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Weekly update: Pushback from all sides, standing up to Stand for Children and the poverty pimps are at it again

Know your rights and protect them because someone is always around to try and take them away from you.

During this week when we show our gratitude and respect for those who have died in wars, beginning with the Revolutionary War, to fight and sometimes die for our freedoms and do battle against enemies imagined, contrived or real, we also need to consider that we as citizens of this country need to remain vigilant in protecting our rights and privileges.

As I have seen over the years, there are those who will want to take away our freedoms one way or the other and unless we remain aware and fight back at every turn, those rights will be taken away from us.

Let’s look at a few recent examples:

In Florida:

Florida Telling Hundreds Of Eligible Citizens That They Are Ineligible To Vote

Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) has ordered the state to purge all “non-citizens” from the voting rolls prior to November’s election. But that list compiled by the Scott administration is so riddled with errors that, in Miami-Dade County alone, hundreds of U.S. citizens are being told they are ineligible to vote, ThinkProgress has learned exclusively.

According to data from the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections obtained by ThinkProgress:

– 1638 people in Miami-Dade County were flagged by the state as “non-citizens” and sent letters informing them that they were ineligible to vote.

– Of that group, 359 people have subsquently provided the county with proof of citizenship.

– Another 26 people were identified as U.S. citizens directly by the county.

– The bulk of the remaining 1200 people have simply not responded yet to a letter sent to them by the Supervisor of Elections.

You can see a similar letter sent to alleged “non-citizens” by the Broward County Supervisor of Elections HERE. (“The Supervisor of Elections… has received information that you are not a citizen of the United States.”) If recipients of the letter do not respond within 30 days — a deadline that is mere days away — they will be summarily removed from the voting rolls. The voters purged from the list, election officials tell ThinkProgress, will inevitably include fully eligible Florida voters.

In short, an excess of 20 percent of the voters flagged as “non-citizens” in Miami-Dade are, in fact, citizens. And the actual number may be much higher.

An analysis of the state-wide list by the Miami Herald found that “Hispanic, Democratic and independent-minded voters are the most likely to be targeted” as ineligible by the list. Conversely, “whites and Republicans are disproportionately the least-likely to face the threat of removal.”

Late last year, Scott ordered his Secretary of State, Kurt Browning, to “to identify and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls.” Browning could not access to reliable citizenship data. So election officials attempted to identify non-U.S. citizens by comparing data from the state motor vehicle administration with the voting file. That process produced a massive list of 182,000 names, which Browning considered unreliable and refused to release. Browning resigned in February and Scott pressed forward with the purge.

And in Anywhere, USA:

7 Ways To Get Yourself Detained Indefinitely

Debate continued to rage this week over a short, loosely worded segment of the new 565-page 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that critics, lawmakers and now a federal judge say makes permanent a controversial, post-9/11 loophole that opened a dangerous door to approving the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without a trial.

The Obama administration and the law’s supporters have maintained that the president’s signing statement that secured the legislation’s passage on New Year’s Eve, as well as additional rules he issued in February, should be enough to assuage the fears of the law’s opponents. Both documents suggest that U.S. citizens will have their constitutional right to a trial protected.

Civil liberties activists, however, are quick to argue that the statements lack the enforcement mechanisms to guarantee the administration will not use the vague language of the law’s Section 1021 to indefinitely detain Americans. It also provides no guarantee that future administrations wouldn’t willingly apply the statute more broadly.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed with these concerns earlier this month, finding Section 1021 unconstitutional in a lawsuit brought by a group of journalists and activists. The measure had a “chilling impact on first amendment rights,” she wrote in her ruling, deconstructing arguments from the president’s lawyers several times.

That didn’t sway House lawmakers, however, who shortly thereafter voted against a bill to guarantee civilian trials for any terrorism suspect arrested in the United States.

While the legal jargon of the case and the ambiguous wording of Section 1021 can be hard to wade through, Americans might be interested to learn what actions might lead to their detention according to the National Defense Authorization Act. Below are a few hypothetical examples, based both on the legislation, as well as the court case that found it unconstitutional:

To read this article in full, go to the Huffington Post.

And in other news:

Pentagon Contractor Admits to Online Attacks on Journalists

In a press release Thursday, Camille Chidiac, former president and current minority owner of Leonie Industries admitted that he was behind the orchestrated smear attacks on two USA Today journalists.

Leonie has received $120 million in Pentagon contracts since 2009. Chidiac claims that none of that $120 million made its way into paying for the Internet misdeeds, in which fake Facebook and Twitter accounts were created for the two writers in an apparent attempt to discredit them. Use of Pentagon funds might have constituted a violation of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which regulates the dissemination of propaganda domestically.

No such restrictions exist for propagandizing overseas, however, and Leonie is one of the chief producers of “information crafting” services for the Pentagon. The smear campaign began in February,  when writers Tom Vanden Brook and editor Ray Locker began reporting a USA Today series examining oversight and efficiency (or lack there of) associated with funds given to the Pentagon’s information operations sector. The series criticized the “poorly tracked marketing and propaganda campaigns” in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, on which $580 million was spent in 2009.

Vanden Brook began noticing the false web presence soon after he interviewed Chidiac about Leonie. New York Magazine reports that the websites, RayLocker.com and TomVandenBrook.com were created during the reporting process. The websites were bought along with a proxy to conceal the identity of the owner.

Andy Beal, an online reputation expert told USA Today that it appeared to be a “sophisticated reputation attack.” Soon after the journalists began looking into the websites, they were taken down.

On May 10, House Representative Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) proposed an amendment to cut funding to the information operations of the Pentagon by $122 million. During the House Armed Services Committee hearing, Johnson said:

“As incompetent as this reputation attack campaign appears to have been, it raises the deeply disturbing possibility that a federal defense contractor that specializes in information operations may have targeted American journalists. It may have done so using taxpayer dollars and tactics developed to counter the influence of adversaries such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

In the world of education:

Sneak Attack on Teachers’ Collective Bargaining Rights in Pennsylvania

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania is pushing a bill that could stealthily strip teachers’ collective bargaining rights in some of the state’s financially struggling school districts, according to members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania State Senate Education committee passed H.B. 1307, a bill allowing the state to declare school districts financially distressed and subsequently appoint an overseer to approve plans made by the school board. To the dismay of teachers’ unions, the bill would also allow public schools to be turned over to private charter companies and give the receiver the power to null and void any collective bargaining contracts.

The legislation would declare four school districts financially distressed—Chester Upland, Duquesne City, Harrisburg, and York City—and grants the Pennsylvania State Board of Education full discretion to declare any school financially distressed in the future.

As the bill advances, teacher unions see the legislation as a sneak attack against collective bargaining, prompted by fears of union attacks like those in Wisconsin.

“I think they looked at Wisconsin and the outrage that occurred when they tried to take away all collective bargaining rights for public employees at once,” says Mary Willis, a teacher and PSEA member in the Harrisburg School District. “I think they decided that they really didn’t want to have that kind of uprising in a big labor state like Pennsylvania and I think they decided they wanted to go after it piecemeal.”

To read the article in full, go to In These Times.

For a true atrocity, see how the poverty pimps are taking on dentistry in our low-income schools:

Dental Abuse Seen Driven by Private Equity Investments

Isaac Gagnon stepped off the school bus sobbing last October and opened his mouth to show his mother where it hurt.

She saw steel crowns on two of the 4-year-old’s back teeth. A dentist’s statement in his backpack showed he had received two pulpotomies, or baby root canals, along with the crowns and 10 X-rays — all while he was at school. Isaac, who suffers from seizures from a brain injury in infancy, didn’t need the work, according to his mother, Stacey Gagnon.

“I was absolutely horrified,” said Gagnon, of Camp Verde, Arizona. “I never gave them permission to drill into my son’s mouth. They did it for profit.”

Isaac’s case and others like it are under scrutiny by federal lawmakers and state regulators trying to determine whether a popular business model fueled by Wall Street money is soaking taxpayers and having a malign influence on dentistry.

Isaac’s dentist was dispatched to his school by ReachOut Healthcare America, a dental management services company that’s in the portfolio of Morgan Stanley Private Equity, operates in 22 states and has dealt with 1.5 million patients. Management companies are at the center of a U.S. Senate inquiry, and audits, investigations and civil actions in six states over allegations of unnecessary procedures, low-quality treatment and the unlicensed practice of dentistry.

To read the article in full, go to Bloomberg News.

And when this is happening in the United States, it’s difficult to point the finger at other countries in terms of human and civil rights violations. Yes, I know it sucks in China, but at this point we’re no sterling example of equality and equity for all. For a read on the view from China, see  ‘Double standard’ applied by the US.

Now, for the good news. Folks are pushing back.

In Montreal, students have been on strike for 3 1/2 months in protest to the rise of tuition fees and a new anti-protest law “78”.

Every evening at 8:00 PM people take to the streets with pots and pans and make as much noise as they can.

For more information on the protests in Montreal see How Students are Painting Montreal Red.

 In the US, people are preparing for the long haul in terms of civil disobedience. In Summer Disobedience School Now in Session on the site Occupied Stories:

Most important take-aways from the “Know Your Rights” session:

– Your rights are, while maintained in the constitution, not treated as absolute during a confrontation. Yes, in court you will most likely succeed in reinforcing them, but a cop may choose, or be instructed to ignore them on the ground. It’s important to strike a balance of standing your ground and deciding what to fight later in court.

– It is important to build a level of trust with a group of other occupiers so you can share your fears and experiences prior, during, and after protest marches, arrests, and major events. It is important to have a community of people you can trust to take care of each other, remind you of the need to deal with any outstanding summonses or other legal implications of your actions that may impact your interactions with police during and after an arrest.

– Know your rights, share that knowledge but also be smart how far you push insisting on them during marches. Sometimes cops are ordered by their superiors to ignore your rights or break the law, so never assume that just because you have a right that the cop you’re confronting a) knows those rights and b) is willing / allowed to grant them to you.

– Work together, know each other to minimize risk of infiltration.

– It was also discussed what cops do with the footage the TARU unit films at protest. Expect it to be stored indefinitely and run through iris scans and facial recognition software.

– The NLG lawyers recommended that if we see TARU film that someone stand in the way of the camera and read the Hanshu Decree to them to make sure they know that we know what they’re allowed to film and what not.

To read this post in full, go to Occupied Stories.

And closer to home, Social Equality Educators (SEE) in Portland is taking a stand against Stand for Children.

Here is a post on the SEE Portland Facebook page:

Yesterday, we received an email from the Stand Advocacy Director asking us to call off tomorrow’s march:

“I know it’s last minute, but we’d love to see if there’s a way to find common ground instead of fighting each other. Instead of a protest, would you be open to a conversation with available staff and volunteer leaders at Stand? We’d be glad to host anyone who is interested in our conference room on Thursday, May 31st at 4:30.

I believe we all want to make a positive difference for children. I would guess we have more in common than different, and we’d welcome the opportunity to see if there are ways to work together. Even if there aren’t places for us to work together, I think children are best served when we’re all taking actions that will directly and positively impact them.”

Here was our reply:

We would be happy to set up a meeting with Stand for Children at a different day and time. We will not, however, cancel our protest.

As Stand for Children has increasingly received an inflow of corporate cash from the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital and other corporate philanthropists, the priorities of the organization have shifted from standing for children to teacher bashing.

Around the country Stand has pushed for reforms that evaluate teachers based on biased standardized test scores and eliminate seniority as the basis for teacher job security. In Illinois, Stand pushed for a law that restricts teachers’ right to strike. In other states, Stand has pushed for legislation that expands charter schools at the expense of public schools.

We see these actions as attacks on teachers AND the children we teach. These reforms are a wish list for corporations who want to blame teachers and public schools for the educational and economic crises.

We would be happy to sit down at a later date to have a conversation and explain in more detail why, in our view, the reforms Stand is pushing benefit the 1% at the expense of the 99%—teachers, students and parents. We also welcome you to come outside on Thursday and hear what we have to say.

-Portland Area Social Equality Educators

Go Portland!

In Broward County, Florida, the school board has passed a resolution on standardized testing saying that enough is enough:

Broward school board passes anti-FCAT resolution

Broward County school leaders are speaking out against what they see as a nasty four-letter word: FCAT.

The School Board unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday opposing standardized testing as the primary means for evaluating schools, students and teachers. They say there is so much focus on students doing well on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test that it’s thwarting teacher creativity and hindering students’ ability to learn.

They say many students are being poorly educated on subjects not directly tested on the FCAT, including history, art and music. At the same time, the tests have become so stressful that kids are staying home sick, skipping school and dropping out, they said.

“This is destroying public education, destroying the teaching profession and destroying children,” School Board member Robin Bartleman said. “The classroom should be fun. Kids should be excited about learning and not be afraid they’re going to be punished for one test.”

To read this article in full, go to theSun Sentinel.

Even the teachers’ unions are (finally) starting to push back, and not a moment too soon I might add.

Teacher unions fight to keep clout with Democrats

The email did not mince words. It came from an officer at a California teachers union, and he was irate.

President Barack Obama’s re-election team had just hired as a spokeswoman a veteran Democratic operative who had spent the last year at a nonprofit, pushing education policies that the union did not like.

The union had endorsed Obama. But Jeffrey Freitas, secretary of the California Federation of Teachers, wanted to make clear this woman’s hiring threatened that alliance. If Obama’s team thought teachers would help the campaign after this hire, “then they are seriously wrong,” he wrote. As long as she was in her post, he wrote, “we may not be able to participate.”

The threat, which the Obama campaign would not discuss, laid bare a simmering tension within the Democratic Party.

While teachers unions have long been among the Democratic Party’s most generous donors and the source of its most reliable foot soldiers, their clout in some circles is waning.

ANTI-UNION ANTE

Wealthy Democrats, including Los Angeles home developer Eli Broad and New York investment fund managers Whitney Tilson and John Petry, have found common cause with Republicans in a push to apply principles of the corporate world, including free-market competition, to public education. With teachers unions bitterly opposed to such measures, Democrats in the movement say they must break their party’s ties to the unions if they’re ever to make progress.

So they are offering an alternative to the union dollars, spending freely to back fellow Democrats willing to buck the unions and advance their agenda.

“Education reform is really a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party,” said Derrell Bradford, who runs a political group in New Jersey that recently helped elect two union-defying Democrats to the state legislature.

The reform movement’s goals include shutting down low-performing public schools; weakening or eliminating teacher tenure; and expanding charter schools, which are publicly funded but often run by private-sector managers, some of them for-profit companies.

Wealthy Democrats have joined Republicans in pouring millions into political campaigns, lobbying and community organizing to try to advance these goals nationwide. They can count on their side several influential Democratic mayors, including Newark’s Cory Booker and Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel.

MONEY AND MANPOWER

Yet the unions haven’t rolled over – far from it.

Blasting their opponents as Wall Street billionaires who know nothing about the hard work of educating kids, they have fought back, hard. Their influence with the Democratic Party comes not just from their money but from their manpower; come summer of each election year the unions mobilize armies of teachers to call voters, stuff envelopes and knock on doors.

In 2008 the California Federation of Teachers – the smaller of the two state unions, with 75,000 members – even reached across state lines to mobilize Democrats in swing states such as Nevada, said Joshua Pechthalt, the union president. He said the email protesting the Obama campaign’s choice of spokeswoman was intended to remind the party that unions’ support is valuable – and to warn it not to take them for granted.

“We were trying to raise the point that, hey, we want to be involved, but put someone else who is not going to raise a red flag for our members,” Pechthalt said.

The Obama spokeswoman, Linda Serrato, declined to comment, but she remains on the job, and the campaign has indicated it’s sticking with her.

To read this article in full, go to The Republic.

Even the librarians are fighting back. You know it’s bad when librarians take to the streets.

Occupy Wall Street Librarians Strike Back

Norman Siegel (second from left) speaks at a press conference regarding the lawsuit on May 24, flanked by fellow attorney Herbert Teitelbaum and Occupy Wall Street librarians Frances Mercanti-Anthony and Michele Hardesty. (Photo: Melissa Gira Grant)

Even now, six months after the brutal raid on Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park, we have yet to fully learn the extent of the destruction and violence – or the chain of command responsible for its execution. Thursday, members of Occupy Wall Street took a step toward forcing the city of New York to reveal the facts of that night to the public, as they filed a federal lawsuit against the city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, seeking to hold them accountable for violations of their constitutional rights in the course of the raid, as well as subsequent smaller raids that targeted the People’s Library – the movement’s most visible demonstration, through the collection and sharing of books in public spaces, of the rights to free speech and free assembly. In the course of the suit, the city may have to admit who called the shots during the eviction on November 15, 2011.

“Mayor Bloomberg thought he could get away with this, late at night, without the media present,” said Norman Siegel, an attorney on the suit who has worked with Occupy and the People’s Library since the fall. “This suit will hold him accountable.”

Siegel, along with a half dozen of Occupy Wall Street’s librarians, announced the suit at a press conference near Foley Square Thursday. Some of us had been out here on another gray day like this: the morning after the raid six months ago. Reporters and supporters of Occupy Wall Street kept watch outside the federal courthouse, where lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild argued that those who carried out the raid just hours before, as they tore into the occupation at Zuccotti Park, destroying their camp, had violated the constitutional rights of the occupiers.

From that day to this, the city has offered no explanation as to why the tools of the occupation itself were targeted in the raid. Along with occupiers’ personal belongings, custom-built Wi-Fi transmitters and the thousands of books in the People’s Library were seized and, in some cases, deliberately destroyed, fed into “crusher” trucks that rolled up to the park while, inside, police pepper-sprayed and arrested those who remained. Throughout, police held the media off blocks away, preventing them from entering the scene.

“Some of us are professional librarians; we’re very organized and we have records of each book in the collection,” said Michele Hardesty, an Occupy librarian and assistant professor of US literatures at Hampshire College. When Hardesty and others attempted to recover the raided books from the city’ sanitation building, where Bloomberg himself had boasted on Twitter that they would find their books held safely, they were not surprised to find only a few hundred books had survived, with many so damaged from the crushers – pages warped, spines split and covers smeared with mildew and releasing noxious fumes that split the difference between shrimp and gasoline – that they were beyond salvage. “We couldn’t even be in the same room with some of these books,” said Hardesty and in some cases, these were books that had been donated just days before the raid.

Still, when the Occupy librarians filed a complaint in the weeks following the raid, the city refused to admit responsibility for the seizure of books. Said Hardesty, due to that refusal, “The librarians have been forced to sue the city to reveal their actions the night of the raid.”

To read the article in full, go to truthout.

And now for the audio/visual segment of this week’s update:

Continuing with the theme of pushback, there is the Education Radio program Standing Up to Pearson: Speaking Out, Sharing Stories, Growing Resistance.

Education Radio has been following the developments of the University of Massachusetts student teacher resistance to the Pearson supported Teacher Performance Assessment. The attempt to impose a corporate sponsored standard assessment on pre-service teachers is one more example of the corporatization of public education and the surveillance, silencing and demands for obedience that accompany it. Following our report of March 24, Mike Winerip ran an article that brought the students’ resistance to readers of the New York Times. As we have shared on our blog, the response has been nothing short of astonishing as teachers, teacher educators, parents, students and community members from across the country contacted education radio producer Barbara Madeloni and the students to speak their support and share their own stories of the destructiveness of Pearson and problems with the Teacher Performance Assessment.

In this week’s program, we speak with some of those supporters about why they felt compelled to contact Barbara, how Pearson and/or the TPA are impacting their lives, and how we might further this resistance. Judith Kocik, director of an adult education program and Kip Fonsh, school committee member and director of education for a county jail, explain the devastating impact of Pearson’s purchase of the GED.  Parent and community member Alex Pirie talks about his delight that University students are taking a stand against corporatization of the University and teacher educator Steven Cohen, from Tufts University, helps us understand how contrary is the TPA to the needs of developing teachers. We also hear from Ginette Delandshire, from Indiana University Bloomington, who was involved in the first iteration of the teacher performance assessment, her critiques of it, and how these critiques have been ignored.  As well, we speak with some of the UMass students who engaged in the resistance about how they felt about the article, about the response to it, and about how this action will impact their work as teachers.

In developing this program, we discovered more detail about the menacing and destructive reach of the testing giant Pearson and its profiteering on the most marginalized and vulnerable of our community.  And we discovered a broad range of people who are articulate and angry about the neoliberal assault on public education.

And finally Amy Goodman’s interview with Charles Ferguson, Part 1:

Two years after directing the Academy Award-winning documentary, “Inside Job,” filmmaker Charles Ferguson returns with a new book, “Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America.” Ferguson explores why no top financial executives have been jailed for their role in the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We also discuss Larry Summers and the revolving door between academia and Wall Street as well as the key role Democrats have played in deregulating the financial industry. According to Ferguson a “predatory elite” has “taken over significant portions of economic policy and the political system and also, unfortunately, major portions of the economics discipline.

And:

Part 2: “Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America”

We continue our conversation with Charles Ferguson, director of the Oscar award-winning documentary, “Inside Job,” about the 2008 financial crisis. In his new book, “Predator Nation,” he argues “the role of Democrats has been at least as great as the role of Republicans” in causing the crisis.

Ferguson notes the Clinton administration oversaw the most important financial deregulation, and since then, “we’ve seen in the Obama administration very little reform and no criminal prosecutions, and the appointment of a very large number of Wall Street executives to senior positions in the government, including some people who were directly responsible for causing significant portions of the crisis.”

Ferguson also calls for raising the salaries of senior regulators and imposing stricter rules for how soon they can lobby for the private sector after leaving the public sector.

Have a great weekend.

Dora

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