture and agents that make democratization possible.

Paulo also acknowledged the importance of understanding these particular and local contexts in relation to larger global and transnational forces. Making the pedagogical more political meant moving beyond the celebration of tribal mentalities and developing a praxis that foregrounded “power, history, memory, relational analysis, justice (not just representation) and ethics as the issues central to transnational democratic struggles.”(7) Culture and politics mutually informed each other in ways that spoke to histories, whose presences and absences had to be narrated as part of a larger struggle over democratic values, relations and modes of agency. Freire recognized that it was through the complex production of experience within multilayered registers of power and culture that people recognized, narrated and transformed their place in the world. Paulo challenged the separation of cultural experiences from politics, pedagogy and power itself, but he did not make the mistake of many of his contemporaries by conflating cultural experience with a limited notion of identity politics. While he had a profound faith in the ability of ordinary people to shape history and their own destinies, he refused to romanticize individuals and cultures that experienced oppressive social conditions. Of course, he recognized that power privileged certain forms of cultural capital – certain modes of speaking, living, being and acting in the world – but he did not believe that subordinate or oppressed cultures were free of the contaminating effects of oppressive ideological and institutional relations of power. Consequently, culture – as a crucial educational force influencing larger social structures as well as in the most intimate spheres of identity formation – could be viewed as nothing less than an ongoing site of struggle and power in contemporary society.

For critical educators, experience is a fundamental element of teaching and learning, but its distinctive configuration among different groups does not guarantee a particular notion of the truth; as I stated earlier, experience must itself become an object for analysis. How students experience the world and speak to that experience is always a function of unconscious and conscious commitments, of politics, of access to multiple languages and literacies – thus, experience always has to take a detour through theory as an object of self-reflection, critique and possibility. As a result, not only do history and experience become contested sites of struggle, but the theory and language that give daily life meaning and action a political direction must also be constantly subject to critical reflection. Paulo repeatedly challenged as false any attempt to reproduce the binary of theory versus politics. He expressed a deep respect for the work of theory and its contributions, but he never reified it. When he talked about Freud, Fromm or Marx, one could feel his intense passion for ideas. Yet, he never treated theory as an end in itself; it was always a resource whose value lay in understanding, critically engaging and transforming the world as part of a larger project of freedom and justice.

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Vigilant in bearing witness to the individual and collective suffering of others, Paulo shunned the role of the isolated intellectual as an existential hero who struggles alone. He believed that intellectuals must respond to the call for making the pedagogical more political with a continuing effort to build those coalitions, affiliations and social movements capable of mobilizing real power and promoting substantive social change. Politics was more than a gesture of translation, representation and dialogue: to be effective, it had to be about creating the conditions for people to become critical agents alive to the responsibilities of democratic public life. Paulo understood keenly that democracy was threatened by a powerful military-industrial complex, the rise of extremists groups and the increased power of the warfare state. He also recognized the pedagogical force of a corporate and militarized culture that eroded the moral and civic capacities of citizens to think beyond the common sense of official power and the hate mongering of a right-wing media apparatus. Paulo strongly believed that democracy could not last without the formative culture that made it possible. Educational sites both within schools and the broader culture represented some of the most important venues through which to affirm public values, support a critical citizenry and resist those who would deny the empowering functions of teaching and learning. At a time when institutions of public and higher education have become associated with market competition, conformity, disempowerment and uncompromising modes of punishment, making known the significant contributions and legacy of Paulo work is now more important than ever before.


The Shock Doctrine Push To Gut Social Security And The Middle Class

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Oldspeak:”Our corporatocracy ostracizes dissent, and employs economic shock therapy with manufacturing of consent to push through policies that enrich the wealthy and endanger everyone else. In spite of the fact that everyone else is opposed to the policies. Corporate media spreads the word, corporate politicians facilitate it. American made “Austerity Measures.” Profit is Paramount.”

 

From Dave Johnson @ The Campaign For America’s Future:

Today’s Washington Post has punch two of a one-two punch. Punch one was the Simpson/Bowles “plan” to cut Social Security, cut middle-class tax breaks and programs (and dramatically cut taxes on the rich.) Punch two is pushing this plan hard with headlines claiming this solution is actually popular, while shutting out voices who explain why we shouldn’t do this. This is full-on Shock Doctrine, wait for an emergency like the terrible recession so people are in shock and want solutions, and then change everything so fast they can’t respond while telling them how this is good for them.

This is how they do it, folks, demonstrated by this story in today’s Washington Post: Consensus is forming on what steps to take in cutting the deficit,

After an election dominated by vague demands for less debt and smaller government, the sacrifices necessary to achieve those goals are coming into sharp focus. … Smaller Social Security checks and higher Medicare premiums. [. . .] the plan unveiled this month by co-chairmen Erskine B. Bowles … and Alan K. Simpson … has been respectfully received with a few exceptions by both parties. Its major elements are also winning support from a striking line-up of commentators. [. . .] The strange bedfellows are a “testament to the moderate nature” of the ideas under discussion.

Consensus? Sharp focus? Here’s your “sharp focus”: The public hates this!

That headline is the manufactured reality. The real reality is that the public just hates this, and has voted against and will vote against politicians who push it.

Last month you saw campaign ad after ad hitting Democrats who “cut $500 billion from Medicare,” and Democrats lost the senior vote and the midterms. The public hates this.

A recent Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research report showed that an overwhelming 69% of voters agreed that “politicians should keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare” when they address the deficit. The public hates this.

Only 6% of the public says the government’s priority should be deficits now. The public hates this.

An AARP poll finds that 90% of people aged 18 to 29 say Social Security is important. The public hates this.

An NBC/WSJ poll finds that 57% are against cutting Social Security no matter how bad the deficit is. The public hates this.

USA Today poll finds that the public by 66/31 says don’t cut benefits to fix the deficit. The public hates this.

I can continue citing poll after poll; there are no polls that show the public is in any way behind this.

It’s Clear: The public hates this and will vote out any politician who does this. If you think the public didn’t like the bailouts and the politicians who voted for them, this “Deficit Commission” plan to cut Social Security is the other shoe dropping. Bailouts helped Wall Street and not Main Street and people certainly didn’t like that. But this is paying for bailing out Wall Street by hitting Main Street in the gut. And the public understands this.

But here is today’s reality: the public hates this, and the corporate media tells you how much you love it. This is how it’s done. You have heard the stories of FDR and LBJ saying “make me do it,” meaning create the public pressure that forces politicians to do act. This is a story of manufacturing consent where the elites, the Peterson Foundation, the President and the corporate right are setting up an appearance of making them do it. (We have a jobs emergency, but we get deficit commissions instead of jobs commissions?)

The public hates it but the elites are pushing ahead with their campaign anyway. If you remember the “run up” to the Iraq War, opposing voices were simply shut out of the discussion. All the “serious people” were explaining why we had no choice but to invade Iraq. And all the headlines were about the terrible threat that Iraq posed to our very existence. Seriously, it wasn’t just stories about how Iraq was going to drop a nuke on us any second now.Do you remember the smallpox scare?, where you couldn’t listen to the radio, read a newspaper or watch TV without hearing about all the terrible ways Iraq was going to attack us?

The Simpson/Bowles plan is part of a pre-arranged agenda to gut the middle class and further enrich the wealthy. The media machine is working to convince DC politicians that the public wants this done. They scare people with headlines about the terrifying things that will happen because of deficits. The only viewpoints you hear are the cutters and gutters. Those presenting the ideas the public favors - like the plan offered by Deficit Commission member Rep. Jan Schakowsky that cuts the deficit but actually strengthens Social Security – are not heard. And keep telling people how popular and necessary this is.

Result? If you are a politician in DC, you really have no way to know how the pubic feels because all you see are headlines like today’s Washington Post, telling you a consensus is forming.

This is why YOU have to respond and let YOUR members of Congress and Senators know that you are NOT going to go along with this.

Take Action

There are things YOU can do! November 30 is a national call-in day to save Social Security.

Do this: Click here and sign this petition: Tell President Obama to Reject Social Security Cuts:

“We must send an urgent message to President Obama – to tell him to reject the proposal to slash Social Security benefits coming from the co-chairs of his deficit commission. If President Obama tries to cut Social Security, it would spell political disaster in 2012.”

Do this: November 30 National Call Congress Day: Hands Off Social Security,

The Co-Chairs of the National Fiscal Commission have proposed carving up Social Security like a Thanksgiving turkey. They want to increase the retirement age to 69 – making us work longer, deeply cut benefits for middle-class workers and reduce annual Cost of

Living Adjustments. We need your help to stop them!

Join thousands of Americans in a National Call Congress Day on Tuesday, November 30—CAN
WE COUNT ON YOU?

We need your voice to be heard!

Click here to make the “Count on Me” pledge to add your voice on Tuesday, November 30 and TELL CONGRESS – DON’T CUT OUR SOCIAL SECURITY!



 


How Are The Kids? Unemployed, Underwater, And Sinking

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2010 at 11:36 am

Oldspeak: “Seldom noted in the bogus 9% overall unemployment rate: The unemployment among 18-24 year olds; it’s hovering around 25%. Among recent college graduates a ghastly 50% are underemployed. A once robust economy contracting and outsourced right before our eyes coupled with a shrinking tax base and all politricians are concerned about is “deficit reduction” and “cost cutting” in the form of gutting government and public services while extending tax cuts for the rich and ending them everyone else. Squeezing the bottom 90% to further enrich the top 10%. Oligarchy in action. If business is making the most profit by abandoning the American workforce, they’re not going to just start creating jobs here out of the kindness of their hearts. The taxes they don’t pay aren’t going back into the economy, they’re being reinvested in their own companies to buy back their stocks and inflate the prices to extract more profit.”

From Mark Paul & Anastasia Wilson @ The Baseline Scenario:

In some cultures asking how the kids are doing is a colloquial way of asking how the individual is faring, acknowledging that the vitality of the younger generation is a good metric for the well-being of society as a whole. In the United States, the state of the kids should be an important indicator. Young workers bear the significant burden of funding intergenerational transfer programs and maintaining the structure of payments that flow in the economy. Today, the kids’ outlook is almost as bleak as the housing market; they are unemployed, underwater on student debt, and out of luck from a reluctant political system.

Currently, even after a slight boost in jobs growth, unemployment for 18-24 year olds stands at 24.7%. For 20-24 year olds, it hovers at 15.2%. These conservative estimates, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics U3 measure, do not reflect the number of marginally attached or discouraged young workers feeling the lag from a nearly moribund job market.

The U3 measure also does not count underemployment, yet with only 50% of B.A. holders able to find jobs requiring such a degree, underemployment rates are a telling index of the squeezing of the 18-30 year old Millennial generation. While it appears everyone is hurting since the financial collapse, young adults bear a disproportionate burden, constituting just 13.5% of the workforce while accounting for 26.4% of those unemployed. Even with good credentials, it is difficult for young people to find work and keep themselves afloat.

If companies are unwilling to hire bright young college graduates even at a relatively low salary and minimal benefits, will they ever be willing to hire anybody at all?

Jobs aren’t the whole story. Recent college graduates, those in the labor force with the freshest batch of knowledge and skills, are currently underwater and sinking fast with unprecedented student loan and personal debt. Average student debt for the class of 2008 was $23,200, an increase over four years of about 25%, meaning that students are knee deep in negative equity between their educational investment and actual earnings.

Between inflated student debt and the lack of available jobs for qualified graduates, students are defaulting at an all time high level of 7.2%. From 2008 to 2009, student debt defaults jumped about 30% to $50.8 billion. This earning-to-debt gap not only hurts lending institutions, but also may affect students’ future abilities to borrow – a significant hurdle in our credit driven economy.

If student debt and job stagnation continue, younger workers will face real structural unemployment (as opposed to the fake kind that had been suspected by some economists, but was recently debunked by the San Francisco Fed). The more time these young workers spend unemployed and underemployed, the greater chance for future structural unemployment due to deteriorating human capital.

High debt, high defaults, and low family earnings will prevent many students from finishing college at all. High unemployment for those who do manage to graduate with a degree will create barriers for those unable to start their careers. As economists have shown, most current deficits can actually be attributed to the decrease in tax revenues - a debilitating trend that will continue without well-targeted action.

In order to combat such structural problems, the need for investment in education and jobs is clear. This investment will act as an insurance policy against persisting future structural unemployment and subsequent government revenue declines. This investment can take the form of direct funding for public higher education, increased financial aid to students, and expanded federally guaranteed loan and grant programs. As many states have slashed and burned public higher education budgets, as in Massachusetts, federal attention should be directed towards this crisis. The 2009 stimulus funding provided only two years’ worth of support to sustain public higher education in the Commonwealth, where universities have historically been a top priority. The need for a long-term restructured investment plan in public higher education is obvious, not just in Massachusetts, but the other forty-nine states as well.

At the same time, insurance against the impending doom of climate change could be taken out in the form of a green jobs bill, providing work and an outlet for innovation for recent college graduates. AsRobert Pollin and Dean Baker have suggested, long-term investments in rebuilding a green energy industrial base, complete with manufacturing and R&D, could revitalize the entire economy if funded as part of a 10-year plan to the tune of $50-100 billion. Such investment could create 660,000-1.3 million jobs per year – the kind of growth that seems to have escaped our collective memory.

Green collar industry would naturally target the young workers who are up to date on the high-tech nature of green jobs, and much research and development would, as with most budding industries, take place at academic research institutions like public universities – a two-for-one stimulus in both jobs and education.

In order to solve future structural problems in the United States and ensure a future for the sandwich generation, fiscal policy focused on educational and job growth is crucial. While deficit hawks may squawk about the costs, the burden of repayment is on younger people Without adequate education and careers for students, we will never be able to balance the budget. In the long run, it makes more fiscal sense to create jobs and collect tax revenue than to rely on a model that merely waits for the private sector to invest.

While the political feasibility of such a measure is questionable, the incentives are there no matter on what side of the aisle you may sit. Jobs investment will improve employment. Education will increase productivity (and profits too), increasing tax revenues from businesses and personal incomes and helping balance the budget. Crisis is not the time for austerity, and these types of investments in the viability of the U.S. economy should be done when money is at its cheapest.

In a dire job market, facing imminent climate change, and lagging aggregate demand, keeping the younger generation afloat will inevitably be a decision to sink, swim, or at least throw out some life jackets.




TSAstroturf: The Washington Lobbyists And Koch-Funded Libertarians Behind The TSA Scandal

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Oldspeak:”It really is fascinating what corporate media chooses to focus on. ‘In the midst of the worst recession in decades, on the heaviest travel day of the year, when untold thousands of families are being thrown out of their homes in fraudulent foreclosures, the biggest most pressing issue facing Americans is the “porn scan” at airports.” Why is the Politrician who CO-WROTE THE BILL TO ESTABLISH TSA and 5 years ago favored the use of  body scanners now leading an effort to do away with TSA and re-privatize airport security, despite the fact there’s not been an attack on America since?! Profit is Paramount.”

From Mark Ames & Yasha Levine @ The Nation:

Does anyone else sense something strange is going on with the apparently spontaneous revolt against the TSA? This past week, the media turned an “ordinary guy,” 31-year-old Californian John Tyner who blogs under the pseudonym “Johnny Edge,” into a national hero after he posted a cell phone video of himself defending his liberty against the evil government oppressors in charge of airport security.

While this issue is certainly important—and offensive—to Americans, we are nonetheless skeptical about how and why this story turned into a national movement. In fact, this whole campaign feels a bit like déjà-vu: As the first reporters to expose the Tea Party as an Astroturf PR campaign [1] funded by FreedomWorks and Koch-related front groups back in February, 2009, we see many of the same elements driving the current “rebellion” against the TSA: Koch-related libertarians, Washington lobbyists and PR operatives posing as “ordinary citizens,” and suspicious fake-grassroots outrage relentlessly promoted in the same old right-wing echo chamber.

So far, all we know about “ordinary guy” John Tyner III, the freedom fighter who took on the TSA agents, is that, according to a friendly hometown profile in the San Diego Union-Tribune, “he leans strongly libertarian and doesn’t believe in voting. TSA security policy, he asserts ‘isn’t Republican and it isn’t Democratic.’” [emphasis added]

Tyner attended private Christian schools in Southern California and lives in Oceanside, a Republican stronghold next to Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine Corps base on the West Coast.

At least one local TSA administrator wondered if Tyner hadn’t come to the airport prepared to create a scandal. Tyner switched on his recording device before even entering the checkpoint—and recorded himself as he refused to go through the body scanner. Most importantly, Tyner recorded himself saying “If you touch my junk, I’m gonna have you arrested!”—which quickly morphed on blogs into the more media-savvy tagline, “Don’t touch my junk!”

According to the Union-Tribune, when asked if the TSA was set up by Tyner, the local administrator coyly replied, “I don’t know that it was an actual set up—but we are concerned that this passenger did have his recording (on) prior to entering the checkpoint so there is some concern that it was an intentional behavior on his part.”

Tyner scoffs at the suggestion of a set up. “I can’t set up the TSA side of this action,” he said. In an interview with The Nation, Tyner said he doesn’t belong to any libertarian organizations and did not have any contact with anyone mentioned in this article until after he posted his encounter with TSA agents.

Strangely enough, just a few days before Tyner’s episode, another self-described “libertarian,” Meg McLain, went online telling almost the exact same story of oppression and attempted sexual molestation at the hands of TSA agents. McLain is an occasional co-host of a libertarian radio show out of a libertarian quasi-commune located in Keene, New Hampshire. As reported in the Washington City Paper [2], the libertarian “Free Keene” movement where McLain makes her home is yet another libertarian project tied to the billionaire Koch brothers, the prime backers of the Tea Party campaign, through the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Meg McLain almost became a national celebrity as the first victim of the body scanner/TSA molesters. On November 8, McLain was preparing to fly out of the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida airport, when she claimed to have been the victim of invasive TSA molestation. According to McLain, when she refused to have her body scanned, the TSA agents supposedly started screaming “Opt Out! Opt Out!”, pulled her aside and “molested” her—specifically, they “squeezed and twisted” her breasts so hard that “it hurt.” (“OptOut” is the name of a “grassroots” protest movement designed to tie up airports during the holidays—more on that later.)  As she described it, “It’s getting to the point where I feel more physically molested [by the TSA agents] than if some random guy actually came up and molested me. It’s more intrusive than that.” McLain also claimed that she was made to stand in an open area next to the metal detector, where every passenger could look at her while a TSA agent “screamed” at her, until, finally, she was handcuffed to a chair by a “dozen cops.” McLain immediately called into the Keene libertarian radio show to tell her awful story, which was posted on YouTube, and spread virally after it was promoted on Drudge Report.

There was only one problem with McLain’s story: She made it up. The TSA released video evidence showing that McLain wasn’t molested, wasn’t screamed at and wasn’t attacked by a dozen cops and half a dozen TSA agents. In fact, other passengers don’t seem to notice her, although a TSA agent does seem to be trying to comfort McLain, offering her tissues as the libertarian rebel breaks out crying.

By her own account, McLain was down in Florida visiting a pair of traveling libertarians [3] who were spreading the word of libertarianism in what they billed as “Liberty On Tour,” funded at least partly by Koch-backed organizations like “Students for Liberty.” One of the libertarians that McLain met with, Peter Eyre, has spent much of the past five years on a variety of Koch payrolls: as an intern at the Koch-founded Cato Institute, a “Koch Fellow” at the Drug Policy Alliance, and nearly three years as director for the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, home also to the Koch-funded Mercatus Center.

George Donnelly, a libertarian colleague of McLain’s who writes that he “loves” her traveling libertarian friends in Florida and “learned a lot” [4] from them, also happens to be one of two men behind the WeWontFly.com [5], one of the main websites pushing the “National Opt-Out Day” movement. The domain was registered on November 3, 2010, five days before McLain’s fake airport incident. Donnelly provided McLain with the funds [6] to return back to her libertarian commune in Keene, New Hampshire, after the (fake) incident.

McLain wasn’t the only questionable libertarian “victim” of the TSA turned into a freedom-hero on the Drudge Report. In fact, according to the TSA’s account, the 6-year-old who was allegedly “strip-searched” by evil TSA agents had his shirt removed by his own father [7]—and not at the TSA’s request. And the latest “hero” of the Drudge Report, Samuel Wolanyk—who stripped down to his underwear in alleged anger at TSA agents in San Diego, earning himself top billing on Drudge—is also a libertarian activist [8] in the San Diego area, home of the self-described “libertarian” hero John Tyner, III. (According to an SEC lawsuit that dates back to 2002, a Samuel Wolanyk from San Diego, roughly the same age as the TSA libertarian hero, was charged with securities fraud for engaging in illegal “pump and dump” stock schemes that ripped off investors for millions of dollars.)

Then there’s Brian Sodergren, founder of the “National Opt-Out Day,” when “ordinary citizens standup for their rights.” But Sodergren is no “ordinary citizen.” Cached and scrubbed online LinkedIn records show that Brian Sodergren is a Washington lobbyist specializing in “grassroots education” for the American Dental Association and ADPAC, the American Dental Association Political Action Committee. No wonder that Sodergren has gone out of his way to scrub his employment record.

So now let’s take one more look at the TSA hysteria, and re-evaluate if we should continue to simply accept the surface narrative, or consider what we might learn by looking beneath the surface. Because everywhere you look, the alleged victims’ stories often turn out to be false or highly suspicious, promoted by lobbyists posing as “ordinary guys,” and everywhere the cast of characters is always the same: drawn from the cult-ish fringes of the libertarian movement, with trails leading straight to the billionaire Koch brothers’ network of libertarian think-tanks and advocacy groups.

We could take it all at face value and just trust  that they’re all “ordinary guys.” Or we could ask, “Who profits?”

One person who seems to have the answer is Rep. John Mica, the Florida Republican who is set to chair the Transportation Committee. Mica co-wrote the bill establishing the TSA in 2001, just over a month after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC. A little-known provision in that bill allowed airports to “opt out” from the federal agency’s security umbrella and to instead hire private contractors. As Media Matters pointed out recently, the whole reason why the TSA was formed was because private contractors paying airport security minimum wages were considered a big part of the reason why the 9/11 terror attacks were allowed to happen. Since the formation of the TSA, not a single terror attack originating from an American airport has taken place. But apparently that’s not nearly as relevant as the complaints of a few libertarians.

The links between Mica, the libertarians, the Kochs, and the TSA scandal are only now emerging, and we hope more journalists will dig deeper. So far, we have learned:

  • Mica’s longtime chief of staff, Russell Roberts, lists the Koch-backed Mercatus Center as the top sponsor of Roberts’ privately-financed travel expenses, according to Congressional travel disclosure forms. Roberts stated in his form that he participated in discussions related to “transportation policy.”
  • Immediately after the launching of the “National Opt-Out Campaign” by Washington grassroots lobbyist and “ordinary citizen” Brian Sodergren, Rep. Mica sent out letters to the heads of at least 100 airports across America advising them to “opt out” of the government-funded TSA program and hand over the job to private contractors. One of the first airports to sign on to Rep. Mica’s privatization program, Orlando’s Sanford Airport, happens to lie in Rep. Mica’s district. The airport also happens to be a client of Rep. Mica’s daughter, D’Anne Mica, who is listed as a partner in two lobbying/PR firms consulted by Sanford Airport. One of Ms. Mica’s PR firms,“Grasshopper Media,” [10] boasts of its “history of success in organizing strategic and comprehensive grassroots campaigns.” In other words: Astroturfing.
  • According to a recent AP article [11], “Companies that could gain business if airports heed Mica’s call have helped fill his campaign coffers. In the past 13 years, Mica has received almost $81,000 in campaign donations from political action committees and executives connected to some of the private contractors already at 16 U.S. airports.” (“Airports Consider Congressman’s Call to Ditch the TSA”)

While so far there is no “smoking gun” linking Rep. Mica to the anti-TSA campaign, there is clearly enough evidence to call into question the official version of events as a “spontaneous” outbreak of anti-TSA hysteria carried out by “ordinary guys” that it claims to be. Instead, there is plenty of evidence of a coordinated campaign for purposes that are only just beginning to emerge—a campaign with a profit motive and a political objective. What we should not do is assume that, in the midst of the worst recession in decades, when untold thousands of families are being thrown out of their homes in fraudulent foreclosures, that the biggest most pressing issue facing Americans is the “porn scan” at airports.

But don’t ask us, ask Americans themselves: a recent CBS poll [12] found that less than 1 in 5 Americans object to the TSA’s use of scans and pat-downs. Nevertheless, like the Tea Party libertarian protests that “erupted” “spontaneously” in February 2009, the protests against the TSA, and the media coverage of the spectacle, grips the nation.


Strong New Films Go After The Much Hyped “Waiting For Superman” And Its Simplistic Educational Analysis

In Uncategorized on November 17, 2010 at 11:44 am

Oldspeak:“Education reform” is not simply firing bad teachers, closing failing schools, privatizing education, busting teachers unions, and forcing students/schools to compete for too few resources based on high stakes standardized test scores. The school system needs to be fundamentally changed from the 19th century model currently in use, to a 21st century one that works for kids today. Teachers need to be paid and valued just as highly as their students. Children are not widgets who will work in a factory when they grow up as many did 200 years ago. The can’t be educated as such.”

From Megan Driscoll @ Alter Net:

In light of the success of Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, Waiting for Superman, many education experts have come out with vehement criticism against the film’s assertion that teachers, and the unions that protect them, are the primary cause of the public education crisis. Now, Guggenheim’s fellow filmmakers are beginning to do the same.

Vicky Abeles rejects Superman’s allegation in her new film, Race to Nowhere. Instead of placing blame on educators, Abeles suggests that the current failures of the education system are largely due to the excessive pressures students and teachers alike endure on a daily basis, primarily as a result of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policy.

Inspired to make Race to Nowhere after observing the detrimental effects that extreme academic burdens were having on her own children, Abeles’ picture portrays a number of students who exhibits signs of emotional distress under the confines of NCLB. Abeles highlights the consequences of a test score-driven system – one that Superman emphasizes as a solution – featuring students who feel overwhelmed by the intense academic expectations imposed upon them and begin to manifest their stress both emotionally and physically. One teacher interviewed in the film remarks, “You have a system that is trying to further roboticize students, mechanize them if you will, to be these academic competitors, these producers. The very nature of it in itself is very dehumanizing,” while a frustrated student exclaims, “Everyone expects us to be superheroes.”

While Abeles’ depiction of the consequences NCLB has on American youth is certainly compelling, it is her portrayal of exhausted teachers that proves to be her strongest case against Superman’s claims.

Race to Nowhere, currently screening in schools and theaters across the country, examines the effects NCLB has had on educators and public schools since its inception in 2001. The education policy, which measures success and determines funding almost entirely based on standardized test results, leaves little room for teachers to develop alternative instruction methods that may better appeal to individual students. Rather, educators are left “literally just drowning in content” they are obligated to teach in order to ensure that adequate scores are achieved and necessary financial support is provided. Numerous teachers throughout Abeles’ film express frustration with the pressures they endure to follow the rigid curriculum.  “Do it or you don’t have a job,” says one teacher. “It’s gotten harder and harder to feel like I can teach the things I believe in, versus be a yes-man.”

Vanessa Roth reiterates the prevalence of undervalued educators in her upcoming documentary that exists as part of The Teacher Salary Project, a campaign spearheaded by Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari to advocate for higher wages for teachers across the country. The Project, set to premier May 3, 2011, is comprised of Roth’s film, as well as an interactive online resource and a national outreach campaign, all of which collectively seek to educate and empower citizens on both the local and national level on the fight for sustainable wages for educators.

Eggers and Calegari, who co-authored the 2005 book, Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers, joined with Roth to produce and create a film that emphasizes the struggles educators face in a system that fails to recognize their significant role in shaping American youth. Contrary to Guggenheim’s contention against today’s teachers, Calegari stresses that, “The main reason that American public schools are failing is because we, as a country, haven’t taken the teaching profession seriously.” The Project, like Race to Nowhere, asserts that current U.S. education policy has resulted in schools that are gravely underfunded and educators who are too often forced to survive on unsustainable salaries or abandon their professions altogether.  As noted onThe Teacher Salary Project’s Web site, 50 percent of the nation’s best teachers are forced to take on second jobs in order to be able to actually afford teaching.

Calegari continues on the subject, contending, “Research has proven that the quality of a students’ teacher has the greatest impact on a students’ future success.”  These findings, however, suggest a grim future, when 46 percent of public school teachers leave the profession within the first five years of being in the classroom.

So what methods of reform are needed?

Contrary to Superman’s not-so-subtle urging for the dismantling of teacher unions, The Teacher Salary Project team advocates for the increase of teacher wages.  “Raising effective teachers’ salaries, and keeping them in the classroom, is the most important thing we can do to preserve our democracy,” Calegari argues, “We need to create an overwhelming movement that says to everyone that teachers need to have a new day.  A day with a seriously prestigious profession, that is wildly competitive, with strong and inspiring leadership, meaningful development, and legitimate financial rewards and incentives.”

Abeles urges for similar changes in Race to Nowhere, where she emphasizes the need for a more personalized curriculum that permits teachers flexibility in the classroom and encourages more creative approaches, such as project-based learning. Moreover, Race to Nowhere suggests that a reevaluation of our capitalistic focus on creating an academically competitive youth is essential. Abeles’ film suggests that America’s incessant dependence on test results to measure knowledge and achievement is rapidly destroying students’ overall health and eagerness to learn. Thus, the call for a greater emphasis on more uniquely tailored methods of teaching will serve to benefit both educators and the students they instruct.

In other words, the two projects suggest, Guggenheim gets it utterly wrong – it is about the funding, it is about sustainable-living wages, and it is about providing students with a customized, challenging curriculum that does not equate them or their teachers to a group of homogenous androids.

Collectively, the films serve to illustrate the true complexity of today’s education crisis. Both show that placing blame on educators and their unions is not only a gross oversimplification of the current circumstances, but in fact is a disservice to those teachers who make substantial financial sacrifices with very little return.

With 2010 being deemed the year of education films and Superman at the forefront, make sure to watch these alternatives that offer a different perspective on the call for education reform.

Megan Driscoll is the editorial and communications assistant at AlterNet.


Asian Powers Are Starting To Call The Shots, And The U.S. Can’t Do Anything About It

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Oldspeak: “We are witnessing the end of the era of American hegemony. Thanks to 30 years of efforts by multinational corporatist governed government and perpetual, misguided wars, the once great U.S.A. has been transformed from the biggest most diverse and thriving economy with a robust middle class, to the world’s largest debtor nation, plutocratically oriented, with a decimated middle class and nothing to offer the world but weapons and soldiers and entertainment.”

Fr0m Juan Cole @ Tomsdispatch:

Blocked from major new domestic initiatives by a Republican victory in the midterm elections, President Barack Obama promptly lit out for Asia, a far more promising arena.  That continent, after all, is rising, and Obama is eager to grasp the golden ring of Asian success.

Beyond being a goodwill ambassador for ten days, Obama is seeking sales of American-made durable and consumer goods, weapons deals, an expansion of trade, green energy cooperation, and the maintenance of a geopolitical balance in the region favorable to the United States.  Just as the decline of the American economy hobbled him at home, however, the weakness of the United States on the world stage in the aftermath of Bush-era excesses has made real breakthroughs abroad unlikely.

Add to this the peculiar obsessions of the Washington power elite, with regard to Iran for instance, and you have an unpalatable mix.  These all-American fixations are viewed as an inconvenience or worse in Asia, where powerful regional hegemons are increasingly determined to chart their own courses, even if in public they continue to humor a somewhat addled and infirm Uncle Sam.

Although the United States is still the world’s largest economy, it is shackled by enormous public and private debt as well as fundamental weaknesses.  Rivaled by an increasingly integrated European Union, it is projected to be overtaken economically by China in just over a decade.  While the president’s first stop, India, now has a nominal gross domestic product of only a little over a trillion dollars a year, it, too, is growing rapidly, even spectacularly, and its GDP may well quadruple by the early 2020s.  The era of American dominance, in other words, is passing, and the time (just after World War II) when the U.S. accounted for half the world economy, a dim memory.

The odd American urge to invest heavily in perpetual war abroad, including “defense-related” spending of around a trillion dollars a year, has been a significant factor further weakening the country on the global stage.  Most of the conventional weapons on which the U.S. continues to splurge could not even be deployed against nuclear powers like Russia, China, and India, emerging as key competitors when it comes to global markets, resources, and regional force projection.  Those same conventional weapons have proved hardly more useful (in the sense of achieving quick and decisive victory, or even victory at all) in the unconventional wars the U.S. has repeatedly plunged into — a sad fact that Bush’s reckless attempt to occupy entire West Asian nations only demonstrated even more clearly to Washington’s bemused rivals.

American weapons stockpiles (and copious plans for ever more high-tech versions of the same into the distant future) are therefore remarkably irrelevant to its situation, and known to be so.  Meanwhile, its economy, burdened by debts incurred through wars and military spending sprees, and hollowed out by Wall Street shell games, is becoming a B-minus one in global terms.

A Superpower With Feet of Clay

Just how weakened the United States has been in Asia is easily demonstrated by the series of rebuffs its overtures have suffered from regional powers.  When, for instance, a tiff broke out this fall between China and Japan over a collision at sea near the disputed Senkaku Islands, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered to mediate.  The offer was rejected out of hand by the Chinese, who appear to have deliberately halted exports of strategic rare-earth metals to Japan and the United States as a hard-nosed bargaining ploy.  In response, the Obama administration quickly turned mealy-mouthed, affirming that while the islands come under American commitments to defend Japan for the time being, it would take no position on the question of who ultimately owned them.

Likewise, Pakistani politicians and pundits were virtually unanimous in demanding that President Obama raise the issue of disputed Kashmir with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his Indian sojourn.  The Indians, however, had already firmly rejected any internationalization of the controversy, which centers on the future of the Muslim-majority state, a majority of whose inhabitants say they want independence.  Although Obama had expressed an interest in helping resolve the Kashmir dispute during his presidential campaign, by last March his administration was already backing away from any mediation role unless both sides asked for Washington’s help.  In other words, Obama and Clinton promptly caved in to India’s insistence that it was the regional power in South Asia and would brook no external interference.

This kind of regional near impotence is only reinforced by America’s perpetual (yet ever faltering) war machine.  Nor, as Obama moves through Asia, can he completely sidestep controversies provoked by the Afghan War, his multiple-personality approach to Pakistan, and his administration’s obsessive attempt to isolate and punish Iran.  As Obama arrives in Seoul, for instance, Iran will be on the agenda.  This fall, South Korea, a close American ally, managed to play a game of one step forward, two steps back with regard to Washington-supported sanctions against that energy-rich country.


The government did close the Seoul branch of Iran’s Bank Milli, sanctioning it and other Iranian firms.  Then, the South Koreans turned around and, according to theFinancial Times, appointed two banks to handle payments involving trade between the two countries via the (unsanctioned) Tehran Central Bank.  In doing so, the government insulated other South Korean banks from possible American sanctions, while finding a way for Iran to continue to purchase South Korean autos and other goods.

Before the latest round of U.N. Security Council sanctions South Korea was doing $10 billion a year in trade with Iran, involving some 2,142 Korean companies.  Iran’s half of this trade — it provides nearly 10% of South Korea’s petroleum imports — has been largely unaffected.  South Korea’s exports to Iran, on the other hand, have fallen precipitously under the pressure of the sanctions regime.  Sanctions that hold Iran harmless but punish a key American ally by hurting its trade and creating a balance of payments problem are obviously foolish.

The Iranian press claims that South Korean firms are now planning to invest money in Iranian industrial towns.  Given that Obama has expended political capital persuading South Korea to join a U.S.-organized free trade zone andchange its tariffs to avoid harming the American auto industry, it is unlikely that he could now seek to punish South Korea for its quiet defiance on the issue of Iran.

China is the last major country with a robust energy industry still actively investing in Iran, and Washington entertains dark suspicions that some of its firms are even transferring technology that might help the Iranians in their nuclear energy research projects.  This bone of contention is likely to form part of the conversation between Obama and President Hu Jintao before Thursday’s G20 meeting of the world’s wealthiest 20 countries.

Given tensions between Washington and Beijing over the massive balance of trade deficit the U.S. is running with China (which the Obama administration attributes, in part, to an overvalued Chinese currency), not to speak of other contentious issues, Iran may not loom large in their discussions. One reason for this may be that, frustrating as Chinese stonewalling on its currency may seem, they are likely to give even less ground on relations with Iran — especially since they know that Washington can’t do much about it.  Another fraught issue is China’s plan to build a nuclear reactor for Pakistan, something that also alarms Islamabad’s nuclear rival, India.

Rising Asia

If you want to measure the scope of American decline since the height of the Cold War era, remember that back then Iran and Pakistan were American spheres of influence from which other great powers were excluded.  Now, the best the U.S. can manage in Pakistan is the political (and military) equivalent of a condominium or perhaps a time-share — and in Iran, nothing at all.

Despite his feel-good trip to India last weekend, during which he announced some important business deals for U.S. goods, Obama has remarkably little to offer the Indians.  That undoubtedly is why the president unexpectedly announced Washington’s largely symbolic support for a coveted seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a ringing confirmation of India’s status as a rising power.

Some Indian politicians and policy-makers, however, are insisting that their country’s increasing demographic, military, and economic hegemony over South Asia be recognized by Washington, and that the U.S. cease its support of, and massive arms sales to, Pakistan.  In addition, New Delhi is eager to expand its geopolitical position in Afghanistan, where it is a major funder of civilian reconstruction projects, and is apprehensive about any plans for a U.S. withdrawal from that country.  An Indian-dominated Afghanistan is, of course, Pakistan’s worst fear.

In addition, India’s need for petroleum is expected to grow by 40% during the next decade and a half.  Energy-hungry, like neighboring Pakistan, it can’t help glancing longingly at Iran’s natural gas and petroleum fields, despite Washington’s threats to slap third-party sanctions on any firm that helps develop them.  American attempts to push India toward dirty energy sources, including nuclear power (the waste product of which is long-lived and problematic) and shale gas, as a way of reducing its interest in Iranian and Persian Gulf oil and gas, are another Washington “solution” for the region likely to be largely ignored, given how close at hand inexpensive Gulf hydrocarbons are.

It is alarming to consider what exactly New Delhi imagines the planet’s former “sole superpower” has to offer at this juncture — mostly U.S. troops fighting a perceived threat in Afghanistan and the removal of Congressional restrictions on sales of advanced weaponry to India.  The U.S. military in Afghanistan is seen as a proxy for Indian interests in putting down the Taliban and preventing the reestablishment of Pakistani hegemony over Kabul.  For purely self-interested reasons Prime Minister Singh has long takenthe same position as the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, urging Obama to postpone any plans to begin a drawdown in Afghanistan in the summer of 2011.

The most significant of the Indian purchases trumpeted by the president last weekend were military in character.  Obama proclaimed that the $10 billion in deals he was inking would create 54,000 new American jobs.  Right now, it’s hard to argue with job creation or multi-billion-dollar sales of U.S.-made goods abroad.  As former secretary of labor Robert Reich has pointed out, however, jobs in the defense industry are expensive to create, while offering a form of artificial corporate welfare that distorts the American economy and diverts resources from far more crucial priorities.

To think of this another way, President Obama is in danger of losing control of his South Asian foreign policy agenda to India, its Republican supporters in the House, and the military-industrial complex.

As the most dynamic region in the world, Asia is the place where rapid change can create new dynamics.  American trade with the European Union has grown over the past decade (as has the EU itself), but is unlikely to be capable of doubling in just a few years.  After all, the populations of some European countries, like powerhouse Germany, will probably shrink in coming decades.

India, by contrast, is projected to overtake China in population around 2030 and hit the billion-and-a-half-inhabitants mark by mid-century (up from 1.15 billion today).  Its economy, like China’s, has been growing 8% to 9% a year, creating powerful new demand in the world market.  President Obama ishoping to see U.S. exports to India double by 2015.  Likewise, with its economy similarly booming, China is making its own ever more obvious bid to stride like a global colossus through the twenty-first century.

The Hessians of a Future Asia?

Unsurprisingly, beneath the pomp and splendor of Obama’s journey through Asia has lurked a far tawdrier vision — of a much weakened president presiding over a much weakened superpower, both looking somewhat desperately for succor abroad. If the United States is to remain a global power, it is important that Washington offer something to the world besides arms and soldiers.

Obama has been on the money when he’s promoted green-energy technology as a key field where the United States could make its mark (and possibly its fortune) globally.  Unfortunately, as elsewhere, here too the United States is falling behind, and a Republican House as well as a bevy of new Republican governors and state legislatures are highly unlikely toeffectively promote the greening of American technology.

In the end, Obama’s trip has proven a less than effective symbolic transition from George W. Bush’s muscular unilateralism to a new American-led multilateralism in Asia.  Rather, at each stop, Obama has bumped up against the limits of American economic and diplomatic clout in the new Asian world order.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney thought in terms of expanding American conventional military weapons stockpiles and bases, occupying countries when necessary, and so ensuring that the U.S. would dominate key planetary resources for decades to come.  Their worldview, however, was mired in mid-twentieth-century power politics.

If they thought they were placing a marker down on another American century, they were actually gambling away the very houses we live in and reducing us to a debtor nation struggling to retain its once commanding superiority in the world economy.  In the meantime, the multi-millionaires and billionaires created by neoliberal policies and tax cuts in the West will be as happy to invest in (and perhaps live in) Asia as in the United States.

In the capitals of a rising Asia, Washington’s incessant campaign to strengthen sanctions against Iran, and in some quarters its eagerness for war with that country, is viewed as another piece of lunatic adventurism.  The leaders of India, China, and South Korea, among other countries, are determined to do their best to sidestep this American obsession and integrateIran into their energy and trading futures.

In some ways, the darkest vision of an American future arrived in 1991 thanks to President George H. W. Bush.  At that time, he launched a war in the Persian Gulf to protect local oil producers from an aggressive Iraq.  That war was largely paid for by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, rendering the U.S. military for the first time a sort of global mercenary force.  Just as the poor in any society often join the military as a way of moving up in the world, so in the century of Asia, the U.S. could find itself in danger of being reduced to the role of impoverished foot soldier fighting for others’ interests, or of being the glorified ironsmiths making arsenals of weaponry for the great powers of the future.

 

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.  His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Comment website.


Who Decides How The Oppressed Should Fight Oppression?

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Oldspeak: “Oppression is one of the most bitter fruits of colonialism. Violence and nonviolence are mostly collective decisions that are shaped and driven by specific political and socioeconomic conditions and contexts. Unfortunately, the violence of the occupier has a tremendous role in creating and manipulating these conditions under which the oppressed struggle to survive. The violence and brutality of the occupier is seldom factored into discussions of “terrorism” and civil unrest when oppressed peoples resist the oppressors efforts to subjugate them.”

From Ramzy Baroud @ Truthout:

An American activist once gave me a book she had written that detailed her experiences in Palestine. The largely visual volume documented her journey in the occupied West Bank, a place rife with barbed wire, checkpoints, soldiers and tanks. It also highlighted how Palestinians resisted the occupation peacefully – in contrast to the prevalent media depictions linking Palestinian resistance to violence.

More recently, I received a book glorifying nonviolent resistance and referring to self-proclaimed Palestinian fighters who renounced violence as “converts.” The book elaborated on several wondrous examples of how these “conversions” came about. Apparently a key factor was the discovery that not all Israelis supported the military occupation. The fighters realized that an environment that allowed both Israelis and Palestinians to work together would be best for Palestinians seeking other, more effective means of liberation.

An American priest also explained to me the impressive scale on which nonviolent resistance is happening. He showed me brochures he had obtained during a visit to a Bethlehem organization that teaches youth the perils of violence and the wisdom of nonviolence. The organization and its founders run seminars and workshops and invite speakers from Europe and the United States to share their knowledge on the subject with the (mostly refugee) students.

Every so often, an article, video or book surfaces with a similar message: Palestinians are being taught nonviolence; Palestinians are responding positively to the teachings of nonviolence.

As for progressive and Leftist media and audiences, stories praising nonviolence are electrifying, for they ignite a sense of hope that a less violent way is possible, that the teachings of Gandhi are not only relevant to India, in a specific time and space, but throughout the world, anytime.

These depictions repeatedly invite the question: where is the Palestinian Gandhi? Next they invite the answer: a Palestinian Gandhi already exists, in numerous West Bank villages bordering the Israeli Apartheid Wall, where they peacefully confront the carnivorous Israeli bulldozers eating up Palestinian land.

In a statement marking a recent visit by the group Elders to the Middle East, India’s Ela Bhatt, a “Gandhian advocate of non-violence,” explained her role in The Elders’ latest mission: “I will be pleased to return to the Middle East to show the Elders’ support for all those engaged in creative, nonviolent resistance to the occupation – both Israelis and Palestinians.”

For some, the emphasis on nonviolent resistance is a successful media strategy. You are certainly far more likely to get Charlie Rose’s attention by discussing how Palestinians and Israelis organize joint sit-ins than by talking about the armed resistance of militant groups ferociously fighting the Israeli army.

For others, ideological and spiritual convictions are the driving forces behind their involvement in the nonviolence campaign that is reportedly raging in the West Bank. These realizations seem to be largely led by Western advocates.

On the Palestinian side, the nonviolent “brand” is also useful. It has provided an outlet for many who were engaged in armed resistance, especially during the Second Palestinian Intifada. Some fighters, such as those affiliated with the Fatah movement, have become involved in art and theater after hauling automatic rifles and topping Israel’s most-wanted list for years.

Politically, the term is used by the West Bank government as a platform that would allow for the continued use of the word moqawama – Arabic for “resistance” – but without committing to a costly armed struggle, which would certainly not go down well if adopted by the non-elected government deemed “moderate” by both Israel and the United States.

Whether in subtle or overt ways, armed resistance in Palestine is always condemned. Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah government repeatedly referred to it as “futile.” Some insist it is a counterproductive strategy. Others find it morally indefensible.

The problem with the nonviolence bandwagon is that it is grossly misrepresentative of the reality on the ground. It also takes the focus away from the violence imparted by the Israeli occupation – in its routine and lethal use in the West Bank, and the untold savagery in Gaza – and places it solely on the shoulders of the Palestinians.

As for the gross misrepresentation of reality, Palestinians have used mass nonviolent resistance for generations – as early as the long strike of 1936. Nonviolent resistance has been and continues to be the bread and butter of Palestinian moqawama, from the time of British colonialism to the Israeli occupation. At the same time, some Palestinians fought violently as well, compelled by a great sense of urgency and the extreme violence applied against them by their oppressors. It is similar to the way many Indians fought violently, even during the time that Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas were in full bloom.

Those who reduce and simplify India’s history of anti-colonial struggle are doing the same to Palestinians.

Misreading history often leads to an erroneous assessment of the present, and, thus, a flawed prescription for the future. For some, Palestinians cannot possibly get it right, whether they respond to oppression nonviolently, violently, with political defiance or with utter submissiveness. The onus will always be on them to come up with solution, and to do so creatively and in ways that suit our Western sensibilities and our often selective interpretations of Gandhi’s teachings.

Violence and nonviolence are mostly collective decisions that are shaped and driven by specific political and socioeconomic conditions and contexts. Unfortunately, the violence of the occupier has a tremendous role in creating and manipulating these conditions. It is unsurprising that the Second Palestinian Uprising was much more violent than the first, and that violent resistance in Palestine gained a huge boost after the victory scored by the Lebanese resistance in 2000, and again in 2006.

These factors must be contemplated seriously and with humility, and their complexity should be taken into account before any judgments are made. No oppressed nation should be faced with the demands that Palestinians constantly face. There may well be a thousand Palestinian Gandhis. There may be none. Frankly, it shouldn’t matter. Only the unique experience of the Palestinian people and their genuine struggle for freedom could yield what Palestinians as a collective deem appropriate for their own. This is what happened with the people of India, France, Algeria, South Africa, and many other nations that sought and eventually attained their freedom.


Being Single Can Be Great for You — And Your Future Relationships

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Oldspeak:”We need to get over this idea that being single is somehow less desirable than being married. Or that being single a just a way station before one is married or in a relationship. It’s not. It’s a valid and healthy way of being that is not a step in a “progression”. Being single doesn’t make you unworthy, unlovable or abnormal.”

From Greta Christina @ Alter Net:

In American culture, it’s generally assumed that everybody wants to be married, or to be in a long-term relationship. It’s assumed that everybody should be hitched up, and that everybody would be better off that way. Oh, sure, if you’ve just broken up with someone, it’s considered prudent to take a break between relationships. But it’s generally thought that this break is just that — a break. A temporary pause in the normal, correct state of affairs: the state of being in love. It’s assumed that, once a decent interval has passed, of course you’ll want to get back in the love game.

I was single for twelve years before my wife Ingrid and I fell in love. Very happily single. I am a huge fan of taking time to consider not just when to be coupled again and with whom, but whether to be coupled again. I am a huge fan of learning to be okay about being single: learning, not just to be okay with it, but to be actively happy about it. I am a huge fan of seeing our choices about romantic relationships include the choice, “None of the above.” I’m not alone in this. According to

Dr. Marty Klein,

Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist (and author of five books on sexuality, as well as the Sexual Intelligence blog), the consensus in the therapeutic community is that taking time to be alone after a breakup is, if not essential, certainly very beneficial to making future relationships work.

But how does that work? How can I be an advocate, both for happy marriage, and for happy bachelor/ bachelorette-hood? There are two basic things going on here. They’re going to seem paradoxical, but they’re really not. Paradox resolution is forthcoming, I promise. Thing One: Being single for so long was, in and of itself, awesome. Thing Two: Being single for so long has made my marriage stronger. Let’s get to Thing One first. Being single for twelve years was one of the best experiences of my life. It taught me self-reliance. It taught me self-confidence. It taught me an immense amount about who I was. It taught me how to keep myself company. It taught me how to keep myself sane. And for most of those years, it was just plain fun. I did what I wanted to, when I wanted to do it. I went to the movies when I wanted. I hung out with my friends when I wanted. I went out to nightclubs or sex clubs or nerdy folk dances when I wanted. I let the dishes rot in the sink when I felt like it. (And I felt like it a lot.)

I fucked dozens of different women: casual personal-ad hookups, ongoing fuckbuddies who became genuine friends, women at sex clubs whose names I never knew. I never would have known how valuable and fun being single was if I hadn’t thought to try it. As Dr. Charlie Glickman, AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator and Ph.D. in Adult Sexuality Education, said when I asked him about this, “I’ve always said that the only way to know for sure if something works for you is to try it on. Whether that’s a shirt or a relationship, we can often make educated guesses but until we take it off the hanger and put it on, we don’t really know for sure. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who thought that a particular sexual activity or relationship structure wouldn’t work for them until they tried it.” And obviously, we can’t try out a relationship option — including the “None” option — unless we know it’s both available and valid. You can’t try on a shirt if you don’t know it’s on the rack… and you’re a lot less likely to try on a shirt if your friends are all telling you it’s ugly.

An important point to make here: For most of those twelve solo years, I wasn’t just happily single. I was consciously and deliberately single. I wasn’t single for twelve years out of bad luck or bad vibes or bad dating skills. I was single because I chose to be single. By the time I fell in love with Ingrid, I was beginning to be open to serious relationships…but for most of those twelve years, I actively resisted them. I made it clear to anyone I was dating, right at the outset, that dating me was not going to end with us walking down the aisle.

So why the hell did I get married? That brings us to Thing Two, and the apparent paradox. Yes, being single for so long was a completely valuable and fun experience for its own sake.

And at the same time: My marriage is stronger because of the years I spent on my own. Being single for twelve years laid the emotional foundation for my side of this marriage. A significant part of it, anyway. Some of that is because, when I was single, I did a whole lot of soul-searching. About love, and a bucketload of other stuff. Having room to just be myself for a few years gave me the chance to figure out some bad emotional habits… and to unlearn them. I learned how to sort out what I wanted and felt from what other people told me I should want and feel. I learned how to balance assertiveness and clarity with generosity and kindness — or, as I put it to a friend recently, how to find the window between being a demanding, high-maintenance asshole and being a doormat. I learned why I kept being attracted to emotionally broken drug addicts… and I learned how not to be.

I learned how to find the sexiness and the intensity and the compelling sense of fascination and intrigue — in sane, balanced, stable people. And without all that, I doubt that my relationship with Ingrid would have lasted six months — much less thirteen years. But there’s something else here: something more crucial, something that’s right at the heart of this apparent paradox I keep talking about. Knowing that I can be happily single makes it easier to be happily married. My marriage is stronger because I see it as a real choice. I don’t feel trapped into it, and it’s not a default slot I fell into. It’s a choice between genuinely competing options, with real plusses and minuses to each of them. I’m not with Ingrid because I’m afraid of being alone. I’m with Ingrid because I want to be with Ingrid. So when I’m feeling cranky about something that’s less than perfect in our marriage — a compromise we made about money that I’m not totally happy with, an evening when we’re both tired and cranky and are snapping at each other, a party I promised to go to that I just don’t feel like coping with — the upsets aren’t compounded by feeling trapped into them.

Remembering that this is my choice reminds why I made it — and why I continue to make it. When I’m feeling happy about our marriage — which is most of the time, by a significant margin — that happiness is enhanced by the freedom with which we chose it. Our happiness isn’t a slot we got slotted into and were lucky enough to fit. We chose it. We’ve worked our asses off for it. So it feels like ours. It belongs to us. But as passionate as I feel about this question of choice — of making our own conscious decisions about our own damn relationships, and not letting ourselves get slotted into them by default — I have to admit that things aren’t always that simple. More choices don’t always make us happier. Some research suggests that having too many choices can make us as unhappy as not having any. It can overwhelm us, paralyze us, make us anxious about whether our choices are right, make us blame ourselves when things don’t work out, create a perpetual loop of second-guessing, raise our expectations to an impossible level. (Think about shopping for olive oil. If there’s only one kind on the grocery store shelf, we don’t much like that, especially if it’s a kind we don’t like… but if there are a hundred varieties, that can be just as frustrating.)

This is a point Dr. Klein was emphatic about. When I interviewed him about this question — about default decisions in general, and about the specific default decision of being coupled over being single — he pointed out that not everybody is as enamored of choice as I am. Personally, he also has a strong philosophical attachment to making his own free choices about his own life… but from a practical, clinical perspective, he recognizes that many people are happier, and better able to get on with their lives, when they let some of their decisions, big or small, be made by social consensus. And while Dr. Glickman is another fan of tailoring our relationships to fit instead of just buying them off the rack, he also acknowledges the challenges to this approach. “The more you move away from the default option,” he says, “the harder it is to find role models, which can feel really unstable as well as making it more difficult because you might not think of a possible solution to the challenges you face.” So I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here. I’m not trying to make a new rule that everyone has to follow. I’m trying to be a role model for an option some people might not have considered. As much as the demanding, high-maintenance asshole in me would love to tell everyone to live their lives exactly like I do, I can’t seriously argue that absolutely everybody should be single, and should try to be happy being single, for X amount of time before they get coupled again. I don’t want to replace the old set of Thou Shalts with a new one. I’m just trying to say: Being single is an option.  It’s a valid option: temporarily, or indefinitely. It’s one that some people are genuinely happy with. I was, for close to twelve years. If you tend to feel trapped in relationships — or if you get panicky and freaked-out when you’re not in one — it’s an option you might consider. It’s an option that might make you happy, simply because it’s fun and valuable for its own sake. And it’s an option that might do a world of good for any future relationships.

I’m not trying to say, “Thou Shalt.”

I’m just trying to say, “Thou Might.”

 

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.


 

Businesses Do Not Create Jobs

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Oldspeak: “A brilliant piece that explodes the myth that Obama hasn’t done anything to create jobs. Government and business do not create jobs.  Business wants to kill jobs, not create them. Businesses in our economy exist to create profits, not jobs. When Government is dominated by people who only act in the interest of business, it is devastating to society as a whole. This scenario is being played out right now.”

From Dave Johnson @ Campaign For America’s Future:

Businesses do not create jobs. In fact, the way our economy is structured the incentive is for businesses to get rid of as many jobs as they can.

Demand Creates Jobs

A job is created when demand for goods or services is greater than the existing ability to provide them. When there is a demand, people will see the need and fill it. Either someone will start filling the demand alone, or form a new business to fill it or an existing provider of the good or service will add employees as needed. (Actually a job can be created by a business, a government, a non-profit organization or just a person doing the job, depending on the nature of the good or service that is required.)

So a demand creates a job. A person who sees that houses on a block need their lawns mowed might go door to door and say they will mow the lawn for $10. When houses start saying “Yes, I need my lawn mowed” a job has been created!

Demand also creates businesses. The person who is filling demand by mowing lawns for people might after a while have a regular circuit of houses that want their lawns mowed every week, and will buy a truck and a new mower and hire someone to help. A business is born!

Businesses Want To Kill Jobs, Not Create Them

Many people wrongly think that businesses create jobs. They see that a job is usually at a business, so they think that therefore the business “created” the job. This thinking leads to wrongheaded ideas like the current one that giving tax cuts to businesses will create jobs, because the businesses will have more money. But an efficiently-run business will already have the right number of employees. When a business sees that more people are coming in the door (demand) than there are employees to serve them, they hire people to serve the customers. When a business sees that not enough people are coming in the door and employees are sitting around reading the newspaper, they lay people off. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

Businesses have more incentives to eliminate jobs than to create them. Businesses in our economy exist to create profits, not jobs. This means the incentive is for a business to create as few jobs as possible at the lowest possible cost. They also constantly strive to reduce the number of people they employ by bringing in machines, outsourcing or finding other ways to reduce the payroll. This is called “cutting costs” which leads to higher profits. The same incentive also pushes the business to pay as little as possible when they do hire. (It also pushes businesses to cut worker safety protections, cut product quality, cut customer service, “externalize” costs by polluting, etc.)

This obviously works against the interests of the larger society, which wants lots of good jobs with good pay. And businesses, while working to cut jobs and pay less, need other businesses to hire lots of people and pay well, because that is what creates the demand that makes all the businesses work.

Government To The Rescue

This is where government comes in. Government is We, the People, working for that larger societal interest. In our current system — when it works — we use government to come up with ways to balance the effects of the profit motive — which pushes for fewer jobs at lower pay — with our larger need for more jobs at higher pay for us, and for the good of all the businesses. We, through our government, create and regulate the “playing field” on which businesses operate. We set minimum wages, limits on working hours, worker safety rules and other rules designed to keep that balance between profit incentive and demand, and that playing field level. (We also provide the infrastructure of roads, schools, courts, etc. that is what makes our businesses competetive with businesses in other countries. The individual interest in paying less taxes for this has to be balanced with the larger interest that we all pay more for this, but that is another post, titled, “Tax Cuts Are Theft.”)

Corrupted

Obviously businesses in our system must be kept from having any ability whatsoever to influence government decision-making in any way, or the system breaks down. When businesses are able to influence government, they will influence government in ways that provide themselves – and only themselves – with more profits, meaning lower costs, meaning fewer jobs at worse pay and not protecting workers, the environment or other businesses. And, they will fight to keep their ability to influence government, using the resulting wealth gains to increase their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government …

Unfortunately this is the system as it is today.

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