Sunday, July 09, 2006

Selective Outrage and Other Links

The Times Picayune reports questions the propriety of area judges heading for Caribbean beaches. Suddenly, they're shocked, shocked to find local officials going to Jamaica when there's so much post-Katrina work to be done here.

Harry Shearer reminds everybody of an important point at The Huffington Post:
the notion that what happened to New Orleans almost a year ago was a hit from a hurricane, as opposed to the fact: that what almost destroyed the city was a set of levee breaches caused by the design and construction flaws of the levees and floodwalls, courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The latter fact, documented by a team from UC Berkeley and a team from LSU, and acknowledged by the Corps' own mea culpa-lite report, has been buried by the conventional media, and now the alternate version--that somehow a hurricane that brushed by New Orleans actually succeeded in flooding 80% of it--has become the conventional un-wisdom.
(hat tip: Third Battle)

Reconstruction Watch reports on that Advancement Project paper on the exploitation of workers in post-Katrina New Orleans. It's easy to see to see why the report has been so widely ignored:
Its not just poor black and Latino workers that have been exploited in New Orleans -- the black middle class has also been devastated. The United Teachers of New Orleans - UTNO, the teachers' union -- was the largest union in the city, and a majority of those represented were black workers. The School Board voted in the fall to lay off all but 61 of the 7,000 employees, and last week let the teachers' union contract expire with little comment and no fanfare. "Elites of the city may prefer the teachers don't come back," Jacques Morial, community advocate and brother of former mayor Marc Morial, said at a recent forum, "because they represent an educated class of black New Orleans, with steady income, seniority and job protection."

I've got real problems with the move to charter schools, and I certainly don't want the union to be crushed, but this is just plain absurd. Katrina gave the power structure a chance to crush part of the black middle class by crushing the teachers' union; does anybody actually believe that kind of crap?

Of course there's racism involved, but it's often just plain greed. The powerful exploit the powerless, unless there's enough public outrage to insure that existing laws are enforced. The fact is, I have no idea what color Jeffrey Steele is; the same hold true for the anonymous commenter on this post. As a matter of fact, it may well turn out that Steele was a white worker exploited by a minority subcontractor (see my comment on that post). Whatever, race doesn't seem to be a factor in every case of exploitation. There's certainly a shamefull amount of exploitation going on, that a lot more light should be shined on. It just seems like a waste for the Advancement Project to put that kind of effort into an important report, and then limit its audience by focusing on racial issues--some of which are, quite frankly, exaggerated.

I think you need to at least consider the charter school movement as a rebellion against the OPSB. Its not about breaking the teacher's union; its about breaking the stranglehold of a thoroughly corrupt School Board. I think ultimately the school system should reunify. I also don't believe that the union is obsolete post-Katrina as one school board member suggested. It might be conceivable to see it replaced by a more democratic form of school governance including teachers and parents that would make it unnecessary.
I was scoffing at the notion that anyone would want to crush the teachers' union as a way of eliminating part N.O.'s black middle class. It's not middle-class blacks that anybody (okay, maybe a few hard core racists) wants to get rid of; I thought that kind of idealogy marred an otherwise important report. I'm sure the authors fully believe it, but they could get a wider audience if they toned down the race rhetoric. Generations of racism have put most of the victims in a position to be exploited, but in this case it's corporate greed combined with a gold rush mentality, a heinous subcontracting system and political corruption that causes the exploitation of anyone who can be exploited.

I do have a real concern that charter schools would mean the end of the union, just because charter schools are based on principals having a greater level of control over hiring and firing than is compatible with union protections.

In general, I've got more concerns about charter schools--both in general and in particulars of the N.O. case-- than I have space to go into here. A couple of interviews that I've read with Franklin's principal have re-enforced those doubts, BTW. I have no idea how she comes across in person, but her statements in the paper tend to be the kind that re-enforce the beliefs of supporters and misgivings of doubters. Well I'm thinking of two.

But for all my doubts, if I had to choose between the old system and the charter schools, I'd have to reluctantly choose the charters.

Actually, it was only one quote by Franklin's principal, the other was by the principal of Franklin elementary.
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