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Wednesday, December 31

Encore Performance: Pundita plays White Rabbit to a reader's Alice in Washington-land

A reader recommended that while I'm trying to decide whether to leave the blogosphere I should republish earlier Pundita posts and suggested the following one, from April 3, 2005, to get the ball rolling.

After I fiddled with the essay for re-posting I discovered that there is a very good reason I shouldn't follow the recommendation: I can't resist polishing the original, which defeats the purpose of a sabbatical.

Nevertheless, and with a reminder that the position of DNI wasn't created until years after the CIA analyst told the joke I reference, here I encore my role as Washington-land's White Rabbit:

"Pundita:
The hallmark of science is not its ability to explain but its ability to predict (I mean prediction BEFORE something actually happens rather than the more common claiming to have predicted something AFTER it happens). How do so many people (particularly in foreign relations) whose predictions have been so poor hold onto their jobs?
Dave Schuler
The Glittering Eye"

Dear Dave:
Your remarks are very broad. But if you're referring to people whose job is to make predictions for the US government, you are misinformed. Such people are invariably right in their predictions.

I know that news will come as a shock so allow me to play your guide for a trip through Washington-land. Before we scamper down the hole let us hop back in time, so that the lay of the land in Washington, DC is more readily seen:

Say your job is to be the high priest, a job passed down from your uncle. Your major duty is to ensure a good harvest each year, which you accomplish by hurling 10 virgins off a cliff. It worked for your uncle, it worked for his uncle, and for 20 years it worked for you until the 21st harvest came a cropper.

Naturally you are hauled before the king, who demands an explanation about why the crops failed because his subjects are massed outside the gates and demanding an explanation.

Now tell Pundita what you would say. "I have no idea" would be the wrong answer if you want to hang onto your position not to mention your life. You have to come up with an explanation for the presumed anomaly.

Put another way, you haven't the foggiest idea why hurling virgins off a cliff worked to bring a good harvest and why it stopped working. And if you're a very smart high priest, you might have a hunch that one event has nothing to do with the other. However, with your life on the line, it would be the wrong time to take up lab-bench science.

To spare you the brain sweat I will quote from page 632 of the 11,465 page How to Survive your Job as High Priest: Book of Answers which provides an array of explanations for earlier science's failure to accurately predict events.
The crop failed because:

Blame it on the assistant
a) The virgins were too young.
b) The virgins were too old.
c) They hadn't been properly tested to ascertain that they were actually virgins.

(Note: Any answer from this menu calls for the immediate execution of the assistant.)

Blame it on the harvest god
a) The god is now demanding a doubling in the number of sacrificed virgins.
b) The god is in a bad mood.
c) The god was busy fighting a war with other gods and forgot about the harvest.

Blame it on the king's subjects
a) The people have not been showing proper respect to the harvest god.
b) The people have been fighting with each other, which angered the god.
c) The people became lazy and deceitful and didn't share enough harvest with the king's bounty collectors.

(Note: float this one only if the king is in good standing with the military.)

Different combinations of the above explanations should be enough to get you through another few years, until whatever's wrong with the harvest rights itself. If all else fails:

Blame it on the king
a) The king has started thinking he's more powerful than the harvest god.

CAUTION: Try this one only after consultation with courtiers and generals assures you that the king is next off the cliff anyhow.
From the above you can begin to intuit that I was not pulling your leg. Predicting how foreign relations will go is not a science but hanging onto your job in Washington is. Those who labor in government, think tanks and academia to make predictions for Congress and the White House can predict with 100% accuracy what will happen to their jobs or funding if their predictions are outlandishly wrong. Thus, they build myriad escape hatches into their predictions.

A favorite escape hatch is conveyed in a joke that a CIA policy analyst told Pundita years ago:

After World War Three broke out, the DCI and the top policy analyst at the CIA were hauled before POTUS and his defense advisors. The President picked up a CIA paper titled, How to Avoid World War Three, tossed it to the DCI and said angrily, "We read every page of this 832-page report. We took into account every prediction and followed every recommendation. Now you tell us what we did wrong."

The DCI tossed the report to the analyst and snapped, "Find what they did wrong."

The analyst thumbed through the report then replied, "They missed the recommendation in the third footnote on page 471."

The funniest part of the joke is that nobody in Washington except policy analysts and 3.5 Members of Congress actually reads a policy paper. They read a two syllable one-page summary of the paper, which does not contain footnotes. The policy analysts who write the paper know this because they also write the dumbed-down summary.

Therefore, while many predictions in a summary could be read wrongly, you would be hard pressed to find a prediction stated in a policy paper that is not qualified or completely contradicted somewhere else in the same paper.

Therefore, I can assure you that nobody who gets paid to make predictions about U.S. foreign policy is ever wrong.

If you find my explanation too frightening for words, look on the bright side: Since time immemorial the way things work in seats of power tends to favor the fleet of mind. Therefore, be assured that no matter how many governments crash against the rocks of outlandishly wrong policy predictions, human nature always emerges unscathed and ready for another whirl at explaining everything about the invisible -- which is what the future course of human events always is.
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This entry is crossposted at RBO.

Sunday, December 28

"The Internet Is Bad For The Truth." John Batchelor rings out the old year by interviewing an idiot

I was going to tack this onto my earlier post about John's show tonight. But I decided not to ruin a great topic (Torpedo 8 squadron in the Battle of Midway) with mention of John's interview tonight with Melik Kaylan, who writes for Forbes business magazine. Melik will discuss his The Internet Is Bad For The Truth, which makes history as the stupidest essay published this side of 1999.

It is taking humanity almost a century to tunnel out from under the British foreign office's point of view, yet Melik yearns for the good old orderly days when the state-run BBC dictated for the world what was true. And when, like a fool, The New York Times and all other American major and minor dead tree outlets, and American television's Big Three networks and the tweet-brained CNN International, slavishly toed the BBC line on foreign affairs.

Boiled down, Melik's view is that a sense of order, force-fed to the public by a few powerful media outlets, is preferable to the masses struggling through the messy process of learning from a multitude of media outlets what is actually going on in the world.

Yet he makes an interesting point: large numbers of people getting their news from a wide variety of sources pose a challenge to the industrialization of the arts. If there is not a central arbiter of good taste, if there is no overriding authority on what constitutes good painting and good music, how can the industries connected with the arts survive?

Where is my Kleenex box? [Interlude while Pundita weeps and snuffles into mounds of Kleenex]

Now that I've had a good cry about the troubles of those who earn a salary from setting art trends in a disorderly world, I have a question: While sitting in offices lined with paintings deemed tasteful by the art sales industry, what would the workers in the Twin Towers have given to know the disorderly truths about the rise of Islamist terrorism?

Oh but that's right, I forgot! Gordon Brown was busy making Britain the Sharia banking capital of the world, so the BBC played Hans Brinker to hold back the flood of news stories warning of the gathering threat. And like a fool America's news media downplayed along, in slavish imitation of their more erudite counterpart across The Pond.

I fully understand the sentiment behind Melik's yearning to "... sense that it was possible to know what actually happened, to digest the knowledge and believe you knew the truth" and his irritation with the amount of brain sweat necessary to wrestle the day's news from "multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, transnational, infinite and contradictory sources of information."

I well remember how the paucity of U.S. mainstream reporting on political events in Latin America drove me to recommend the World Socialist Web Site to Pundita readers. The site is run by a bunch of foaming Trotskyites, but it has in-depth English language political reporting on America's southern neighbors.

The effort of picking through the commie agenda and the anti-globalization and anti-American rhetoric was worth it. When a reader complained that after visiting the site she'd had a dream about a sinister-looking man in a cheap leather coat, I snapped unsympathetically, "Don't worry; it's probably only Beria." Pundita readers who kept up with WSWS reports were not caught by surprise concerning the hard Left turn in several Latin American countries and its causes.

So yes, I know full well how hard it is to find good news sources, winnow the chaff of agendas from the grains of data, and fit together from the grains a ballpark picture of what is actually happening in the world. But you know something? The process gets easier and faster with practice. And with training, the process speeds up.

Eventually, the process builds an empirical view of high-impact world/domestic events -- and therein lies the real rub. Once your news gathering method allows you to escape the views put forward by major media, you find yourself standing in the pouring rain of a view approximating truth -- while you look in the window at cozy political platforms built on views so subjective they approach lunacy.

Thus, the French, Dutch and Irish citizens who flung a "No" vote at the ratification of the EU Constitution.

Thus, the widespread protests in Maharashtra against the state and central governments in the wake of the Mumbai massacres, which India's newly unrestricted news media reported in the most raucous and unprofessional manner, but with a freedom the old state-controlled news media never allowed.

Thus, the rising tide of American voters who reject both the Republican and Democrat party.

Thus, the presidential election of Barack Obama, who promises the party bosses to keep the Democrats' version of the ancien régime tottering along for another decade.

Thus, riots spread like raging forest fires in China, as hundreds of millions of Chinese learned from non-state media sources and methods of communication just how corrupt their local party bosses were.

Thus, the BBC hit by torrents of criticism from many quarters and mocked for its claim to impartiality.

Thus, thus --

Thus, the whirlwind of a world waking from its long slumber.

Is this anarchy breaking out all over? It's truth breaking out, bubbling up, escaping from its bonds, and maybe just in time to save what's left of democracy, for democracy cannot survive on the pack of lies that so many of its citizens have been handed in place of news.

It's also the trend I noted in How do you run a government when the voters are smarter than you? in which I asked what happens when a large segment of society is more knowledgeable than its civil servants and elected officials. There is no easy answer. And governments are still avoiding the question, despite the fact that it's looming larger with every year that passes.

There are still a large number of low-information voters, even in the most prosperous nations, and news followers so suicidally inclined that they prefer their agendas to an accurate rendering of facts on the ground. But the emphasis on empiricism in scientific fields and business practices, combined with the Internet, is starting to make itself felt in how citizens go about getting the news of the day nd avoiding the worst of agenda-based news.

How to get training for an empirically-based approach to news gathering and analysis? The motto of the website for the original version of the John Batchelor show was, "Unused intelligence is meaningless."

Audiences who listened carefully to John's original show (five nights a week; three hours a night) learned to approach news in the manner of an intelligence analyst and to think of news reports as "intelligence;" i.e., data 'mosaics' that one forms into various scenarios that one keeps adding to, until enough veritable data emerges to support the most likely scenario.

No approach produces infallible results but the intelligence-based one is the only way to deal with the welter of conflicting accounts and viewpoints arising in the course of news gathering and its dissemination in the modern era. Someday, schoolchildren in the upper grades, or at the latest in the first year in college, will be taught that method of news analysis, and with practice it will be second nature for them when they're adults.

What will the world look like when the whirlwind finally peters out? It will look like a considerably more rational place. Until then, we who prefer survival to death by media stupidity are resigned to a long march in the rain.

And that is a good thought on which to ring in the new year.

Meanwhile, stay tuned: Listen to John's interview tonight with Melik Kaylan, which will be online and is scheduled to air at 7:20 PM Pacific Time on the KFI-640 AM portion of the show (podcast available the next day). And to all you unwashed masses who get news from a multitude of sources on the Internet, be sure to write John and let him know your opinion of Melik's ideas.

This entry is crossposted at RBO along with a great crop of pictures. (How did Procrustes so quickly find those pictures of Melik lounging in an elitist armchair and Gordo playing rooster?)
**************************************
3:45 pm ET UPDATE
In reply to two comments over at RBO about my crossposted essay, I inserted the following:

"bg:" Yes, the past is always prologue, yet nothing happens the same way twice.
"No Soup for You:" I can’t think of a better analogy than the one you proposed, but today’s analogues have more draconian means at their disposal than the Middle Ages Church for controlling information.

The attempts to get ‘control’ of the Internet and tamp down freedom of speech continue to escalate around the world — mostly very quietly, except for Canada, where all at once many Canadians woke up and discovered that they had no freedom of speech left. This discovery came during the past year.

If the story is new to you go to my 2008 archives, to the January 8 post, skim forward from there (a few of the posts in January were on other topics) and follow the links. Of course the mainstream press in the US barely made any mention of the battle, so if you are new to the situation be prepared for a shock.

Consider this chilling exchange from the Warman vs Lemire Section 13 hate speech hearing before the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Barbara Kulaszka is the attorney for Lemire. Dean Steacy is the chief CHRC investigator on behalf of Warman.
MS. KULASZKA: Mr. Steacy, you were talking before about context and how important it is when you do your investigation. What value do you give freedom of speech when you investigate one of these complaints?

MR. STEACY: Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.

MS. KULASZKA: Okay. That was a clear answer.

MR. STEACY: It’s not my job to give value to an American concept.
How long have we got before a law like Canada’s Section 13 comes to the USA? Not long, I don’t think. America is considered the last holdout with regard to freedom of speech.

I have predicted that eventually the American Left and Right will link arms in a desperate attempt to save the First Amendment — but by that time it might be too late for anything more than a grand gesture. I hope my prediction is wrong but it shows the seriousness of the situation.

The tide of history is there, though, and it’s on our side as you noted — if we remember that we are the tide. Nothing is guaranteed; freedom is a never-ending process. No more stark example of that truth can be found in Canada.

Pundita

At the Battle of Midway: a mistake, orders disobeyed, an appointment with destiny

Midway and Torpedo Eight remind me of Gettysburg and the fight on Little Round Top on the second day. If the 20th Maine doesn't hold the flank, if Torpedo Eight doesn't draw the enemy fighters down to wave level -- and if Torpedo 6 off of Enterprise doesn't do the same right afterward -- then the coup de grace of Cemetery Ridge and the dive bombers would not have been possible.

If, if, if. History is accident with stage makeup.
John Batchelor. Who else? Writing about Torpedo 8 squadron's incredible heroism after they sighted the Japanese carriers that led the attack on Pearl Harbor:
Waldron tried several times to radio Stanhope Ring leading the rest of the group in the wrong direction away from the enemy. "Stanhope from Johnny One. Enemy sighted."

No answer from the stubborn, dutiful Ring, though the whole rest of the group could hear the call and knew where they should be. Waldron made a decision and radioed to the squadron a simple four-sentence speech that stands today as the epitome of duty and sacrifice in service to your people, "We will go in. We won't turn back. We will attack. Good luck."
The story, told tonight on John's radio show with Robert Mrazek, author of A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight.

See the show schedule (KFI-640 AM portion) for details and read John's Torpedo 8 "Still Out There." in preparation to examine the mystery at the heart of the battle:
Sixty-seven years later, the controversy continues as to why Hornet's group was headed in the wrong direction, west away from Midway, why Torpedo 8 had to disobey orders and attack alone to the southwest of Midway. ...

Sunday, December 21

What'll it cost you?

One morning a few years ago I heard on the radio that there was to be an extraordinary event in the heavens that night, one that had not happened before in the memory of astronomy. I can't recall what the event was, but the question of some concern for those who watched deep space was whether the event would have any measurable impact on planet Earth.

On hearing this I chuckled, "We'll soon find out," then promptly forgot the news item.

That night, for no reason, I decided to hang out in Georgetown and to take a bus there. Mentally drumming my fingers as the bus inched through traffic, I suddenly turned my head and saw that across the aisle a baby, perched in her mother's lap, was solemnly contemplating me. I stared back. She was so tiny, so exquisitely formed, a perfect new life.

I glanced at the mother's profile. Eastern European -- perhaps Romanian, I wondered. A young mother, still in her twenties.

Not American, not in America long, I could tell from her clothing and that of the baby's. From the clothing, not well off. Yet there was something about the way she sat, the way she held her head, that conveyed a quiet dignity and forbearance.

I thought, "What'll it cost you?" and said a silent prayer for mother and child. 'May all good things come to them. May they live lives of great happiness.'

Alighting from the bus, I decided to stop off at the Georgetown Park shopping mall, where I sat for some time, enjoying the parade of window shoppers -- tourists, college students, and Washingtonians unwinding after a day's work.

Then I continued my walk on M Street, heading toward Pennsylvania Avenue, taking in the passersby and the diners at window seats in restaurants that lined the street. I stopped off for a few minutes at Barnes & Noble but didn't feel like browsing the books, and continued my stroll.

As I neared the Four Seasons Hotel my eye was caught by a tableau inside a shop. The shop is no longer there; it sold all manner of delightful decorative fluffery, much of it visible through the large window, and all of it arranged in a riotous jumble.

The shop was closed for the night but still brightly lit. Inside were three females -- a mother and her two teenage daughters, from the similarity of the features. Probably the shop's owner, I thought, taking in the mother. They were trying on ridiculous Victorian hats, exchanging them, whirling around to show off the effect, and laughing in merriment at how they looked.

There was such gaiety about the group that it was infectious. I found myself smiling at them. I took some time to study the mother. This was someone who knew how to enjoy life, and she'd communicated the art to her daughters.

"What'll it cost you?" I thought.

I mentally whispered a prayer for them, and wished them all the best that life could give.

I didn't feel like walking any farther so I hailed a cab for home. On the way I decided to stop at a 7-11 for a few items. When I arrived at the counter with my purchases, there was an old man counting out change to purchase a cup of yogurt while the clerk stoically watched him carefully measure out pennies and nickels.

I took in the man's clothing and his profile. Probably homeless, years of heavy drinking stamped on his face. But there was something about him, something about the way he held himself, which reminded me that he had not always been a drunk.

I thought, "What'll it cost you?"

I pulled out a dollar and paid for the yogurt, gesturing to the man to keep his change. He returned the change to his pocket without looking at me. As I returned to the cab I said a silent prayer for the man.

The next morning I remembered the news about the heavenly event and thought, 'Well, we're still here. Nothing happened.'

Then a chill went up my spine as I recalled the phrase, "What'll it cost you?"

I'd never thought or spoken those words until the night before. Until I went back over events I hadn't even been aware that the question had come to me three times during my outing.

And I wasn't in the habit of praying for the welfare of complete strangers I encountered while on an outing.

Did the extraordinary heavenly occurrence somehow lift the human mind out of its ordinary concerns for a few hours? Are there moments in time, signaled by cosmic events, when the divine speaks more loudly in the heart's ear?

I don't know, but I do know I will not forget that night and its lesson.

The spirit of giving is not measured in gifts but in the willingness to give, the remembrance that there is always something we can give, if only our good wishes.

Did God give His only begotten son to save humankind? How many fathers have sacrificed their sons to battle to save others? Why shouldn't a higher power do the same?

Is there a supreme higher power? Does God really have only one son? Has He sent only one son to save us? Is God a "he?" Does God exist?

I've been incarnating in this realm so long I address both gods and demons as "sonny," yet even I don't know the answer to such questions. And I can't ever know, for to know while incarnate would mean I'm not subject to any human limitations.

Put another way you can't have your cake and eat it too: play the role of a mortal plus know all the answers, unless of course you're incarnating as a sage whose job description is to never fail to think up an answer to even the silliest question.

For the rest of us -- what'll it cost you to suspend your wondering for a few days about matters far above the human head, and determine instead to celebrate the spirit of Christmas? For what could be more joyful than to contemplate a being who makes the ultimate sacrifice to save humanity?

May the spirit of giving always be with you, and may all good things come your way.

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This offering has been crossposted at RBO, Uppity Woman, Gates of Vienna, and Valentine Bonnaire.

Friday, December 19

"Kamikaze 1945"

No single person in the electronic news media can match John Batchelor's accounts of America's wars. Lucky indeed are those who heard his 2003 accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Battle of Princeton -- and luckiest of all, those who were tuned in the night in 2004, the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy, when John; his father; John Loftus; Max Hastings, the great British war historian, and Patrick K. O'Donnell, who wrote a first-hand account of the Battle of Fallujah and whose oral history project captured the recollections of OSS veterans, gathered around the radio microphone and paid tribute to the battle.

John's father, in his 80s, who has since died, had never talked to his sons about his war experiences but that night he did talk, in his dry unemotional tone, about his recollections of taking part in the Normandy landing.

Loftus contributed a tale about Operation Overlord, Max filled in many details of the battles that raged that day, and as the men continued to talk, the walls of wherever you were sitting and listening to the radio fell away, and you were once again a child, hiding, listening intently to the discussions of grownups who thought the children were asleep in their beds. In a way that the graphic depictions of Saving Private Ryan could never quite convey, you were in the midst of war -- pondering the wrenching decisions of commanders and the unspeakable courage of men who wanted to live, who wanted to return to their families, but who knew they were cannon fodder.

I think that this week's John Batchelor's Sunday show will be another riveting account of war: this time, a return to Pearl Harbor. John will be interviewing Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, the author of Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her.

In preparation for the interview, John has written a review of the book that is a small masterpiece. If you're an American and think you couldn't bear to return to that awful moment in American history, think again, for as John explains in his Kamikaze 1945, tragedy is not all that happened on that day:
About ten minutes after the explosions, Carmichael heard a rumor spreading that the ship was sinking. He took to the public address system and gave a speech that matches anything of Caesar's in strength and valor:

"This is the chief engineer speaking. This ship is not sinking. It is not in any danger of sinking. And it will not sink. So put your minds at rest on that."
What happened next -- read the review, and tune in this Sunday, and keep to heart John's closing observation:
What is the significance today of the suicide attack? That it will succeed to do great damage, however that it demonstrates a failure of the attacking force to be more than a futile fever, a banal evil, the losing cause that is eventually swept into the dustbin of history.

Thursday, December 18

Thanks to Gay Patriot and Watcher of Weasels

As all long-time readers of this blog know, paranoia runs deep here in Pundita-land. So my reaction would come as no surprise when I learned yesterday that on the same day Pundita had been placed among the nominees for consideration as Gay Patriot's 2009 Grande Conservative Blogress Diva and that a Pundita post, To the man who threw shoes at President Bush and missed, had been nominated for a non-Council entry in the Watcher of Weasels prize for this week's best post.

I had no idea who submitted my blog for consideration but this did not prevent me from muttering, "Once again I am the innocent victim of a conspiracy."

In this case, however, there is some small basis for my paranoia. The week before I had told five bloggers in confidence that I was leaving the blogosphere permanently.

(Of course it would have to be in confidence to prevent Caesar from again snapping,
"Another deathbed scene, another aria.")

After some back-and-forth, I returned that I would take a vacation and think things over before taking an extreme step, but my mind was pretty much made up. Technically, I am now on vacation until January 3; to prove it, I have not even checked Google News today. But I couldn't very well decamp without first thanking those who would praise Pundita and proposing my nominations for Conservative Blogress Diva of 2009. Thus, a letter submitted to Gay Patriot's comment section, which I publish below.

First, though, a hearty thanks to all the Watchers of Weasels Council members, who tirelessly scour the blogosphere for talent and give of their own blogging time to promote the writings of other bloggers. I seem to recall that the last time a post of mine was nominated I promised to add Watchers to my blogroll, in a gesture of support for their service to the blogosphere. In the tumult of events I forgot the promise -- an oversight I mean to rectify today.

Now here is Gay Patriot's explanation about the nature of the Diva contest, which is not limited to conservative bloggers, and which helps explain how Pundita landed on the list. (I seriously doubt that any conservative would threaten to turn into toads those who would unfairly criticize Steve Diamond.):
I have long defined a diva as strong, talented and confident woman who commands the respect of men. This year, we will once again determine which blogress commands the most respect of gay conservative men.

She need not be conservative herself (at least three of the nominees below are not), but must by the the power of her prose, the eloquence of her expression and the intelligence of her ideas have earned the enmity of the angry left and so endeared herself to gay men like us who admire strong women who speak their minds, even at the expense of encomia from those in the entertainment industry and the MSM.
Here is my letter to Gay Patriot:

I am writing to nominate two females for inclusion on your list and to second the mention of two names on your list, but first a thank-you:

I can't tell you how honored I am to find myself included on Gay Patriot's nominee list for voting on the Grande Conservative Blogress. In my experience the political sphere of the blogosphere is football with razor blades. The few female bloggers who have commanded real respect from male political bloggers (as versus patronizing pats) have done so through the sheer force of their analytical and writing abilities. That a blog should take time to honor such females is an inspiration to me and a gift to the blogosphere.

Now to my nominees:

First, a woman who is every inch a diva, a great patriot, and who is one of the most important -- and unsung -- bloggers in the political blogosphere. She has gone by more than one nom de guerre but she currently blogs as "Procrustes" at The Real Barack Obama, now known simply as "RBO."

I suppose she could be termed a conservative Democrat, yet she has supported several conservative Republican blogs (see her blogroll) and published many essays by conservatives.

There is no way to convey in a few words the contribution she has made to the task of getting the real story about Barack Obama to the public during the past year. At RBO blog and earlier at her Rezko Watch blog, she has published much original research and written with eloquence about the threat that Obama and his Chicago political cronies pose to American democracy.

She has also created a virtual online library that contains the most massive documentation publicly available on every aspect of Obama's political connections. As such RBO is a valuable resource for bloggers and mainstream journalists who write about U.S. politics.

And it would be hard to explain in a few words her courage. She faced down one of the richest men in the world, Nadhmi Auchi, who is closely associated with convicted political fixer and Obama patron Tony Rezko. Mr Auchi has the chilling habit of suing into silence or retraction anyone in the media who dares cross him. Powerful news outlets have backed down in the face of such pressure, but not Procrustes.

None of this speaks to the threats she has received and the hatred she engendered in the Left during the presidential campaign.

She has continued to fight from the jungle since the election. Her example has been an inspiration to several bloggers, and her blogs have been a beacon and rallying point for many who desperately fought to stop Obama, including this blogger.

All this she has done without pay. She is independent of any organization; she blogs simply as a public service.

Yet despite the usefulness of the information RBO/Rezko Watch provided to many conservative pundits during this past year, her blog has not received recognition in the conservative part of the blogosphere. I am hoping Gay Patriot can rectify that sorry situation by including Procrustes for consideration as a conservative diva blogress.

As to my second nomination, learning about your blog reminded me of Beth Mauldin, the author of Beth's Contradictory Brain.

Beth is an openly gay blogger whose "diarist" blog is deeply personal. Yet she has spent unsung years patiently educating her mostly liberal readers to the more conservative view. She introduced herself to me in 2005 with a wonderful series of emails about defending democracy, some of which I published.

Too self-effacing, perhaps, to be considered a diva, yet with quiet determination she has written about the difficulties of being a military wife when her beloved was deployed to Iraq. (See her Military Wife and Iraq archives.) She once joked to her readers that she wished she were a better writer so she might submit her accounts to a gay magazine, but the simplicity of her words sears into the heart the plight of such American patriots
I'm not sure straight people understand how amazingly difficult *not* being out can be, especially when you're in a long-term committed relationship. Imagine hanging out with coworkers and not being able to talk about your spouse to the extent that you can't even say what you did last weekend because that would include the movie you went to see together, or the romantic dinner you had. Imagine the endless talk of other "single" people about the opposite sex, and your apparent disinterest. Subtle, but telling. Imagine having to erase all evidence of your relationship just to protect your job, your personal safety. If I had a magic wand I'd make the situation reversed for just one day.
No we don't understand, not until someone like Beth speaks out.

I would also like to second the nominations of Dymphna and Kathy Shaidle because I know a great deal about the courage they demonstrated during 2008. Kathy was sued for her outspoken criticism of an enemy of free speech, yet she continues to speak out.

And Dymphna's blog, Gates of Vienna (co-authored by Baron Bodissey), has been blacklisted by a powerful conservative blogger and thrown off a famous conservative blog consolidator site because she refused to water down her convictions in the name of political correctness.

Her blog continues the invaluable service of bringing the truth to Americans about the anti-jihad struggle in Europe. And during the past year Gates of Vienna has blossomed into a virtual online newspaper reporting on important political news and opinion from Europe that the American press refuses to carry.

In closing, I had not heard of your blog until my nomination, although no surprise there: my life on the blogosphere has been a blur of research, analysis and writing, which has left me all too little time to sleep, let alone explore other blogs. Thus, I know many blogs only because the authors write me or because I launch a 'mission,' such as fighting for months alongside the Canadian bloggers battling to restore freedom of speech in their country -- the magnificent Kathy Shaidle among them.

So I have seen only a few essays from other bloggers on your nominee list, and some on the list are new to me. I have been considering leaving the blogosphere -- after four years of blogging, I plead exhaustion -- so at least a hiatus will give me time to catch up with the blogs on your list!

Again, thank you for including me on your nomination list -- and for introducing me to female bloggers who clearly deserve my attention.

Best regards,
Pundita
******************************
As you can see, the cat is out of the bag about my decision to leave the blogosphere, although I have de-escalated the decision to 'hiatus.'

And now, this is truly the last post until after the New Year; if Pundita is nominated for any other prize in the interim -- I thank you, but know that I live in abject terror of the Puffy Head Minders. My brilliance and wit are merely a setting for my humility and the Minders are partly responsible this.

Wednesday, December 17

Thoughts about a blogosphere formal debate on whether the U.S. should disengage from the Middle East

UPDATE
This entry is crossposted, with pictures, at RBO.

When I went looking for a picture of Dave Schuler, I knew the only ones I could find would be a very few taken with one of his magnificent Samoyeds (or, to be strictly accurate, "one of the magnificent Samoyeds with their human") and that even then, his face would remain hidden or in shadow, as befits the blogosphere's "glittering eye."

Here is a larger version of the picture that RBO published. It shows Dave with one of the Samoyeds, Qila, who left this realm in 2007 after many years of cheerfully babysitting Dave.

Looking at the photograph you barely need to read the post that accompanies it to recall how fortunate we humans are when a great-souled one arrives to help us ford the river of life.

Methinks the tradition of canine angels is very strong in Dave's family. I seem to recall that one of Dave's antecedents, a card-carrying Christian saint, went to live and meditate in a cave in Switzerland for many years during which his companion was a St. Bernard.
**********************************************
I made the mistake of checking Mark Safranski's Zenpundit blog as I was getting read to pack for vacation -- but then again, I'm glad I did. Here is the absolutely, positively last post I put up before decamping:

Zenpundit has all the details on the debate (with formal rules 'n all!) taking place at Outside the Beltway blog between the redoubtable Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye and Dr. Bernard Finel.

I note that the best U.S. foreign/defense policy discussions are coming not from academic institutions but from the blogosphere, a phenomenon that has seen a rapid increase during the past four years and will only increase.

This doesn't mean that academics are not contributing to the blogosphere discussions; indeed, many academics connected with the 'soft' disciplines are happily finding on the blogosphere rigorous challenges to their assumptions, which seems so lacking in the modern American university system.

One of Colonel John Boyd's nicknames was "Thunder and Lightning," which came from his habit of standing in the doorway of his office at the Pentagon while he gestured at the other offices and screamed, "Out there -- business as usual! In here -- thunder and lightning!"

The same can be said for the contrast between academia and the blogosphere: in academia, business as usual; out here, the thunder and lightning of the free exchange of ideas.

David Graeber famously defined the modern university as a hierarchical disciplining device; Zenpundit alludes to this view in his post on the academic elite in the USA:
[...] What strikes me as amusing though is the entirely visceral, euphorically emotive and almost tribal “he’s one of us” support from the elite for the President-elect. Reactions that run against the supposedly cerebral and “reality based” pretensions of empiricism and skepticism for which they make a claim but seldom practice because most of them are highly-trained, vertical thinking, experts. When you are accomplished within a domain and have built a reputation by operating within its often complex (to laymen) rule-sets, the price is often an acquired blindness that prevents you from challenging the cherished shibboleths of the group.

To look across domains and question fundamental premises in horizontal thinking fashion is to be the bull in the china shop. Or the skunk at the garden party. Or both.[...]
Right now we need more bulls in the china shop; more importantly we need the assumptions of academics tested in the crucible of public discussion and subjected to the feedback of generalists and experts in the field.

If there was ever a powerful argument for this view, it can be found in Nils Gilman'sMandarins for the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America., then by studying how modernization theory was applied to the development of poor nations.

It is not possible to know about the applications without recoiling at the devastation visited on humanity by academics whose ideas were never challenged by facts on the ground -- not even by the businessmen, bankers, bureaucrats and politicians who blindly put the ideas into practice and using the world's poorest as guinea pigs.

So if there is sometimes a hysterical edge to William Easterly's arguments in White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, perhaps it stems from the knowledge that not one of those experimenters will ever be charged with crimes against humanity. Not one. Not one. Not a single one. And yet the devastation they wreaked boggles the imagination.

And what Nils Gilman's careful history of the thinking that led to the development mindset makes horrifying clear is all that was done in the name of modernization. To be more precise, in the name of placing ideas about modernizing a country above helping the citizens establish a humane system of government.

That humanity has survived the ideas of those academics is perhaps the best argument for the existence of God. And that a bunch of American academics with not a grain of common sense between them -- much less an understanding of their own country's history -- came to influence the government of the world's long-running democracy to support dictators is most assuredly the best argument for the existence of the Devil.

The consequences in every case scream for a version of Colonel Boyd's OODA loop -- something, anything, approaching the concept of feedback.

Instead of feedback we got history, history spinning out in sickening, agonizing slow motion over years, and often so quietly that a result only became clear in an ethnic bloodbath, a diaspora of the starving, wars between dictators. And yet all that horror was unleashed, set in motion, not in the name of conquest or despotism but in the name of being helpful.

To say, 'It might have happened anyway, and without intervention it might have been worse,' is to close to one's heart and mind to the folly of playing God when one has neither the experience to plan for unintended consequences nor the intelligence to devise effective feedback protocols for experiments on one's fellow humans.

You say you want to bulldoze a road through the jungle so farmers can truck their produce to market? Great idea; that will certainly help modernize farming in the Amazon! Uh oh. The project design didn't factor in that a road has more than purpose. When it was used for migration, the Amazon -- the planet's air cleaner -- went up in flames because the migrants used the slash-and-burn method to establish new farms at an unprecedented rate. Well, the stupid Brazilian government overshot the mark on that one, for sure.

You say you want to erect a dam, which will require shuffling around entire villages, tribes and clans? Whaddya mean, soldiers are using bayonets to rape to death girls? What? Mobs are pulling families out of their cars and dousing the families with gasoline and lighting a match? Omigod the goddamn nation has gone up in flames. Holy cow; it's now genocide disguised as riots. No we can't lodge a protest with the ambassador; we can't get involved in politics.

And because your legs will not hold you up, you let the file fall from your hands, and this gives you the excuse to crumple to the floor as you pick up and sort papers spilled from the file.

Memo: Did nobody think it was lunacy to do business with a government of fiends? Memo: Did nobody think to do a study on the effects of locating enemy clans right next to each other? Memo: Did nobody think there would be clan rivalry for jobs on the dam?

Did nobody think..... Did nobody think.....

Okay, big has problems. So let's think small. You say you want to do just a little to help along modernization; limit harm with a microproject? So, give efficiently burning cooking stoves to a village. What? The entrepreneurs in the village bought up all the stoves from the other villagers and rented them back to the same villagers? According to the project design that wasn't supposed to happen; in fact, nobody even thought of that possibility.

In all cases, note: Humans are not potted plants. They do not perform according to what the voices in your head tell you or according to the echoes bouncing off the walls of academia.

Perhaps the greatest lesson to take from Mandarins of the Future is that never again should citizens of a democracy cede the arena of foreign policy to an intellectual elite.

So, follow the debate between Dave Schuler and Bernard Finel. And add your most measured thoughts on the topic. And read Nils Gilman's book, hear?

All right; now I really am outta here. I'll see you on January 3. All the best to you and yours.

Notes:

1. Aside to Nils Gilman:

You might want to glance through my May 2005 post, The Matrix and the International Crime Threat Assessment Report and read the 2000 International Crime Threat Assessment Report I link to, then ask yourself just how many globalized crooks are actually ignoring the state.

I suspect the US government hasn't done a follow-up to the 2000 ICTAR because they're afraid to detail how many governments have fallen under control of globalized gangs since the first study or are at least heavily dependent on the revenue brought in by the gangs. (Puntland, Poland, Kosovo immediately leap to mind.)

2. Nils Gilman responds to my post on his book/ thoughts about deviant globalization. Take a look through the syllabus he links to if you're trying to get oriented to the scope of deviant globalization.

3. Speaking of thunder and lightning on the blogosphere, Zenpundit announces: the Clausewitz Roundtable Cometh

Tuesday, December 16

Note

I am leaving the blogosphere until after the New Year; I will check back in on January 3.

Four posts up today; one from John Batchelor, two from Steve Diamond, and the transcript from a spectacular 60 Minutes segment on the next wave of mortgage defaults and the larger consequences, which is crossposted at RBO* (Bonus prize; I've added Jim Sinclair's thoughts on where gold is headed in the face of the coming maelstrom to the Meltdown post.)

John, Steve, and RBO are staying on the Blagojevich scandal and other matters related to the President-select, so you might want to check in with them once a day.

Best regards to all,
Pundita

* Duncan Appointment as Education Secretary: Dr Diamond writes, "Obama Disappoints Family Friend Ayers"

Blagojevich hires the Devil's Advocate (Aside to readers outside U.S. shores: Welcome to the real American political scene)

Mortgages Meltdown: The Second Wave

The Senate for Sale Scandal: Balanoff-Obama and Balanoff-Blagojevich ties

Duncan Appointment as Education Secretary: Dr Diamond writes, "Obama Disappoints Family Friend Ayers"

Steve Diamond raised the alarm in the spring of 2008 about Obama's association with former terrorist William Ayers and the grave threat this posed for U.S. public education. Since then he's been a thorn in the side of Obama's camp. Now Steve reports that Obama has backed away from Ayers' pick for Education Secretary, but one would have to be naive to assume that the struggle is over.

Steve is not going to back away; he will stay on the case -- and so should you, particularly if you have school-age children in the U.S. public education system. For readers who are new to the issue, I have followed Steve's latest post (below) with a repost of my June 25, 2008 post/crosspost on Steve's White Guilt essay, which has plenty of background and links.

As to why the major mainstream media (including Fox News) never went to town with the information Steve presented about Ayers' educational ideas: Good question. When you find the answer, let me know.

Obama Disappoints Family Friend Ayers with Duncan Appointment as Education Secretary


Bill Ayers and co. lost a big battle today with the announcement that Arne Duncan will be Obama's Education Secretary. Duncan is one of the "Big 4," as Ayers calls the four reform oriented school superintendents Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein and Paul Vallas. And Ayers has been part of a nationwide effort among certain self-styled "progressive" and "social justice" oriented education activists and educators to lobby against the Big 4. Ayers was, of course, plugging for race theorist, anti-union small schools advocate and education school figure Linda Darling-Hammond.

Ayers helped get Darling-Hammond annointed an Obama advisor, over the objections of several other education policy camps. And Ayers and Darling-Hammond have both been pushing a similar agenda including support for a slavery reparations policy in education, called "repayment of the education debt owed to people of color."

While Obama indicated sympathy for these ideas during the campaign he refused to commit himself clearly to a particular education policy much less a strategy for achieving his goals. Darling-Hammond was head of his Transition team in this arena so it seems likely she will continue to have some role going forward.

While Ayers paints himself as a great education progressive, he was really in the vanguard of creating the reform movement that has done such great damage to American education over the last twenty years. Ayers pioneered the idea of small schools with his old 60s comrade in arms, the former Maoist Mike Klonsky. That idea grew out of their view of American education as a product of the Cold War. So for Ayers and Klonsky, Small Schools and Social Justice was a kind of antidote to capitalism, as they understood it, and consistent with their support for stalinist and authoritarian regimes from Hanoi to Havana.

Ayers secured a $160 million grant in 1994 to implement his agenda in Chicago from the Annenberg Foundation. He elevated Barack Obama, a family friend, to the chairmanship of the Challenge and quickly secured nearly a million dollars in support from Obama for his Small Schools and Social Justice agenda.

This was an extension of the local control school reform program he helped lead alongside Barack Obama over the objections of Chicago's black teachers and their union in the late 1980s. That earlier reform effort won praise from the Heritage Foundation and together with the Annenberg Challenge in the 90s helped open the door to the more aggressive reformers of today.

Why?

Because local control and small schools were all harbingers of the free market "choice" agenda so in vogue now among Hoover Institution and Heritage Foundation types. Early on, Chicago teachers' union activists saw right through the Annenberg agenda of Ayers, Obama and Klonsky: they called it, correctly, "teacher bashing." It was as if Ayers and Klonsky had followed the teachings of Chinese Communist leader Deng Hsiao Peng: who cares what color the cat is as long as it catches mice.

No surprise then that union support for Linda Darling-Hammond as Education Secretary was lukewarm. While a middle of the road reform-oriented type like Duncan is a second best choice for the unions, at least he does not hide his interest in reform behind lefty labels like "social justice."

These days Ayers is going around the country trying to rehash his foray into terror and sectarianism in the 70s underground movement, mostly ignoring his close professional and personal relationship with the President-elect, despite having admitted the two were "family friends."

For an antidote to his attempt to justify his and his wife's past, read Bill Ayers Won't Give Up and for the essentials on his (and the young Obama's) approach to education policy read The Authoritarian Radicals.

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June 25, 2008

Steve Diamond guest blogs at Pundita: "White Guilt" Politics of Obama Crowd Undermined by New School Research (Updated 6/26 AM)

Note on updated post
Within hours of the publication of Steve Diamond's White Guilt blog post, also published here, Barack Obama's campaign yanked Mike Klonsky's blog from the official Obama website. [12/16: Of course Comrade Klonsky protested this was all coincidence.]

For details see footnote 5 or Steve Diamond's How is it under that bus, Comrade Klonsky?.

Readers who have been following Diamond's revelatory writings on the true relationship between Barack Obama and former terrorist William Ayers, the "New Authoritarian Left," and the role of NAL education advisors in Obama's campaign, will have no trouble understanding why Obama wants to erase all trace of Klonsky's blog.

For readers still out in the parking lot or stuck in traffic on the way to the ballpark: Steve Diamond is an old-fashioned Democrat who because of his areas of expertise, including labor relations, knows the New Authoritarian Left inside out. And the Obama cadre, which is stuffed with NAL types, has discovered that he knows. He knows their every evasion, their code words and strategies, which the American mainstream is unfamiliar with. And since April, in a series of essays on his blog Global Labor and the Global Economy, he has proceeded to educate the public.

So you might say that Diamond -- J.D., Yale Law School; Symposium Editor, Yale Law Journal; Ph.D., Political Science, University of London (Birkbeck College); MacArthur Fellow in International Peace and Security; B.A., University of California, Berkeley -- is to the NAL what Van Helsing is to Dracula.

What is the NAL? See footnote 4 but the short answer is that they're people who behind their jive talk about "social justice" can't be bothered with the democratic way of getting things done.

For readers who are completely new to the story, which the mainstream media (including Fox News) have studiously ignored, I have added footnotes to this post, which provide links to Dr Diamond's earlier writings on the relevant topics, and an excerpt that gives more information about Comrade Klonsky.

As to why, why, why the media have treated Diamond as if he's writing from inside the Bermuda Triangle, gee I don't know.

Taking a stab in the dark: Maybe it has something to do with the fact that once the majority of American parents with children in public school discover that across administrations -- Democratic and Republican -- tax dollars have been used to indoctrinate children to virulently anti-capitalist and anti-American ideas, they are going to get tar and feathers and come after leaders of both parties.

That's not even counting how upset those parents will be if Obama gets into the White House and his education advisors ram through their "education debt" ideas.

So the party leaders better scramble because sooner or later Diamond's writings are going to bust out of the blogosphere. He's already appeared twice on John Batchelor's radio show.

On the chance that John McCain's campaign and the GOP 527 crowd are sitting on Diamond's revelations until after Denver -- do they have birdseed for brains?

Diamond is writing about fairly complex and interlocked subjects that do not lend themselves to 30 second ads. And Obama's cadres are good at countering the 527 spots with their own spots.

And given that almost all the mainstream media outlets seem to be running a coordinated campaign to suppress or downplay genuinely damaging information about Obama, it can take months to explain to the public what Diamond is saying -- despite his clear style of exposition.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I advise that you get moving on Professor Diamond's information now.

One more point before I cede the podium to Steve Diamond: on the chance that after sifting through the archives at Diamond's blog, some members of the media and blogosphere say, 'We have to sit on his writings so we don't offend China's leaders,' here is my answer: I will see you in hell.

**********************************
Steve Diamond, who blogs at Global Labor and Politics, has interrupted his vacation again to write about White Guilt Politics of Obama Crowd Undermined:

If you believe the rhetoric of the "social justice" crowd influencing the Obama camp's approach to education policy -- the authoritarian leftists Bill Ayers and his sidekick Mike Klonsky as well ed school professors like Linda Darling-Hammond and Gloria Ladson-Billings -- only reparations for 400 years of oppression of non-whites will allow us to close the "achievement gap" between the oppressors (whites) and the oppressed (minority kids.)

This crowd supports a new idea - arguing that it is time to replace the attack on the "achievement gap" between minority and white/Asian students with a new concept called "educational debt" that has allegedly piled up over centuries in U.S. history.[1]

Lying behind this argument is a pernicious concept - that white workers benefit at the expense of black workers and that more widely American workers live off the backs of workers in the third world. This is at the heart of the authoritarian and anti-union politics of the Ayers/Klonsky crowd. [2,3]

Of course, such a conclusion would come as a shock to the millions of white workers in this country who earn essentially the same income as most black workers (though, of course, there are far more whites than blacks who earn significantly more). And it would also come as a shock to those American workers, white and black, whose jobs have been shipped off to China or Mexico.

Despite the absurdity of these views it is this idea of "unequal exchange" between north and south, or inside the U.S. between black and white, that explains a good deal about the politics of those in this crowd who cozy up to demagogues like Venezuela strongman Hugo Chavez or, for that matter, Louis Farrakhan. The authoritarian leftist camp convinces itself that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Klonsky and Ayers, of course, are veterans of this kind of race-based politics. Klonsky formed the pro-China October League out of SDS and then morphed that into the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) which earned him an invitation to sip tea with Chinese stalinists in Beijing in 1977.[4]

The Chinese were the originators of the idea that the rural third world south was being exploited by the urban developed world north. Now Klonsky blogs for the Obama campaign website on education policy and "social justice teaching." [5]

Ayers helped tear apart SDS to form the Weather Underground with his future wife, Bernardine Dohrn, arguing that carrying out armed robberies and bombings "in solidarity" with black revolutionaries was the number one priority for student anti-war activists. Now he peddles "white supremacy" and other ideas in his peculiar so-called "social justice" approach to educational policy.

But this world view took a huge hit this week with the release of new research on what is actually happening in U.S. schools. In light of the new results is it possible the social justice education crowd knew they would need a new idea to keep their hopes of influencing the national policy debate alive? Is that what explains the campaign over the last two years or so by this milieu to push the educational debt/reparations idea?

The new research by the non-partisan Center on Education Policy indicates that over the last five years, since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002, there has been measurable improvement in test scores for millions of students including a narrowing of the "achievement gap" between whites and non-whites (leaving out Asians, of course, who, despite racist "oppression" somehow escape the effect of that alleged oppression when they show up for school - when it comes to Asians, it's whites who are falling behind, though not presumably because of the oppression of whites by Asians).

The results may only be coincidental, of course, but the CEP report is pretty convincing that real improvement can occur in closing the achievement gap between white and minority kids without also atoning for every sin (and those were and are real enough) ever committed against non-whites, as the "social justice" crowd insists.

The CEP Press Release concludes:

Student scores on state tests of reading and mathematics have risen since 2002, and achievement gaps between various groups of students have narrowed more often than they have widened, according to the most comprehensive and rigorous recent analysis of state test scores.

21 states made moderate-to-large gains in math in both percentages proficient and effect sizes at the elementary level, while 22 states showed gains of this size on both indicators in middle school and 12 states posted such gains for high school.

In reading, 17 states had moderate-to-large gains in percentages proficient and effect sizes at the elementary level, 14 states made such gains for middle school, and eight states showed gains for high school. Additional numbers of states made slight gains on one or both indicators or showed improvement on one indicator but lacked data on the other.

Here is how they summarize the results in California:

Overall achievement

• From 2003 to 2007 in reading, students made moderate-to-large gains in both percentages proficient and effect sizes at the elementary and middle school grades analyzed. At the high school level, the percentage proficient declined slightly and effect size showed no change.

• In math, achievement on both indicators increased at a moderate-to-large rate at the elementary and high school levels. At the middle school grade analyzed, percentages proficient declined slightly but effect sizes increased at a moderate-to-large rate.

Achievement gaps

• From 2003 to 2007, the African American-white gap at the elementary level showed no change in reading but narrowed in math, according to both indicators. At the middle school grade analyzed, trends varied by subject and indicator. At the high school level, gaps in percentages proficient narrowed in reading and math; no effect size data were available for subgroups at this level.

• Gaps between Latino and white students narrowed in both reading and math at the elementary level, according to both indicators. Gaps widened at the middle school level in reading on both indicators. At the high school level, gaps stayed the same in reading and narrowed in math, according to the percentage proficient.

• In reading, gaps between Native American and white students narrowed according to percentages proficient but widened according to effect sizes. In math, this gap narrowed at the elementary level on both indicators. Middle school trends varied by indicator. At the high school level, percentage proficient gaps narrowed in both reading and math.

• Gaps between low-income students and all students stayed the same in elementary reading and narrowed in elementary math, according to both indicators. At the middle school level, reading gaps showed no net change on either indicator. At the high school level, gaps in the percentage proficient narrowed in both reading and math.


Clearly still a long way to go but the improvement for younger kids is particularly heartening. And it certainly suggests that any proposal for putting "repayment of 400 years of educational debt owed to people of color" at the top of a President Obama administration, as Ayers, Ladson-Billings, and Darling-Hammond argue should be the case, is likely wrong-headed.

1) Earlier posts by Steve Diamond on the concept of "education debt" and how it's deployed by Ayers, et al.:

May 21: "The Monster in the Room"... (Obama's chief education advisors push for slavery-based reparations-based public education policy)

June 10: OBAMA! Catch this SOFTBALL! - The Center/Left Counter-Attack on Education Policy

June 13: Open the box! Race again at center of new education lobby

June 13: The Education war: David Brooks doesn't get it

2) Dr Diamond explains the term "Authoritarian Left."

3) The true relationship between Barack Obama and William Ayers:

When did Barack Obama meet Bill Ayers? (Summary of the relationship via Obama's work for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge)

"That guy who lives in my neighborhood" ... (More on the true Ayers-Obama relationship and Obama's attempts to cover up history.)

4) More on Klonsky, from Diamond's Neighborhood post above:
[...] it must be pointed out that a notorious ally of Bill Ayers for many years, Mike Klonsky, is an open member of the Obama campaign. Klonsky runs a blog on the official Obama website here where he claims to be a "professor of education" (the website of the Small Schools Workshop that he directs says only that he teaches some graduate courses, though it appears he was a visiting professor for one year at Nova Southeastern University in Florida in 2006-07) and says he blogs for Obama on "education politics and teaching for social justice."

Who is Mike Klonsky? Well, on one level, he might just appear to be a protege of Bill Ayers in the education world. He received, as I detail below, a $175,000 grant from the Ayers/Obama-led Annenberg Challenge to run the Small Schools Workshop that he and Ayers started in Chicago to push their school reform agenda.

But that is only half the story. Klonsky was one of the most destructive hardline maoists in the SDS in the late 60's who emerged from SDS to form a pro-Chinese sect called the October League that later became the Beijing-recognized Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist). As chairman of the party, Klonsky travelled to Beijing itself in 1977 and, literally, toasted the Chinese stalinist leadership who, in turn, "hailed the formation of the CP(ML) as 'reflecting the aspirations of the proletariat and working people,' effectively recognizing the group as the all-but-official US Maoist party." (Elbaum, Revolution in the Air, 228).

I know of no indications that Klonsky has ever expressed any regrets about that activity. Perhaps like his SDS comrade, Ayers, he, too, thinks he did not do enough back then. In my view they did more than enough.

An excellent profile of that maoist milieu is available in a book called Revolution in the Air by Max Elbaum, a first hand participant whose sympathy for the maoism of the period does not get in the way of an excellent account of these idiot savants of the left.

How is it possible that someone of Klonsky's ilk would now be playing a visible role in the Obama campaign itself on such an important issue as education policy - apparently with free reign to push his authoritarian "social justice" agenda?

The answer to that question escapes Darling-Hammond.
5) Not anymore. On Wednesday, at 8:40 PM Pacific Time Steve Diamond informed his readers:
No sooner than Global Labor blogged here and here about the role in the Obama campaign of Mike Klonsky, former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers' longtime comrade-in-arms from their days in SDS to the Chicago School Wars they fought in the 80s and 90s alongside Barack Obama, and presto he's gone.

As of this evening, Klonsky is no longer blogging on the Barack Obama for President website.

In fact, it's like he was never there. [...]

Earlier today when one went to the Community Blogs on the Obama website there was the Klonsky blog on education policy and something he calls "social justice teaching."

Tonight, all you get at the same URL is: "Invalid blog/profile URL." Today's softer version of the Stalinist airbrush.

Who knew that the political purge would be revived by the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, Barack Obama.
Read the rest here.

Blagojevich hires the Devil's Advocate (Aside to readers outside U.S. shores: Welcome to the real American political scene)

What's it all mean? It means Blago ain't going quietly.

Visit John Batchelor's website at the following link to pick up links to his post and see the pix of Genson. Now to the circus:

"We're going to fight this case."

By John Batchelor on December 16, 2008 1:14 AM

Blago Hires "The Devil's Advocate"

Cheering up those of us who worried that Blago would bow to the finger-wagging in the national media, news arrives that the veteran showman defense attorney Ed "The Devil's Advocate" Genson, recently of R. Kelly fame, has taken on the defense of the governor of Illinois.

The quote about his client by the wavy-haired, burly and partially disabled 66 year-old attorney is everything to be wished for in the operatic, ruthless courtroom battles ahead and trial by silent jury: "He's not stepping aside. He hasn't done anything wrong. We're going to fight this case."

Ed Genson is a legend in Chicago as a defense attorney who "will do anything to win." He is expensive, comprehensive, tireless and ruthless and has long experience defending corrupt Illinois officials as well as mobsters, weirdos and other baroque rascals.

Only one question is of concern right away: Will he leak pre-trial information? Will we get Blago's point of view on the hours of recordings Patrick Fitzgerald has collected on the negotiation over the Obama Senate seat. Will we get Rahm Emanuel's reputed vulgar tongue in quotes? A guess is, affirmative.

Chicago Magazine three years ago celebrated Ed Genson as a man for all of the Chicago Way:

His cases tell the story of a certain slice of Chicago culture in the past three decades. Consider: Genson's cases have ranged from the old mobbed-up First Ward of Pat Marcy and Fred Roti to the criminal enterprise known as the Secretary of State's Office under George Ryan and Scott Fawell; from the burning of the West Side after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. to the vicious beating of Lenard Clark; from the wild sex trial of former U.S. congressman Mel Reynolds to the aforementioned saga of R. Kelly; from mass commodities fraud on the floors of the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to alleged corporate corruption at politically influential companies such as Intercounty Title. Operations Greylord, Gambat, Silver Shovel, Haunted Hall, and Safe Roads-Genson has watched them all unfold from the best vantage point a city like Chicago has to offer: the defense table. "There's probably not a significant criminal prosecution in Chicago-a really significant one-in the last 20 years that Eddie has not had a client in...".

Ed Genson vs Patrick Fitzgerald

Elliot Ness has a match on his hands. Patrick Fitzgerald will not be able to move quickly if Ed Genson aims to slow this down and fight the war in parts. First there is the discovery, and since that is ongoing, and will include the just launched impeachment investigation by the Illinois legislature, there is no reason to expect a trial until the fall or next winter, meaning up to a year of strange leaking details on the Obama team's testimony to grand juries and in depostitions.

Also Ed Genson is a Chicago guy. He will call favors. We can expect that many possible villains will now emerge whose presence will mitigate the tale, such as billionaire Sam Zell for entertaining creepy deals about his Tribune, such as Rahm Emanuel for muscling a list of candidates on Blago on Election Day. Would Ed Genson start telling stories about the President-Elect? The reputation is that he will do anything to win. This is the Devil's Advocate. The self-elected and heroic and high-flying and Untouchable - such are Mother's Milk.

Mortgages Meltdown: The Second Wave

"Tilson saw, a year ago, that sub-prime mortgages were just the start."

There is a dissenting view about the "option ARM" (see the first comment on the 60 Minutes website) but I do not think 60 Minutes is scare mongering. In the interests of going right to the 'money' quotes, I've removed the personal anecdotes from the transcript but otherwise it's stet.

Regarding Whitney Tilson's view that there are bargains galore in the stock market right now (see transcript), Jimmy Sinclair wrote recently about bull rallies happening on the way to hell. Yeah sure there are bargains at today's prices, but which bargains? For how long?

We don't do financial advice here on Pundita blog, but in the spirit of presenting a contra view I've tacked onto the end of this post quotes from Jimmy's post about a week ago on the issue.

(WARNING: The mere mention of Jim Sinclair's name around the Federal Reserve brings out the pitch and flamethrowers. Old story, old war, and usually the gold bulls lose. This time perhaps not.)

A Second Mortgage Disaster On The Horizon?

60 Minutes: New Wave Of Mortgage Rate Adjustments Could Force More Homeowners To Default

(CBS) When it comes to bailouts of American business, Barney Frank and the Congress may be just getting started. Nearly two trillion tax dollars have been shoveled into the hole that Wall Street dug and people wonder where the bottom is.

As correspondent Scott Pelley reports, it turns out the abyss is deeper than most people think because there is a second mortgage shock heading for the economy. In the executive suites of Wall Street and Washington, you're beginning to hear alarm about a new wave of mortgages with strange names that are about to become all too familiar. If you thought sub-primes were insanely reckless wait until you hear what's coming:

One of the best guides to the danger ahead is Whitney Tilson. He's an investment fund manager who has made such a name for himself recently that investors, who manage about $10 billion, gathered to hear him last week. Tilson saw, a year ago, that sub-prime mortgages were just the start.

"We had the greatest asset bubble in history and now that bubble is bursting. The single biggest piece of the bubble is the U.S. mortgage market and we're probably about halfway through the unwinding and bursting of the bubble," Tilson explains. "It may seem like all the carnage out there, we must be almost finished. But there's still a lot of pain to come in terms of write-downs and losses that have yet to be recognized."

In 2007, Tilson teamed up with Amherst Securities, an investment firm that specializes in mortgages. Amherst had done some financial detective work, analyzing the millions of mortgages that were bundled into those mortgage-backed securities that Wall Street was peddling. It found that the sub-primes, loans to the least credit-worthy borrowers, were defaulting. But Amherst also ran the numbers on what were supposed to be higher quality mortgages.

"It was data we'd never seen before and that's what made us realize, 'Holy cow, things are gonna be much worse than anyone anticipates,'" Tilson says.

The trouble now is that the insanity didn't end with sub-primes. There were two other kinds of exotic mortgages that became popular, called "Alt-A" and "option ARM." The option ARMs, in particular, lured borrowers in with low initial interest rates - so-called teaser rates - sometimes as low as one percent. But after two, three or five years those rates "reset." They went up. And so did the monthly payment. A mortgage of $800 dollars a month could easily jump to $1,500.

Now the Alt-A and option ARM loans made back in the heyday are starting to reset, causing the mortgage payments to go up and homeowners to default.

"The defaults right now are incredibly high. At unprecedented levels. And there’s no evidence that the default rate is tapering off. Those defaults almost inevitably are leading to foreclosures, and homes being auctioned, and home prices continuing to fall," Tilson explains.

"What you seem to be saying is that there is a very predictable time bomb effect here?" Pelley asks.

"Exactly. I mean, you can look back at what was written in '05 and '07. You can look at the reset dates. You can look at the current default rates, and it's really very clear and predictable what's gonna happen here," Tilson says.

Just look at a projection from the investment bank of Credit Suisse: there are the billions of dollars in sub-prime mortgages that reset last year and this year. But what hasn't hit yet are Alt-A and option ARM resets, when homeowners will pay higher interest rates in the next three years. We're at the beginning of a second wave.

"How big is the potential damage from the Alt-A as compared to what we just saw in the sub-primes?" Pelley asks.

"Well, the sub-prime is, was approaching $1 trillion, the Alt-A is about $1 trillion. And then you have option ARMs on top of that. That's probably another $500 billion to $600 billion on top of that," Tilson says.

Asked how many of these option ARMs he imagines are going to fail, Tilson says, "Well north of 50 percent. My gut would be 70 percent of these option ARMs will default."

"How do you know that?" Pelley asks.

"Well we know it based on current default rates. And this is before the reset. So people are defaulting even on the little three percent teaser interest-only rates they're being asked to pay today," Tilson says.

(CBS) That second wave is coming ashore at a place you might call the "Repo Riviera" - Miami Dade County.

[...]

And there are tough years to come because, just like the sub-primes, the Alt-A and option ARM mortgages were bundled into Wall Street securities and sold to investors.

Sean Egan, who runs a credit rating firm that analyzes corporate debt, says he expects 2009 to be miserable and 2010 also miserable and even worse.

Fortune Magazine cited Egan as one of six Wall Street pros who predicted the fall of the financial giants.

"This next wave of defaults, which everyone agrees is inevitably going to happen, how central is that to what happens to the rest of the economy?" Pelley asks.

"It's core. It's core, because housing is such an important part. We're not going to get the housing industry back on track until we clear out this garbage that's in there," Egan explains.

"That hasn't cleared out yet. We haven't seen the bottom," Pelley remarks.

"It's getting worse," Egan says. "There are some statistics from the National Association of Realtors, and they track the supply of housing units on the market. And that's grown from 2.2 million units about three years ago, up to 4.5 million units earlier this year. So you have the massive supply out there of units that need to be sold."

"What with the housing supply increasing that much, what does it mean?" Pelley asks.

"It means that this problem, the economic difficulties, are not going to be resolved in a short period of time. It's not gonna take six months, it's not gonna be 12 months; we're looking at probably about three, four, five years, before this overhang, this supply overhang is worked through," Egan says.

(CBS) In the next four years, eight million American families are expected to lose their homes. But even after the residential meltdown, Whitney Tilson says blows to the financial system will keep coming.

"The same craziness that occurred in the mortgage market occurred in the commercial real estate markets. And that's taking a little longer to show. But there are gonna be big losses there. Credit cars, auto loans. You name it. So, we're still, you know, we're maybe halfway through the mortgage bubble. But we may only be in the third inning of the overall bursting of this asset bubble," Tilson says.

"Does that mean that the stock market is gonna continue plunging as we've seen the last several months?" Pelley asks.

"Actually we're the most bullish we've been in 10 years of managing money. And the reason is because the stock market, for the first time I can say this, in years, has finally figured out how bad things are going to be. And the stock market is forward looking. And with U.S. stocks down nearly 50 percent from their highs, we're actually finding bargains galore. We think corporate America's on sale," Tilson says.

Produced by David Gelber and Joel Bach
© MMVIII, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.
And now a few word from James Sinclair:
[...] I completely agree that a study of similar historical periods argues strongly for an equity rally. Those rallies in the past have had one year legs but for the moment we must wait to see what transpires.

I am cautious about being bearish on equities right now. Models of 1873 and 1929 show humdinger rallies during the worst of these periods.

The most likely time for a rally to occur is when Obama starts the nation's two trillion fiscal stimulus which will trigger the $8.5 trillion bailout of the system, starting an inflation few people can imagine.

No lender will fail to loan on a government contract that probably guarantees payment.

Over time this fiscal stimulus will be famous for only one thing - triggering hyperinflation.

Gold's rally then can be quite long term, as in more than three years.

Gold will trade at $1,650 but I am sure even that number could be very low. Reasonable people are saying $3,000 to $5,000.

Base metals are not staying as low as they are now in a hyper-inflationary environment.

Gold as honest money will lead everything.

When the fiscal stimulus fails to establish a sustainable recovery, it will have pulled the trigger for hyper-inflation. This is a currency event, not an economic event.

The Senate for Sale Scandal: Balanoff-Obama and Balanoff-Blagojevich ties

"Inspector" Steve Diamond is on the case. To the chase!

Who is Tom Balanoff? Obama, SEIU and the Senate For Sale Scandal:


One of the mystery figures in the Illinois Governor Blagojevich "Senator for Sale" Scandal is the unnamed "SEIU Official" who spoke to Blagojevich about the replacement of Barack Obama in the United States Senate.

Who is it?

If we knew, what would that tell us about the role of SEIU in this scandal?

Given the optimism about the new Obama Presidency among wide segments of the labor movement, answering these questions is important.

Has SEIU Official put at risk the hopes of millions of American workers?

Certainly the sharp battle to defend the UAW now underway indicates the uphill battle labor will face.

For the record, SEIU has issued a statement that:

"We have no reason to believe that SEIU or any SEIU official was involved in any wrongdoing."

"In keeping with the U.S. Attorney's request, we are not sharing information with the media at this time."

In other words, it is conceivable that SEIU was part of a giant sting operation - that the minute they got word of Blagojevich's interest in a pay to play approach to the Senate seat they called the FBI and everything that followed was aimed at catching a Governor out of control.

Perhaps. But until that time we are left we what we have been told.

First, let's review.

In the FBI agent's affidavit which accompanies the criminal complaint filed last week in federal court, SEIU Official first appears on November 7 in a three way conversation between Blagojevich, his aide John Harris and an unnamed Advisor B. Harris opens up the discussion of the possibility of a position for Blagojevich with Change To Win, the union federation formed out of a split from the older AFL-CIO and that now includes SEIU as its most powerful affiliate.

Harris suggests that SEIU Official make Blagojevich the "head" of Change To Win in return for the appointment of a Senate candidate that Obama favors and that Obama in turn would help SEIU with its legislative agenda. Blagojevich, though, remains non-committal to the 3-way deal. He indicates a need to earn a substantial salary. Union staff positions pay salaries well below equivalent positions in the private sector.

On November 10 a conference call with Blagojevich, Harris and numerous other individuals in Illinois and D.C. makes clear that the Change To Win job is only one of a number of scenarios under consideration. Others talked about included a cabinet post, an ambassadorship and corporate board positions. Harris again raised the idea of a 3-way Change To Win deal to be put in place with the help of SEIU and Obama.

On November 12, following several other conversations in the interim that raised a new possibility, that of Blagojevich being named head of a non-profit entity with funding raised in part by Obama from wealthy individuals, Blagojevich speaks with Advisor B about the this alternative. Advisor B says he prefers the 3-way deal with Change To Win and SEIU because there would be fewer "fingerprints" on Obama's involvement.

But Blagojevich indicates he prefers the non-profit idea because he is not sure Change To Win would be around in two years' time. (This may refer to the fact that there is some discussion in labor circles that Change To Win will merge with the AFL-CIO in the near future. One of the differences that separated the two federations was the view of Andy Stern and Change To Win that labor involvement in electoral politics was not helping labor grow. Presumably that debate is over and Stern now recognizes that politics does indeed matter.)

A second conversation later that same day between just Blagojevich and an unnamed "Washington D.C.-based advisor" repeats the same debate about the alternatives: the non-profit v. the Change To Win position.

In a third conversation that same day just between Blagojevich and SEIU Official, who was in Washington, D.C. at the time, the Governor again raises the idea of the non-profit entity but there is no apparent discussion of the Change To Win position at all. SEIU Official agreed to take the non-profit idea and "put that flag up and see where it goes." Apparently, that meant discussing it with the Obama camp or with Valerie Jarrett directly.

Clearly Blagojevich was less interested in a "cushy union job" with Change To Win than has been suggested by some, including U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. But just as clearly, SEIU Official was deeply involved in the discussions that did take place about Change To Win and the alternative, a possible new non-profit entity to be established with Obama’s help in order to secure the appointment of Valerie Jarrett as the new Senator from Illinois.

Who is "SEIU Official"?

I called SEIU last week to ask who the SEIU Official was and, in particular, if it was Andy Stern himself, as some had suggested in the blogosphere.

I was referred to an article that had appeared that very day in the Wall Street Journal that suggested, based on the Journal's review of an SEIU internal communication, that "SEIU Official" was, indeed, Tom Balanoff, simultaneously head of SEIU Local 1 (a janitors' and doorman's local union in Chicago), head of SEIU's 165,000 member statewide Illinois Council and a member of the International Executive Board of SEIU.

I was then referred to Ramona Oliver, head of Media for SEIU, but my call to her was not returned. I then called the Wall Street Journal and was told by one of their reporters that they had been told that the SEIU Official was, in fact, not Andy Stern.

The Journal reporter was not able to provide me any more information about the SEIU internal communication but did confirm that that communication was prepared only recently, after the discussions between Blagojevich and SEIU Official had taken place.

The Journal reporter was not able to shed any light on why the SEIU Official was in Washington D.C. when he spoke to Blagojevich. Balanoff’s office is in Chicago as is that of the Obama transition team, while that of Stern and Change To Win is in D.C. Of course, Balanoff likely travels for meetings to D.C. on a regular basis.

Clearly figures within SEIU were attempting to steer interest away from Andy Stern and towards Tom Balanoff.

That, of course, raises an important question: Who is Tom Balanoff?

Who is Tom Balanoff?

A review of what is known about Tom Balanoff indicates that he is, in fact, very close to Andy Stern. It seems highly unlikely that Balanoff would have carried on discussions with Blagojevich without informing Andy Stern. In fact, given his executive role in the SEIU hierarchy and his position as a director of SEIU, he would owe Stern and SEIU a fiduciary obligation to keep them fully informed about such discussions.

It also turns out that there is a close long standing relationship between Balanoff and Obama, and between Balanoff and Blagojevich.

What do we know?

Tom and Andy

Balanoff himself is a lifelong professional union staffer, joining the labor movement after earning a degree at the University of Illinois. John Sweeney, Stern’s predecessor at SEIU and now head of the rival AFL-CIO, hired him into SEIU's Research Department after earlier stints with the Fire Fighters (my late uncle's old union) and the Allied Industrial Workers.

Once he passed an apprenticeship in D.C. he became part of the International’s machinery, installed by Sweeney as a trustee controlling SEIU Local 73 in Chicago. Local 73 represents public employees in Illinois and Indiana, although Balanoff was never a public employee as far as I can tell. He later became the president of Local 73 when the trusteeship ended and control over the local was purportedly returned to its members.

One former employee of Local 73 wrote that Balanoff’s “poison is not alcohol. It’s power.” His "desire for power, for responsibility and an ability to swing with the big boys, landed him where he is, and offered him opportunities beyond his wildest hopes."

This was home turf for the Chicago born and raised Balanoff. Balanoff's father, Jim, was once in the Communist Party and was a life long Steelworkers activist who headed up the dissident District 31 which covered the huge steel mills that used to occupy south Chicago and Gary, Indiana. (See The Battling Balanoffs for a profile of the family - no longer CP'ers apparently, just "progressive" - so progressive that Tom's Dad met his Mom while both were campaigning for the CP-backed Henry Wallace in 1948.)

In 1999, Balanoff tasked by Stern, now head of SEIU, to be trustee of the corrupt Janitors Union in New York City, Local 32B-32J, once headed by the notorious Gus Bevona.

Balanoff now heads up SEIU's 35,000 member janitors' and doormans' Local 1 in Chicago though he has never been a janitor or doorman as far as I can tell. Through a series of mergers, Local 1 now has members in several states in the Midwest. And Balanoff also heads up the 165,000 member Illinois Council of SEIU, now a powerhouse in Chicago and Illinois politics.

Over the past decade he has worked hand in glove with Andy Stern to implement Stern's peculiar agenda for building SEIU power. Stern's top down bureaucratic strategy has engendered widespread criticism and more recently militant opposition from rank and file union members.

While apologists for Stern among academics and some on the left proclaim SEIU and other Change To Win affiliates to be a harbinger of a "new unionism" in America, others decry the trampling of union democracy by the sweetheart deals Stern has made with employers and the top down mandatory restructurings. Critics point to Stern’s cozying up to the authoritarian Chinese regime where a faux union was recently installed in a few Wal-Mart stores with the alleged assistance of Stern.

A key part of the Stern strategy has been using the weapon of trusteeship to force the merger of smaller locals into new centralized entities subject to influence if not control of the International itself. His major goal is to centralize the union into a smaller group of mega-locals that leave rank and file influence and union democracy behind. Across the country he has forced once locally controlled unions into large statewide, even cross border, entities run by professional staff rather than their own members. The number of professional staff in the union has multiplied several fold under this approach.

In a recent battle with California’s United Healthcare Workers (UHW), itself formed as a result of the merger of numerous smaller SEIU locals, it is alleged by UHW that Stern engaged in a "relentless, pervasive, and unprecedented campaign to target, retaliate against, discredit, and hobble” UHW as Stern and the International tried to restructure the organization and to run its charismatic and popular leader, Sal Rosselli, out of office.

(Unfortunately, Rosselli only a few years earlier was a key Stern ally in the formation of Change To Win out of the AFL-CIO. In addition, at the recent SEIU Convention he used an attack on a sister AFL-CIO union, the California Nurses' Association, as a whipping boy in order to argue that UHW is loyal to SEIU.)

According to Steve Early, an experienced and respected labor lawyer who follows SEIU closely, “SEIU trusteeships have become a tool for consolidating Stern's personal power, stifling dissent, negotiating substandard contracts, and creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation viewed as unhealthy, even in a union that's diverse and fast-growing.”

More than 40 SEIU locals, out of 275, have been taken over by the International under Stern’s leadership. (By the way, his predecessor John Sweeney was no stranger to this bureaucratic technique. Sweeney was still head of SEIU when Balanoff was put in charge of Local 73. But when it comes to using trusteeships, Stern is Picasso whereas Sweeney was a mere Juan Gris.)

Balanoff was part of that kind of effort in Illinois and when similar efforts ran into opposition in other parts of the country, such as in Massachusetts and California, Balanoff was dispatched by Stern to quell dissent, usually in the guise of a “hearing officer” sent by the International to ferret out problems.

At a recent SEIU Convention, Balanoff "deep sixed" reform proposals made there by UHW of California so that they never made it out of the committee he chaired to the Convention floor.

Balanoff and Blagojevich

Particularly controversial has been Stern's, and Balanoff's, strategy of "organizing politicians first, workers second." This has meant funneling tens of millions of dollars into the campaigns of politicians who can then be called upon to make legal changes that mandate that thousands of previously non-union workers become dues paying union members, sometimes without the clumsy unpredictable practice of actually holding a genuine union election.

In Illinois, Balanoff and Stern have put this strategy to work with great effect.

A few years ago, Blagojevich told Stern of a politician on the rise named Rod Blagojevich. SEIU thought it could back Blagojevich’s run for governor at a time when no one else thought the Democrats had a chance of winning the post. SEIU poured money and activists into the campaign and Blagojevich eked out a narrow victory over his Republican opponent.

In return, Blagojevich used his executive authority that made it a cakewalk for SEIU to “oganize” tens of thousands of new workers into the union. The effort only became a challenge for SEIU because of the attempt by a competing union to win over the same workers.

“We told our members we had to build up our political arm in order to grow, so we increased the locals payments to the state council,” Balanoff told The American Prospect. “And we took a huge risk with Blagojevich.”

Prospect editor Harold Meyerson wrote:

“In exchange for its support, the SEIU won a specific commitment from Blagojevich: an executive order that created collective bargaining rights for the state's 25,000 home-care workers….With his executive order, Blagojevich removed those workers from legal limbo, and the SEIU won the vote of the members to represent them at the bargaining table. On February 18 of this year, Blagojevich signed an equivalent order for the state's 48,000 child-care workers, decreeing that a representation election be held within 42 days.”

Today the Wall Street Journal is reporting that yet another example of this kind of deal was underway with Blagojevich planning to sign yet another executive order that would have enabled SEIU to secure unionization of 1,200 home care workers for the developmentally disabled. Apparently, the deal was only known to SEIU and not to its major competitor in this arena, the AFL-CIO's AFSCME.

This effort duplicated a similar move in California where a deal with Governor Gray Davis led to the “unionization” of tens of thousands of home health care workers without the messy unpredictability of an actual election.

Here is how one analyst described it:

Stern has also boosted his rolls with workers who aren't really workers at all. In California, for example, Stern cannily used political contributions and organizing to reroute welfare dollars into his union and create a whole new class of members. After a decade's worth of organizing politicians in Sacramento—ex-Gov. Gray Davis got $625,000 from SEIU—and also the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Stern persuaded them to create an agency that would serve as the employer for home-care workers. Then in 1999, the agency held an election so that SEIU could become the exclusive bargaining agent. When SEIU—which faced no opposition—won the low-turnout affair, 74,000 members were added to its rolls.

But most of those home-care workers are parents and children who got government money for taking care of family members or close friends. They didn't provide nursing services but simply bathed and fed their disabled children or elderly parents. Most home-care workers are part-time, working for one client. Their average pay is less than $700 a month (now minus dues to SEIU).


Stern and SEIU's strategy includes thug-like tactics used against fellow unions. When Rose Ann DeMoro, the president of the AFL-CIO's California Nurses' Association, was scheduled to be honored at a dinner sponsored by the Democratic Socialists of America in Chicago, Balanoff, a previous honoree at the annual event (see picture above), wrote to protest the award arguing, absurdly, that this widely respected and militant union was engaged in activities equivalent to the union-busting National Right to Work Committee.

At a recent meeting of Labor Notes, a major conference of labor activists held every other year in Detroit, invited De Moro to speak, SEIU bussed in dozens of union members who were told, again absurdly, that a "union buster" was speaking at the event. One participant died of a heart attack and another was bloodied in the confrontation and sent to the hospital.

Tom and Barack

Now, it turns out, labor is trying the Stern strategy on a much larger scale. They hope to use the leverage they have created with the Obama victory to put in place something called the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to be organized once again without bothering about a democratic union election.

Of course, for decades, as former Clinton era NLRB chair Bill Gould has explained, the deck has been stacked against labor in the union election process. It should be reformed to make elections fair and efficient. But instead both Change To Win and the AFL-CIO want to by pass that approach and use “card check” to create unions. This allows union organizers to avoid secret ballots and a campaign effort to gain union backing.

And to get the necessary legislative change in Congress it helps to have a relationship with the new President. Tom Balanoff knows Obama from way back. Balanoff himself explains that he first met Obama in 1993 when Obama was just out of Harvard Law School. Balanoff’s cousins on the south side of Chicago introduced Obama to Balanoff. Balanoff says they met Obama while Obama was a community organizer there in the mid-1980s.

The Balanoff family – including now a judge, politicians, and lawyers - was deeply immersed in the anti-machine wing of Democratic party politics. The Balanoffs would have been critical allies for a young Obama, who was thinking of attempting to duplicate the successful mayoral campaign of his late hero, Harold Washington.

The Balanoffs had close ties to independent black activists, likely a result of their long association with the Communist Party that had such an important presence in black south side Chicago. They were one of the few prominent ethnic families to back Harold Washington, himself once a labor lawyer in Chicago with links to the CP.

This introduction led to a close relationship between Balanoff and Obama as Obama began his rise to political prominence. Balanoff spoke on Obama’s behalf at the Democratic National Convention and was instrumental in securing SEIU’s endorsement over the more clearly pro-union John Edwards during the campaign itself.

When Obama was trailing in Nevada during the primaries, Balanoff and other Illinois unionists rode in to help, holding a conference call to sing Obama's praises to the locals. Balanoff told the media:

“He comes from us,” said Balanoff on Obama. “He understands our problems. We could count on Barack on all issues important to working families. Healthcare, general economic justice, jobs… Barack was there, not only there but oftentimes leading.”

What Can We Conclude?

Inevitably this review of what we know about the relationship of Obama, Balanoff, Stern and Blagojevich is incomplete. More questions remain – in fact, the review of what we do know leads to those questions. But that is helpful in and of itself.

For example, how did the idea of a job with Change To Win come up with Blagojevich? Could he have thought that up himself? It seems unlikely.

Did Balanoff suggest such a possibility? How could he have done so with any credibility if he had not discussed it with Stern? Although Stern is not named in the FBI affidavit did he have any discussions with Blagojevich?

Given the close relationship between Balanoff and Obama, would Balanoff have acted as an “emissary” (as SEIU Official is described in the affidavit) of Obama’s top confidante and advisor Valerie Jarrett without talking to Obama or at least someone who could credibly speak for Obama, perhaps Jarrett or Emanuel?

With Blagojevich and Rezko now safely in the hands of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald we are likely to learn a good deal more about these questions and relationships.

Personally I favor organized labor being active in the political arena. But instead of competing with Big Business and Wall Street to pay for Democratic Party politicians it would be far more effective for labor to run their own candidates, chosen after open internal debate and by a democratic decision of union members. Alternatively, labor could join with like minded groups in the environmental and peace movements to support independent candidates.

SEIU, and others in the labor movement, have taken another approach that breeds authoritarianism not democratic participation by labor's rank and file. Pay to play is the wrong way to go for labor.

Sadly, organized labor may suffer the consequences of SEIU's apparent role in the Blagojevich scandal as much as anyone else.


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