Saturday, April 27, 2013

C'mon Obama, Stiffen Your Spine

Those of you who have read my blog, Just Saying . . .(formerly The Last Word) know that I have been an unabashed and unapologetic Obama fan since the man declared his candidacy for president way back in 2007.  My thinking was that here is a man of ideas, a man who is unafraid of neither controversy nor criticism, as he headed toward the White House.  For the most part, a trigger in my respect for the man was borne by the open and frequent (too frequent) expressions of hatred of the man simply because his skin was black.  Looking back, it was like our country was stepping back into it’s history of institutional racism as the avowed goal and actions of the Republican party became the defeat of anything Obama stood for at any and all costs.  As two examples, I cite universal healthcare and background checks for gun purchasers, both Republican initiatives in the 1990s, and we all know where Republicans stand on those issues today.   Early on, one of the mantras of the GOP was that Obama talked a good game, but was unable to deliver.  That inability to deliver was in no small part due to Republican intransigence on anything and everything the man stood for.  Labels like ‘socialist’ stuck like mud to him because it allowed his haters a socially acceptable manner to dodge the covert racism that formed the basis for anything Obama.

But . . . now, and it nearly breaks my heart to write this, a pattern is emerging that suggests that the constant bullying of the GOP has succeeded.  The president, time and time again, has abandoned his stated principles and our hope that somehow he would be different from the ordinary politicians that grace our national landscape.  The poster child of my examples is Guantanamo.  One of the first things he was going to do, he said during the first election campaign, was to close this blighted stain on our democracy.  Instead, the prison from which there is no apparent escape or hope for fair hearings on detention is now a pathetic example of our blind willingness to abandon any semblance of the fundamental bases upon which our nation was founded.  The striking example of most of the inmates slowly starving themselves to death in protest transmits a Nazi prison camp-like image, not only to me, but also, I strongly suspect, to the rest of the world.   The same goes with presidential authorized droning resulting in the killing of innocent by-standers on foreign soil.  (Parenthetically, just think how we would all react if, for example, Russia or Iran utilized drones hovering over the United States for the purpose of killing American citizens).  The most recent example of the abandonment of principle is Obama’s stated willingness to sign the GOP measure to relieve air travelers from the ramifications of the sequestration, while totally ignoring the pllght of the underfed children and families in our society whose only crime, apparently, is to be poor and/or jobless.

C’mon man, stiffen your damn spine.  Stand for something!  Just saying . . . 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Torturing and Droning Are Not Two Cities . . .

One of my favorite jokes as a golfer is to deride myself, sometimes others, by stating that my target object thinks chipping and putting are two cities in China.  I currently try to avoid such pronouncements simply because my audience, the remaining members of the golf foursome I am playing with, apparently possess neither the wit or deep understanding of my mind necessary to consider my efforts to be funny as funny.  For those who don’t have the slightest idea what I’m writing about, let me just say that you have to be there.  Suffice it to say that my present purpose in interjecting humor into this writing is a perhaps lame attempt to soften what I have to say about America, our government, our founding principles and us.  Which is to say that T and D, torturing and droning, are not two cities in Pennsylvania, but two nefarious practices regularly conducted by our government in total violation of any sense of morality or humanity and reflect a total abandonment of the principles upon which this great nation was founded.
What triggers this writing is the recent publication of a non-partisan report characterizing the U.S. methods of detainee interrogation used after 9/11 as torture.  As reported in today’s New York Times,  “[T] he report found that those methods violated international legal obligations with “no firm or persuasive evidence” that they produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. . . . Reaching a stronger national consensus on the issue of torture is crucial because, as the report says, “as long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United states could again engage in torture.” The task force found that using torture — like waterboarding, slamming prisoners into walls, and chaining them in uncomfortable stress position for hours — had “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” And in engineering “enforced disappearances” and secret detentions, the United States violated its international treaty obligations. A detailed 22-page appendix cites dozens of legal cases in which the United States prosecuted similar treatment or denounced it as torture when carried out by other countries.”  The hunger strike of Guantanamo detainees illustrates just how current this situation is.
Although not mentioned in this report, I add droning to the mix.  The current use of drones to surreptitiously seek out and kill people based upon executive fiat (approval of the President) without more is a terrible and terrifying abandonment of the moral and judicious principles underlying our constitution.  We are a nation of laws, and both practices (torturing and droning) have been and are being done without the well-established safeguards against these third world dictator-like acts, Dick Cheney notwithstanding.   Although I respect and admire President Obama, I am horrified by his endorsement of these methods.  The ends do not justify the means.   There are constitutional safeguards built into our system, such as the separation of powers, which are disregarded on a daily basis. 
Torturing and droning are not cities anywhere in the world.  They are, however, current policies of our government.  There is nothing funny about it.
Just saying . . .

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dr. Thomas Pedroni: a Guest Editorial

Detroit Data and Democracy Project

Important Editorial Note:
This column was submitted for consideration to the Detroit Free Press on Monday, March 25. The column was accepted, and slated to run online beginning Tuesday morning.  However, on Tuesday afternoon I received a call from the paper’s editorial desk that more time was needed to go over the column.  I had already emailed the editorial office links tothe Education Nation Detroit Summit video with the times at which the pronouncements by Roberts (at 25:39) and Clinton (at 43:00) were made.  I had also emailed a link to the MDE site where the relevant MEAP data is stored, and shared my Excel Worksheets on which I had done the calculations underlying the analysis.  The Free Press staffer and I carefully went over on the phone all the numbers and how they were derived.  She thanked me for my time and care.  The column was again cleared for publication, this time for Wednesday at noon. Just before noon I received another communication from the Free Press— that if they ran a piece accusing Roberts of lying, then the paper at least needed to check with him on what he intended to say.  I pointed out that the column did not accuse Roberts of lying, but merely used data to analyze his claim.  Moreover I noted that I had taken painstaking care in the second half of the piece to surmise what Roberts might have meant to say, in case he had simply misspoken.  Later Wednesday afternoon I received a final email, that based on Roberts’ response, there was too much that would need to be changed in the column, and that I was welcome to take it elsewhere.  
Please help me circulate this article despite the obstruction by the Free Press.  Share it as widely as you would like.

Dr. Thomas C. Pedroni, Director

“The hardest hit have been our youngest test takers—those who have spent most of their school years under emergency management—our third, fourth, and fifth graders.  Although Detroit students scored among the worst in the nation in 2009...our children have only fallen further behind these past four years."

March 28, 2013
Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts had some fabulous news (see video below) to share on NBC’s Education Nation Detroit Summitthis past Friday morning.  DPS had surpassed the Michigan state average in 14 of 18 categories measured by the state’s student proficiency test, the MEAP. Applause and accolades followed Roberts’ pronouncement.  Chelsea Clinton divulged that she would entrust her own children to the Emergency Manager’s schools.  
Roberts explains DPS progress on the MEAP
Notably, the jubilant mood at the summit was not dampened by any of the usual naysaying.  There were none of the niggling challenges to Roberts’ assertions. The day’s take-home message was clear—Roberts and his staff were finally turning the corner with Detroit’s long-suffering schools.  Education Nation, take note.Given all the recent bad news in Detroit, Roberts might be forgiven if his facts were a bit off the mark. It turns out, according to the Michigan Department of Education, that DPS did not outshine the state in 14 of 18 MEAP categories. The actual number was somewhat lower—zero.  DPS trailed the Michigan average in proficiency in all 18 categories.  And not just by a bit—by more than 10 percentage points in the two science categories, and by 20 or more in the other 16.  But it was a happy moment at the summit.  No one—not one panelist, not one moderator, not one preselected member of the audience—raised an eyebrow over Roberts’ innovative facts.
Click to Enlarge: Michigan Proficiency Average vs DPS (with and without EAA) Proficiency Average, 2012 MEAP
Perhaps Roberts had merely stumbled over his own words.  Maybe he really meant to say that DPS schools were gaining ground on the Michigan averages—that yes, DPS was still behind, but was steadfastly narrowing the achievement gap in 14 of the 18 categories.  
Unfortunately, that’s not the story the MEAP numbers tell either.
Click to Enlarge: Proficiency Gap between DPS/EAA and the State, 2009 vs 2012, using new MEAP cut scoresInstead they show that the Detroit Public Schools have fallen even further behind the state average since gaining an Emergency Manager in 2009.  The picture the numbers paint is particularly bleak when the 15 schools handed to the EAA just before the fall MEAP administration are factored in.  They show that Detroit’s third through eighth graders continue to lose ground in reading and math proficiency in most categories.
The hardest hit have been our youngest test takers—those who have spent most of their school years under emergency management—our third, fourth, and fifth graders.  Although Detroit students scored among the worst in the nation in 2009, Detroit’s third graders have since fallen 5.3 percentage points farther behind the state average in reading proficiency.  In math, they have fallen another 5.1 percentage points below the state average. 
Our fourth graders are now 2.9 percentage points farther behind the state average in reading proficiency, and 6.2 in math.  Fifth grade students have closed the achievement gap by 1 percentage point in reading (and are now only 27.5 percentage points behind their state peers), but have fallen 6.8 percentage points further behind in math. 
In sixth through eighth grade reading, the proficiency gaps increased by 0.6 points, 1.8 points, and 0.5 points respectively, while progress was made in math—by 0.2, 2.8, and 0.5 points respectively.
We hear again and again that Detroit’s children must be prepared to compete in the 21st century global economy.  If the proficiency gap between Detroit’s children and the Michigan average is any indication, our children have only fallen further behind these past four years.  Just don’t tell Chelsea Clinton—enrollment is also down sharply, and the Emergency Manager could desperately use a few more bodies.