Friday, July 19, 2013

Rolling Stone kerfuffle. Chicago teacher firings. Detroit. No Child Left Behind. Monsanto dead in Europe.

Now that the garden news has been posted I will take my usual trip around the blogs and news.

I won't provide a link because the story is all over the airwaves and the 'net.  So many people have nothing better to do than be outraged about the clean and neat  picture of the surviving Boston bomber on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.  I don't see anything to be outraged about.  The magazine asks a good question: how did an apparently clean cut, quiet young man with (to outward appearances, at least) a bright future become a terrorist who thought killing and maiming people he didn't know and who had done him no harm.  I think that question should be answered to whatever extent such a question is within human capacity to answer.  Sometimes the devils among us look much like angels and maybe that picture provides a recognition of that fact.

I would hate to have a young child in any public school today.  We get the details of the mess that is the Chicago school system because we live well within the service area for the Chicago TV stations.  So we watched the teachers' strike, the coming and going of one superintendent and the coming of another within two years, the drama of the decision to close close to 50 public schools and the continuing debate about the actual effectiveness (in teaching and cost) of the move to charter schools.  Now we have a new chapter: the firing of over 2000 employees including more than 1000 teachers.  Chicago is one of many cities and towns across the country that is desperately trying to close massive budget gaps. But I wonder if a year or two down the road they will be looking at the state of their schools and seeing a parallel situation to what public safety happened with public safety.  The spokespeople for the city and the police department desperately try to convince the public that crime if largely down but the news is filled with the latest drive-by shooting, the latest brazen daylight rape on the street (or alley just off the street), the latest attempted child snatching.  Sometimes you do get what you pay for and going cheap will get you less than satisfactory results.

So Detroit is (at least according to the broadcast news this morning) filing for bankruptcy today--the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.  Though the title of this article soft pedals the potential consequences (a bankruptcy will hit retirees and employees very hard), the article itself makes one fact very clearly but leaves another facet of the problem unstated and unaddressed.  The obvious fact is that Detroit is not alone.  Chicago, New York, and a large number of other cities are in similar deep trouble--the result of an illusory economic recovery and underfunded public pensions (underfunded on the part of the the politicians who stiffed the pensions repeatedly over the last 30 years not on the part of the workers).  Labor unions and their workers were sold a pig in a poke over the last 60 years or so.  They gave up some wage increases for the promises of pensions, health care, and other benefits.  But employers have either closed over here and opened up overseas or restructured in bankruptcy so that their pension liabilities were cut or transferred to the Federal government.  Either way the retiree and worker gets screwed--legally.  They delivered on the work but the employers' promises are simply not worth the paper they were written on.

Well, the House of Representatives has passed an education bill to bury what little is left of the No Child Left Behind program George Bush II signed.  I always thought that law was surprisingly well named--it left no child behind because it left all children behind.  It made evaluated teachers, students, schools and districts on the bases of badly chosen statistical models, pushed the use of frequent standardized testing, tried to squish every square individual teacher, student, school and district into the same round holes.  For the most part I agree that schools should be controlled at the local level.  For the most part.  There are too many areas that would love to reestablish some form of "separate but (not) equal."  There are too many religious zealots who would like to have public schools teach their religious belief often disguised as "science."  We are a complex society and all too many of us want the schools to cater to our whims.  What are the limits to local control?

I am so happy to read this story.  I often said that the best way to defeat Monsanto and its ilk is to refuse to buy their products or products made from their products. Unfortunately, they have stymied all requirements that they tell us what those products are.  In addition to consumer activism we need governments more responsive to our opinions and not bought by the multinational companies.

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