From Volume 37, Issue 32 of EIR Online, Published Aug. 20, 2010

United States News Digest

Using Test Scores To Rate Presidents

Aug. 15 (EIRNS)—A coalition of civil rights groups, the American Federation of Teachers, community organizing groups, and education experts has denounced Obama's new school reform, "Race to the Top," some calling it worse than Bush's "No Child Left Behind."

"The curriculum will be narrowed even more than under George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind," wrote New York University Prof. Diane Ravitch, an education official in the first Bush Administration. "There will be even less time available for the arts, science, history, civics, foreign language, even physical education. Teachers will teach to the test. There will be more cheating, more gaming the system."

Harvard Prof. Daniel Koretz noted that high-stakes testing causes "substantial distortions of practice" in the classroom "and inflation of test scores.... The seriousness of this problem is hard to overstate."

Civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the National Urban League, in a July 26 statement, blasted the program and called for an end to "federally prescribed methodologies that have little or no evidentiary support" and that use minority communities as "testing grounds."

The next day, the American Federation of Teachers accused the administration of encouraging "bad teacher evaluation systems." The day after, a coalition of community organizing groups denounced "rigid, top-down solutions that are not supported by research."

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who assembled the list of opponents, characterized the Administration's cavalier attitude: "Obama's response to his supporters: Buzz off. On July 29, he gave a speech to the Urban League and said his critics are 'comfortable with the status quo' and have 'a general resistance to change.'"

Milbank suggested that the Education Department's recent emphasis on schoolyard bullying failed to mention the worst bully in American schools, Obama—giving a new meaning to the term "the bully pulpit."

'A Total Vote of No Confidence in the Obama Presidency'

Aug. 15 (EIRNS)—A high-ranking former U.S. government official, who is now on the board of a number of Fortune 500 companies and has close ties to the Federal Reserve, reported that, at a recent gathering of top corporate officials from around the United States, there was a "total vote of no confidence in President Obama," over his administration's wrecking of the entire U.S. economy.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the ex-official described a climate of "profound uncertainty" over the future of the United States, calling Obama the "worst American President in my lifetime," when it comes to the real economy. He described a total freeze in any capital investment or job creation, because "no one knows what this Administration is going to do." He described the consensus of the people with whom he met last month: "We are already in a deep, prolonged Great Depression."

While he chastised the former Bush-Cheney Administration, he emphasized that the Obama team has gone way beyond the disasters of the Bush-Cheney era. "Valerie Jarrett is the designated liaison of the Obama White House to the business community, and all she does is shake them down for campaign money. It is a total disconnect, and there is no way out." He acknowledged that Lyndon LaRouche had been "way ahead" of everyone else, in clinically diagnosing the Obama disease.

Progressive Caucus Acts To Defend Social Security, While Obama Lies

Aug. 14 (EIRNS)—Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wrote a letter on Aug. 12 to the heads of Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (known to some as the "Catfood Commission"), Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, demanding that they not touch Social Security in any way that would reduce benefits, increase the retirement age, or privatize elements of the program.

"We will not allow the commission to reduce Social Security payments, especially during an economic downturn that has wiped out trillions of dollars in net worth around the country," they wrote, adding, "Because Social Security is not the cause of the deficit, attempts to reduce it by cutting benefits would be misguided." They also reminded Bowles and Simpson, "Any recommendations from your commission must be enacted by both Houses of Congress," and any recommendations to change Social Security will be firmly opposed by the Caucus.

Meanwhile, President Obama used his Saturday radio address to posture as a defender of Social Security against the Republican Party's wish to privatize it. Never once did he mention his Reform Commission, which has put everything, including Social Security, "on the table" as it develops plans to slash Federal spending.

Obama's 'Recovery' Means You Can Sell Your Fire Station

Aug. 14 (EIRNS)—If you have $980,000 you don't otherwise need, perhaps you would like to buy a fire station in Omaha, Nebraska. The city has put one of its stations up for sale, in a desperate effort to reduce operating expenses. But the real point, according to the Omaha World Herald, is not to save the $50,000 a year that a station costs to operate, but rather to get a foot in the door to lay off firefighters, which the city can't do at present without re-opening the union contract, which Mayor Jim Suttle is attempting to do. Only by reducing the number of firefighters and fire trucks in service can the city save "real money." Omaha's finance director has hired an accountant to figure out ways to do exactly that.

Instead of saving money, the city is more likely to get what Lawrence, Mass. and many other cities have already gotten: greater threats to lives and property from fires.

In Philadelphia, last weekend, the death of a 12-year-old boy in a fire was attributed by many to Mayor Michael Nutter's decision that three fire stations a day needed to be closed on a rotating basis, to help close a $47 million deficit in the city budget. Yesterday, more than 100 people, including civic activists and members of the firefighters union, protested in front of a closed fire station in South Philadelphia. "We need our fire station. And we are willing to stand up and fight for it," one activist told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Leaders of the protest vowed that they would continue. "It's not going to be the last rally, that's for sure."

Medicare/Medicaid Administrator Robert Berwick Funded by Insurance Companies

Aug. 12 (EIRNS)—Robert Berwick, who, as administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, will be implementing many of the "health reform" mandates, has connections to the major health insurance companies, by way of the non-profit foundation he cofounded and until recently headed, the Washington Times reported. None of those entities appear, the Times says, on Berwick's financial disclosure statement or his ethics agreement.

BlueCross BlueShield Association of America, Cardinal Health Foundation, Aetna Foundation, RX Foundation, and Baxter International are among the donors disclosed by Berwick's Institute for Healthcare Improvement. They have donated from $50,000 to $5 million to one of the Institute's programs, a campaign for hospital safety. It's unclear, the Times says, "whether they figured into the government's standard ethics review."

The White House has gone legalistic on the matter, stating that Berwick has met ethics requirements, and that the financial disclosure form instructs nominees to list only former clients of a business or nonprofit in which the nominee was directly involved in providing a service for a fee for more than $5000. Whether they see the relevant loophole in the Institute's relationships being non-commercial, or Berwick's level of personal involvement or monetary compensation, remains to be seen. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), of the Senate Finance Committee, is demanding information about who funds Berwick's Institute, and whether any of those organizations were considered when ethics officials vetted Berwick.

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