Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Layer 323 . . . Italy, Dartington College, Deficit Hawks, Tony Benn, Statistics, the Coalition, Media Cynicism, Gaza and the Flotilla


Solidarity Needed

Things in Italy are so bad that journalist and researcher Benedetta Brevini felt the need to publish this plea for Europe-wide help:

"Unpopular ideas can be silenced and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban," wrote George Orwell in his preface to Animal Farm in 1943. And I thought the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, had a tight enough grip on public opinion without the need for any "official ban".

Berlusconi controls roughly 80% of Italian free-to-air television channels, in a country where just 20% of the population reads newspapers. Did he really need to impose any further constraint on freedom of speech? A draft law that is going to be approved by the parliament in the following weeks will gag the last few, daring news outlets that exert oversight on the government.


Why should we listen to deficit hawks?

Calls to cut social security come from economists who want to line Wall Street pockets with money from ordinary workers

by Dean Baker

If the market had been allowed to run its course Goldman, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and many other major banks would have been bankrupt, leaving their shareholders and creditors out of luck and their top executives walking the unemployment lines. There are reasons that this outcome would have been undesirable for the economy as a whole, but there is a big difference between the Tarp blank check and doing nothing. If the politicians and their accomplices in the economics profession had not overwhelmed the public with fear, we could have ensured that the bankers suffered from the crisis that they had themselves created.

With the banks back on their feet, the Wall Street crew and their accomplices in the economics profession are again feeling their oats. They are insisting that we have to put our hopes for economic recovery on the back burner. Instead, we have to focus on deficit reduction. The reason is that we have to soothe financial markets.

The claim is that if we don't act aggressively now to reduce the budget deficit then the "bond vigilantes" will start a run on US debt just as they have recently done with Greece. This is supposed to make us so scared that we will accept large cuts in social security and in other important programmes.

. . . . .

The third reason not to take the deficit hawks argument seriously is simply that it is bad economics. The country needs deficit spending to sustain demand until private demand recovers from the collapse of the housing bubble. This is basic logic – and the prestigious positions of many of the deficit hawks will not allow them to repeal the rules of logic.

The deficit hawks are not concerned about national insolvency; they are not worried about soaring inflation; they are worried about how to take every last penny from ordinary workers and give it to the Wall Street crew. That is what the Tarp was about and this is what the latest crusade to reduce the deficit is all about. Now they want to go after workers' social security because, as Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke said: "That is where the money is." The fact that workers have paid for these benefits doesn't matter at all to the Wall Street crew.

So, if you feel like giving all your money to the Wall Street gang, then you should take the deficit hawks seriously. But, if you think that people who are not Wall Street millionaires have rights too, then get out the pitchforks and send the deficit hawks and their economist accomplices running.


Letters to my Grandchildren - Tony Benn on Midweek - R4

TB spoke well, as ever, about still being an idealist at the age of 85.

He talked about 2 flames that still burn brightly - Hope, & Anger against injustice.

As a diarist I have chronicled the time through which I have lived in meticulous detail: but all that is history. What matters now is the future for those who will live through it. The past is the past but there may be lessons to be learned which could help the next generation to avoid mistakes their parents and grandparents made. Certainly at my age I have learned an enormous amount from the study of history - not so much from the political leaders of the time but from those who struggled for justice . . .

Every generation has to fight the same battles as their ancestors had to fight, again and again, for there is no final victory and no final defeat. Two flames have burned from the beginning of time - the flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope. If this book serves its purpose it will fan both flames.


Dartington College of Arts

 A threat to its identity?

Will Dartington College's quirky character survive its move to the metropolis of Falmouth?


Peter Mortimore
used to be a number-cruncher and some sort of  researcher in the last days of the ILEA - as head of its research and statistics department. Figures and data are his big thing.

Educational research 'speaks the truth to power' and ministers must listen if their policies are to be effective

In this crappy little article in this week's education section he states the bleeding obvious about politicians but fails to draw any decent conclusions about the uselessness of academia in general.

Politicians' speeches are peppered with references to research and evidence-based policy. Less often discussed are the details of who commissioned and paid for the research and whether findings have been subjected to peer-review.

It is timely, therefore, that a report, Instinct or Reason: How Education Policy is Made and How we Might Make it Better, has been produced by the CfBT (Centre for British Teachers) Education Trust. It concludes that, since the 1970s, much education policy has been influenced less by the strength of evidence, than by political ideology, prime ministerial likes and dislikes and the views of political advisers.

Based on interviews with, and the memoirs of, former ministers and meetings with civil servants, thinktank policy wonks, academics, and trade union officials, the report explores both the overt and covert reasons for many of the initiatives and frequent changes of policy in education over the last 40 years.

The authors argue that the media, ideology, particularly the belief in the efficacy of the market, and an increasing awareness of international comparison data – have a disproportionate influence on decisions. They suggest this influence has been considerably more powerful than that of academic researchers, who have often been viewed with suspicion. They make the point that, the longer they have been in power, the more governments feel able to disregard evidence.

Well, Pete me old mate, I think we all have good reasons to pay not much attention to academics. Take a look at your inanely grinning photo at the top of your column, for instance. "Why are politicians suspicious of academics?" It's not just the politicians, matey.

Peter says, "Good policymaking needs a sound research base." I think it needs a lot more than that, unless we're just talking about anticipating birth rates, the need for school places, etc.

The only research worth having in education is what people like those from CLPE, for example, do collaboratively by way of action research with practicing teachers. This has nothing to do with number-crunching and is based on painstaking observation of classroom practice, and an understanding of teaching and learning, the needs of children, and clear objectives for educating all of the intelligences. Academics tend not to know about this stuff, any more than politicians do.

Mortimore has no experience or in-depth understanding whatsoever of the difficulties and challenges of running a good school. Fact.


Jenni Russell wrote a good column this week:

The coalition deserves better than the media's infantilising cynicism

Instead of clear appraisal, the coalition faces the ritual negativity that is an utterly destructive part of our collective life

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have been mocked for their talk of the new politics. But the media have been remarkably dense about recognising that this politics really is different from the adversarial, two-party system we have grown accustomed to.

This grudging, myopic approach is bad for all of us. It infantilises and depresses us. It means that the new government isn't getting the credit it should for its sense of energy and purpose, and its many good decisions; taking more of the low-paid out of tax, rolling back the database state, cancelling the third runway, and giving us much more information about how public money is spent. Nor, more importantly, is it getting a constructive engagement from its critics on how to make all the tough decisions, on welfare, revenue and cuts.


David Grossman, an Israeli writer, published this superb column, translated for the Guardian today. It deserves to be read in full by anyone who gives a shit about the violence, the loss of life, and the stalemate in the Middle East.

The Gaza flotilla attack shows how far Israel has declined

No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed, and no excuse can explain away the stupid actions of the government and the army. Israel did not send its soldiers to kill civilians in cold blood; this is the last thing it wanted. Yet, a small Turkish organisation, fanatical in its religious views and radically hostile to Israel, recruited to its cause several hundred seekers of peace and justice, and managed to lure Israel into a trap, because it knew how Israel would react, knew how Israel is destined and compelled, like a puppet on a string, to react the way it did.

Israel's actions are but the natural continuation of the shameful, ongoing closure of Gaza, which in turn is the perpetuation of the heavy-handed and condescending approach of the Israeli government, which is prepared to embitter the lives of a million and a half innocent people in the Gaza Strip, in order to obtain the release of one imprisoned soldier, precious and beloved though he may be; and this closure is the all-too-natural consequence of a clumsy and calcified policy, which again and again resorts by default to the use of massive and exaggerated force, at every decisive juncture, where wisdom and sensitivity and creative thinking are called for instead.

Somehow, all these calamities – including Monday's deadly events – seem to be part of a larger corruptive process afflicting Israel. One has the sense that a sullied and bloated political system, fearfully aware of the steaming mess produced over the years by its own actions and malfunctions, and despairing of the possibility to undo the endless tangle it has wrought, becomes ever more inflexible in the face of pressing and complicated challenges, losing in the process the qualities that once typified Israel and its leadership – freshness, originality, creativity.


These pieces, by Amos Oz, an Israeli novelist and founder of the Peace Now movement, and by Lauren Booth, are also worth a read:

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