Brian McFadden in today’s NY Times.
Bill Fletcher Jr.
I am sure that most of you are aware that General Petraeus, Obama’s CIA Director, got caught with his pants down when it was revealed in November that he was having an affair with Paula Broadwell, his fawning biographer.
But for my money the real scandal was his incestuous relationship with Fred and Kimberly Kagan, a couple of neoconservative warhawks, who served as his unpaid advisers when he was running the counterinsurgency program in Afghanistan before assuming the CIA post.
The Washington Post’s ace reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran delivered the goods in a December 19 article:
Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, a husband-and-wife team of hawkish military analysts, put their jobs at influential Washington think tanks on hold for almost a year to work for Gen. David H. Petraeus when he was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Provided desks, e-mail accounts and top-level security clearances in Kabul, they pored through classified intelligence reports, participated in senior-level strategy sessions and probed the assessments of field officers in order to advise Petraeus about how to fight the war differently.
The Defense Department permits independent analysts to observe combat operations, but the practice became far more common when Petraeus became the top commander in Iraq. He has said that conversations with outside specialists helped to shape his strategic thinking.
The take-home benefit was equally significant: When the opinion makers returned home, they inevitably wrote op-eds, gave speeches and testified before Congress, generally imparting a favorable message about progress under Petraeus, all of which helped him sell the war effort and expand his popularity.
Other commanders soon caught on. By the time the Kagans arrived in Kabul in June 2010, it was commonplace for think-tankers and big-name columnists to make seven-to-10-day visits once or twice a year. Two analysts from the Council on Foreign Relations, Max Boot and Stephen Biddle, were in Afghanistan at the same time at the invitation of Petraeus.
If you are at all familiar with the foreign policy bogeymen feared most by Democratic Party liberals, the name Max Boot should leap off the page. With a name like Boot, how could it be otherwise? He was one of the loudest boosters of Bush’s occupation of Iraq and openly defends America’s right to rule the old through old-fashioned imperialist gunboat policies.
In 2010 General Petraeus received the Irving Kristol Prize from the American Enterprise Institute, the neocon think-tank that provided a roost for the Kagans. In his acceptance speech, he tipped his hat to them:
One recent AEI effort, of course, stands out in particular. In the fall of 2006, AEI scholars helped develop the concept for what came to be known as “the surge.” Fred and Kim Kagan and their team, which included retired General Jack Keane, prepared a report that made the case for additional troops in Iraq. As all here know, it became one of those rare think tank products that had a truly strategic impact.
Petraeus also made sure to pay homage to the ultrarightist in whose name the award is given:
But while Irving Kristol may be gone, his influence will be felt for generations to come. He was, of course, one of our Nation’s foremost thinkers on a host of topics, from economics and religion to social welfare and foreign policy. He was a man of staggering intellect who possessed a view of human nature and American politics that has, in many respects, stood the test of time.
Kristol, of course, was one of the prime architects of the Reagan revolution that all our good liberals keep urging us to root out, primarily through the mechanism of pulling the lever for Barack Obama, the same guy who has uttered these memorable words:
I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what’s different are the times…I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
Yeah, who wants those “excesses” of the 1960s? All that stuff about peace, love and understanding. Least of all someone like Barack Obama who hires a guy like David Petraeus for the same reason that George W. Bush did, namely to keep the restless natives at bay.
If Petraeus has a soft spot in his heart for Fred and Kimberly Kagan, it is only natural that the president would connect with Robert Kagan, Fred’s brother. As I reported last February, Obama was carrying around Robert Kagan’s new book “The World America Made” like a security blanket. Unlike the frothing at the mouth Tea Party types, Fred Kagan, Robert Kagan, and like-minded rightists are more than willing to work with a Democratic Party president who madman Dinesh D’Souza accused of plotting to transform America into a socialist republic by 2016. Robert Kagan reminded Foreign Policy readers back in March 2010 that shrewder neocons saw a consistency with the Bush administration:
Unnoticed amid the sniping in Washington over health care and the wailing about “broken government,” a broad and durable bipartisan consensus has begun falling into place in one unlikely area: foreign policy. Consider the fact that on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran — the most difficult, expensive, and potentially dangerous foreign challenges facing the United States — precious little now separates Barack Obama from most Republican leaders in and out of Congress.
That “broad and durable bipartisan consensus” amounts to bombing the shit out of anybody who is unlucky enough to get included in the President’s latest hit list.
Obama’s clear ambition is to cement a relationship with “reasonable” people like the Kagans. It must be deeply frustrating to him that despite the amicable bipartisan relationship between Alan Simpson, a Republican, and the Democrat Erskine Bowles there has been so little progress on the domestic front. Can’t the Republicans understand that it is worth some rich bastard getting by on $35 million per year rather than $40 million in exchange for the people at the bottom getting an equivalent cut in Social Security and Medicare?
Last January Obama said the following in his State of the Union Address:
To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.
The latest news, of course, is that SS payments will be slashed if Obama can get enough Republicans to vote for a package that uses a “chained” Consumer Price Index to calculate benefits. One of the first to sniff out the con game that would be put forward by the White House was Dean Baker who explained to Counterpunch readers what was at stake last July:
The justification for the change in the benefit formula is that the CCPI takes account of the substitutions that consumers make in response to changing prices. The classic story is that if the price of beef rises and the price of chicken doesn’t, people will buy more chicken and less beef. The CCPI takes this switching from beef to chicken into account in calculating inflation. The current CPI does not.
While there is an argument for taking account of this sort of substitution in the index, there are two important issues that arise when evaluating the cost of living of seniors. First, their consumption patterns differ substantially from the rest of the population. They consume more health care and fewer computers.
Some economists project expenditures to be reduced by $250 billion over a ten-year period if a chained CPI is adopted. In his latest budget Obama proposed spending about $5.8 trillion for the military over the next decade. That would account for roughly 11% of total federal spending in 2022. That’s just the ticket for a realigned Democratic Party that combines DLC types like Obama and the “reasonable” Republicans who would vote for guns rather than butter as long as they understood that the larger interests of the one percent were being served.
If you want to see where the country is going, all you need to do is look at Europe. France’s Socialist president is considering an all out attack on the social safety net according to a plan worked out by a member of the big bourgeoisie:
New York Times December 19, 2012
Challenging France to Do Business Differently
By LIZ ALDERMAN
PARIS — Louis Gallois, one of France’s most influential industrialists, knew he was about to make waves for the country’s Socialist president.
It was late October, and President François Hollande, faced with an alarming deterioration in the economy, had turned to Mr. Gallois for advice on how to put corporate France on a more competitive footing with the rest of Europe.
Mr. Gallois didn’t sugar-coat the message. His report called for a “competitiveness shock” that would require politicians to curb the “cult of regulation” he said was choking business in France.
The report said that unless France relaxed its notoriously rigid labor market, the country would continue on an industrial decline that had destroyed more than 750,000 jobs in a decade and helped shrink France’s share of exports to the European Union to 9.3 percent, from 12.7 percent, during that period. The report also called for cuts to a broad range of business taxes used to pay for big government and France’s expensive social safety net.
When people like Bill O’Reilly and Dinesh D’Souza warn about Obama taking the U.S. down the road to European style socialism, they obviously are on to something.
So how is it that people keep expressing a preference for not touching “entitlements” and we end up with a chained CPI despite Obama’s promises that benefits will not be cut? I guess I wised up after my one and only vote for a Democrat back in 1964 when I was assured that if Goldwater were elected we’d end up in a ground war in Vietnam. From that point on, I was open to the idea that Debs was right when he said that it was better to vote for what you want and not get it then to vote for what you don’t want and get it.
Apparently for two well-known “Marxist” supporters of Obama, the question of what you want is not that important. On August 9th, they argued that the elections were going to be a referendum:
To assume that the November elections are a moment to display our antipathy toward empire, moreover, misses entirely what is unfolding. This is not a referendum on the “America of Empire”: it is a referendum pitting the “America of Popular Democracy”—the progressive majority representing the changing demographics of the US and the increasing demands for broad equality and economic relief, especially the unemployed and the elderly—against the forces of unfettered neoliberalism and far right irrationalism.
In a sense this is right. The 1964 election was a referendum of sorts on the war in Vietnam. People voted for LBJ and got escalation. In the 2012 election people voted against “unfettered neoliberalism and far right irrationalism” and got a CIA Director who is honored with the Irving Kristol Prize from the American Enterprise Institute, and a chained CPI.
The problem with the “referendum” strategy is that it fails to recognize its non-binding character. Does anybody seriously think that because Obama said he was opposed to cuts in Social Security that he would be bound to keep his promise? Those speeches are not worth the paper they are written on.
On August 30, 1999, the people of East Timor had a referendum on whether to become a Special Autonomous Region within Indonesia, or for independence. Around 79% of voters opted for independence. In that very same year President Chavez of Venezuela put forward a referendum allowing for a new constitution as well as providing for recall referendums of elected officials as long as a minimum percentage of voters signed a petition. In the Venezuelan recall referendum of 2004 voters determined whether or not Chávez should be recalled from office. The result of the referendum was to not recall Chávez.
Those are real referendums. What Fletcher and Davidson are talking about has more to do with opinion polls. Like going to a polling station, going behind a curtain, and pulling a lever for whether you believe in capitalism or not. Let’s put it this way. Capitalism will not be eliminated through such atomized and nonbinding behavior. In fact, one of the main purposes of such exercises is to help stabilize the system by giving people the illusion that their vote makes a difference.
All in all, pulling the lever on election day in the U.S. for Obama in the hopes that he will not adopt “neoliberal excesses” is as vain as pushing the close button in many elevators. The elevator doors are actually timed to close according to a preset interval, such as 15 seconds. We are invited to press the close button anyhow since this gives the anxious passenger the feeling that things are moving forward.
While everything stopped here in America to watch the alleged nail-biter, or what the TV told us would be a nail-biter, how did the rest of the world react?
• “Today’s table topics: Egypt’s constitution-to-be, a proposed restaurant and shop curfew, the need for interior ministry reform. The U.S. presidential election? Not on the menu. ‘We’ve got more than enough to worry about with Morsi,’ the 42-year-old Somaya says, roughly chopping a bundle of molokheya, bitter greens common in the Egyptian kitchen. ‘I didn’t even know about the U.S. election, and I don’t care. Whoever wins won’t make a difference to us.’”
• “I confess to forgetting repeatedly about the US elections today. I was reporting on a mass hunger strike by some 700 prisoners demanding Kurdish education and court rights and an end to the isolation of PKK rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, serving a life sentence on an island jail. It is Day 55. They are surviving on sugar water and liquid vitamins.”
• “Islamabad woke to news of an Obama victory with an unimpressed yawn…. ‘The main thing people care about is the drone strikes,’ said a TV cameraman, setting up his gear outside the residence of the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires. ‘We all know that will not change whoever is in power.’”
1. His key appointments indicated a tilt toward Wall Street. Tim Geithner, his Secretary of the Treasury, was the brains behind TARP–in other words “too big to fail”. As head of the United States National Economic Council, Larry Summers pushed for tax cuts rather than New Deal type spending on roads, bridges, etc. Before becoming Attorney General, Eric Holder was at a Washington law firm that represented a Who’s Who of big banks and other companies at the center of alleged foreclosure fraud. That, no doubt, is why a Justice Department panel investigating mortgage security fraud is being starved for funds.
2. Working-class homeowners have suffered under the Obama administration. On taking office, Obama promised that up to 9 million of them would be protected from foreclosure but only 2.3 million have gotten assistance. Moreover, the White House never addressed the problem of plunging house prices that left owners being both unable to stay and to leave.
3. Despite their slavish support for Obama, trade unions have been treated poorly. Obama promised that he would fight for EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act), an act that would expedite union certification. Once in office, it was relegated to the back burner. When Wisconsin governor Scott Walker went on a union-busting rampage, Obama did nothing to back the protests and limited his support for a Democrat in a recall election to a tweet. When Chicago teachers went on strike against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Scott Walker-like attack, Obama stood aloof. This was to be expected, of course, since his Secretary of Education is a proponent of charter schools.
4. Despite foolish expectations that Obama would be a new FDR, Obama has functioned more like Hoover on the jobs creation front. There has been nothing like the WPA or the CCC, despite an aging infrastructure. And despite all the hoopla over the auto bailout, the net result has been a downsizing of the big three auto companies, as well as a sharp cut in benefits.
5. Both Obama and Romney love free trade. As liberal wonk Matt Iglesias put it, “And what’s more, all indications are that Barack Obama also doesn’t think Bain was doing anything wrong. As president he’s made no moves to make it illegal for companies to shift production work abroad and has publicly associated himself with a wide range of American firms—from GE to Apple and beyond—who’ve done just that to varying extents. And we all remember what happened to Obama’s promise to renegotiate NAFTA after taking office, right?”
6. Obama done nothing to solve the problem of greenhouse-gas related climate change, a point made by Al Gore in a Rolling Stone article. Despite the EPA’s requirement that new (but not existing) coal-fueled plants cut their emissions by half, there are signs that this will have little to do with reducing greenhouse gases since coal is being replaced across the board by the far cheaper natural gas.
7. Natural gas extraction is being facilitated through the use of hydrofracking, an environmentally devastating practice that the Obama administration has accepted without qualms. In his latest State of the Union speech, Obama’s pro-natural gas stance earned the praise of the pro-hydrofracking Independent Oil & Gas Association. His EPA chief Lisa Jackson told a Senate Committee that she knew of no instances where fracking affected water, a stance that endeared her to the ultra-reactionary NY Post. Finally, he gave TransCanada the OK to build the southern portion of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in June of this year. By contrast, Jill Stein was arrested when she was resupplying activists blockading the pipeline.
8. In the same month that he gave TransCanada the green light, Obama permitted oil drilling in the Arctic. This follows a decision in January to re-open 38 Million Acres in Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling. The fact that BP has given the largest chunk of its $3.5 million campaign contributions to Obama might well have something to do with this.
9. Obama has supported the building of nuclear power plants, even after Fukushima.
10. In 2009 Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack gave his personal approval for a 381-acre clear-cut in Tongass National Forest, America’s largest stand of temperate rain forest.
11. Last and far from least, Obama lifted the ban on hunting gray wolves in eight northern states in 2011. Maybe he and Sarah Palin can go shoot the beasts from a helicopter some time next year in the spirit of collaboration between the two parties. They can bring Chris Christie along, after making sure that the helicopter can carry all that weight.
12. Obama promised to close down Guantanamo but the prison remained open even after he said in the ill-conceived Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: ” I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war…That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed.”
13. When men imprisoned in Guantanamo demanded that they be tried in a U.S. court, the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. On Obama’s urging, the court denied a hearing, thus leading some to assert that a president with a background in constitutional law was gutting habeas corpus.
14. Obama maintains a secret kill list that included American citizens. This suspension of habeas corpus not only led to the murder of Anwar al-Awlaki—an American—but his 16 year old son who was never charged with a crime. Robert Gibbs, Obama’s former press secretary, defending the killing this way: “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children.
15. Obama’s raid on Osama bin-Laden’s house was essentially illegal. Amnesty International described it as an extrajudicial execution.
16. His use of drones has led to the deaths of many noncombatants, including a number that have been covered up. The criterion used by the White House is that any military aged male within the target range is fair game. If this is not the policy of a war criminal, then I do not know what is.
17. Many of Obama’s policies are shrouded in secrecy. When the White House leaked word about its kill list—intended to burnish its reputation as tough on terror—nothing happened. But when people like Bradley Manning reveal the machinations that lead to war, he is put in solitary confinement and faced with a lengthy prison term.
18. Despite the hostility of Netanyahu, Israel continues to get carte blanche from the administration. When Americans consider the possibility of joining a flotilla to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, they have to worry about the threats of fines and imprisonment brandished by Hillary Clinton. Despite toothless remonstrations to Israel about West Bank settlements, the U.S. voted against a U.N. resolution that described them as illegal. Finally, despite American nervousness about an armed attack on Iran, the U.S. continues to back crippling sanctions all in the name of reducing the threat to Israel, a country that flouts international treaties against its own stockpile of nuclear weapons.
19. Against all evidence that its occupation of Afghanistan has been a disaster to the Afghan people and to the soldiers serving there, Obama pledges to “finish the job” in Nixonian terms. Sticking to a 2014 deadline for withdrawal, he will likely step up the use of drones as he begins to wind down troop deployments. 42 states and the District of Columbia are facing serious budget shortfalls this year. Spending for the Afghanistan war would more than make up for the shortfalls. As is always the case, it is guns trump butter.
20. Despite all the hype about the breakthrough of having the first African-American president, there are signs that Obama has largely ignored the suffering of Black America. In a very important article that appeared in the October 28th New York Times, Columbia University’s director of Black studies wrote: “Whether it ends in 2013 or 2017, the Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality.” Among the findings in this article: 28 percent of African-Americans, and 37 percent of black children, are poor (compared with 10 percent of whites and 13 percent of white children); 13 percent of blacks are unemployed (compared with 7 percent of whites); more than 900,000 black men are in prison; blacks experienced a sharper drop in income since 2007 than any other racial group; black household wealth, which had been disproportionately concentrated in housing, has hit its lowest level in decades; blacks accounted, in 2009, for 44 percent of new H.I.V. infections.
21. Obama has deported twice the number of undocumented workers per annum than Bush. 59 percent of Latinos disapprove of his policies but face the quandary of voting for Romney, who complains that Obama is not deporting enough.
22. Obamacare has effectively preempted the only health care option that made sense, namely a single-payer plan that would effectively extended Medicare (but a much improved on) to all. As Obama has said on countless occasions, this is the same plan that Romney pushed through when he was governor of Massachusetts. It is also the same plan that American Enterprise Institute scholar J.D. Kleinke defended in a September 29, 2012 NYT op-ed piece titled “The Conservative Case for Obamacare”: The rationalization and extension of the current market is financed by the other linchpin of the law: the mandate that we all carry health insurance, an idea forged not by liberal social engineers at the Brookings Institution but by conservative economists at the Heritage Foundation. The individual mandate recognizes that millions of Americans who could buy health insurance choose not to, because it requires trading away today’s wants for tomorrow’s needs. The mandate is about personal responsibility — a hallmark of conservative thought.”
23. Obama set up something called National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that was co-chaired by a couple of fiscal hawks, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. There are fears that the policies favored by these two reactionaries will be implemented as cuts in Social Security in Obama’s second term. In his debate with Romney, Obama said, “I suspect that on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker — Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. But it is — the basic structure is sound.” With the likely continuation of Bush tax cuts, there will be pressure to cut the deficit. Between Social Security and tax breaks for billionaires, guess which will be sacrificed.
24. The White House has been a pillar of support for charter schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is one of the country’s leading advocates for what amounts to the privatization of public schools and the liquidation of the teacher’s union, one of the few in the country that still has some backbone. The irrepressible Diane Ravitch described Duncan this way: “Duncan cheered when the superintendent of the Central Falls, Rhode Island, school district threatened to fire every teacher in the town’s only high school; the Education Secretary memorably said that Hurricane Katrina—which wiped out public schools and broke the teachers’ union in New Orleans—was the best thing that ever happened to the school system in that city. Teachers are demoralized by such statements.”
25. Finally, in the one bright spot in recent American history of people challenging the status quo—namely the Occupy movement—there is strong evidence that the White House conspired with local authorities to crush it. David Lindorff reported for Counterpunch: “A new trove of heavily redacted documents provided by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) on behalf of filmmaker Michael Moore and the National Lawyers Guild makes it increasingly evident that there was and is a nationally coordinated campaign to disrupt and crush the Occupy Movement.”
None of this should be interpreted, of course, as a preference for Romney, which would be like recommending cyanide instead of arsenic.
On Tuesday I will be happily pulling the lever for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president.
“Won’t Back Down” is a marriage made in hell between bad art and bad politics. Sitting through it at a press screening on Monday night was the most painful experience I have had since undergoing emergency laser surgery on both eyes to relieve the pressure that would have led to glaucoma and possible blindness. Halfway through the screening I began to wonder if laser surgery might be needed to relieve the pressure on my brain that this awful film was producing. With its treacly Lifetime cable TV clichés and its reckless disregard for the reality surrounding the charter school juggernaut backed by Democrats and Republicans alike, it might take months for me to get the bad taste out of my mouth, like the one that accompanies a hangover from really cheap wine. Maybe the answer is to lock myself in my bedroom and watch the collected works of Akira Kurosawa over the next week or so.
Despite some rather pro forma gestures at making the teacher’s union appear something a bit less threatening than a George Romero zombie attack, the key moment arrives when the head of the union quotes Albert Shanker: “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” Although Shanker was a pretty despicable figure, that quote was apocryphal. It first appeared in a Mississippi newspaper (surprise, surprise) but without any source. In fact enemies of the teacher’s unions rather than their leaders are the ones that tend to use it. For example, New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, one of the country’s top charter school boosters along with Michelle Rhee, used it an June 2011 Atlantic Magazine article that also stated:
The traditional schools, as well as their employees and the unions, are screaming bloody murder, something vividly depicted in The Lottery, a recent documentary that shows community agitators brought in by the union to oppose giving public-school space to the Harlem Success network. But this kind of push-back is actually a good sign: it means that the monopolists are beginning to feel the effects of competition.
Furthermore, with respect to the real Albert Shanker—as opposed to the inversion made by screenwriters Brin Hill and Daniel Barnz (who also directed)—the truth is that he was one of the early supporters of charter schools as the American Federation of Teachers website points out:
In a landmark address in 1988, former AFT president Albert Shanker became one of the first education leaders to champion the concept of charter schools. Shanker envisioned teacher-led laboratories of reform that would experiment with new instructional practices. These practices would then be subjected to rigorous evaluation and, if successful, would serve as models for other public schools.
Shanker also saw charter schools as a way to empower teachers, free them from overly bureaucratic regulations, and strengthen their voice in school and curriculum decision-making. In his view, unions were essential to charter schools, because unions help create the kind of secure work environment that encourages innovation and risk-taking.
As a stand-in for the creator’s confused liberal politics, the script includes a young, dedicated and pro-union teacher named Michael Perry who becomes Maggie Gyllenhaal’s love interest at first and then ultimately her ally in privatizing the school (this is really what the struggle ultimately boils down to.) As a way of demonstrating his idealism, he is identified as coming off the Teach for America assembly line. In keeping with the failure to represent Shanker’s true beliefs (and it is no surprise that the rancid social democrat would have had good words for charter schools), there is little inkling of the dovetailing of charter schools and Teach for America. Both are “reforms” intended to break the back of a powerful and effective trade union.
In Boston, TFA corps members replaced 20 pink-slipped teachers, says Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman. “These are people who have been trained, who are experienced and who have good evaluations, and are being replaced by brand-new employees.”
This month, he met with about 18 other local union presidents, all of whom said they’d seen teachers laid off to make room for TFA members.
“I don’t think you’ll find a city that isn’t laying off people to accommodate Teach For America,” he says.
In March, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., schools Superintendent Peter Gorman told board members he was laying off hundreds of teachers but sparing 100 TFAers because the district “made a commitment to this program.” Gorman noted that TFA teachers “are placed at schools with high populations of underprivileged students where the placement of personnel has proven to be difficult.”
You really have to wonder if Brin Hill or Daniel Barnz gave a shit about the truth. These are a couple of hacks that were only too happy to pick up a paycheck from Walden Media, the rightwing production company founded by billionaire Philip Anschutz who advocates teaching creationism in public schools. I can just imagine these knuckleheads sending their kids to such a place.
This is Brin Hill’s first screenplay and it really shows it. As for Barnz, he had the chutzpah to tell the N.Y. Times last February that “I am strongly pro-union”. He also stated that “wanted to recreate the thrill of past action-inspiring social dramas without being snared in partisan debate.” Working from an earlier script by Hill, Barnz clearly sought to create a movie in the spirit of “Norma Rae”, “Erin Brokovich”, or “Silkwood”, all of which feature a working-class woman fighting against Bad Guys standing in the way of truth, justice and the American way. Showing some awareness that an Anschutz-funded project is not likely to fulfill those hopes, he has a female character on the trade union staff say, “When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?”
Perhaps there is some value to the film in that it will galvanize public opinion, and particularly that of critics, about what it represents politically. As a clumsy recitation of charter school talking points, it will hopefully serve as a wake-up call in the same manner as Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks. But it would be a big mistake to attribute its toxic message to the designs of the Mitt Romney’s of the world, including the men who run Walden Media and Twentieth Century Fox, the corporation that released it (owned by Rupert Murdoch.) The charter school movement is an alliance between conservatives and liberals, something that was perhaps lost on A.O. Scott who told his N.Y. Times readers that it “might serve as a useful counterweight to the conventional wisdom that Hollywood is a liberal propaganda factory.”
In truth, despite its ultra-right corporate backing, the movie is very much liberal propaganda. The movie was inspired by the attempt of Parent Revolution to take over a couple of schools in California. To call this outfit conservative would be very far from the truth, as the composition of its board of directors would indicate:
Previously, as a strategy consultant, she launched new organizations, restructured existing efforts, forged partnerships across sectors and branded international efforts.. For Sir Richard Branson and Nelson Mandela, she helped convene and advise the development of The Elders, an independent group of eminent global leaders who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.
Peter also has extensive national, state, and local political experience. He was a staff member in the Office of Political Affairs at the White House during the Clinton Administration, and has worked on numerous political campaigns across the country. He remains involved in the community, both as an active participant in bar activities and as President of the Board of Directors of the Tierra del Sol Foundation, a non-profit that serves developmentally disabled adults. Immediately before joining the firm, he was Vice President of Communications for a $100 million/year nonprofit based in Los Angeles County.
In other words, these are the same kinds of people that Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, is aligned with. They get their funding from the Gates Foundation, launched by a billionaire who has lavished money on Democrats and Republicans alike, just as is the case with Goldman-Sachs.
I want to conclude with a recommendation of some pieces I have written in the past about charter schools and Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media.
I first took a look at charter schools after seeing “Waiting for ‘Superman’”, a Walden Media documentary and “The Lottery”, another preachy documentary:
In Waiting for “Superman” and The Lottery, the heroes are charter school administrators like Geoffrey Canada and Eva Moskowitz who operate in New York City, and Michelle Rhee who ran the board of education in Washington. Moskowitz is an ubiquitous and truly unpleasant presence in The Lottery while the equally toxic Rhee is dominant in Waiting for “Superman”. Mostly they say that if the teachers unions were busted, an educational Messianic era would ensue. The only thing standing in the way of success in poverty-stricken Black and Latino neighborhoods is teachers enjoying protection against being arbitrarily fired–a basic right won through collective bargaining.
Canada, Moskowitz and Rhee are depicted as the champions of the plucky families who are doing everything they can to get their kids into a charter school. Canada practically guarantees that graduating from his Harlem Children’s Zone will open doors at Harvard, Princeton and Yale. It is hard not to feel for the underdogs they profess to fight for, whose main enemy appears to be an unfeeling and greedy teacher’s union rather than poverty and racism.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, is called upon to make the case for protection against firing but is not really allowed much more than soundbites. She plays kind of the same role that Charlton Heston played as head of the National Rifleman’s Association in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, or a Dr. No in a James Bond movie: the sum of all fears.
And with respect to Philip Anschutz, he is a far more evil bastard than Dr. No as my review of “Amazing Grace” would demonstrate.
Thanks to my good friend and comrade Prairie Miller who was one of the founders of New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) and who hosts an Arts show at WBAI, I was able to watch Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary on Barack Obama on Vimeo, an option becoming more prevalent for film reviewers both professional and amateur like me.
Although it was not quite as painful as sitting through “Won’t Back Down”, it was not easy listening to this conservative creep for 90 minutes. Even worse was looking at him, a face that only a mother could love.
The documentary is titled 2016: Obama’s America, and is based on his 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage. According to Prairie, it “is apparently poised to overtake Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 as the most financially successful documentary of all time.” As P.T. Barnum once said, “a sucker is born every minute.”
D’Souza is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a veteran of the “culture wars” in which rightwingers try to make the case that places like his alma mater and Columbia University, from which I retired after 21 mostly happy years, are the equivalents of the Smolny Institute in the summer of 1917. With other noodniks like David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes, who is given the platform in the final 15 minutes or so of the film, we are led to believe that characters like Columbia University’s Lee Bollinger and Bard College’s Leon Botstein are allied with George Soros and other liberal billionaires in a conspiracy to lead a socialist revolution in the U.S. In fact the title of D’Souza’s film is meant to warn Amuricans (as LBJ used to put it) that Obama’s reelection will culminate in a Soviet America in 2016. Christ almighty, if only that were true.
Doing a clumsy imitation of an intellectual, D’Souza tries to get to the roots of Obama’s alleged “anti-Americanism”. It goes something like this. Although Obama hardly knew his father, his mother served as a transmission belt for his anti-colonial ideas. When she was in Indonesia with her new husband Lolo, she always expressed a preference for her first husband who supposedly was for “sticking it to the man”. Lolo, it seems, was bought off by the Western oil companies doing business in Indonesia and even went so far as to go out on commie-killing missions when he was in the Indonesian army during Suharto’s dictatorship.
Once she bought her son back to Hawaii, he was put under the tutelage of Frank Marshall Davis, a member of the Communist Party who was close to Barack’s Nigerian birth father ideologically as well as his grandfather Sidney Dunham, who according to interviewee Paul Kengor (the author of “The Communist. Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor”) was some kind of Red. It all sounds rather like a half-assed version of “The Manchurian Candidate”, doesn’t it? All this led to Obama finally embracing the ideas of Edward Said, Roberto Unger (his law professor at Harvard), Bill Ayers, and Jeremiah Wright.
Like most rightwing intellectuals, I doubt that Dinesh D’Souza reads much out of his comfort zone of the Weekly Standard, the National Review, and Wall Street Journal editorial pages.
But if you read the article titled “Party of None: Barack Obama’s annoying journey to the center of belonging” by Chris Bray in the thankfully reincarnated “The Baffler”, you will discover that Barack Obama’s mother was “an employee of a thinly veiled Cold War agency, reporting to the American director of an organization with an office at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.” This hardly sounds like sticking it to the man.
As far as Frank Marshall Davis is concerned, I found his advice to Obama, as recounted in “Dreams From My Father”, a rather perceptive take on where his supposed tutee was headed:
What had Frank called college? An advanced degree in compromise. I thought back to the last time I had seen the old poet, a few days before I left Hawaii. We had made small talk for a while; he complained about his feet, the corns and bone spurs that he insisted were a direct result of trying to force African feet into European shoes. Finally he asked me what I expected to get out of college. I told him that I didn’t know. He shook his big, hoary head.
“Well,” he said, “that’s the problem, isn’t it? You don’t know. You’re just like the rest of those young cats out here. All you know is that college is the next thing you are supposed to do. And the people who are young enough to know better, who fought all those years for your right to go to college—they’re just so happy to see you in there that they won’t tell you the truth. The real price of admission.”
“And what’s that?”
“Leaving your race at the door,” he said. “Leaving your people behind.” He studied me over the top of his reading glasses. You’re not going to college to get educated. You’re going there to get trained. They’ll train you to want you don’t need. They’ll train you to manipulate words so they don’t mean anything anymore. They’ll train you so good, you’ll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit. They’ll give you a corner office and invite you to fancy dinners, and tell you that you’re a credit to your race. Until you want to actually start running things, and then they’ll yank on your chain and let you know that you may be a well-trained, well-paid nigger, but you’re a nigger just the same.”
And finally there’s this. If Roberto Unger is supposedly a guide to the ideology of the man who is a shoo-in for another term as most powerful capitalist head of state in the world, just check what he said on Youtube in May of this year:
President Obama must be defeated in the coming election.
He has failed to advance the progressive cause in the United States. He has spent trillions of dollars to rescue the moneyed interests and left workers and homeowners to their own devices. He has subordinated the broadening of economic and educational opportunities to the important but secondary issue of access to health care in the mistaken belief that he would be spared a fight.
He has disguised his surrender with an empty appeal to tax justice. He has delivered the politics of democracy to the rule of money. He has reduced justice to charity.
His policy is financial confidence and food stamps. He has evoked a politics of hand holding. But no one changes the world without a struggle.
Unless he is defeated, there cannot be a contest for the re-orientation of the Democratic Party as the vehicle of a progressive alternative in the country. There will be a cost for his defeat in judicial and administrative appointments.
The risk of military adventurism, however, under the rule of his opponents, will be no greater than it would be under him.
Only a political reversal can allow the voice of democratic prophesy to speak once again in American life. Its speech is always dangerous. Its silence is always fatal.
That is the voice of a genuine radical, not the one that the Tea Party and its house intellectuals choose as its target. Obama will surely withstand their attacks and in the next four years we can expect more of the same, an unrelenting austerity drive like the one taking place in Europe. There is a need for a documentary about Obama but it will be up to genuine socialists to make it. With Michael Moore’s shilling for Obama as some kind of man on white horse and the D’Souza’s of the world trying to knock him out of his saddle, there’s an opening for a radical filmmaker to tell it like it is. Hey, you out there, what are you waiting for?