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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dots Disconnected

Thanks to Otto (also known as Otl) Aicher, (Artist), German, 1922-1991, Artstor.org

NPR reports on March 11th and 12th on a Senate debate over continued involvement in the Afghanistan occupation and the implosion in the public school system in Kansas City, respectively. I'd like to point out how (badly) these stories were presented and to suggest how concurrent reports on Democracy Now provide the connective tissue that would provide context for the public to make sense out of these seemingly disparate phenomena.

First, Dennis Kucinich presented House Resolution 248 on the floor of the House which he prefaced by a video on his web site, a transcript of which follows:
Hi, Dennis here. This week a privileged resolution will be brought to the floor of the House of Representatives. This resolution, which I wrote, requires the president to remove the troops from Afghanistan within 30 days of the time when the resolution was passed and no later than December 21, of 2010. There are many reasons we need to get out of Afghanistan, I just list a few.
  • We're spending hundreds of billions of dollars: a total waste, because the Afghanistan central government of is totally corrupt.
  • We have a thousand troops whose lives have been lost, and many more injured, some of them permanently.
  • Countless individual Afghanistan citizens have been killed or injured as a result of this conflict.
  • We should take heed of the Russian's experience in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not going to be conquered. We have to understand that the weight of history has been against our efforts from the start.
Now we have to determine whether or not America will take a new direction in Afghanistan. Not to go in deeper with a surge, but to get out. That's what's going to be discussed this week in Washington. Please help us. Please get the word out. Please contact anyone who you think will be influential in getting members of Congress to pay close attention to this vote.
C-SPAN captured testimony from the debate, some of which is excerpt at Truth-Out. Donna Edwards points out that, "As national security director Jim Jones has told us, there are only 100 Al Quaeda left in Afghanistan. Who are we fighting?" But we didn't hear that on NPR.

Kucinich's estimate for the cost of the war is quite conservative compared to nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stieglitz, whose estimate is more like three thousand billion, but this doesn't fool Robert Siegel or Andrea Seabrook who covered the event for NPR. The Reagan era propaganda machine invested much in discrediting "liberal" ideas, and NPR is quick to cash in. After being teed up (discredited) by Robert Siegel as, "one of the most liberal members of Congress," (the transcript changes this to "more liberal"), Seabrook echoes the theme with a libertarian variation:
It wasn't just liberals arguing this; they found an ally in libertarian Republicans such as Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
After some audio of Rep. Paul arguing convincingly against occupation (see the TruthOut clip for more of this) and feeling scared nearly to death, we are reassured by Seabrook that
Ultimately though, these liberals and libertarians are outnumbered by members of Congress who support the president and the war.
Pffew. For example, Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton, chair of the House Committee on Armed Services, (right - no liberal, he) is heard to ask
"Have we forgotten? Have we forgotten what happened to America on 9/11?"
To which the answer screams, "No! We have not forgotten. How can you forget something you've never known?!"

In case the listeners are at all unclear about the events of 9/11, they receive the following wisdom from Ms. Seabrook:
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, it provided a haven to al-Qaida, which orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Well, that settles that. And in case the listener feels at all unsettled, a sequence of vacuous truisms ensue: Ted Poe of Texas saying that "War is hard," and California Democrate Bob Filner advising that "Peace is harder," and the article concludes with the reassurance by Prof. Siegel that,
Congress had an open, bipartisan debate about war and peace.
This hermetically insulates the issue and so, ultimately, strident Kucinich's quixotic flail against the war machine is twisted by NPR into effectively sealing the deal: war's on, 'nuff said.

So when the next day (March 11th) NPR broadcasts Schools Across U.S. Grapple With Closures, we hear how $2bn has been lavished upon the Kansas City School District over twenty years, but not a mention is made of the opportunity costs of the occupations overseas. Robert Siegel passes the baton to Michelle Norris who passes it to Silvia Maria Gross of KCUR--Kansas City's NPR station.

Here's a transcript of the story that aired:
Almost every school year West Port High School junior [Jane Doe] has seen change. A new principal, a different curriculum, even a new superintendent.
Every year it's changing the system's changing, or they're trying to put us in a predicament. It's kinda hard to just stay focused.
This year comes the biggest change of all, her school is one of 26 in the school district that will be boarded up. This follows one of the most ambitious attempts in the country to integrate schools. A court-ordered desegregation plan in the 1980's and 90's poured two billion dollars into the district to fix the schools. It created elaborate bus routes, magnet programs and some of the best facilities in the country including an Olympic sized swimming pool and a planetarium.

But families continued to flee to the suburbs and to private and charter schools. The district's population has plummeted from 70000 in the 1960's to about 17000 now. The new superintendent John Covington [below] proposed closing about half the buildings, and laying off about 700 employees.
Right now we're failing students in large percentages, in large numbers, and that doesn't have to be.
It's all an effort to redeploy resources. Covington calls it right-sizing. But opponents say it's anything but [voice (low volume) of Ajamu Webster in call and response with a crowd]:
I said the "right size plan" is the wrong fit. I say the right size plan [response] is the wrong fit.
At forums across the city over the past few months many parents and community members protested plans to close schools. The superintendent was determined that all schools would need to consolidate, even some of the district's better performing ones.

Ajamu Webster, who founded the district's three Afrikan Centered [Education] schools, (ACE) disagreed:
Our campus is a growing institution, and a growing institution needs space.
The district's flagship, Lincoln College Prep, was recently named among the top 150 public high schools in the country by Newsweek. But even Lincoln Prep is slated to merge its middle and high schools.

Dan Domonitch is director of the American Association of School Administrators. He says districts and cities like Washington D.C., Cleveland and Chicago are all closing under the old schools [sic - weird editing glitch in audio, I think].
The economy being what it is, and school districts having to make major cuts, increasing class size, eliminating sports programs, cutting back on transportation - they don't have the luxury of maintaining a facility open unless it is 100% occupied.
In Kansas City, civic institutions, the Chamber of Commerce, and even the teacher's union supported the school closure plan, though almost 300 teaching positions will be lost.

This morning Superintendent Covington laid out more details. Such things as longer school days, an extended year and an end to social promotion. He wants to use evaluations and early retirements to keep only the best teachers.
I think in 5 years the Kansas City Community, I think they'll beam with pride as to where our schools have come.
As for the buildings, the school board hopes to sell them, or some could be razed to make way for city parks. Either way, residents here hope that this radical public schools plan leads to radical change.

It looks like the teachers' Union has been backed into a corner after not receiving much of a voice. In any case, as Sasha Abramsky points out in The Guardian,
If there are lessons to be learned from Kansas City's dismal experiences, they are about the importance of holistic thinking: of looking for ways not just to desegregate schools but to preserve integrated, economically diverse urban cores; of providing middle-class families with reasons to continue using public services; of building up the notion of common community again so that the public sector flourishes rather than withers. Absent this, Kansas City might well represent a glimpse of a depressing American future: one in which those with resources opt out, en masse, from any and all public services, leaving the public sector to stumble drunkenly from one crisis to the next, a miserable-looking shadow of once-great glories.
To practice holistic thinking, consider the Kansas City public schools story not only in the context of prioritizing foreign occupations over public schools, but also in the context of poverty, the War on Drugs, and the costs to the public sector of collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps.

Listen, for instance, to legal scholar and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander on Democracy Now on the same day as the NPR KC story (and part II of that interview). She describes in detail how the discriminatory application of drug laws has been used as a tool to destroy inner city communities. She argues that the racial control functions of Jim Crow laws now persist through the criminal justice system.

Then listen to the next day's DN coverage of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development report on the "wealth gap." The report found nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero or negative wealth, and the median wealth for single black women is only $100; for single Hispanic women, $120. This compares to just over $41,000 for single white women.

Count on NPR to not connect the dots.


Anonymous said...

For all the chatter about the lack of bi-partisanship in Congress NPR never once mentions the areas where there actually is bi-partisanship: war/occupation and "national security".


Anonymous said...

Today's LA Times covers the KC schools issue. It seems that, in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer.