Saturday, February 6, 2016

New York City Council Members Want a $36,000 Raise, So They Vote and Give Themselves The Money

That is an easy way to scam the public.

Good job, City Council!

Betsy Combier
Editor, National Public Voice
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito

Crain's Business EDITORIAL

Council's tortured pay-raise saga shows members still don't get it

FEBRUARY 5, 2016

The city’s process for raising elected officials’ pay involves recommendations from an independent commission. And for good reason: so the public can trust that the pay raise is warranted. Yet City Council members declared that they deserved a salary well above what the commission proposed: $148,500 instead of $138,315. And that only they should get more than was suggested—not the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough presidents or district attorneys.
On Friday, council members voted 40 to 7 to give themselves that hefty $36,000 raise. If their goal was to increase cynicism, they did a bang-up job. But they weren’t done. Their self-serving justifications and hurried vote only made matters worse. The members tried to sell their disingenuous move by packaging it with reforms sought by good-government groups. The reforms increase transparency, limit members’ outside income and—ironically—preclude future councils from raising their own pay, as this council is doing. The council should be willing to pass reforms without the quid pro quo of a pay raise. After all, improving the government is their job, not something that merits a permanent annual bonus.
One of the reforms—elimination of the stipends that members receive for holding "leadership positions" and for chairing committees, subcommittees and task forces—is being oversold. Members say this will reduce the council speaker’s power over them, as she is the one who hands out their titles (which are held by an absurd 46 of the 51 members and boost their $112,500 salaries by an average of 10%). But members treasure these appointments for many reasons besides the money. They love the titles, the power to steer legislation and hold hearings, the media opportunities and the fundraising advantage.
When a member chairs the Land Use Committee, for example, real estate interests shower him with donations without even being asked. Members say preventing them from having second jobs will deter corruption. That’s true in Albany, where legislators have a light work schedule, a low base salary and usually another job. But corruption, thankfully, is less of an issue in the council, where members already make a decent living.
Banning outside income is a solution in search of a problem. Few council members even have a second job. To cap off this escapade, the council rushed the legislation through, scheduling a rare Friday vote even though the pay increase is retroactive to Jan. 1. The only point of hurrying was to limit the chance for criticism. Accepting the commission’s recommended raise, which outpaced inflation, would have conveyed that elected officials are not their own bosses. In giving themselves an increase of their choosing, council members strengthened the case against one. – THE EDITORS
A version of this article appears in the February 8, 2016, print issue of Crain's New York Business.

Monday, January 18, 2016

JOSEPH MARGULIES: Criminal Justice Must Be Organized Around Dignity, Community, and Equality

Reform and the Failure of Imagination
Blind JusticeThese are peculiar times. On the one hand, uttering the words, “criminal justice reform” is an invitation to what a friend once described as a state of heated agreement. As I have often described, and as all can see, there is an accelerating recognition that the American criminal justice system is badly broken and in desperate need of repair.
This is strange enough, given the long and enduring enthusiasm for punishment and demonization in this country. Even more curious is the satisfaction the chattering class seems to derive from declaring, again and again, how bad things have become. The declaration seems to act as a kind of penance, expiating the sin of prolonged ignorance.
And spare me the prattle about the size, cost, and moral bankruptcy of the carceral state, as though repeating it yet again, this time with feeling, will account for the energy that finally swirls around the topic. The conditions that now attract so much attention have existed for years, and cannot remotely explain the relatively sudden interest in reform.
Yet on the other hand, the gathering intensity and increasing popularity of these declarations is not matched by anything in the policy pipeline (as opposed to the research pipeline) that has the slightest chance to effect meaningful reform, let alone achieve a genuine transformation of the criminal justice system.
Indeed, as the call for change grows louder, consensus seems to coalesce around programs like the Justice Reinvestment Initiative that are least likely to achieve comprehensive change. This produces the most curious condition of all: the more people want things to be different, the more likely they are to stay the same. How can we get at the root of a paradox like that?
* * *
Criminal justice reform in the United States suffers from three, overlapping and equally serious flaws. First, as I have written before, it focuses overwhelmingly on the back end of the system—that is, on the institutions and practices that shape the lives of people who have already been convicted or sentenced to prison. The reforms that attract the most attention, especially among politicians, say almost nothing about the front end—policing, prosecution, and defense services.
Second, criminal justice reform assiduously avoids questions of race. The most widely imitated reforms in state houses across the country and the halls of the U.S. Capitol treat race and racial disparity as though they were obscenities, not to be uttered in polite conversation. The silence surrounding Black Lives Matter and other anti-police-violence movements, for instance, is deafening.
And third, reform expends nearly all its energy on the hunt for the elusive low-level, non-violent drug offender. But as I have noted elsewhere, “drug offenders represent only 20 percent of the prison population nationwide, and only a small fraction of these people are both low-level and have no history of violence. Tracking down this particular inmate is like hunting for a snark.”
Taken together, these three limitations—the refusal to address the front end of the system, the failure to confront questions of race, and the obsessive focus on a very small number of unrepresentative offenders—all but guarantee that criminal justice reform will be modest and incremental at best. Of course, even modest and incremental improvements are better than nothing. But it would be a terrible shame for this moment to pass with no more to show for it than tinkering.
These limitations represent an acute failure of imagination. Policymakers cannot or will not imagine a criminal justice world meaningfully different from the one we have created. To encourage this mental leap, I have urged the development of an alternative,transformative vision for criminal justice organized around three, inviolable principles: dignity; community; and equality.
In response to this call, some people have wondered how to get from here to there. At one level, this is a question about how and why reform happens in the United States, which is a complex phenomenon. But as I have shown elsewhere, to win widespread support for major institutional change in the United States, reformers must construct a narrative that successfully casts the offending institutions as “un-American”—that is, as a betrayal of the potent myths and iconic ideals of national identity. Developing such a narrative does not guarantee a movement’s success—much also depends on expanding political opportunities. But not developing it guarantees a movement’s failure.
And therein lay the problem. Despite all the talk about criminal justice reform, the narrative of the punitive era remains fundamentally unchallenged and unchanged. That narrative runs something like this: The most important role for the state is to guarantee the security of a person’s life and property. Some people threaten that security for no good reason other than personal failings, and it is the responsibility of all law-abiding citizens to see to it that the state has the power and resources it needs to fulfill its central mission.
This deceptively simple narrative is the foundation upon which the entire architecture of the carceral state has been constructed. It gave rise to an interlocking set of institutions, rules, and practices at every phase of the criminal justice system, from the first contact with the police to the enduring disabilities imposed after release from prison. Collectively, this elaborate lattice enabled the state to accomplish what had been constructed as its primary mission—viz., to separate “us” from “them” as thoroughly as possible.
To ensure their legitimacy in a post-civil rights era, these rules, practices, and institutions had to have several characteristics. First, they had to be facially neutral, which honored the newfound creedal commitment to formal equality and permitted the belief that racial or ethnic disparities in criminal justice derive entirely from different rates of offending. They allowed the state, in other words, to appear fair.
Second, the entire system had to be inscribed into the written law, which encouraged the myth that ours is a government of laws and not of men. And finally, it had to protect and promote the historic attachment to individual liberty and private property, which allowed it to claim the legitimacy that comes from a long and uninterrupted pedigree.
The creation of the carceral state was of course more complex than I suggest here. The narrative of the punitive era also had to fit other emerging narratives of the late 20th century, like the elevation of individual responsibility that lay behind the gradual decline of the welfare state and the triumph of a colorblind ethos. The punitive narrative also needed to create heroes and demons (the over-worked prosecutor twisted into knots by legal technicalities, for instance, and her perennial nemesis, the cunning drug dealer who manipulates the rules to escape justice), which in turn gave cultural legitimacy to the expanding and entangling reach of the state.
The point, however, is that a simple narrative about the way the world ought to be was mobilized and pressed into service again and again to create an entirely new legal, political, and cultural apparatus—the governance of the carceral state. And as yet, this narrative has no competitor. Criminal justice reform in the United States does not attack this narrative so much as sand down its rough edges. As a result, we continue to live in a world dominated by the punitive narrative: when it comes to criminal justice, the state exists to protect us from them.
I continue to maintain that criminal justice in the United States needs to be organized around dignity, community, and equality. But we need a narrative that takes us from here to there—a narrative that makes change just and resistance “un-American.” That is the work of future columns.

Joseph Margulies
Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in Rasul v. Bush (2004), involving detentions at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, and in Geren v. Omar &Munaf v. Geren (2008), involving detentions at Camp Cropper in Iraq. Presently he is counsel for Abu Zubaydah, whose interrogation in 2002 prompted the Bush Administration to draft the “torture memos.” In June 2005, at the invitation of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, Margulies testified at the first Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on detainee issues.
Margulies writes and lectures widely on civil liberties in the wake of September 11 and his commentaries have appeared in numerous publications, including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the National Law Journal, the Miami Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Legal Times. He is also the author of the widely acclaimed book, Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (Simon and Schuster 2006). Among other accolades, Guantánamo was named one of the best books of 2006 by The Economist magazine. It received the prestigious Silver Gavel Award of 2007, given annually by the American Bar Association to the book that best promotes “the American public’s understanding of the law and the legal system.” It also won the Scribes Book Award of 2007, given annually by the American Society of Legal Writers to honor “the best work of legal scholarship published during the previous year.” He is also the author of What Changed When Everything Changed: 9/11 and the Making of National Identity(Yale Univ. Press 2013) and has won numerous awards for his work since 9/11.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Robert M. Wachter: How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers

By ROBERT M. WACHTER, New York Times, JAN. 16, 2016

TWO of our most vital industries, health care and education, have become increasingly subjected to metrics and measurements. Of course, we need to hold professionals accountable. But the focus on numbers has gone too far. We’re hitting the targets, but missing the point.

Through the 20th century, we adopted a hands-off approach, assuming that the pros knew best. Most experts believed that the ideal “products” — healthy patients and well-educated kids — were too strongly influenced by uncontrollable variables (the sickness of the patient, the intellectual capacity of the student) and were too complex to be judged by the measures we use for other industries.

By the early 2000s, as evidence mounted that both fields were producing mediocre outcomes at unsustainable costs, the pressure for measurement became irresistible. In health care, we saw hundreds of thousands of deaths from medical errors, poor coordination of care and backbreaking costs. In education, it became clear that our schools were lagging behind those in other countries.
So in came the consultants and out came the yardsticks. In health care, we applied metrics to outcomes and processes. Did the doctor document that she gave the patient a flu shot? That she counseled the patient about smoking? In education, of course, the preoccupation became student test scores.

All of this began innocently enough. But the measurement fad has spun out of control. There are so many different hospital ratings that more than 1,600 medical centers can now lay claim to being included on a “top 100,” “honor roll,” grade “A” or “best” hospitals list. Burnout rates for doctors top 50 percent, far higher than other professions. A 2013 study found that the electronic health record was a dominant culprit. Another 2013 study found that emergency room doctors clicked a mouse 4,000 times during a 10-hour shift. The computer systems have become the dark force behind quality measures.

Education is experiencing its own version of measurement fatigue. Educators complain that the focus on student test performance comes at the expense of learning. Art, music and physical education have withered, because, really, why bother if they’re not on the test?

At first, the pushback from doctors and teachers was dismissed as whining from entitled and entrenched guilds spoiled by generations of unfettered autonomy. It was natural, went the thinking, that these professionals would resist the scrutiny and discipline of performance assessment. Of course, this interpretation was partly right.

But the objections became harder to dismiss as evidence mounted that even superb and motivated professionals had come to believe that the boatloads of measures, and the incentives to “look good,” had led them to turn away from the essence of their work. In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.

Even some of the measurement behemoths are now voicing second thoughts. Last fall, the Joint Commission, the major accreditor of American hospitals, announced that it was suspending its annual rating of hospitals. At the same time, alarmed by the amount of time that testing robbed from instruction, the Obama administration called for new limits on student testing. Last week, Andy Slavitt, Medicare’s acting administrator, announced the end of a program that tied Medicare payments to a long list of measures related to the use of electronic health records. “We have to get the hearts and minds of physicians back,” said Mr. Slavitt. “I think we’ve lost them.”

Thoughtful and limited assessment can be effective in motivating improvements and innovations, and in weeding out the rare but disproportionately destructive bad apples.

But in creating a measurement and accountability system, we need to tone down the fervor and think harder about the unanticipated consequences.

Measurement cannot go away, but it needs to be scaled back and allowed to mature. We need more targeted measures, ones that have been vetted to ensure that they really matter. In medicine, for example, measuring the rates of certain hospital-acquired infections has led to a greater emphasis on prevention and has most likely saved lives. On the other hand, measuring whether doctors documented that they provided discharge instructions to heart failure or asthma patients at the end of their hospital stay sounds good, but turns out to be an exercise in futile box-checking, and should be jettisoned.

We also need more research on quality measurement and comparing different patient populations. The only way to understand whether a high mortality rate, or dropout rate, represents poor performance is to adequately appreciate all of the factors that contribute to these outcomes — physical and mental, social and environmental — and adjust for them. It’s like adjusting for the degree of difficulty when judging an Olympic diver. We’re getting better at this, but we’re not good enough.

Most important, we need to fully appreciate the burden that measurement places on professionals, and minimize it. In health care, some of this will come through advances in natural language processing, which may ultimately allow us to assess the quality of care by having computers “read” the doctor’s note, obviating the need for all the box-checking. In both fields, simulation, video review and peer coaching hold promise.
Whatever we do, we have to ask our clinicians and teachers whether measurement is working, and truly listen when they tell us that it isn’t. Today, that is precisely what they’re saying.

Avedis Donabedian, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, was a towering figure in the field of quality measurement. He developed what is known as Donabedian’s triad, which states that quality can be measured by looking at outcomes (how the subjects fared), processes (what was done) and structures (how the work was organized). In 2000, shortly before he died, he was asked about his view of quality. What this hard-nosed scientist answered is shocking at first, then somehow seems obvious.
“The secret of quality is love,” he said.

Our businesslike efforts to measure and improve quality are now blocking the altruism, indeed the love, that motivates people to enter the helping professions. While we’re figuring out how to get better, we need to tread more lightly in assessing the work of the professionals who practice in our most human and sacred fields.

Robert M. Wachter is a professor and the interim chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age.”

Ross Douthat: The Bill Clinton Question

Ross Douthat

IN 2014 Matt Bai published a book called “All the Truth Is Out,” a history of Gary Hart’s scandal-driven downfall that doubled as a lament for political journalism’s surrender to the lure of tabloid culture.

Bai’s book was a great read, and nobody would dispute his point that there’s far less privacy for politicians than in the days when Lyndon Johnson could tell a group of reporters: “You may see me coming in and out of a few women’s bedrooms while I am in the White House, but just remember, that is none of your business.”

But his book’s title was still a little bit misleading. Even today, we don’t get all the truth about the sex lives of the powerful and famous. We get more of it than people got in the 1960s, but it still often comes in fragments, glimpses, rumor and conjecture.

You can read a thousand supermarket stories, for instance, without getting any closer to the truth about most Hollywood relationships. And while the mainstream press isn’t necessarily protective of public figures, neither is it rushing out to do National Enquirer-style digging whenever there’s a plausible rumor in the wind. For every Eliot Spitzer or Mark Sanford, there’s a scandalous story that flares and vanishes amid a lot of journalistic discomfort about touching it.

There’s also a certain randomness to when a scandal actually breaks big. To take a nonpolitical example, Bill Cosby’s sexual exploitations were kinda-sorta in the public record for years and years, but they were a footnote in profiles and biographies until Hannibal Buress starting talking about Cosby-the-rapist in his comedy routines. Then suddenly, it was a story, a cascade of stories, and the whole truth or something close was out.

Similarly, in the political realm, The National Enquirer first published John Edwards-Rielle Hunter stories in October of 2007. But Edwards was able to make his way through an entire primary campaign before the mainstream media finally, reluctantly, started reporting on his love child.

Which brings us to Bill Clinton, whose old scandals are once more in the news — because Donald Trump is talking about them, because Juanita Broaddrick took to Twitter to reassert her claim that Clinton raped her in 1978, and because today’s liberal deference toward rape victims makes an uneasy fit with how the Clinton camp dealt with accusations from Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones in the 1990s.

This has produced a lot of discussion about whether the former president’s sexual past is “fair game” during his wife’s 2016 campaign. But that question tends to assume that there’s some consensus about the former president’s sexual past. It assumes that all the truth is out.

In reality, though, the narrative around Clinton’s sexual past is highly unstable, with several variations that have a plausible claim on being true.

There’s the official Clintonite narrative, in which the former president strayed with Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky, was forgiven by his wife and daughter, and deserves to have his repentance respected.

Then there’s the narrative that I suspect most Americans believe, in which the former president was much more of a tomcat in Arkansas, and probably has tomcatted occasionally in his post-presidency — but always consensually, and lately in ways that have minimized exposure or embarrassment.

If either of these narratives are true, then Clinton’s sex life will be a non-issue in 2016. If an adulterer, even a frequent adulterer, is all he is, then an America that didn’t want him impeached in the 1990s isn’t going to object to having him as the First Gentlemen today.

But suppose you believe the Broaddrick story. Liberals dismissed it during the impeachment days, but if you read the summary of the case from the (mostly liberal) Dylan Matthews at the (mostly liberal) website Vox, this dismissal looks unfair. There’s an inescapable he-said/she-said dynamic, but one need not be a “believe all rape allegations” absolutist to find her claim persuasive.

If she’s telling the truth, then Clinton’s sexual past becomes something more predatory. The slippage between a powerful man’s dalliances and straightforward predation is something that could happen just once. But looked at in the light of a credible rape allegation, there are all sorts of Clinton stories — the Willey and Jones cases, the rumors collected by Jones’s lawyers, the old tales of state troopers being used as procurers, the 2002 globetrotting on the jet of a billionaire who’s also a convicted statutory rapist — that could suggest a darker pattern, tending toward the Cosby-esque.

The truth about Bill Clinton’s past, then, is that we don’t actually know the truth. And even in our tabloid-driven age, it’s quite possible that we simply never will.

But if the question is, “Does Bill’s past matter for Hillary’s campaign?,” the answer depends less on what we know right now than on what might be waiting to come out.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

John Whitehead on A Culture of Fear in America

From Sibel Edmonds' blog Boiling Frog Post

Sibel Edmonds

A Culture of Fear & the Epigenetics of Terror


Fear Makes People Stupid!

- See more at:
No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.”—Edward R. Murrow, Broadcast Journalist

America is in the midst of an epidemic of historic proportions.

The contagion being spread like wildfire is turning communities into battlegrounds and setting Americans one against the other.

Normally mild-mannered individuals caught up in the throes of this disease have been transformed into belligerent zealots, while others inclined to pacifism have taken to stockpiling weapons and practicing defensive drills.
This plague on our nation—one that has been spreading like wildfire—is a potent mix of fear coupled with unhealthy doses of paranoia and intolerance, tragic hallmarks of the post-9/11 America in which we live.
Everywhere you turn, those on both the left- and right-wing are fomenting distrust and division. You can’t escape it.

We’re being fed a constant diet of fear: fear of terrorists, fear of illegal immigrants, fear of people who are too religious, fear of people who are not religious enough, fear of Muslims, fear of extremists, fear of the government, fear of those who fear the government. The list goes on and on.
The strategy is simple yet effective: the best way to control a populace is through fear and discord.

Fear makes people stupid.

Confound them, distract them with mindless news chatter and entertainment, pit them against one another by turning minor disagreements into major skirmishes, and tie them up in knots over matters lacking in national significance.

Most importantly, divide the people into factions, persuade them to see each other as the enemy and keep them screaming at each other so that they drown out all other sounds. In this way, they will never reach consensus about anything and will be too distracted to notice the police state closing in on them until the final crushing curtain falls.

This is how free people enslave themselves and allow tyrants to prevail.
This Machiavellian scheme has so ensnared the nation that few Americans even realize they are being manipulated into adopting an “us” against “them” mindset. Instead, fueled with fear and loathing for phantom opponents, they agree to pour millions of dollars and resources into political elections, militarized police, spy technology and endless wars, hoping for a guarantee of safety that never comes.

All the while, those in power—bought and paid for by lobbyists and corporations—move their costly agendas forward, and “we the suckers” get saddled with the tax bills and subjected to pat downs, police raids and round-the-clock surveillance.

Turn on the TV or flip open the newspaper on any given day, and you will find yourself accosted by reports of government corruption, corporate malfeasance, militarized police and marauding SWAT teams.

America has already entered a new phase, one in which children are arrested in schools, military veterans are forcibly detained by government agents because of the content of their Facebook posts, and law-abiding Americans are having their movements tracked, their financial transactions documented and their communications monitored
These threats are not to be underestimated.

Yet even more dangerous than these violations of our basic rights is the language in which they are couched: the language of fear. It is a language spoken effectively by politicians on both sides of the aisle, shouted by media pundits from their cable TV pulpits, marketed by corporations, and codified into bureaucratic laws that do little to make our lives safer or more secure.

Fear, as history shows, is the method most often used by politicians to increase the power of government. Even while President Obama insists that “freedom is more powerful than fear,” the tactics of his administration continue to rely on fear of another terrorist attack in order to further advance the agenda of the military/security industrial complex.

An atmosphere of fear permeates modern America. However, with crime at a 40-year low, is such fear of terrorism rational?

Even in the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino and Paris, statistics show that you are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack. You are 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane. You are 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack. You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack. You are 12 times more likely to die from accidental suffocating in bed than from a terrorist attack. And you are 9 more times likely to choke to death in your own vomit than die in a terrorist attack.

Indeed, those living in the American police state are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. Thus, the government’s endless jabbering about terrorism amounts to little more than propaganda—the propaganda of fear—a tactic used to terrorize, cower and control the population.

So far, these tactics are working.

The 9/11 attacks, the Paris attacks, and now the San Bernardino shooting have succeeded in reducing the American people to what commentator Dan Sanchez refers to as “herd-minded hundreds of millions [who] will stampede to the State for security, bleating to please, please be shorn of their remaining liberties.”

Sanchez continues:

I am not terrified of the terrorists; i.e., I am not, myself, terrorized. Rather, I am terrified of the terrorized; terrified of the bovine masses who are so easily manipulated by terrorists, governments, and the terror-amplifying media into allowing our country to slip toward totalitarianism and total war…

I do not irrationally and disproportionately fear Muslim bomb-wielding jihadists or white, gun-toting nutcases. But I rationally and proportionately fear those who do, and the regimes such terror empowers. History demonstrates that governments are capable of mass murder and enslavement far beyond what rogue militants can muster. Industrial-scale terrorists are the ones who wear ties, chevrons, and badges. But such terrorists are a powerless few without the supine acquiescence of the terrorized many. There is nothing to fear but the fearful themselves…

Stop swallowing the overblown scaremongering of the government and its corporate media cronies. Stop letting them use hysteria over small menaces to drive you into the arms of tyranny, which is the greatest menace of all.
As history makes clear, fear leads to fascistic, totalitarian regimes.
It’s a simple enough formula. National crises, reported terrorist attacks, and sporadic shootings leave us in a constant state of fear. Fear prevents us from thinking. The emotional panic that accompanies fear actually shuts down the prefrontal cortex or the rational thinking part of our brains. In other words, when we are consumed by fear, we stop thinking.

A populace that stops thinking for themselves is a populace that is easily led, easily manipulated and easily controlled
The government is managed by a powerful leader (even if he or she assumes office by way of the electoral process). This is the fascistic leadership principle (or father figure).
The government assumes it is not restrained in its power. This is authoritarianism, which eventually evolves into totalitarianism.
The government ostensibly operates under a capitalist system while being undergirded by an immense bureaucracy.
The government through its politicians emits powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.
The government has an obsession with national security while constantly invoking terrifying internal and external enemies.
The government establishes a domestic and invasive surveillance system and develops a paramilitary force that is not answerable to the citizenry.
The government and its various agencies (federal, state, and local) develop an obsession with crime and punishment. This is overcriminalization.
The government becomes increasingly centralized while aligning closely with corporate powers to control all aspects of the country’s social, economic, military, and governmental structures.
The government uses militarism as a center point of its economic and taxing structure.
The government is increasingly imperialistic in order to maintain the military-industrial corporate forces.

The parallels to modern America are impossible to ignore.

“Every industry is regulated. Every profession is classified and organized,” writes Jeffrey Tucker. “Every good or service is taxed. Endless debt accumulation is preserved. Immense doesn’t begin to describe the bureaucracy. Military preparedness never stops, and war with some evil foreign foe, remains a daily prospect.”

For the final hammer of fascism to fall, it will require the most crucial ingredient: the majority of the people will have to agree that it’s not only expedient but necessary. In times of “crisis,” expediency is upheld as the central principle—that is, in order to keep us safe and secure, the government must militarize the police, strip us of basic constitutional rights and criminalize virtually every form of behavior.

Not only does fear grease the wheels of the transition to fascism by cultivating fearful, controlled, pacified, cowed citizens, but it also embeds itself in our very DNA so that we pass on our fear and compliance to our offspring.

It’s called epigenetic inheritance, the transmission through DNA of traumatic experiences.

For example, neuroscientists observed how quickly fear can travel through generations of mice DNA. As The Washington Post reports:
In the experiment, researchers taught male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms by associating the scent with mild foot shocks. Two weeks later, they bred with females. The resulting pups were raised to adulthood having never been exposed to the smell. Yet when the critters caught a whiff of it for the first time, they suddenly became anxious and fearful. They were even born with more cherry-blossom-detecting neurons in their noses and more brain space devoted to cherry-blossom-smelling.

The conclusion? “A newborn mouse pup, seemingly innocent to the workings of the world, may actually harbor generations’ worth of information passed down by its ancestors.”

Now consider the ramifications of inherited generations of fears and experiences on human beings. As the Post reports, “Studies on humans suggest that children and grandchildren may have felt the epigenetic impact of such traumatic events such as famine, the Holocaust and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”

In other words, fear, trauma and compliance can be passed down through the generations.
Fear has been a critical tool in past fascistic regimes, and it now operates in our contemporary world—all of which raises fundamental questions about us as human beings and what we will give up in order to perpetuate the illusions of safety and security.

In the words of psychologist Erich Fromm:
[C]an human nature be changed in such a way that man will forget his longing for freedom, for dignity, for integrity, for love—that is to say, can man forget he is human? Or does human nature have a dynamism which will react to the violation of these basic human needs by attempting to change an inhuman society into a human one?

We are at a critical crossroads in American history, and we have a choice: freedom or fascism.

Let’s hope the American people make the right choice while we still have the freedom to choose.
# # # #

John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. He is the president and spokesperson of the Rutherford Institute. Mr. Whitehead is the author of numerous books on a variety of legal and social issues, including A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law, and served as an officer in the United States Army from 1969 to 1971.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Ann Cronin: Hillary: A Presidential Candidate In Need Of An Education

Hillary is alienating educators with her allegiance to the Big Testers and political leaders who fund Education-as-a-Profit-making-Venture Corporations.
Betsy Combier

Ann Cronin

Hillary Clinton

Hillary: A Presidential Candidate In Need Of An Education
JULY 20, 2015 ~ 2 COMMENTS

What does Hillary think about what is going on now in k-12 education?

Watch this video and find out:

What I would like to ask Hillary after watching the video is:

1. What do you mean by the Common Core being a “wonderful direction”? Do you know what the 42 Common Core English Language Arts Standards are and in what ways they help or hinder students becoming thoughtful readers, effective writers, and deep and broad thinkers?

I am very familiar with those 42 Common Core English Language Arts Standards and know that they are detrimental to producing thoughtful readers, effective writers, and deep and broad thinkers. I doubt that Hillary has read those standards and, even if she has, has no idea about the developmental needs of students and the best ways to teach them.

Of course, standards can be a good idea, but only if the standards themselves are worthy ones. It is also a good idea to eat three meals a day but not if those meals are comprised of a lot of sugar and very little protein and vitamins. The Common Core English Language Arts Standards are sugary fluff and will make neither the students nor the country strong. .

2. What do you mean when you say that the Common Core was “not politicized”?

The Common Core standards were approved by governors before they were even written and before the governors knew what they would contain because accepting them was the only way that states could be relieved of the sanctions the federal government would impose on them for not meeting the impossible goals of NCLB and be allowed to apply for Race to the Top money. It was all totally political. It was all about the federal money. It was political bribery.

3. Why do you imagine that the Common Core and the aligned detesting will prevent a ” two tiered educational system” when, in reality, the Common Core and the aligned testing will create those two tiers?

One tier is the children of privilege who either go to elite private schools which do not adhere in any way to the Common Core and which do not test their students with Common Core aligned tests or go to suburban schools which do not limit education to the Common Core and do not emphasize test prep because the income level of their students insures good test scores.

The other tier is the children in urban schools whose education is largely test prep about the limited and damaging content of the Common Core.

Tier one students develop skills for their future; tier two students learn how to take tests that do not assess the quality of their thinking, collaborating, reading, or writing.

4. What do you mean when you said that we should go “back to basics”? What are your “basics” and why are we going “back”?

Basics for the present and the future are: exploration, collaboration, effective written and oral communication, creativity, cultural awareness, curiosity, questioning, imagination, accessing and analyzing information, problem solving, innovation, civic engagement, and initiative. The Common Core addresses none of these, and the Common Core aligned tests assess none of them either.

5. Why do you say that we should “look to teachers” for the direction of education?

You praise the Common Core, yet when the Common Core English Language Arts Standards and the Common Core Early Childhood Standards were created, not one single teacher was involved. The standards were created by employees of testing companies. The Common Core Standards are not good education. They are a compilation of items which can be measured on standardized tests and teach students to write essays which can be nonsensical but receive high marks from the testing company computers which grade them.

6. Hillary, please can we talk?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Carol Burris on Using Test Scores and Common Core To Evaluate Teachers

Carol Burris

Principal’s last advice: Let’s move beyond the rhetoric and really question the Common Core

Value-added scores are a sham metric. They give top teachers negative scores!

Core Debate by Carol Burris, July 2, 2015

Dear Jayne,
I am writing this letter the day after my last graduation ceremony. The past week has been difficult—full of tearful goodbyes. Although I am certain that my decision to retire was the right one, leaving a school that I love so much has been very painful. But, as I said to the Class of 2015 in my address, quoting Winnie the Pooh—“how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Your last letter acknowledged our mutual concern about the evaluation of teachers by student test data. Even if it were a perfect measure, and it is far from perfect, the unintended consequences of using test scores in this manner would never be worth the price. Back in 1976, social scientist Donald Campbell predicted what would happen if standardized tests became high-stakes. He wrote, “When test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.” Certainly, that is a worry you and I share.

You asked what accountability system produces a bell curve in which teachers are measured against each other. It’s called the “VAM” — for value-added model — and each teacher receives a score that is generated by comparing the scores of his or her students with students across the state of Florida, who take the same test and have similar characteristics. That comparison then produces a “bell curve” because scores cluster around the average score, which is converted into the five Florida categories of teacher VAM performance. It may sound reasonable but it produces some inexplicable results where excellent teachers receive bad scores. This was the case of the 2014 Hillsborough Teacher of the Year, who was judged so bad by VAM, his score was negative! We use a similar process in New York, although growth scores are only generated for 3-8 tests.

Jayne, while we both disagree with using student test scores to evaluate teachers, I am wary when you suggest that “multiple measures” and “dashboards” are the solution. Would you be comfortable with test scores being 30% of a teacher’s evaluation? I would not. If using them as a metric comes at the cost of narrowing curriculum and teaching to the test, why would we want to include them at all?

I am not discounting the importance of using student achievement in assessing teacher quality and in helping teachers improve. Prior to the mandated use of scores, I used achievement results to help guide my observations, review teacher lesson plans and design professional development. I worry that vague terms like “multiple measures” lead non-educators to conclude that, if more than one test were used to produce VAM scores, or if you also included observations, using test data is sound practice.

Related: Blended learning emerges as a leading trend in education technology, report says

Now back to the Common Core. I am not sure what you mean when you say that I “personified” the standards and that I believe the Common Core is “the root of the problems we are facing in education.” The Common Core is but one part of a failed reform strategy. The Common Core, teacher evaluation using student tests scores, Common Core tests, the expansion of charter schools and other disruptive change strategies were pushed by the $4.35 billion competitive grant known as Race to the Top. All are presented as interconnected parts of a school improvement plan.

I do agree that other policies associated with the Common Core have negatively impacted the implementation of the standards. I also am (and have always been) a big believer in college and career readiness as our goal. Where we disagree is that I don’t believe that the Common Core standards, even without bad policy, will do the job.

Here is an example that we in New York are living through now. The Common Core algebra test was given in early June. New York students generally take algebra in eighth grade (accelerated students) or ninth grade. Some of our very best students were in tears as they struggled to complete it. Concerns went far beyond our district. Eric Cunningham is a veteran algebra teacher from upstate New York. He wrote an email to parents explaining how difficult the test was and how illogical the curve against which the tests were scored.

First, let’s look at the level of difficulty. Eric refers to question 24, a compound inequality problem which you can find here. Eric is correct when he says this topic was previously taught in New York’s Algebra 2/Trigonometry course, the third course in the high school sequence. Question 24 is now fair game on the Common Core algebra test, which is the first course in the high school sequence, because it tests the Common Core standard CED.A1, which you can find here.

Our students also had a lot of difficulty with question 18 which involved a quadratic equation. The solution included a fraction. My math teacher told me that not only was the topic previously taught in Algebra 2 Trigonometry, but that the inclusion of the fraction made the question inappropriate for even the Algebra 2 course. Could the question be considered an assessment of a Common Core standard? Yes, because there are Common Core math standards that require Algebra 1 students to solve quadratic equations by completing the square.

Related: With Common Core tests, a lot at stake for first-year principal

This level of detail is necessary to help readers understand the problem. We do our students a terrible disservice when we fail to recognize the inappropriateness of many of the standards and accept them in the name of “college readiness.”

The problems with the test go beyond these two questions. Let’s look at the college readiness score bands. It is not difficult to pass the test. For a score of 65%, students need to get 30 of the possible 86 points—which represents getting less than 35% of the exam correct. Given that most of the exam is multiple choice, a good guesser who can do the simpler questions will pass. To get to the Common Core “college readiness” passing (level 4) a student must get 65% of the test right. That “college readiness score” will be the new score needed to graduate high school in just a few years. On the surface, that sounds reasonable. But let’s look at the outcome.

Only 48% of Rockville Centre first-time test takers achieved that score. That excludes students who previously took and failed the test—if they were included the percentage would be lower still.

This year South Side High School had no dropouts and our four-year graduation rate was 98%. Should we conclude that only about half of the graduates of my high school are college-ready, and that in the future, only 48% should graduate based on the results of this test?

Related: Are new Common Core tests really better than the old multiple-choice tests?

Every other indicator contradicts that conclusion. Every year, over 70% of our graduates pass an International Baccalaureate exam in mathematics. When I checked last fall, 92% of our entire Class of 2012 was successfully enrolled in college two years after graduation. My summer survey of whether students were required to take remediation resulted in only a handful of students. All were either English language learners or students with disabilities.

So, Jayne, what should I believe? The Common Core test results, which say over half of our students are not prepared for college, or over a decade’s worth of evidence that tells me nearly all of them are? I understand that my school is well-resourced with only a 16% poverty rate. But surely the juxtaposition of Common Core scores with my school’s longstanding track record of producing college-ready students indicates that there is something wrong with the Common Core standards as measured by Common Core-aligned tests. It is time we move beyond the rhetoric and critically question the assumptions on which these reforms rest.

I thank you so much for your willingness to enter this dialogue with me. I have no doubt that you and I both deeply believe in school improvement and our responsibility to create well-educated, caring and thoughtful young adults. While we disagree on the value of the Common Core, my guess is that our core values are far more similar than different. Good luck to you, Jayne, and the very best to you and your wonderful school.