Month: December 2006

A Victory for Net Neutrality

As I mentioned yesterday, Democratic victories in the mid-term elections could pave the way to insuring that the fight for Net Neutrality continues. Josh Silver, at Huffington Post, announced today that AT&T has agreed to adhere to Net Neutrality as part of the proposed merger with BellSouth and that the two Democrats on the FCC, Michael Coops and Jonathan Adelstein, were responsible for forcing the concession. Here are the details:

In a striking victory for Internet freedom advocates, AT&T officials agreed on Thursday night to adhere to strict Network Neutrality conditions if allowed to complete their proposed $85 billion merger with BellSouth.

AT&T’s concession followed more than a week of often pointed negotiations between the two Federal Communications Commission’s two Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, and the two voting Republicans.

The Democrats stood firm in the face of enormous pressure, and won concessions that have transformed the debate over the future of the Internet.

In the words of Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott, “We are no longer having a debate about whether Net Neutrality should be the law of the land; we are having a debate about how and when.”

The campaign for this once-arcane issue has been driven by one of the biggest online advocacy campaigns ever, as web users came to realize that the current debate will determine the future of virtually all communications – TV, radio, phone, Web and other emerging technologies.

Approval of the merger by the full commission could come as early as today, according to the Associated Press. AT&T’s agreement puts to rest their own executives’ argument that Net Neutrality doesn’t really exist… In AT&T’s letter to the FCC, they committed to observing Net Neutrality for the next 24 months and defined the term in the text of their letter.

It also puts to rest the bogus argument that Net Neutrality will cripple the largest phone companies’ plans to build out broadband services. AT&T agreed to this condition — and also to offer cheaper broadband services — and yet they continue to expand their networks and offer services to the tune of $24.5 billion in gross profits in 2006. AT&T’s agreement to these merger terms reduces to industry spin their argument that Net Neutrality and profit are mutually exclusive.

Now that the FCC and AT&T have agreed that Net Neutrality is right for the future of the Internet, it’s time for Congress to forge legislation that instills this guiding principle into law.

With the help of Commissioners Adelstein and Copps, we have won more than a temporary condition on a mega-merger. They have set the bar for the future of the Internet, and paved our path to success on Capitol Hill.

“Making Net Neutrality a condition of the largest merger in telecommunications history sets an important precedent,” Scott continued on Thursday. “It’s now up to the new Congress to craft a forward-looking broadband policy that will bring the benefits of the Internet to all Americans. For free speech, democratic participation and economic innovation to thrive online, Net Neutrality must be the law.”

As Silver points out, the campaign for Net Neutrality has been “…one of the biggest online advocacy campaigns ever…” If you haven’t done so already, go to savetheinternet.com and do your part.

The Next Round for Net Neutrality

The Republican controlled 109th Congress has come to an end. With it has come an end to the first attempt by corporations like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth and Comcast to gut Net Neutrality. who spent more than $150 million lobbying Congress to gut Net Neutrality. The fate of Net Neutrality has now been passed to what appears to be a more Web-friendly Congress. The end of this Congress – and death of Sen. Ted Stevens’ horrible bill – gives us the chance to have a long overdue public conversation about what the future of the Internet should look like. This will not only include ensuring Net Neutrality, but making the Internet faster, more affordable and accessible.

With that in mind, here is the latest informational ad from Save the Internet.com

Luna Tunes

lunatom
We are starting to hear some more voices raised against Tom Luna, the ill-equipped and inexperienced Idaho Superintendent of Schools. Joe Vandal, at IdahoFallz, says that Luna must “Directly Answer Allegations or Face Consequences.” He rebuts Bill Hansen’s assertion that Luna is a “man of integrity” by showing evidence from the 2004 United States Government “Policy and Supporting Positions” Handbook indicating that Luna was not a Presidential Appointee (PA) or Senior Advisor as he has claimed, but rather an “SC” Schedule C special assistant appointment. See the document below:
Luna appointment

Joe Vandal calls on Luna to answer the allegations:

If Tom Luna has an ounce of integrity, he will immediately provide proof that he was a indeed a presidential appointee, that he indeed met with President Bush, and that he was indeed a “Senior Advisor” rather than a “special assistant”.

Luna has said he will demand accountability from our schools. We Idahoans will demand accountability from Luna to answer these allegations before he lays his fingers on our schools.

Today, a Times-News letter to the editor by Sharon Lutkehus, a health education instructor from Filer, has concerns similar to the ones I voiced earlier about the impact of Luna’s firings at the State Department of Education. She says,

During the past six years, I have been a member of the Idaho Comprehensive Health Education Cadre, which was formed by Barbara Eisenbarth, the HIV-AIDS-Health Education coordinator for the Idaho Department of Education. How exciting to see teachers (K-12) returning to their classrooms and teaching with excitement and excellence the required state standards using activity-based lessons which students love!

By teacher request, additional workshops and conferences were scheduled for January and February of 2007.

These workshops have now been canceled because the people who present at and organize them are gone (fired). Grants that are due in the next few weeks will have no one knowledgeable in the complexities and requirements of writing them. Federal monies could easily be lost due to lack of leadership.

We have Failed, The Sniff Test and Randy Stapilus has all added their voices to the Luna Watch.

Who’s Been Naughty or Nice?

Santa-In-Sleigh
The Center for American Progress has a great list of who’s been naughty and nice in 2006.

NAUGHTY: Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA), for attacking incoming Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress.
NICE: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), for still wanting to be friends with Rep. Virgil Goode.

NAUGHTY: The 109th Congress, for doing nothing.
NICE: The 110th Congress, for promising to work five days a week.

NICE: Nancy Pelosi, for becoming the first female Speaker of the House.
NAUGHTY: The Capitol, for having no women’s restroom in the Speaker’s office.

NAUGHTY: Maf54.
NICE: NetNanny.

NAUGHTY: President Bush, for refusing to see Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
NICE: Participate.net, for giving teachers 50,000 free copies of An Inconvenient Truth that “were rejected by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) after apparent pressure from Exxon and oil industry advocates.”

NAUGHTY: The 109th Congress, for failing to raise the minimum wage and allowing it to fall to its lowest level since 1955.
NICE: Voters in Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado, for raising the minimum wage.

NICE: Fox owner Rupert Murdoch, for not subjecting America to two hours of O.J. Simpson.
NAUGHTY: Fox owner Rupert Murdoch, for subjecting America to a three-hour Bill O’Reilly Christmas marathon.

NAUGHTY: Right-wing preacher Ted Haggard, for buying meth.
NICE: Right-wing preacher Ted Haggard, for throwing out the meth before he used it.

NAUGHTY: Rush Limbaugh, for falsely accusing Michael J. Fox of exaggerating symptoms of Parkisnon’s disease — and then refusing to apologize.
NICE: Michael J. Fox, for speaking out about the need for embryonic stem cell research and not giving “a damn” about Rush Limbaugh.

NICE: Tom DeLay, for engaging Americans by starting a blog.
NAUGHTY: Tom DeLay, for having someone else ghostwrite his blog.

NICE: William Cullen, for inventing the refrigerator.
NAUGHTY: Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), for using his refrigerator to store $90,000 in cash.

NAUGHTY: The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), for causing cervical cancer.
NICE: The Food and Drug Administration, for approving Gardasil, the first HPV vaccine.

NAUGHTY: “Experts” at the Exxon-funded Competitive Enterprise Insitutute, who say that “the best policy regarding global warming is to neglect it.”
NICE: The state of California , for doing something about it.

NAUGHTY: Former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), for blaming everyone but himself for his legal problems.
NICE: The federal district court, for blaming Bob Ney.

NAUGHTY: Larry King, for never using the Internet.
NICE: You.

Morton’s Fork

forkIn an interview with the Washington Post, a befuddled President Bush claimed “we’re not winning and we’re not losing in Iraq.” Politicians and pundits from all shades of the political spectrum have offered “solutions” to the situation in Iraq. Bush’s latest strategy is to appear to be listening to and consulting with err… “other folks…” before deciding on his new way forward.

According to the Post,

Bush said he has not yet made a decision about a new strategy for Iraq and would wait for Gates to return from a trip there to assess the situation. “I need to talk to him when he gets back,” Bush said. “I’ve got more consultations to do with the national security team, which will be consulting with other folks. And I’m going to take my time to make sure that the policy, when it comes out, the American people will see that we . . . have got a new way forward.”

Of course, the real reason Bush is stalling is because he is faced with a classic example of Morton’s Fork. Morton’s Fork is an expression that describes a choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives or two lines of reasoning that lead to the same unpleasant conclusion. The expression originated from a policy of tax collection devised by John Morton, Lord Chancellor in 1487, under the rule of Henry VII. His approach was that if the subject lived in luxury and had clearly spent a lot of money on himself, he obviously had sufficient income to spare for the king. Alternatively, if the subject lived frugally, and showed no sign of being wealthy, he must have substantial savings and could therefore afford to give it to the king. These arguments were the two prongs of the fork and regardless of whether the subject was rich or poor, he didn’t have a favourable choice.

America is impaled on the two prongs of the fork in Iraq. Whether we stay the course or withdraw, we face the same unpleasant conclusion.

Tough Review of Tough Choices

There is a report just released by the “New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce.” Titled “Tough Choices for Tough Times,” it calls for a radical restructuring of American Public Education based on the premise that the current system has “failed” because it does not prepare American students to compete in the global marketplace. This argument is certainly not new. In fact, it is based upon a faulty “blame the schools” logic that goes back to the 1950s. Jerry Bracey has an excellent critique of this latest reincarnation in the Huffington Post.

There is a cottage industry in this country that generates reports devoted to keeping Americans anxious about the future and laying the responsibility for that future on the schools which are never working as they should be. The latest of these scare tactics, Tough Choices for Tough Times, might be the dumbest, least democratic, least reality-based of them all.

The notion that America’s schools determine the nation’s future developed just after World War II. During the Cold War, “manpower” was the term of the day and CIA chief, Allen Dulles, was telling politicians that the Russians were generating twice as many engineers, scientists and mathematicians as we were (doubt that CIA intelligence was any better then). Where would we get our manpower? From the colleges, of course, but the colleges depended on the schools and the schools were seen as wanting.

The Russians’ launch of Sputnik in October, 1957, proved to the school critics that they had been right. Blaming the current schools for letting the Russians get into space first was silly since those working on rockets were well past their K-12 and university educations. Education historian Lawrence Cremin quipped that Sputnik only proved that the Nazi scientists the Russians had absconded with after World War II had gotten a little ahead of the Nazi scientists we had absconded with after World War II.

The schools were hit from time to time in the 1960’s and 1970’s with other critical reports, but the next big bombshell blew up in 1983, A Nation At Risk. The commissioners who wrote this golden treasury of selected, spun and distorted statistics were, like many Americans at the time, convinced that other nations, especially Japan, were going to eat our economic lunch. They wrote, “if only to keep and improve on the slim advantage we still enjoy in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system.”

This assertion reflected the commissioners’ erroneous assumption that high test scores were causally linked to thriving economies. But Japan’s bubble burst in 1990 and it is only now coming out of 15 years of recession and stagnation. Beginning in 1991, on the other hand, the U. S. enjoyed the longest sustained economic expansion in the nation’s history. Japan’s kids continued to ace tests, but that didn’t goose the Japanese economy. Our kids continued to score in the middle of the pack, but the economy boomed and the World Economic Forum ranked us No. 1 in global competitiveness among over 100 nations (this year the U. S. fell to No. 6 largely because of the incompetence in the Bush administration, the incompetence and corruption in both the Bush administration and the private sector, and the insanity of an open-ended, coffer-draining commitment to war coupled with the simultaneous commitment to continue cutting taxes).

American kids were average on the various international comparisons in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, and 2004 and the “Oh ain’t it awful, we’re doomed” refrain was reprised over and over. Now comes Tough Choices. If successful it would accomplish what some have been intending for decades: the private control of publicly funded education. School boards would not operate schools. Private firms would do that.

The report throughout emphasizes the importance of creativity and imagination, but it calls for kids to be tracked into different institutions after 10th grade based on scores from tests that cannot measure creativity or imagination. This is the commission at its most naïve. About the exams it writes “No one would fail. If they did not succeed, they would just try again.” Oh, sure. The nature of human nature is beyond these guys. Given the inequality of opportunity in schools and society generally, one can quickly see the Brave New World this would lead to (it would save a lot of money currently spent on coaches, band directors and uniforms, though).

Perhaps the most inane proposal from the report is to let the states, not localities, fund the schools based on some kind of formula. Excuse me, but aren’t these the same states that have been sued by districts, state after state, because of inadequate, unconstitutional funding formulas? Just who would have the power to install this new funding scheme is not clear.

The report claims that the future “is a world in which a very high level of preparation in reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, science, literature, history and the arts will be an indispensable foundation for everything that comes after for most members of the workforce” (emphasis added). Huh? Who really wrote this thing? Ayn Rand’s ghost? The nation currently has 9 cashiers, 6 waiters and 5+ janitors for every computer programmer and it has no shortage of programmers. I want some of the commissioners’ mushrooms.

This report is another smoke and mirrors trick in what I have come to call the High Skills Hoax.

Over the years these reports have accomplished the goal of their authors. Most American have bought the myth of failing public schools. Every Gallop poll for the past thirty years has shown the same incongruous result: Amercian public schools in general are doing a poor job, but my child’s school is excellent. What is the intent of the the critics? I think the answer is buried in Bracey’s article- “…the private control of publicly funded education”. The No Child Left Behind law is based on the same premise.

The attacks on public education are not limited to the National level. Radical advocates of charter schools and school vouchers like former Idaho legislator Darrell Diede have the same goal. It remains to be seen, but I suspect new Superintendent Tom Luna will be a willing dupe for the anti-public education forces in Idaho also. If you would like to learn more about the previous attacks of public education described by Bracey, read The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud and the Attacks on America’s Public Schools.

Luna-cy

The purge at the Idaho State Department of Education has begun. The incoming superintendent, Tom Luna, has begun the process of dismantling restructuring the Department by firing 19 top level administrators, including key Bureau Chiefs and Coordinators. In addition to the 19, 8 more have resigned. Outgoing Superintendent Marilyn Howard identified the 27 in a memo sent out Monday to Idaho Superintendents, Principals, Business Managers, Charter School Directors, Title I Directors, Special Education Directors, Testing Coordinators and Technology Coordinators. According to Howard, this is just the “first wave of firings.”

Of course, it is to be expected that there will be changes when a new Superintendent takes office. Nevertheless, the Luna purge is especially troubling for two reasons. First, the sheer numbers. Luna’s cuts go deep into a number of critical Bureaus at the Department. In the Bureau of Educational Improvement and Innovation, for example, not only was Bureau Chief, Pat White, fired, but the Coordinators for Health Education, Mathematics, English/Language Arts and Civics are gone. These subject area coordinators played a vital role in helping school districts plan, revise and implement curricula. This was particularly important for small districts that could not afford to hire curriculum coordinators at the district level. Even if Luna replaces each of these coordinators with excellent candidates, there are long range plans and initiatives that will be jeopardized because of a lack of ownership on the part of the new coordinators.

Secondly, the targeted Bureaus are in curriculum, assessment, special education, technology and professional standards. Losses in each of these areas will have both immediate and long term impact on Idaho school districts. Sally Tiel, the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment was fired. NCLB and the fact that schools are judged based upon student performance on statewide achievement tests makes this position one of utmost concern for all school districts. The Special Education Bureau Chief, Director, Coordinator for Federal Programs, and Special Education Technology are all gone. This should strike fear in the hearts of district Special Education personnel who will have to wade through the thicket of Federal Special Education rules and regulations without the help of experienced employees at the State Department. The Bureau Chief and Coordinator for Technology Services are gone. Given the fact that everything from ISAT testing to applying for “e-rate” funding from the Feds is done on-line, the loss of expertise in this Bureau will be devastating for districts.

In my mind, the most frightening of the Luna firings are those of Dr. Mike Stefanic, Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Certification/Professional Standards and Dr. Patty Toney, Coordinator, Professional Standards and Certification. If Luna replaces them with Idaho State Board lackeys, we can watch as teacher certification requirements are dismantled to require nothing more than passing the absurd ABCTE test for teacher certification. Dr. Toney is the main author of a state department plan to assure rigorous criteria for Idaho teachers to be “highly qualified” as required by NCLB. I suspect that her excellent work will ignored in the Luna era.

Top 10 Protest Videos for 2006

As 2006 comes to a close, everyone has their “top ten” something for the year. This year, as I watched the tragedy in Iraq continue to unfold, I took some solace in the fact that musicians were beginning to speak out with enough frequency that it was possible to talk about “protest music” in a way that hasn’t been possible since the ’60s. With that in mind, here are my top 10 Protest Music Videos of the year, courtesy of YouTube.

1- “Dear Mister President” by Pink. I have to admit that I had never listened much to Pink. I assumed she was still the Pink of “Let’s get this party started.” This is a moving, powerful song by a talented artist.

2- “Let’s Impeach the President” by Neil Young. Neil Young is a national treasure and has been since he was writing songs protesting the war in Viet Nam. The lyrics aren’t too subtle, but sometimes you have to speak the truth in plain language.

3- “Casino Nation” by Jackson Browne. A brilliant singer-songwriter, Jackson Browne has also been writing powerful music since the 1960’s. Not only are the lyrics to the song thought provoking, the graphics are superb.

4- “Megalomaniac” by Incubus. Disturbing lyrics, disturbing graphics.

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5- “Lives in the Balance” by Jackson Browne. I know, this Jackson Browne classic was not written this year. But, the updated video shows how relevant the message of the song is for today.

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6- “Mosh” by Eminem. Not my favorite genre of music, but I have a feeling this song was heard by more young people than any others on the list. This video is not new this year. Eminem has an updated version, but I wasn’t able to find a copy on YouTube.

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7. Advertisement for “Shut Up and Sing” by the Dixie Chicks. I couldn’t have a top ten list of protest music without including the Dixie Chicks. This ad for the documentary, “Shut up and Sing” and the next video are my “tip of the hat” to them.

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7a. “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks. Not exactly a protest song, but see above.

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8. “Rich Man’s War” by Steve Earle. Steve Earle is a folksinger/songwriter in the classic tradition. This video was taken at a concert in tribute to Cindy Sheehan.

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9. “America First” by Merle Haggard. Bush had to know he was in trouble when Hag turned on him.

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10. “Masters of War” by Pearl Jam. The paradigm protest song by Bob Dylan. This is a great version, but it is not the original. O.K., I guess you had to have been there to really appreciate Dylan’s version.
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The New Way Forward

bush_alfred_e_newman.jpg It now appears that the decider has decided. According to a number of sources, President Bush’s “new way forward” centers on a “surge” of additional US troops to Iraq. The surge would include more than 30,000 additional troops and could last as long as two years, according to ABC news. That would bring the total number of troops in Iraq to at least 164,000. This last-ditch attempt to stabilize Iraq would likely start in Baghdad and then moved to Anbar. The strategy goes against the advice of Bush’s top generals who claim the such an escalation would not only risk more American lives, but likely discourage Iraqis from taking charge of their own security.

So much for those who thought this President might actually be willing to listen to the advice of the bipartisan “Iraq’s study group.” And so much for those who thought this President might have learned something from the midterm elections or from polls like the latest NBC/WSJ poll indicating that 71% of respondents disapproved of the President’s handling of Iraq. And finally, so much for those who thought he might listen to Generals in the field or military experts like former Secretary of State Colin Powell who said this morning on “Face the Nation” that the United States is losing what he described as an “civil war” in Iraq and that he doesn’t believe in increasing US troops there would reverse the situation.

For Bush, the new way forward is simply more of “stay the course.” The Washington Post asked a question this morning that most of us answered quite some time ago, “At what point does determination become self-defeating folly?” Living in his world of dilusion, the President seems unconcerned. According to the Post, Bush is still the “What me worry?” president:

At holiday parties for friends and family in recent days, he has found himself bucking up others depressed by the turn in his political fortunes. “Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it looks.”


The Decider Decides Not To Decide

President Bush, who rushed us into war in Iraq, has now become patient and thoughtful. Things are going so well in Iraq that he is content to take his time committing to a strategy. Even with the bipartisan “Iraq study group” report in hand, Bush now says it will be January before he will be able to come up with a new strategy. With the total of American troops killed in Iraq close to 3,000 and December looking like the bloodiest month of the war, Bush told Brit Hume that the “load was not heavy,” it was a joyful, not a painful experience because millions of Americans are praying for him. Jack Cafferty has the details: