Morning Reads: GOP ‘Scandals’ Run Into Trouble; CBS’ Colbert Pick Sparks Outrage

Morning Reads: GOP ‘Scandals’ Run Into Trouble; CBS’ Colbert Pick Sparks Outrage (via Moyers & Company)

Good morning — and happy Friday! Today is both National Pet Day and National Cheese Fondue Day. Warning: We don’t recommend giving your pet cheese fondue. Sebellius out –> After five years shepherding the ACA forward, Health and Human Services…


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Leaked Senate torture report conclusions say program ‘far worse’ than Congress knew

By Adi Robertson on April 11, 2014 10:50 am The Verge

 

In early April, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify nearly 500 pages of a report on “enhanced interrogation,” frequently characterized as torture, under the George W. Bush administration. Now, McClatchy has obtained and published a two-page list of findings, confirming that the Senate believes the CIA impeded legal oversight, went beyond limits set by the Department of Justice, and misrepresented the program, which the report describes as far more brutal than previously known. Committee chair Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has previously condemned the program as “a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen,” even accusing the CIA of breaking into Senate computers to erase evidence.

 

The 6,300-page full report was based on classified information and will not be released in its entirety; the executive summary and other pieces must go through a declassification review by the CIA and White House. McClatchy’s documents present broad conclusions that nonetheless paint a damning picture. “The CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques was brutal and far worse than the agency communicated to policymakers,” says one statement. Another calls the CIA’s claims about how many people were subject to its enhanced interrogation techniques, including stress positions and waterboarding, inaccurate. “The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention,” it says. Former CIA director Michael Hayden said during his tenure that that the number was around 30.

 

The CIA allegedly provided false information to the Department of Justice and actively avoided oversight by it as well as Congress, the White House, and the CIA Office of Inspector General. It also is said to have “manipulated the media” by coordinating the release of classified information that made the program appear more effective than it was. In reality, the Senate report concludes, it provided little intelligence value and sometimes actively hampered the missions of other agencies, and the CIA did little to evaluate how well it actually worked. Agency members who acted inappropriately or committed “serious violations” in the program, meanwhile, were allegedly rarely held accountable. In 2005, the agency destroyed 92 tapes of interrogation recordings as scrutiny of its techniques mounted. More recently, it supposedly attempted to suppress evidence of its own internal report, which called the effectiveness of the program into question.


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Were North Carolina Regulators Helping Duke Energy Avoid Big Fines?

Were North Carolina Regulators Helping Duke Energy Avoid Big Fines? (via Moyers & Company)

News broke last week that Duke Energy and its North Carolina regulator had worked together to minimize penalties the utility would have to pay for leeching chemicals into the drinking water. And this was before a coal ash spill last month dumped thousands…


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One of the most remarkable revolts in world history

[From: Delancey Place]

Today’s selection — from The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt. In 494 BCE, the people of Rome staged one of the most remarkable and imaginative protests in world history. Though this protest brought some reform, it underscored the seemingly never-ending struggle of the plebs against the major landowners and ruling elite:

“It was the strangest spectacle seen since the foundation of Rome. A long stream of families could be observed leaving the city in what looked like a general evacuation. They walked southward and climbed a sparsely populated hill, the Aventine, which stands across a valley from the Palatine, the site of Romulus’s first settlement. They were, broadly speaking, the poor and the disadvantaged — artisans and farmers, peasants and urban workers. They carried with them a few days’ worth of food. On arrival they set up camp, building a stockade and a trench. There they stayed quietly, like a weaponless army, offering no provocation or violence. They waited, doing nothing. 

“This was a mass protest, one of the most remarkable and imaginative in world history. It was like a modern general strike, but with an added dimension. The workers were not simply withdrawing their labor; they were withdrawing themselves. …

The Secession of the People to the Mons Sacer, engraving by B. Barloccini, 1849.


“What, then, was their complaint? … The poor were burdened with debt and arbitrary treatment by those in authority; they sought redress. Many had reached a point where the only thing they owned with which to repay their debts was themselves — their labor, their bodies. In that case, they were able to enter into a system of debt bondage, known as nexum, literally an interlacing or binding together. In the presence of five witnesses, a lender weighed out the money or copper to be lent. The debtor could now settle what he owed. In return he handed himself over — his person and his services (although he retained his civic rights). The lender recited a formula: ‘For such and such a sum of money you are now nexus, my bondsman.’ He then chained the debtor, to dramatize his side of the bargain. 

“This brutal arrangement did not in itself attract disapproval, for it did provide a solution, however rough-and-ready, to extreme indebtedness. What really aroused anger was the oppressive or unfair treatment of a bonded slave. The creditor-owner even had the right to put him to death, at least in theory. Livy tells the story of a victim, an old man, who suddenly appeared one day in the Forum. Pale and emaciated, he wore soiled and threadbare clothes. His hair and beard were unkempt. Altogether, he was a pitiable sight. A crowd gathered, and learned that he had once been a soldier who commanded a company and served his country with distinction. How had he come to this pass? He replied:

While I was on service during the Sabine war, my crops were ruined by enemy raids, and my cottage was burnt. Everything I had was taken, including my cattle. Then, when I was least able to do so, I was expected to pay taxes, and the result was I fell into debt. Interest on the borrowed money increased my burden; I lost the land which my father and grandfather had owned before me, and then my other possessions. Ruin spread like an infection through all I had. Even my body wasn’t exempt, for I was finally seized by my creditor and reduced to slavery — no, worse, I was hauled away to prison and the torture chamber …

 

“In 326, a scandal led to the reform of debt bondage, the nexum. An attractive youth sold himself into bondage to a creditor of his father. The creditor regarded the youth’s charms as an additional bonus to sweeten the loan and tried to seduce his new acquisition. Meeting resistance, he had the boy stripped naked and flogged. Bleeding from the lash, the boy rushed out into the street. An angry crowd gathered and marched on the Senate House for general redress.

 

“The consuls, taken aback conceded the point. They won the People’s approval of a law limiting the nexum to extreme cases, which, in addition, had to be adjudicated by a court. As a rule, to repay money lent him, a debtor’s property could be seized, but not his person.”

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Arizona GOP congressional candidate: Slavery wasn’t so bad, ‘kept business rolling’

Arizona GOP congressional candidate: Slavery wasn’t so bad, ‘kept business rolling’ (via Raw Story )

An Arizona Republican who is running to represent the state’s 2nd District in Congress wrote on Facebook that the institution of slavery wasn’t really so hard on slaves and was actually good for the economy. According to the Root’s Keli Goff,…


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On the Money: Giving Big

On the Money: Giving Big (via Moyers & Company)

Sincere or strategic, lobbyists give big → When lobbyists dig into their wallets to make political donations, there are a number of beneficiaries – the politician (usually an incumbent), the organization that gains access to the legislative process…


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The Myth Behind Public School Failure

In the rush to privatize the country’s schools, corporations and politicians have decimated school budgets, replaced teaching with standardized testing, and placed the blame on teachers and students.

by 

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Photo by hxdbzxy/Shutterstock

Until about 1980, America’s public schoolteachers were iconic everyday heroes painted with a kind of Norman Rockwell patina—generally respected because they helped most kids learn to read, write and successfully join society. Such teachers made possible at least the idea of a vibrant democracy.

Since then, what a turnaround: We’re now told, relentlessly, that bad-apple schoolteachers have wrecked K-12 education; that their unions keep legions of incompetent educators in classrooms; that part of the solution is more private charter schools; and that teachers as well as entire schools lack accountability, which can best be remedied by more and more standardized “bubble” tests. 

What led to such an ignoble fall for teachers and schools? Did public education really become so irreversibly terrible in three decades? Is there so little that’s redeemable in today’s schoolhouses?

The beginning of “reform”
To truly understand how we came to believe our educational system is broken, we need a history lesson. Rewind to 1980—when Milton Friedman, the high priest of laissez-faire economics, partnered with PBS to produce a ten-part television series called Free to Choose. He devoted one episode to the idea of school vouchers, a plan to allow families what amounted to publicly funded scholarships so their children could leave the public schools and attend private ones.

You could make a strong argument that the current campaign against public schools started with that single TV episode. To make the case for vouchers, free-market conservatives, corporate strategists, and opportunistic politicians looked for any way to build a myth that public schools were failing, that teachers (and of course their unions) were at fault, and that the cure was vouchers and privatization.

Jonathan Kozol, the author and tireless advocate for public schools, called vouchers the “single worst, most dangerous idea to have entered education discourse in my adult life.”

Armed with Friedman’s ideas, President Reagan began calling for vouchers. In 1983, his National Commission on Excellence in Education issued “A Nation At Risk,” a report that declared, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

It also said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

 

Sandia Infographic         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a document that’s had such lasting impact, “A Nation At Risk” is remarkably free of facts and solid data. Not so the Sandia Report, a little-known follow-up study commissioned by Admiral James Watkins, Reagan’s secretary of energy; it discovered that the falling test scores which caused such an uproar were really a matter of an expansion in the number of students taking the tests. In truth, standardized-test scores were going up for every economic and ethnic segment of students—it’s just that, as more and more students began taking these tests over the 20-year period of the study, this more representative sample of America’s youth better reflected the true national average. It wasn’t a teacher problem. It was a statistical misread.

The government never officially released the Sandia Report. It languished in peer-review purgatory until the Journal of Educational Researchpublished it in 1993. Despite its hyperbole (or perhaps because of it), “A Nation At Risk” became a timely cudgel for the larger privatization movement. With Reagan and Friedman, the Nobel-Prize-winning economist, preaching that salvation would come once most government services were turned over to private entrepreneurs, the privatizers began proselytizing to get government out of everything from the post office to the public schools.

Corporations recognized privatization as a euphemism for profits. “Our schools are failing” became the slogan for those who wanted public-treasury vouchers to move money into private schools. These cries continue today.

The era of accountability
In 2001, less than a year into the presidency of George W. Bush, the federal government enacted sweeping legislation called “No Child Left Behind.” Supporters described it as a new era of accountability—based on standardized testing. The act tied federal funding for public schools to student scores on standardized tests. It also guaranteed millions in profits to corporations such as Pearson PLC, the curriculum and testing juggernaut, which made more than $1 billion in 2012 selling textbooks and bubble tests. 

In 2008, the economy collapsed. State budgets were eviscerated. Schools were desperate for funding. In 2009, President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, created a program they called “Race to the Top.”

It didn’t replace No Child Left Behind; it did step in with grants to individual states for their public schools. Obama and Duncan put desperate states in competition with each other. Who got the money was determined by several factors, including which states did the best job of improving the performance of failing schools—which, in practice, frequently means replacing public schools with for-profit charter schools—and by a measure of school success based on students’ standardized-test scores that allegedly measured “progress.”

Since 2001 and No Child Left Behind, the focus of education policy makers and corporate-funded reformers has been to insist on more testing—more ways to quantify and measure the kind of education our children are getting, as well as more ways to purportedly quantify and measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools.
For a dozen or so years, this “accountability movement” was pretty much the only game in town. It used questionable, even draconian, interpretations of standardized-test results to brand schools as failures, close them, and replace them with for-profit charter schools. 

Resistance 
Finally, in early 2012, then-Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott kindled a revolt of sorts, saying publicly that high-stakes exams are a “perversion.” His sentiments quickly spread to Texas school boards, whose resolution stating that tests were “strangling education” gained support from more than 875 school districts representing more than 4.4 million Texas public-school students. Similar, if smaller, resistance to testing percolated in other communities nationally.

Then, in January 2013, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School announced they would refuse to give their students the Measures of Academic Progress Test—the MAP test. Despite threats of retaliation by their district, they held steadfast. By May, the district caved, telling its high schools the test was no longer mandatory.

Garfield’s boycott triggered a nationwide backlash to the “reform” that began with Friedman and the privatizers in 1980. At last, Americans from coast to coast have begun redefining the problem for what it really is: not an education crisis but a manufactured catastrophe, a facet of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.”

Look closely—you’ll recognize the formula: Underfund schools. Overcrowd classrooms. Mandate standardized tests sold by private-sector firms that “prove” these schools are failures. Blame teachers and their unions for awful test scores. In the bargain, weaken those unions, the largest labor organizations remaining in the United States. Push nonunion, profit-oriented charter schools as a solution.

If a Hurricane Katrina or a Great Recession comes along, all the better. Opportunities for plunder increase as schools go deeper into crisis, whether genuine or ginned up.

The reason for privatization

Chris Hedges, the former New York Times correspondent, appeared on Democracy Now! in 2012 and told host Amy Goodman the federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education—“and the corporations want it. That’s what’s happening. And that comes through charter schools. It comes through standardized testing. And it comes through breaking teachers’ unions and essentially hiring temp workers, people who have very little skills.”

If you doubt Hedges, at least trust Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul and capitalist extraordinaire whose Amplify corporation already is growing at a 20 percent rate, thanks to its education contracts. “When it comes to K through 12 education,” Murdoch said in a November 2010 press release, “we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

Corporate-speak for, “Privatize the public schools. Now, please.”

In a land where the free market has near-religious status, that’s been the answer for a long time. And it’s always been the wrong answer. The problem with education is not bad teachers making little Johnny into a dolt. It’s about Johnny making big corporations a bundle—at the expense of the well-educated citizenry essential to democracy.

And, of course, it’s about the people and ideas now reclaiming and rejuvenating our public schools and how we all can join the uprising against the faux reformers.

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Dean Paton wrote this article for Education Uprising, the Spring 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Dean is executive editor of YES!

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On the Money: Four Years After Citizens United

On the Money: Four Years After Citizens United (via Moyers & Company)

This is the third installment of a new feature at Moyers & Company, as producer Gail Ablow shares her must-read money-and-politics stories every week. Legalized bribery –> It is four years this week since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision…

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The Mandela Barbie

GREG PALAST, National of Change

Mandela

The Mandela Barbie is dressed to serve a new version of racism, Apartheid 2.0, worsening both in South Africa—and in the U.S.

I can’t take it anymore. All week, I’ve watched Nelson Mandela reduced to a Barbie doll. From Fox News to the Bush family, the politicians and media mavens who body-blocked the anti-Apartheid Movement and were happy to keep Mandela behind bars, now get to dress his image up in any silly outfit they choose. 

Poor Mandela. When he’s not a doll, he’s a statue. He joins Martin Luther King as another bronzed monument whose use is to tell us that apartheid is now “defeated” – to quote the ridiculous headline in the Times.

It’s more nauseating than hypocrisy and ignorance. The Mandela Barbie is dressed to serve a new version of racism, Apartheid 2.0, worsening both in South Africa – and in the USA.

The ruling class creates commemorative dolls and statues of revolutionary leaders as a way to tell us their cause is won, so go home. For example, just months ago, the US Supreme Court overturned the Voting Rights Act, Dr. King’s greatest accomplishment, on the specious claim that, “Blatantly discriminatory evasions are rare,” and Jim Crow voting practices are now “eradicated.”

“Eradicated?” On what planet? The latest move by Florida Republicans to purge 181,000 voters of color – like the stench from the shantytowns of Cape Town – makes clear that neither Jim Crow nor Apartheid has been defeated. They’re just in temporary retreat.

Nevertheless, our betters in the USA and Europe have declared that King slew segregation, Mandela defeated apartheid; and therefore, the new victims of racial injustice should just shut the f$#! up and stop whining. The Man

Who Walked Beside Mandela

To replace the plastic and metal Mandelas with flesh and blood, I spoke to Danny Schechter. Schechter knew Mandela personally, and more deeply, than any other American journalist. “One of the great reporters of our generation, Schechter produced South Africa Now, a weekly program for PBS Television stations, from 1988-91, bringing Mandela’s case to Americans dumbed and numbed on by Ronald Reagan’s red-baiting.

Schechter has just completed the difficult job of making the official documentary companion to the Hollywood version of Mandela’s life, Long Walk to Freedom. The fictional movie is about triumph and forgiveness. Schechter’s documentary, Inside Mandela, has this aplenty, but knowing Mandela, Schechter includes Mandela’s anger, despair and his pained legacy: a corroded South Africa still ruled by a brutal economic apartheid. Today, the average white family has five times the income of a black family. Welcome to “freedom.”

The US and European press have focused on Mandela’s saintly ability to abjure bitterness and all desire for revenge, and for his Christ-like forgiveness of his captors. This is to reassure us all that “good” revolutionaries are ones who don’t hold anyone to account for murder, plunder and blood-drenched horror – or demand compensation. That’s Mandela in his Mahatma Gandhi doll outfit – turning the other cheek, kissing his prison wardens.

Schechter doesn’t play with dolls. He knew Mandela the man – and Mandela as one among a group of revolutionary leaders.

Mandela’s circle knew this: You can’t forgive those you defeat until you defeat them.

And, despite the hoo-hah, Mandela didn’t defeat apartheid with “nice” alone. In the 1980s, says Schechter, South African whites faced this reality: The Cubans who defeated South African troops in neighboring Angola were ready to move into South Africa. The Vietnamese who had defeated the mighty USA were advising Mandela’s military force.

And so, while Mandela held out a hand in forgiveness – in his other hand he held Umkhonto we Sizwe, a spear to apartheid’s heart. And Mandela’s comrades tied a noose: an international embargo, leaky though it was, that lay siege to South Africa’s economy.

Seeing the writing on the wall (and envisioning their blood on the floor), the white-owned gold and diamond cartels, Anglo-American and DeBeers, backed by the World Bank, came to Mandela with a bargain: black Africans could have voting power . . . but not economic power.

Mandela chose to shake hands with this devil and accept the continuation of economic apartheid. In return for safeguarding the diamond and gold interests and protecting white ownership of land, mines and businesses, he was allowed the presidency, or at least the office and title.

It is a bargain that ate at Mandela’s heart. He was faced with the direct threat of an embargo of capital, and taking note of the beating endured by his Cuban allies over resource nationalization, Mandela swallowed the poison with a forced grin. Yes, a new South African black middle class has been handed a slice of the mineral pie, but that just changes the color of the hand holding the whip.

The 1% Rainbow

In the end, all revolutions are about one thing: the 99% versus the 1%. Time and history can change the hue of the aristocrat, but not their greed, against which Mandela appeared nearly powerless.

So was Mandela’s life a waste, his bio-pic a fraud? Not at all. No man is a revolution.

We have much to learn from Mandela’s long view of history, his much-lauded pacific warm-heartedness as well as his much-concealed cold and cruel resolve. The crack in the prison wall of apartheid, the end of racial warfare, if not yet racial peace, is a real accomplishment of Mandela – and his comrade revolutionaries – most of whose names will never be cast in bronze.

Reading Schechter’s new book Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela (as Mandela is known to Black South Africans) and seeing Schechter’s un-Hollywood film, you can take away one strong impression: From Moses to Martin to Mandela, our prophets never reach the Promised Land.

That is for us still to accomplish. The journey is long. Start walking.

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NRO’s John Derbyshire Warns His Kids to Stay Away From ‘Blacks

[Missed this from last year until now. --RS]

NRO’s John Derbyshire Warns His Kids to Stay Away From ‘Blacks’ (via Raw Story )

National Review Online’s John Derbyshire has penned the sort of racist drivel that makes me want to dump a bottle of single-malt over my head.  Essentially, he takes “The Talk” which black parents have with their kids to keep them from ending…

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