Monday, June 30, 2008

Sol Stern: New York’s Lake Wobegon Effect

Sol Stern
New York’s Lake Wobegon Effect
The state’s rosy test scores don’t square with reality.
26 June 2008

If New York’s commissioner of education, Richard Mills, is to be believed, one of the great success stories in the history of American public education is unfolding in the Empire State. The commissioner has released 2008 state test results showing that a stunning 97 percent of the 708 third-graders in upstate Warren County are achieving “proficiency” in math. Only five of the county’s third-graders scored at level 1, defined by the test protocol as reflecting “serious academic difficulties.” The state’s other third-graders aren’t doing quite as terrifically as those in Warren County, but they’re pretty close—with 90 percent demonstrating proficiency in math and only 2.3 percent of all children scoring at level 1. For all New York students in grades three through eight, the pass rate in math this year is 81 percent, up 15 percentage points since 2006. Pass rates in reading have also risen dramatically over the past two years—up 7 percent for the state overall; 6.9 percent for New York City; 12.4 percent for Buffalo; 8.2 percent for Rochester; and 8.1 percent for Syracuse.

If these test results, particularly in math, are a true reflection of New York students’ mastery of subject matter, educators should be rushing here from all over the country to learn how our teachers manage to do it. U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings might also consider visiting the town of Lake George, in the center of Warren County, to congratulate the children there for being the first to achieve the No Child Left Behind Act’s goal of total proficiency—and six years ahead of the target date of 2014, at that. Lake George could then qualify as the real-life version of Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.”

Alas, New York State’s and Lake George’s test scores are not to be believed. Spectacular improvements of the kind Mills claims just don’t happen within the space of two years for a cohort of over 2 million students in hundreds of school districts with very different demographics. Some extraordinary individual schools do sometimes beat the odds, but nothing like these across-the-board gains has ever been demonstrated in any independent achievement tests, such as the SAT or ACT. Moreover, almost none of the dramatic improvements in the state tests show up in the most recent tests administered by the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as the “nation’s report card.” NAEP scores in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and eighth-grade math in New York State remained flat from 2005 to 2007. There was a modest improvement in fourth-grade math, but nothing close to the gains reported on the state tests. (The next NAEP test is due in 2009.) The inescapable conclusion is that a significant portion of New York’s improvement in test results from 2006 to 2008 was created by the test factor itself—that is, by the degree of rigor (or lack thereof) of the specific state tests administered to the children in those years.

Knowing that last year’s NAEP results sparked some critical commentary (including in the New York Times) about the state tests’ validity, Mills tried to preempt skepticism at his press conference announcing the 2008 results. One of the slides in his PowerPoint presentation was titled ENSURING THESE RESULTS ARE ACCURATE and claimed that “New York’s testing system passed rigorous peer review by [the] U.S. Dep’t of Education.” But this “rigorous peer review,” which all 50 states now undergo under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), is less impressive than it sounds. I was told by a federal education department official that the review covers only the general process used by the states in establishing a reliable system of standards and assessment. It does not constitute a federal seal of approval for the accuracy of any state’s particular tests.

Further, the federal review, though well-intentioned, appears to be producing its own Lake Wobegon effect. The review has already approved 32 states, is about to approve three more, and is still examining the remaining 15 but will eventually approve them, the official told me. Sometime soon, then, the U.S. Department of Education will certify that all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, have reliable systems for administering the tests that are at the heart of NCLB’s accountability measures. But many state tests will show results that, like New York’s, suggest grade inflation, and there will still be a yawning gap between what many states report about their students’ academic abilities and what the NAEP tests reveal for those states. All of this will produce more fodder for NCLB’s critics on both the left and the right.

The premise of NCLB, as of so many current education reform efforts, is that schools must serve the interests of children, not the interests of the adults who work in the system. But in a classic case of unintended consequences, the widespread test inflation produced by NCLB is serving only the interests of the adults. New York education officials like Mills, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein—along with teachers’ union leaders like Randi Weingarten—advance their varied agendas in the glow of inflated test scores. But the children are the big losers. Sometime in the next decade, the white children of Lake George and the black children of New York City will come face to face with reality. On a high school math Regents test—or on an SAT test, or in a college remediation course—they will discover that they are not quite as proficient as New York State once assured them.

Sol Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal and the author of Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice.

High Test Scores, and Criticism, Follow a South Bronx Principal

Note the involvement in the merit pay/bonus program.

High Test Scores, and Criticism, Follow a South Bronx Principal
High Scores, Criticism Follow a Principal

Staff Reporter of the Sun

June 30, 2008
A South Bronx elementary school that adopted the motto "The Best School in the Universe" on the strength of soaring tests scores is being investigated for allegations that teachers helped students cheat on state tests.
Several students who attended P.S. 48 said last week that teachers would examine their answers during official test administration periods and point out mistakes and how to correct them.
"They would give you the answers on the state tests," a graduate of P.S. 48, who is now in seventh grade, said. "You'd say, 'I need help,' and then they'd tell you what the answer was."
The Department of Education is also investigating cheating allegations at a nearby school, M.S. 201, which this year was taken over by P.S. 48's former principal, John Hughes.
Mr. Hughes moved to the middle school after running P.S. 48, to great acclaim. He told the Web site that he oversaw a 30-point jump on a math test in 2004, and that year Chancellor Joel Klein spoke at the school's graduation — reportedly while wearing a "Best School in the Universe" T-shirt.
The test scores subsequently oscillated, but the general upward trend won Mr. Hughes favorable profiles in the New York Times and on PBS, and he has developed a good rapport with a teacher-recruitment nonprofit, Teach For America.
In his first year at M.S. 201, scores have also shot up; the percentage of students passing math tests this year jumped by 17 points, and the percentage passing reading increased by nine points. (Citywide, scores rose by nine points in math and seven points in reading.)
Yet Mr. Hughes has butted heads with many of the teachers at M.S. 201, many of whom have not been invited to return next year when the school is restructured.
Some of those teachers said in interviews that they fear Mr. Hughes is importing a culture of cheating to their school.
In a recent letter to the Department of Education, a group of teachers reported that Mr. Hughes asked several teachers to help students during the state tests.
One teacher, Sandra Ameny, who came to M.S. 201 through Teach For America, said Mr. Hughes asked her to help her students on the math test, but that she refused.
"He asked me to guide my students to the right answers during the test, and I said that's helping them; I'm not supposed to do that. And he said, 'Well, just guide them towards the right answer,'" Ms. Ameny said.
She added: "He basically said during the exam that I should go over close to them, and for example if they mark 'D' and 'D' is not the right answer, tell them, you know, 'That's not the right answer, try something else,' and just keep guiding them until they get the right answer."
Ms. Ameny said that when she refused to follow his instructions, Mr. Hughes retaliated against her, making her working conditions miserable.
She said Teach For America has released her from its regular two-year commitment.
Reached via telephone last week, Mr. Hughes said he had no comment.
The executive director of Teach For America's New York City branch, Jemina Bernard, would not comment on Ms. Ameny's situation, but she said the group is maintaining its relationship with Mr. Hughes.
"Principal Hughes is a strong partner. We continue to work with him. We have several corps members at the school, and we look forward to working with him and our over 300 schools throughout the city to place our incoming corps," Ms. Bernard said.
Across the country, as standardized tests have become more important to schools — determining everything from whether schools close to teachers' pay — cases of cheating have become increasingly apparent. In Texas, a newspaper analysis by the Dallas Morning News last year found that more than 50,000 student test scores showed evidence of cheating.
In New York, the investigations of the South Bronx schools are among at least a handful of their kind. The Department of Education is also investigating a charter school inside its headquarters building after an allegation that an administrator violated rules by taking home state tests and possibly tampering with them.
The allegations do not always hold up on inspection; last year, a city investigator cleared the names of Brooklyn administrators who had been accused of cheating, saying the charges were brought unfairly by a teacher who had received an unsatisfactory rating.
A spokesman for the city teachers union, Ron Davis, said the union has observed other cases similar to those in the South Bronx, with teachers saying their principals are pressuring them to cheat.
"We've seen too many examples of principals pressuring teachers to help students cheat," the union president, Randi Weingarten, said in a statement. "We must allow zero tolerance for this kind of behavior by principals, and we must insist upon immunity for educators who come forward to report it."
Several staff members at M.S. 201 said they have long suspected cheating went on at P.S. 48. The school feeds its graduates into M.S. 201, and they said students from that school often come unprepared — despite having high test scores.
State tests in New York are graded on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest score. Teachers said that while many children would leave P.S. 48 having scored at a level 3 or 4, they would arrive with skills well below grade level.
"These kids didn't know how to write, they didn't know how to add," a math teacher at M.S. 201 who is leaving the school, Elizabeth Cano, said. "How could they be getting level 4?"
Ms. Cano said the discrepancy would be clearest when the teachers gave pre-tests in the first week of school. "They used to all get a level 1," she said.
A sixth-grader at M.S. 201. said that a teacher once looked over his shoulder and said, "Ooh, is that right? Is that the right answer?" encouraging him to erase and try again.
Meanwhile, 11 of 12 P.S. 48 graduates interviewed last week said they were coached during the state tests.
They said that teachers would look over their shoulders and instruct them to try again and again until they got answers right.
"They'd be like, 'Is that the right answer?' — until they make sure it's right," a sixth-grader said.
"When I was at 48, I never went to class, and I still passed the test," a seventh-grader said. "If you go to graduation, you pass."
Higher test scores could pay off for M.S. 201's teachers this year. The school is one of about 200 participating in a trial project to give teachers bonuses if their students perform well on state tests.
The bonuses average $3,000 a teacher.

Sunday, June 29, 2008



Chosen from Among Multiple Bidders in Competitive Procurement Process

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced the selection of the NYC Leadership Academy as the primary provider of training to prospective New York public school principals and professional development to principals already working in City schools. The NYC Leadership Academy was selected from among multiple vendors through a competitive procurement process and will begin providing services to the Department of Education (DOE) on July 1, 2008.

“At the core of the Children First reforms is the belief that principals must be empowered to make decisions affecting their schools and held accountable for the results their schools achieve,” Chancellor Klein said. “Ensuring that our principals are prepared and supported in this role is critical to student success.”

In order to continue developing and retaining top school leaders, the DOE last April issued a request for proposals from vendors providing a comprehensive principal training program. The NYC Leadership Academy, a nonprofit organization that has trained principals for City schools since 2003 through a private funding agreement ending at the close of the current fiscal year, was one of four vendors to submit proposals for consideration. The NYC Leadership Academy will provide several services to the DOE including residency-based training for educators who want to become principals, on-the-job training for aspiring school leaders already working in City public schools, professional development for principals opening new schools, mentoring for all first-year principals, coaching for experienced principals, workshops and web-based training for principals and their teams, and consulting to senior DOE staff on policy matters regarding school leadership.

The DOE is negotiating a contract expected to last for five years and cost approximately $10 million annually.

Contact: David Cantor / Melody Meyer (212) 374-5141

Friday, June 27, 2008

AFT Censorship of Substance


I hope you can share this as widely as possible among our friends who believe in
freedom of the press. As you know, AFT will be issuing press credentials to
many people, including representatives of some dubious regimes around the world
and individuals funded by the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation. AFT's
Public Affairs Office has already informed other Chicago news organizations, some
smaller than Substance, that their reporters will be issued credentials to
cover the convention.

Thanks. What I have below should help explain the situation in context.

George N. Schmidt, Editor, Substance

June 27, 2008

Colleagues and friends:

Yesterday, Substance received the following e-mail:

"AFT will not be able to give your organization press credentials. We only
provide credentials to legitimate news organizations."

The e-mail was send by Janet Bass (, who is part of the staff
of what is called the "Public Affairs Office" of the American Federation of
Teachers in Washington, D.C. Ms. Bass's e-mail was in response to my repeated
requests to establish press credentials for Substance staff for the upcoming
convention of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Chicago.

As you know, the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers
is scheduled to begin in Chicago on July 11, with pre-convention activities
taking place beginning July 9.

As editor of Substance, I called AFT at least three times during the past
week, requesting the procedures for getting press credentials for those members
of our staff who would be covering the convention as reporters, videographers,
bloggers, and photographers (we intend to utilize all four media for this
event and have prepared a special section of the Substance Website for daily
coverage of both the National Education Association (NEA) convention (which begins
in Washington, D.C. July 1) and the AFT convention here in Chicago (beginning
July 11).

Traditionally, we inform organizations we will be covering in advance so that
their press people can prepare credentials and do any other necessary review
prior to the beginning of the news event. During the news event, we are all
too busy to revert to any bureaucratic necessities.

Ironically, the AFT is invoking a power (to determine what constitutes a
"legitimate news organization") which even President George W. Bush and the White
House Press Office would not invoke. As many of you know, in January 2008
(this past January), we received advanced notice that President Bush would be in
Chicago on January 7 to mark the anniversary of No Child Left Behind.

Although we generally don't cover national news events, if they take place in
Chicago we do. Several times during the past ten years, Substance has covered
figures from the U.S. Department of Education (including the now famous
former Deputy Education Secretary Susan Neuman and the current U.S. Secretary of
Education Margaret Spellings) during media events which are held in Chicago. We
then routinely publish reports and analysis of these events. Even so finicky a
news manager as Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has rarely tried to bar us
from news events, and our staff regularly go through the procedures established
by the Chicago Police Department to acquire Chicago Police press credentials.

Although it took three days, the White House Press Office eventually approved
three of our reporters (myself; Jackson Potter; and Joe Guzman) for coverage
of President Bush's visit to Chicago on January 7. What that meant was that we
had general access to several of the events of the day, although we (like all
of the TV stations and most other reporters) were barred from Bush's
seven-minute speech at Greeley Elementary School.

President Bush's No Child Left Behind anniversary speech was only covered by
the "Press Pool". This consists of two layers and is explained in our
Substance coverage (see our Home Page at if you are interested
in this interesting detail of free press in the USA.

Interestingly, because of the terms under which "pool coverage" of the
President's visit are concerned, we were provided with all of the photos and reports
of the two Tribune people who were allowed into the main pool at Greeley,
Stephanie Banchero and a photographer. Both of these, as well as the White House
transcript of Bush's precise words, were published by Substance as news both
in our print edition and on the Web.

During the course of establishing our right to cover the President's Chicago
visit, we had to comply with a number of reasonable security concerns. The
three of us who covered President Bush had to provide the White House with our
personal information (including Social Security number) and submit to several
security checks. At O'Hare Airport (in a very secure part of the airport) we and
our cars were searched twice by Secret Service before we were driven out to
the tarmac by security (along with everyone else from the local press who had
been vetted) to cover the landing of Air Force One. You can see our photographs
from that part of the event at

From O'Hare, we sped into Chicago, where we joined most of the press corps
outside a very secure perimeter around Horace Greeley Elementary School, while
President Bush, Mayor Daley, and Congressman Emmanuel were part of the NCLB
anniversary inside. That part of our coverage resulted in the front page
photograph of the mounted police cordoning off Greeley from the public (and, as I
said, "non pool" press). Our ability to report on what took place inside Greeley
existed because under the terms of the "Pool" coverage approach, other news
organizations are entitled to news reports and photographs from the events which
are restricted to "Pool." The Chicago Tribune followed these professional
rules precisely, and both the news reports and photographs from inside Greeley
were made available to us (you can read them in Substance, February 2008).

From Greeley, Joe, Jackson and I sped downtown to the Union League Club,
where Mayor Daley and President Bush were scheduled to meet with the Olympic 2016
committee before President Bush gave a speech on the economy (still one for
the books, in retrospect) to a select audience of wealthy Union League Club
members and family. At that event, we were again screened and admitted only after
security nodded. Our Chicago Police Press Credentials were necessary to get
through the police lines to get to the Union League Club (there were protesters
outside at Dearborn and Jackson, some of whom were later arrested). Inside, we
were screened again. But since we had already taken all the steps necessary
to cover the event, Jackson, Joe and I were led upstairs where we joined the
rest of the media awaiting (for more than an hour) the President of the United

I could give 50 or 100 other examples of our experiences covering the news in
Chicago and elsewhere during the past ten years, but have shared that one
from January of this year because it goes to the fundamental First Amendment
nature of this business. Nobody in the USA -- including the President of the
United States -- has the power to say who is "legitimate news" media or
organizations. As you can see by reviewing our coverage of the January news from the most
powerful man (and office) on earth, by maintaining our professionalism and
providing the White House with reasonable information, we established our right
to cover one of the most important education news events to take place in
Chicago in the past year.

Viewed from the perspective of the news coverage Substance has provided on
education stories during the past 12 months, this current disagreement with the
American Federation of Teachers Public Affairs Office is something of a
tempest in a teapot.

However, we have to ask all of our friends to contact that AFT and demand
that the AFT Public Affairs Office immediately stop its attempt to censor
Substance's coverage of the AFT national convention this summer.

You can contact Janet Bass by e-mail at AFT (

I would also ask that people who have the time write (snail mail) to AFT
President Ed McElroy demanding (or requesting if you think that's the best way to
do it) that AFT stop trying to censor Substance's coverage.

Ed McElroy
President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
555 New Jersey Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

I'm sorry that you and the staff of Substance have to waste time on this
rather silly exercise in the protection of our First Amendment rights, but I have
to ask that you do so. Neither the President of the United States of America
nor a couple of self important union bureaucrats has the right to declare who
or what constitutes "legitimate news organizations." To have allowed George W.
Bush to restrict our coverage of his No Child Left Behind visit to Chicago in
January 2008 would have been to surrender an important part of our precious
rights. To allow Ed McElroy, Janet Bass, or any other union bureaucrat to
restrict our coverage of the 2008 convention of the American Federation of Teachers
in July 2008 would also do violence to the freedoms and rights we all hold

I'll close with some words I memorized years ago and from time to time
repeat. Along with a few other part of our shared history (two by Abraham Lincoln --
the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural), they rings as powerfully
today as they did when they first became law more than 200 years ago:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the
press, or the right of the people, peaceably to assemble, to petition the
government for a redress of grievances." (First Amendment, from memory...).

Thank you for your help in this matter,

Solidarity Forever,

George N. Schmidt
Editor, Substance

5132 W. Berteau
Chicago, IL 60641

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Activists Rally Outside GHI To Protest HIP Merger

The Chief-Leader - Week of June 27, 2008
Fear Impact on Employees
Activists Rally Outside GHI To Protest HIP Merger


Chanting "they say privatize, we say organize," a group of
rank-and-file union members and health-care activists June 20 rallied
outside Group Health Incorporated'

s Manhattan headquarters to protest
its proposed privatization and merger with the Health Insurance Plan
of Greater New York.

Looking on at center is New York City Transit Station Agent Marty Goodman.
The rally was a part of a nationwide day of protest against health
insurance companies and the for-profit health-care system. The State
Superintendent of Insurance is considering the merger and conversion
of the two firms that provide health insurance to 93 percent of city
workers, and some union activists fear that the merger will translate
into higher health-care costs and reduced coverage. Mayor Bloomberg
has opposed the merger.

Nader Sees Conflict of Interest

"It is a system that increases premiums without limit, it increases
co-payments, it increases deductions, it increases exclusions,"
presidential candidate and longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader said
of the for-profit health insurance system during the rally. "So this
GHI-HIP merger transfers the fiduciary responsibilities of a
non-profit health insurance system to its patients to a commercial
obligation of a corporatized health insurance company to its
shareholders, which includes the top executives. There's a serious if
not illegal conflict of interest here between the heads of GHI
converting to a for-profit corporation in return for millions of
dollars to the top executives."

Activists from Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the United
Federation of Teachers voiced opposition to the merger and blasted
their union heads for not actively fighting it. Local 100 President
Roger Toussaint, who is in favor of universal health care, has
remained silent on the merger. UFT President Randi Weingarten, who
also chairs the Municipal Labor Committee, told State Superintendent
of Insurance Eric R. Dinallo in May that the MLC had concerns about a
single for-profit entity and that the coalition was prepared to oppose it.

Questions Move's Necessity

"We don't see any financial reason why the conversion needs to be
approved," said Chuck Bell, the program director of the Consumer's
Union. "HIP has over $9 million in financial reserves and as recently
as 2005, they've purchased a for-profit HMO in Connecticut for $350
million, so this is not a non-profit health plan that's short of money."

John Powers, a Teacher at Liberation High School in Brooklyn, told the
crowd that the day before the UFT Delegate Assembly passed what he
called a weak resolution in response to the merger, despite his effort
to push a resolution that would oppose it.

"It only spoke a little about the background regarding the GHI-HIP
merger," he said. "It didn't show a great concern about the fact that
once it goes public there is a need to turn a profit - that they have
to answer to the stockholders."

According to Mr. Powers, the assembly's resolution asked for a meeting
with Mr. Dinallo and guarantees against any adverse effects on city

"Our point is: 'how can you get these guarantees'" Mr. Powers said.
"We understand how corporations work."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mayor Sees a Test Scores Triumph

Or is it a case of inflation of results?

By ELIZABETH GREEN, Staff Reporter of the Sun
June 23, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg will announce an education victory today: Test scores are up across the city, by double digits at some schools. But a cloud is already gathering, as education experts are raising the possibility that these gains and others across the country could suggest score inflation and not real learning gains.

The scores being released today show a nine-percentage-point gain in math citywide versus last year, and a seven-point gain on the reading test. The gains are even more remarkable when viewed over the six-year timeline since Mr. Bloomberg took office: Three-quarters of city students now score proficient at math, up from 37% in 2002.

This year's gains were larger than the increases statewide, though smaller than in other cities, such as Buffalo, Rochester, and Yonkers.

Mr. Bloomberg is scheduled to announce the results at a press conference at P.S. 175 in Harlem this afternoon.

The mayor has often greeted test-score increases as evidence that he is fulfilling his promise to improve public schools. "I'm happy, thrilled, ecstatic," he said last year, announcing gains on the state math test.

Since then, concerns have grown that rises in state test scores in New York and elsewhere do not reflect real improvement, but rather "inflations" — either due to easier tests, deliberate cheating, or more subtle "gaming" that helps students perform better without actually having to learn more material.

Local education experts last September called for an audit of the state test after a respected national test showed the city posting significant gains in only one academic area, despite reports from the state test showing larger gains across the board.

A report grading state tests recently delivered New York State a C+. And a study by the teachers union found that a reading test dropped in difficulty by as many as six grade levels between 2004 and 2005.

The concern in New York follows a pattern around the country.

"Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us," a new book by a testing expert and Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, Daniel Koretz, calls score inflation the "dirty secret" of high-stakes testing.

Although some test-score gains represent the real, hard work of teachers and students, others "are entirely illusory," Mr. Koretz writes.

A recent study of Texas schools is the latest in a string of academic observations on the effects of high-stakes testing. The study concludes that educators are "gaming" their state tests by preventing low-achieving students from taking them and teaching only material they expect to appear on the test, rather than the wider span of material tests are supposed to represent.

A study by a pscyhometrician and professor at the University of Iowa, Andrew Ho, found that two-thirds of state tests are publishing higher gains than a national test.

New York is not immune from the phenomenon, according to another researcher studying state tests, Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.

"We've got great rhetoric and great pressure on teachers to teach to the test, but at the end of the day when Albany reports out the share of kids that are proficient, we can't really trust their claims, especially when put up against the federal definition of proficiency," Mr. Fuller said.

The State Education Department defended its tests.

"All of New York's tests are checked many times to be sure that a score this year means the same next year," a spokesman, Tom Dunn, said in a statement. "The only way for a student to improve performance is by learning the curriculum — reading, writing, and math."

At the city Department of Education, where scores are used to help determine school closures, teacher and principal salaries, and promotion decisions from one grade to another, a senior official who oversees testing, Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, said she has confidence that state tests are reliable.

Ms. Bell-Ellwanger said the department takes into account the potential errors of testing by looking at trends rather than individual data points.

Shown the results, the education historian Diane Ravitch noted that scores were up statewide, and that some cities had even larger gains than New York City.

"What this suggests to me is that the state lowered the bar and it is easier to pass the exams," Ms. Ravitch said.

She said the lesson of the results should be that the state "needs an independent agency to conduct the state tests and report on results."

The results will have an effect on schools. Teachers who signed up for a pilot project on merit-based performance bonuses could become eligible to receive them. Schools teetering on the edge of a failing report card grade could be pushed to another side.

Students will also be affected.

Yesterday, the principal at I.S. 349 in Bushwick section of Brooklyn, Roy Parris, said that his school's high test scores — he said they shot up about 10 points in both math and reading — mean that only one seventh-grader of 155 total is eligible to be held back this year, down from about 15 seventh-graders last year.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Coalition against privatization NYC June 19 Demo Report-Back

Here is the report Billy Wharton filed with the national coordinating committee of the June 19th demos...


We had a great rally and march in NYC yesterday. About 300 people
turned out in front of the office of GHI (a non-profit insurer in NY
State) and we then marched to the office of United Health. Speakers
included Ralph Nader, actress Vinie Burrows, Dr. Oliver Fein of the
Physicians for a National Health Program, Chuck Bell from the
Consumers Union and longtime socialist-pacifist activist David
McReynolds. Jean Fox from the Private Health Insurance Must Go!
Coalition and Billy Wharton from the Coalition Against Privatization
shared duties as the MC.

We began the event by reading aloud three healthcare horror stories
and holding a moment of silence dedicated to all the victims of
private health insurance. The GHI section of the protest was
high-energy. There is currently a proposal to "convert" GHI & HIP
into a merged for-profit company. Many speakers spoke against this
proposal and in favor of H.R. 676. Included here were rank-and-file
trade unionists including John Powers from the United Federation of
Teachers, Marvin Holland and Marty Goodman from the Transport Workers
Union Local 100 and Ronald Crenshaw from District Council 37 who,
despite their union leaders support of the conversion, found the
courage to speak up. Ralph Nader, Dr. Fein and David McReynolds gave
strong speeches demanding single-payer as both a human right and as
part of the routine services that citizens demand from the government
(fire, police and postal).

We then marched to United Health, a company which is housed in a
massive glass monstrosity on 34th street. Vinie Burrows began this
section of the march with a fine speech which highlighted the
significance of Juneteenth and the overall struggle for social
justice. Later, the Raging Grannies belted out some tunes including
lines like "Oh Medicare, my Medicare, Why don't you pay for Long Term
Care?" We closed with a fiery speech by Ajamu Sankofa of the Private
Health Insurance Must Go! Coalition and call by the MC (me!) to treat
the demonstration as a beginning point for further organizing.

Media coverage was unusual. I suppose that more people in Tokyo and
Rome will know about our demonstration than in New York City. Film
crews from Asahi news and an Italian TV station filmed and reported on
the march. Longer-term reporters from A&E and Bill Moyers Journal
also turned up. In addition, several independent media sources and
our main trade union newspaper picked up on the story.

To follow up, we distributed leaflets for a meeting on June 26th at
6:30 pm at 339 Lafayette Street (Buzzer #11) to discuss both the
GHI/HIP privatization and the struggle for HR 676. Overall, the
demonstration was quite invigorating as I felt like we were at the
beginning and not the end of something.

I have attached a photo of TWU Local 100 member Marvin Holland
delivering a speech just before we began the march from GHI to United
Health. Video and other reports are forthcoming.

Billy Wharton

Coalition Against Privatization

Monday, June 16, 2008

John McCain: War Hero or North Vietnam's Go-To Collaborator?

Weekend Edition
June 13-15, 2008

From Glory Boy to PW Songbird

John McCain: War Hero or North Vietnam's Go-To Collaborator?


If you have no idea what war is about, thank your gods. It is not what you see in Mel Gibson movies, nor is it hidden within the Big Lie Big Brother tells you about Pat Tillman’s heroic “Army of One” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When my father was in New Guinea with the 32nd Division in 1942, his fellow American soldiers would point their long Springfield rifles skywards and shoot at American pilots flying overhead.

“Glory Boys,” the long-suffering ground troops called them.

The pilots had comfortable quarters beside the airstrip in Port Moresby. When orders for a mission came down, they’d climb in their planes, rattle down the runway, and soar over the Owen Stanley Mountains with the clouds in spotless uniforms, breathing fresh clean air. The Glory Boys weren’t trapped in the broiling jungle, in the mud and pouring rain, their skin rotting away, chewed by ghastly insects, bitten by poisonous snakes, stricken with cerebral malaria, yellow fever, dysentery, and a host of unknown diseases delivered by unknown parasites.

If the Fly Boys perished, it was in a blaze of glory, not from a landmine, or a misdirected American mortar, or a Japanese bayonet in the brain.

One day my father and his last remaining friend, Charlie Ferguson, were walking through the jungle up to the front line. One the way they passed a group of bare-chested Aussies in khaki shorts sitting round a grindstone sharpening their knives. Every once in a while one of the Aussies would hoist his rife and casually put a bullet into a Japanese sniper who had tied himself into the top of a nearby tree. Not in any place that would outright kill him, but some place painful enough to make the point.

A little further toward the front line, my father and Charlie came upon Master Sergeant Harry Blackman, an adult man in his forties, regular army, a grizzled combat veteran. A few days earlier in a fight with the Japanese, a young lieutenant, a “90-Day Wonder,” had curled up in a fetal position when he should have been directing mortar fire. As a result, US mortar rounds landed on several US soldiers. Blackman, in front of everyone, took the lieutenant behind a tree and blew his brains out.

As my father and Charlie waked through the jungle they saw Harry Blackman perched on the lower limb of a huge tropical tree, babbling incoherently among the butterflies and flowering vines, driven stark raving mad by sorrow and jungle war with the Japanese.

Several days later my father was sent on a patrol into Japanese held territory. He was the last man in a formation moving single file through the jungle. Plagued by malaria and exhaustion, he kept falling behind. Around noon, a group of Japanese soldiers sitting high up in trees dropped concussion grenades on the patrol. As he lay on the ground, unable to move, my father watched the Japanese slide down the trees. Starting with the point man on patrol, they pulled down the pants and castrated each man, before clubbing him to death with their rifle butts or running a bayonet into his gut.

War. If you’re a Glory Boy like John Sidney McCain III, you really have no idea what it is. You drop bombs on cities, on civilians, maybe on enemy forces, maybe on your own troops. Glory Boys like John McCain rarely get a taste of the horror they inflict on others. Their suffering rarely extends beyond the high anxiety that they might get shot down and that some bombarded mob on the ground might take its revenge.

Magically, my father was spared that day when his patrol was slaughtered. Against regulations, he had stolen a cross-swords patch and sewn it on his shirt sleeve. At the age of 16, he thought it looked cool. On the morning of the patrol, when the new “90-Day Wonder” told him to take it off, my father said “Sure.” He and the lieutenant stared at each other for a while and then the lieutenant moved away. Insubordination was the least of anyone’s worries. No one expected to survive the patrol, anyway.

When the Japanese who had ambushed the patrol got to my father, they stood poised to mutilate and kill him. Then they saw the cross-swords patch. They apparently felt that dear old dad was an important person with inside information about American forces. Instead of killing him, they took him prisoner. When they realized he was just a stupid kid, the Japanese sent him to a POW camp in the Philippines.

Being a POW is what my father and John McCain have in common; although their experience as POWs was as different as their class and their character.

Class indeed has privileges, and while the government refused to provide my combat-veteran father with medical benefits for his malaria, McCain, who spent ten hours of his life in mortal danger, was decorated with the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

And thus the “war hero” myth was born.


In the fall of 1967, Navy pilot John McCain was routinely bombing Hanoi from an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. On October 26, he was trying to level a power plant in a heavily populated area when a surface-to-air missile knocked a wing off his jet. Banged-up John McCain and what was left of plane splashed into Truc Bach Lake.

A compassionate Vietnamese civilian left his air raid shelter and swam out to McCain. McCain’s arm and leg were fractured and he was tangled up in his parachute underwater. He was drowning. The Vietnamese man saved McCain’s sorry ass, and yet McCain has nothing but hatred for “the gooks” who allegedly tortured him. As he told reporters on his campaign bus (The Straight Talk Express) in 2000, “I will hate them as long as I live.” (1)

Americans have to hate people, and dehumanize them as “gooks” or “rag-heads” in order to drop bombs on them. Stirring up such hatred is the forte of the US government, as witnessed by its Israeli-driven PR campaign against Arabs and Moslems. That’s why Bush and his media minions tied “brutal dictator” Saddam Hussein to 9/11 – so Americans would hate Iraqis enough to kill and abuse them in a thousand ways, everyday, for five years. Or, according to McCain, for 100 years if necessary.

The flip side to the equation is that people generally hate those who drop bombs on them. When the Germans dropped bombs on London, the Allies called it Terror Bombing. The French resistance especially hated the Germans, especially after the Gestapo set up shop in occupied France in 1940.

Likewise, Iraqi and Afghani resistance fighters hate the Americans (who more and more resemble the Germans of 1940) for occupying their countries. They especially hate our Gestapo – the CIA – and its torturers. But that’s War for you, and John McCain is lucky the locals didn’t eat him alive – like Uzbek nationalists trapped in a horrid prison camp in Afghanistan nibbled on CIA officer John “Mike” Spann shortly after Spann summarily executed a prisoner. Spann was killed in the ensuing riot, shortly before the CIA and its Afghan collaborators massacred the remaining Uzbek prisoners on 28 November 2001.
The Vietnamese had good reason to hate McCain. On his previous 22 missions, he had dropped God knows how many bombs killing God knows how many innocent civilians. “I am a war criminal,” he confessed on “60 Minutes” in 1997. “I bombed innocent women and children.” (2)

If he is sincere when he says that, why isn’t he being tried for war crimes by the U.S .Government?

In any event, the man who rescued McCain tried to ward off an angry mob, which stomped on McCain for a while until the local cops turned him over to the military. McCain was in pain, but suffering no mortal wounds. He was, however, in enough pain to break down and start collaborating with the Vietnamese after three days in a hospital receiving treatment from qualified doctors – something no other POW ever enjoyed.

War is one thing, collaborating with the enemy is another; it is a legitimate campaign issue that strikes at the heart of McCain’s character…or lack thereof.

There are certainly degrees of collaboration. As a famous novelist once asked, “If you’re a barber and you cut a German’s hair, does that make you a collaborator?”

Being an informant for the Gestapo, or its stepson the CIA in Iraq, and informing on the resistance and sending them to their death, is different than being a barber. In occupied countries like Iraq, or France in World War Two, collaboration to that extent is an automatic death sentence.
The question is: “What kind of collaborator was John McCain, the admitted war criminal who will hate his alleged torturers for the rest of his life?”

Put another way, how psychologically twisted is McCain? And what actually happened to him in his POW camp that twisted him? Was it abuse, as he claims, or was it the fact that he collaborated and has to cover up?

Covering-up can take a lot of energy. The truth is lurking in his subconscious, waiting to explode. A number of US officials, including Andrew Card, have commented on McCain’s inexplicable angry outbursts.

In a July 5 2006 article, former Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), was quoted as having said about McCain: “I have witnessed incidents where he has used profanity at colleagues.... He would disagree about something and then explode.” Smith called it “irrational behavior. We've all had incidents where we have gotten angry, but I've never seen anyone act like that."

So, you say, McCain has a short fuse behind the plastered TV smile. So he calls his colleagues assholes and shit-heads. In high school they called him “McNasty.” That’s just how he is. Always was, always will be.

Well, maybe. And maybe it’s not a quality we want in a president. And maybe that repressed anger actually has its roots in a Vietnamese POW camp, where John McCain betrayed his forefathers and his country.

The Admiral’s Bad Boy

In the forced-labor camp where my father was tortured by the Japanese, the POWs killed anyone who collaborated. Indeed, the ranking POW in my father’s camp, an English Major, made a deal with the Japanese guaranteeing that no one would attempt to escape. When four prisoners escaped, the Major reported it. The Japanese sent out a search party, which found the POWs and brought them back to camp, where they were beheaded on Christmas morning 1943.

The POWs held a war council that night. They drew straws, and the three who got short were given a mission. A few hours later, under cover of darkness, they crept to the major’s hut. My father had gotten one of the short straws and kept watch while the other two POWs strangled the Major in his sleep.

That’s how it happens in real life.

McCain, in his carefully prepared statements, claims he was tortured while in solitary confinement, and that is why he signed a confession saying, “I am a black criminal and I have performed the deeds of an air pirate. I almost died and the Vietnamese people saved my life, thanks to the doctors.” (3)

However, on March 25, 1999, two of his fellow POWs, Ted Guy and Gordon "Swede" Larson told the Phoenix New Times that, while they could not guarantee that McCain was not physically harmed, they doubted it.

As Larson said, "My only contention with the McCain deal is that while he was at The Plantation, to the best of my knowledge and Ted's knowledge, he was not physically abused in any way. No one was in that camp. It was the camp that people were released from."

Guy and Larson’s claims are given credence by McCain’s vehement opposition to releasing the government’s debriefings of Vietnam War POWs. McCain gave Michael Isikoff a peek at his debriefs, and Isikoff declared there was “nothing incriminating” in them, apart from the redactions. (4)

McCain had a unique POW experience. Initially, he was taken to the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison camp, where he was interrogated. By McCain’s own account, after three or four days, he cracked. He promised his Vietnamese captors, "I'll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital."

His Vietnamese capturers soon realized their POW, John Sidney McCain III, came from a well-bred line of American military elites. McCain’s father, John Jr., and grandfather, John Sr., were both full Admirals. A destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, is named after both of them.

While his son was held captive in Hanoi, John McCain Jr., from 1968 to 1972, was the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Pacific Command; Admiral McCain was in charge of all US forces in the Pacific including those fighting in Vietnam.

One can only wonder when the concierge at the Hanoi Hilton started taking calls from Admiral McCain. Rather quickly, one surmises, for the Vietnamese soon took John Boy McCain to a hospital reserved for Vietnamese officers. Unlike his fellow POWs, he received care from a Soviet doctor.

“This poor stooge has propaganda value,” the Vietnamese realized. The Admiral’s bad boy was used to special treatment and his captors knew that. They were working him.

For his part, McCain acknowledges that the Vietnamese rushed him to a hospital, but denies he was given any "special medical treatment."

However….two weeks into his stay at the Vietnamese hospital, the Hanoi press began quoting him. It was not “name rank and serial number, or kill me,” as specified by the military code of conduct. McCain divulged specific military information: he gave the name of the aircraft carrier on which he was based, the number of US pilots that had been lost, the number of aircraft in his flight formation, as well as information about the location of rescue ships. (5)

So McCain leveraged some details to get some medical attention. That’s not anything too contemptible. And who among us civilians is to judge someone in the position?

On the other hand, according to one source, McCain’s collaboration may have had very real consequences. Retired Army Colonel Earl Hopper, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, contends that the information that McCain divulged classified information North Vietnam used to hone their air defense system.

Hopper’s son, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Earl Pearson Hopper was, like McCain, shot down over North Vietnam. Hopper the younger, however, was declared “Missing in Action.” Stemming from the loss of his son, the elder Hopper co-founded the National League of Families, an organization devoted to the return of Vietnam War POWs.

According to the elder Hopper, McCain told his North Vietnamese captors, “highly classified information, the most important of which was the package routes, which were routes used to bomb North Vietnam. He gave in detail the altitude they were flying, the direction, if they made a turn… he gave them what primary targets the United States was interested in.” Hopper contends that the information McCain provided allowed the North Vietnamese to adjust their air-defenses. As result, Hopper claims, the US lost sixty percent more aircraft and in 1968, “called off the bombing of North Vietnam, because of the information McCain had given to them.” 6

The Psywar Stooge

McCain was held for five and half years. Collaborating during the first two weeks might have been pragmatic, but he soon became North Vietnam’s go-to collaborator for the next three years. Given the quality of the military information he allegedly shared, his situation isn’t as innocuous as the pragmatic French barber who cuts the hair of the German occupier. McCain was repaying his captors for their kindness and mercy.

This is the lesson of McCain’s experience as a POW: a true politician, a hollow man, his only allegiance is to power. The Vietnamese, like McCain’s campaign contributors today, protected and promoted him and in return, he danced to their tune.

Not content with divulging military information, McCain provided his voice in radio broadcasts used by the North Vietnamese to demoralize American soldiers.

Vietnamese radio propagandists made good use out of McCain. On June 4, 1969, a U.S. wire service headlined a story entitled "PW Songbird Is Pilot Son of Admiral.” (7)

The story reported that McCain collaborated in psywar offensives aimed at American servicemen. "The broadcast was beamed to American servicemen in South Vietnam as a part of a propaganda series attempting to counter charges by U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird that American prisoners are being mistreated in North Vietnam."
On one occasion, General Vo Nguyen Giap, the top Vietnamese commander and a nationalist celebrity of the time, personally interviewed McCain. His compliance during this command performance was a moment of affirmation for the Vietnamese. His Vietnamese handlers thereafter used him regularly as prop at meetings with foreign delegations.

In the custody of enemy psywar specialists, McCain became what he is today: a professional psywar stooge.

It is impossible to prove exactly what happened to McCain short of traveling to Vietnam and tracking down his captors, and picking up thee trail where it begins. According to The Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain, McCain says he only collaborated when he brutally tortured by his Vietnamese captors and a wicked Cuban he referred to as Fidel. (8)

He says his confession led him to a suicide attempt.

“In the anguished days right after my confession,” McCain said in his autobiography Faith of My Fathers, “I had dreaded just such a discovery by my father.”

But as McCain discovered, dear old dad did know.

“I only recently learned that the tape I dreamed I heard playing over the loudspeaker in my cell had been real; it had been broadcast outside the prison and had come to the attention of my father,” McCain said. “If I had known at the time my father had heard about my confession, I would have been distressed beyond imagination, and might not have recovered from the experience as quickly as I did.”

But wait! McCain did not commit suicide. In fact, he’s alive, running for President on the “war hero” ticket, and promoting more war everywhere. The new McCain feels no distress at having been a collaborator or a war criminal – if he ever did.

According to Fernando Barral, a Cuban psychologist who questioned McCain in January 1970, “McCain was "boastful" during their interview and "without remorse" for any civilian deaths that occurred "when he bombed Hanoi." McCain has a similar recollection, writing in his [autobiography] that he responded, "No, I do not" when Barral asked if he felt remorse.” (9)

McCain told [Barral] that he had not been subjected to “physical or moral violence,” and “lamented in the interview that ‘if I hadn't been shot down, I would have become an admiral at a younger age than my father.’”

“Barral said McCain boasted that he was the best pilot in the Navy and that he wanted to be an astronaut.” The Cuban psychologist concluded that McCain was [a] ‘psychopath.’” (10)

"He felt superior to the Vietnamese up there in his plane, with all his training," Barral recalled.

Psychopath McCain emerges, now, as a contemptible elitist, stewing in the crucible of his class conscience, the ultimate right wing psywar stooge.

McJekyll and McHyde

There are no public records from other POWs to confirm McCain's self-aggrandizing claims, but his detractors, like fellow POWs Ted Guy and Gordon "Swede" Larson, and Colonel Hopper, have yet to be discredited or silenced by McCain’s PR team.

Hopper, Guy and Larson are part of a larger movement concerned with the fate of the 2,000 American veterans still missing in Vietnam. They’ve been pressing McCain to own up to his POW experience, drop the “war hero” posturing, and do more to provide a full accounting of the POWs and MIAs who were not as fortunate, privileged, or willing to collaborate as the would-be president.

McCain’s supporters are trying to quiet detractors by ignoring them. "Nobody believes these idiots. They're a bunch of jerks. Forget them," said Mark Salter, McCain's chief mythologist. Salter is credited by casting McCain as a modern Teddy Roosevelt, “the war hero turned domestic reformer.” (11)

By in large the Salter strategy has worked. The American media accepts McCain’s “war hero” myth as gospel and, in so doing, bolsters the “straight talk” image so essential to his success in politics. In a recent TV interview with John Kerry, victim of the Swift Boat Heroes for Truth Movement in the last election, another “fortunate son,” Chris Wallace, actually took umbrage when Kerry criticized McCain. Son of media admiral Mike Wallace, Chris made Kerry admit that McCain was a hero.
When it comes to psywar, the Vietnamese have nothing on the good old USA.

McCain learned his lesson well from the Vietnamese propagandists who used him for their psywar projects. But it’s not the collaboration that makes John McCain unfit for office; it’s the fact that he has managed to rewrite his collaboration into political capital. “He’s a war hero, respect him, or die.”

As a pedigree, the McCain family’s stature rests on the status and prestige of its achievements in the military: rank, medals, and most importantly to John McCain’s presidential campaign, the image of warrior masculinity: the straight talking maverick of the Republican Party, the 21st century rendering of Teddy Roosevelt.

Not exactly. In his current presidential campaign, he’s cozying up to the hate-mongering Christian right he once criticized. He’s reversed positions on so many issues that his Democratic rivals have assembled his contrasting statements into “The Great McCain Versus McCain Debates. (12)

Underlying the Jekyll-Hyde reversals is McCain’s hidden past of collaboration. Somewhere in the unplumbed human part of John Sidney McCain III, he knows his POW experience contradicts the war hero image he projects. This essential dishonesty, this lie of the soul, is a sign of a larger lack of character - like the major in my father’s POW camp, but without the come-uppance.

McCain is not some principled leader, not a maverick cowboy fighting the powerful. He’s a sycophant. He believes in nothing but power and will do anything to attain it. He explodes in anger when challenged because, when a criticism hits to close to home, it goes to straight his deep-seeded shame.

McCain’s handlers have turned his unspeakable reality into a myth worthy of Teddy Roosevelt. No wonder the Glory Boy has stuck around Washington so long.

Doug Valentine is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, the story of his father’s experiences in a Japanese POW camp in World War Two. The Hotel Tacloban is available at Mr Valentine’s websites and
Brendan McQuade assisted Mr Valentine by providing timely research for this article.

Mr McQuade can be reached for interviews about this article at: 860-334-3661


1. C W Nevius, Marc Sandalow, John Wildemuth, “McCain Criticized for Slur,” San Francisco Chronicle, 18 February 2000

2. Ted Rall, February 6, 2008.

3.Ted Rall, February 6, 2008

4. Sydney Schanberg,, 25 April 2000, citing Isikoff, Newsweek, 1 January 2000.

5. Ted Sampley, “Luck Of The Admiral's Son Not For "Grunts" U.S. Veteran Dispatch, October 1999.

6. Sampley page.

9. Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post Foreign Service Tuesday, March 11, 2008; C01

10. Ibid.

11. Sasha Issenberg, Boston Globe.

Al Sharpton: Extortionist




June 15, 2008 -- Anheuser-Busch gave him six figures, Colgate-Palmolive shelled out $50,000 and Macy's and Pfizer have contributed thousands to the Rev. Al Sharpton's charity.

Almost 50 companies - including PepsiCo, General Motors, Wal-Mart, FedEx, Continental Airlines, Johnson & Johnson and Chase - and some labor unions sponsored Sharpton's National Action Network annual conference in April.

Terrified of negative publicity, fearful of a consumer boycott or eager to make nice with the civil-rights activist, CEOs write checks, critics say, to NAN and Sharpton - who brandishes the buying power of African-American consumers. In some cases, they hire him as a consultant.

The cash flows even as the US Attorney's Office in Brooklyn has been conducting a grand-jury investigation of NAN's finances.

A General Motors spokesman told The Post that NAN had repeatedly - and unsuccessfully - asked for contributions for six years, beginning in August 2000.

Then, in December 2006, Sharpton threatened to call a boycott of the carmaker over the closing of an African-American-owned GM dealership in The Bronx, and he picketed outside GM headquarters on Fifth Avenue.

Last year, General Motors gave NAN a $5,000 donation. It gave $5,000 more this year, a spokesman said, calling NAN a "worthy" organization.

In November 2003, Sharpton picketed DaimlerChrysler's Chicago car show and threatened a boycott over alleged racial bias in car loans.

"This is institutional racism," he bellowed.

In May 2004, Chrysler began supporting NAN's conferences, which include panels on corporate responsibility and civil rights and a black-tie awards dinner to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Last year, Sharpton gave Chrysler an award for corporate excellence.

In 2003, Sharpton targeted American Honda for not hiring enough African-Americans in management.

"We support those that support us," wrote Sharpton and the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, president of NAN's Michigan chapter, in a letter to American Honda. "We cannot be silent while African-Americans spend hard-earned dollars with a company that does not hire, promote or do business with us in a statistically significant manner."

Two months after American Honda execs met with Sharpton, the carmaker began to sponsor NAN's events - and continues to pay "a modest amount" each year, a spokesman said

I think this is quite clearly a shakedown operation," said Peter Flaherty, president of the National Legal and Policy Center in Virginia, a conservative corporate watchdog. "He's good at harassing people and making noise. CEOs give him his way because it is a lot easier than confronting him."

Sharpton denies his organization pressures corporations for cash.

"That's the old shakedown theory that the anti-civil-rights forces have used against us forever," he told The Post yesterday. "Why can't they come up with one company that says that? No one has criticized me."

A businessman who hired Sharpton as a consultant says the flamboyant leader skillfully persuades CEOs by wielding the statistic that African-Americans spend $738 billion a year.

"His way of doing things was, 'If we're going to support you and you're not going to support us, then we have to focus on telling the African-American community not to spend their money,' " said La-Van Hawkins, a partner in Hawkins Food Group, which owns and operates fast-food franchises nationwide.

Hawkins spoke from the Yankton Federal Prison in South Dakota, where he's serving time for attempted bribery.

After Hawkins lost an attempt to sue Burger King in 2000 for denying him franchises, he sent Sharpton, attorney Johnnie Cochran and a Miami lawyer to meet with the company's top execs.

"They ended up settling with me for $31 million," Hawkins said.

Sharpton did not get a cut, but Hawkins Food Group paid him an annual $25,000 fee, Hawkins said. He said he has donated "over $1 million" to NAN.

Sharpton has snagged other gigs as a consultant. Less than a year after he threatened to call for a consumer boycott of Pepsi in June 1998 because the company's ads did not portray African-Americans, the company hired him as a $25,000-a-year adviser until 2007.

Sharpton made the same complaint against Macy's in 1998. The company appointed Sharpton an unpaid adviser on diversity, but also funds NAN's annual conference. Last week, Macy's Senior Vice President Ed Goldberg praised Sharpton as "the kind of guy you can sit down and talk to."

In a dramatic flip-flop, Sharpton in 2000 blasted New York developer Bruce Ratner for paying low wages to workers at his Atlantic Mall in Brooklyn.

"We will not allow you to enslave our communities, Mr. Ratner," Sharpton told a rally. "You must meet with us - you must come to terms with the poverty you are creating using public dollars."

By 2004, the developer's company, Forest City Ratner, had begun to fork over thousands of dollars to NAN. Sharpton now strongly supports Ratner's proposed Atlantic Yards project, which includes a new arena for the New Jersey Nets.

"Just because Pepsi and other companies had me on their board advising them didn't mean that I wasn't blasting them all the time," said Sharpton.

"Look at Forest City Ratner. I blasted them and they came up with one of the best community agreements for blacks and Latinos."

NAN, which began humbly in Harlem in 1991 with Saturday-morning rallies at PS 175, now boasts 45 chapters across the country. The group lobbies for African-American rights and raises awareness of issues such as police brutality and racial profiling.

"Sharpton went national just like a franchise," said Flaherty. "Each of these local chapters can now hit up businesses for support in their communities."

In 2002, NAN launched a Las Vegas chapter that solicits corporate and individual donations of up to $5,000 on its Web site. NAN spokesman Charlie King said all donations go through the New York office.

It's unclear how much the chapter has raised, because Nevada does not require charities to report their revenues. King would not give numbers.

Sharpton vowed to call a national boycott against MGM Mirage in 2001 and 2002 if it refused to meet with him to discuss alleged racism in hiring and employment at the company's Detroit casino.

In 2003, MGM named NAN one of its diversity "partners" in Detroit.

Sharpton sticks up for his corporate patrons.

Since 2005, Wal-Mart has given yearly support to NAN, including sponsorship of last April's conference, without disclosing the amounts.

In 2006, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a Sharpton rival, accused the retailer of buying silence from critics of its employment practices by trying to "throw money at us."

At the time, Sharpton rushed to the company's defense. "Wal-Mart has in no way tried to persuade me with money," he declared.

NAN, a tax-exempt nonprofit, closely guards its corporate largesse. Most companies also keep the sums secret, and some would not divulge them. The corporations interviewed by The Post viewed their relationships with NAN as friendly and beneficial.

Anheuser-Busch states on its Web site that it gave the group "between $100,000 and $499,000" last year.

Last year, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo found NAN had failed to file years' worth of financial reports. The group has filed more records, but the AG's office said it won't release them pending the US attorney's probe.

In its 2006 IRS filing, the latest available, NAN reported about $1 million in contributions and $1.1 million in expenses and programs. It owes the IRS $1.9 million in payroll taxes, The Post has learned.

A NAN spokesman said the group is cooperating with authorities "to pay whatever obligations it owes and continues to do so."



June 15, 2008 --

In 2005, the Rev. Al Sharpton reached out to News Corp., which owns The Post, over the common cause of revising the way Nielsen measures television audiences - especially minority viewers.

News Corp. had been conducting a public campaign and Sharpton "likened it to a civil-rights cause," said a company spokesman.

"After partially fulfilling his promise to publicize our efforts within his community of supporters, Rev. Sharpton asked the company to contribute $25,000 to [the National Action Network's] annual conference," said the spokesman.

News Corp. made the donation. No additional donations have been made.

"The paper we're at war with on an almost weekly basis knows full well that their contribution does not buy silence from Rev. Sharpton or NAN," said NAN spokesman Charlie King. "From our point of view, none of the corporations who have contributed to our cause have ever felt under duress."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Obama's Chicago Boys


By Naomi Klein

13/06/08 "The Nation" -- - Barack Obama waited just three days after Hillary Clinton pulled out of the race to declare, on CNBC, "Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market."

Demonstrating that this is no mere spring fling, he has appointed 37-year-old Jason Furman to head his economic policy team. Furman is one of Wal-Mart's most prominent defenders, anointing the company a "progressive success story." On the campaign trail, Obama blasted Clinton for sitting on the Wal-Mart board and pledged, "I won't shop there." For Furman, however, it's Wal-Mart's critics who are the real threat: the "efforts to get Wal-Mart to raise its wages and benefits" are creating "collateral damage" that is "way too enormous and damaging to working people and the economy more broadly for me to sit by idly and sing 'Kum-Ba-Ya' in the interests of progressive harmony."

Obama's love of markets and his desire for "change" are not inherently incompatible. "The market has gotten out of balance," he says, and it most certainly has. Many trace this profound imbalance back to the ideas of Milton Friedman, who launched a counterrevolution against the New Deal from his perch at the University of Chicago economics department. And here there are more problems, because Obama--who taught law at the University of Chicago for a decade--is thoroughly embedded in the mind-set known as the Chicago School.

He chose as his chief economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist on the left side of a spectrum that stops at the center-right. Goolsbee, unlike his more Friedmanite colleagues, sees inequality as a problem. His primary solution, however, is more education--a line you can also get from Alan Greenspan. In their hometown, Goolsbee has been eager to link Obama to the Chicago School. "If you look at his platform, at his advisers, at his temperament, the guy's got a healthy respect for markets," he told Chicago magazine. "It's in the ethos of the [University of Chicago], which is something different from saying he is laissez-faire."

Another of Obama's Chicago fans is 39-year-old billionaire Kenneth Griffin, CEO of the hedge fund Citadel Investment Group. Griffin, who gave the maximum allowable donation to Obama, is something of a poster boy for an unbalanced economy. He got married at Versailles and had the after-party at Marie Antoinette's vacation spot (Cirque du Soleil performed)--and he is one of the staunchest opponents of closing the hedge-fund tax loophole. While Obama talks about toughening trade rules with China, Griffin has been bending the few barriers that do exist. Despite sanctions prohibiting the sale of police equipment to China, Citadel has been pouring money into controversial China-based security companies that are putting the local population under unprecedented levels of surveillance.

Now is the time to worry about Obama's Chicago Boys and their commitment to fending off serious attempts at regulation. It was in the two and a half months between winning the 1992 election and being sworn into office that Bill Clinton did a U-turn on the economy. He had campaigned promising to revise NAFTA, adding labor and environmental provisions and to invest in social programs. But two weeks before his inauguration, he met with then-Goldman Sachs chief Robert Rubin, who convinced him of the urgency of embracing austerity and more liberalization. Rubin told PBS, "President Clinton actually made the decision before he stepped into the Oval Office, during the transition, on what was a dramatic change in economic policy."

Furman, a leading disciple of Rubin, was chosen to head the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project, the think tank Rubin helped found to argue for reforming, rather than abandoning, the free-trade agenda. Add to that Goolsbee's February meeting with Canadian consulate officials, who left with the distinct impression that they had been instructed not to take Obama's anti-NAFTA campaigning seriously, and there is every reason for concern about a replay of 1993.

The irony is that there is absolutely no reason for this backsliding. The movement launched by Friedman, introduced by Ronald Reagan and entrenched under Clinton, faces a profound legitimacy crisis around the world. Nowhere is this more evident than at the University of Chicago itself. In mid-May, when university president Robert Zimmer announced the creation of a $200 million Milton Friedman Institute, an economic research center devoted to continuing and augmenting the Friedman legacy, a controversy erupted. More than 100 faculty members signed a letter of protest. "The effects of the neoliberal global order that has been put in place in recent decades, strongly buttressed by the Chicago School of Economics, have by no means been unequivocally positive," the letter states. "Many would argue that they have been negative for much of the world's population."

When Friedman died in 2006, such bold critiques of his legacy were largely absent. The adoring memorials spoke only of grand achievement, with one of the more prominent appreciations appearing in the New York Times--written by Austan Goolsbee. Yet now, just two years later, Friedman's name is seen as a liability even at his own alma mater. So why has Obama chosen this moment, when all illusions of a consensus have dropped away, to go Chicago retro?

The news is not all bad. Furman claims he will be drawing on the expertise of two Keynesian economists: Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute and James Galbraith, son of Friedman's nemesis John Kenneth Galbraith. Our "current economic crisis," Obama recently said, did not come from nowhere. It is "the logical conclusion of a tired and misguided philosophy that has dominated Washington for far too long."

True enough. But before Obama can purge Washington of the scourge of Friedmanism, he has some ideological housecleaning of his own to do.

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (September 2007); an earlier international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002).

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