Automation and Robotics News For Sept. 26 from Tony Zaragoza

Automation and Robotics News–Sept 26, 2010

Highlights: Drone Strikes Peaking?; Robotics and the recession; Service Robotics Galore: Restaurants, Porters, hairwashers, etc.; Could a robot do your job?; Longshore strike and automation, etc.

Archives: Here

This issue: Here


<>CIA Snitches Are Pakistan Drone-Spotters

<>Spencer Ackerman, September 23, 2010

How the CIA managed to expand its drone war so far and so fast has been a bit of a mystery. Now we have part of the answer: a network of Pashtun snitches, operating out of eastern Afghanistan, that infiltrate militant networks across the border. The information they collect helps direct the drones. Sometimes the targets are U.S. citizens.

<>Drone Strikes Peak; Can They Help End the War?

<>Noah Shachtman, September 15, 2010

Welcome to the new peak of America’s remote-controlled war in Pakistan. On Wednesday, U.S. drones hit their <>third target in 24 hours and their 12th attack in the last 13 days. That’s the highest number of robotic attacks in a single month since the <>drone campaign began. And there’s still a half-month to go.

The drones’ targeting decisions are highly classified. But there are indications that behind the lethal barrage, there may be a peaceful motive: helping bring about a negotiated settlement to the Afghanistan war.

<>Robot warfare: campaigners call for tighter controls of deadly drones

The Guardian – Sep 16, 2010

The rapid proliferation of military drone planes and armed <>robots should be subject to international legal controls, conferences in London and Berlin will argue this month. Public awareness of attacks by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as Reapers and Predators, in Afghanistan and Pakistan has grown but less is known of the evolution of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs). Two conferences – Drone Wars in London on 18 September and a three-day workshop organised by the <>International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) in Berlin on 20-22 September – will hear calls for bans and for tighter regulation under international arms treaties.

<>US Special Ops robot whispercopter crashes in Belize

Military Technologies (blog) – Sep 14, 2010

Tests by the US special forces of a radical, new-technology robot helicopter equipped with a radar intended to penetrate jungle canopies from above, …


<>Jacksonville manufacturers install automation in factories

Business Journal – <>Mark Szakonyi – Sep 17, 2010

Northeast Florida manufacturers are increasingly installing automated machines rather than hiring new employees to keep competitive in a tight economy, local executives say. Continued automation in manufacturing is key to U.S. industry’s ability to grow through production of high-tech products ranging locally from aviation to next-generation batteries, said Lad Daniels, executive director of the <>First Coast Manufacturers Association.

<>How robotics can help manufacturers recover from the recession

Engineer Live – Sep 13, 2010

Manufacturers are seeing an increase in demand, but how can they respond? Paul Stevens looks at developments in industrial robots which are now simpler to implement. As European member states’ economies start to recover from the recession, manufacturing companies are seeking ways to ramp up production in a flexible way. One option is to use industrial robots, which are now more cost-effective both to purchase and to implement, thanks largely to programming software that is more engineer-friendly. With robots now being simpler to integrate, there is increasing competition among manufacturers to add functionality so they can offer increasingly sophisticated systems. For example, Maurice Hanley, Fanuc Robotics’ sales and marketing manager, says: “Fanuc robots now come with onboard vision so there is no need for engineers to get bogged down in interface and connectivity issues.”

<>Automotive industry drives industrial robot market recovery

OptoIQ – Sep 15, 2010

In a recent study, the <“>International Federation of Robotics (IFR; Frankfurt, Germany) says that since the beginning of 2010, the demand for <>industrial robots has been surging worldwide. “The trend towards automation, which was stopped by the economic crisis in 2009, is continuing”, said Åke Lindqvist, IFR President, on the occasion of the publication of the study, “World Robotics 2010 – Industrial Robots”. A strong recovery of worldwide robot installations in 2010 will result in an increase of about 27% or about 76,000 units. A further increase of about 10% per year on average will resume in the period between 2011 and 2013 attaining a level of more than 100,000 units in 2013.


<>Robot-ready cows on the auction block

Oxford Review – <>Elliot Ferguson – Sep 17, 2010

For the past month, the cows were at the show’s dairy pavilion, being trained to be milked by robot milking machines.


<>Panasonic’s Robot is Gonna Wash That (Hu)Man Right Outta Your Hair

<>Kat Hannaford, <>09/24/10

There’s nothing worse than an overly chatty hairdresser. Someone harping on about their snotty-nosed children, or about how lazy their husband is. Bring on the robots, I say. Especially if they can store memories on a customer’s preferred massage treatment.

<>Spider-Roomba Climbs Windows to Clean Them On Both Sides

<>Jesus Diaz, 9/23/10

This is what happens when a <>Roomba is bitten by a radioactive spider. It’s name isn’t Spider-Roomba, but Windoro, a climbing robot that can clean windows automatically—on both sides. Watch it in all its polishing glory action…

<>Nine Restaurants Sent Back From the Future to Destroy Us (With Good Eats)

<>Sam Biddle, 9/24/10

The basic premises of going to a restaurant haven’t changed tremendously throughout history. You sit down. You order. It shows up. Maybe it’s good. But new, high tech establishments around the world are putting a innovative spin on eating out.

<>’Core&#8217; carrying robot is (almost) all legs

Monday, September 20, 2010 Posted by Leslie Katz

Headless bipedal bot can carry 220 pounds, 88 pounds more than Toyota’s i-Foot mobility assist robot can lift.


<>Longshoremen’s union strikes deal with Hanjin Shipping Co.

Florida Times-Union – <>David Bauerlein – Sep 14, 2010

The planned Hanjin cargo terminal in Jacksonville cleared a major hurdle after the International Longshoremen’s Association agreed with Hanjin on manning levels at the terminal when it opens in 2014. Hanjin intends to deploy a high level of automation using remote-controlled equipment. That will cut the number of union workers in half compared to a traditional cargo terminal, said Romia Johnson, president of local 1408.

<>ABB FlexPicker robots optimize picking and packing in high speed handling …

Materials Handling World Magazine – Sep 17, 2010

With the UK manufacturing industry now enjoying its strongest growth for over 15 years, ABB has invested over £100000 in installing new robot training cells …


<>Robots Stealing Healthcare Jobs?

HealthLeaders Media – Sep 15, 2010

Automation will push up into the high wage areas via technologies like specialized artificial intelligence/expert systems, while it penetrates lower skill …

<>Could a Robot Do Your Job?

The Atlantic (blog) – Sep 24, 2010

In short: automation is more dangerous than we think. Our world automation increases productivity — boosting business profits (now at record levels despite …


<>HONEYWELL Opens Automation College In Russia

Oil and Gas Industry Latest News – Sep 15, 2010

Honeywell has opened a department in the Moscow College of Automation which will give Russian specialists the opportunity to perfect their skills.


<>ABB doubles investment in robot training centre

Machinery – 15 hours ago

ABB has invested over £100000 in installing new robot training cells with the latest software technologies at its robot training centre in Milton Keynes.


<>Real Wireless Charging Will Arrive by 2012, Fujitsu Claims

<>Kat Hannaford, Gizmodo <>09/13/10

We’ve seen wireless chargers over the years, but like <>PowerMat’s Portable 2x model, batteries for the dock and swappable-batteries for the actual gadgets are still required. Fujitsu’s looking beyond all that, with their “<>magnetic resonance” technology. No wires! No batteries!

<>Autonomous Vehicle Driving from Italy to China

POSTED BY: Erico Guizzo  /  Tue, September 21, 2010

The van is an autonomous vehicle developed at the University of Parma’s <>Artificial Vision and Intelligent Systems Laboratory, known as VisLab. Crammed with computers, cameras, and sensors, the vehicle is capable of detecting cars, lanes, and obstacles — and drive itself. The VisLab researchers, after getting tired of testing their vehicles in laboratory conditions, decided to set out on a <>real-world test drive: a 13,000-kilometer, three-month intercontinental journey from Parma to Shanghai. The group is now about halfway through their trip, which started in July and will end in late October, at the <>2010 World Expo in China. (See <>real time location and live video.)

September People’s Tribune Now On Line

Welcome to the People’s Tribune On-line Edition, September, 2010

The People’s Tribune is devoted to the proposition that an economic system that can’t or won’t feed, clothe and house its people ought to be and will be changed. To that end, this paper is a tribune of the people. It is the voice of millions struggling for survival. It strives to educate politically those millions on the basis of their own experience. It is a tribune to bring them together, to create a vision of a better world, and a strategy to achieve it. Below is a listing of the September 2010  articles. To get a PDF of the print edition CLICK HERE.

COVER STORY: The Future: Happiness or Despair?
Threats of Deflation and Economic Depression

“This Labor Day, digital production creates an abundance that makes the construction of a new society possible in a practical sense. Instead however, it’s creating unimaginable destruction of society and untold misery for millions . . . . ”

EDITORIAL: Lesson Of The BP Oil Spill: We, The People, Must Defend Our Interests!

“Americans watched in horror as five million barrels of sludge spewed into the Gulf of Mexico. BP poured thousands of gallons of toxic chemical dispersants into the ocean – against the pleas of environmentalists – to minimize the shore damage, saving millions in potential federal fines, but, according to Richard Chater, a marine biology expert, “perhaps more seriously damaging the ecosystem offshore. . .”

Lethal Injections: Business as Usual in Texas . . . Corruption

“The recent move by Texas Governor Rick Perry to oust the appointees from the Texas Forensic Commission on the day that the commission was set to examine a flawed arson investigation that condemned an innocent man to Texas’s Death Row . . . ”

Save The Internet- No Slow Lane For Us

“Google and Verizon have teamed up to try to get the FCC let them create a two-tier internet-a fast lane for high-paying corporations and a slow lane for the rest of us. The internet, the greatest tool for democracy. . . ”

Pelican Bay State Prison: Lessons from “The Worst of the Worst”

“In October of 2009, we began a collaborative effort to create a piece of theater with inmates at one of the nation’s most notorious and tightly controlled prisons, the supermax Pelican Bay State Prison  in Crescent City. . . .”

Demanding A Better Future: Illinois and Michigan Poor Join Hands

“I attended the August 10th rally in Benton Harbor, Michigan to protest the theft of public land and resources by the Whirlpool Corporation for the development of a Jack Nicklaus golf course and resort for the rich. I have followed with interest the trials and tribulations of the people of Benton Harbor . . .”

Race to the Top? It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint!

“Milwaukee Public School (MPS) teachers, students and supporters gathered at the Milwaukee French Immersion School, weathering sprinkles of rain on July 30th. Their mission was to fight against lay offs. .  . . ”

Sister/Brother, Can You Spare $20? Here’s What The People’s Tribune Can Do With it –

“The People’s Tribune brings clarity to the growing movement. It unites revolutionaries around a vision of a better world and a strategy to achieve it. It has no paid staff and gets no corporate grants. The paper is financed solely by subscriptions, bundle orders from readers. . .”

Teacher used to wonder
Upon teaching math
To elementary school children. . .

and much, much more . . .

The Day Louis Armstrong Made Noise – NYT, Sept. 23 2007

[Thanks to Danny Alexander and Rock and Rap Confidential for forwarding this important essay, written 3 years ago for the 50th anniversary of the integrating of Central High School, in Little Rock Arkansas.  Armstrong’s comments, in the flux of events, is appropriate today, in the flux of propaganda about “value added” evaluation of teachers and education reform; in the flux of debate about the “DREAM”  act.  Some claim “DREAM” is the pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers.  Others that it is the pathway to wholesale legalization of criminals and terrorists from other countries. That it offers educational incentives to millions of otherwise hopeless workers.  Others still that is the pathway to filling our military with cannon-fodder to carry out foreign wars.

One sentence from Armstrong’s interview below strikes home amidst all the furor: “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell,” he said, offering further choice words about the secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. “The people over there ask me what’s wrong with my country. What am I supposed to say?”

The way they are treating my people — the immigrants, the poor, the dispossessed, the people without health care, the old and the young — our own people ask us what’s wrong with our country? What are we supposed to say?  We have a responsibility to say not only what’s wrong, but as artists to do something about it! — Lew Rosenbaum]

The Day Louis Armstrong Made Noise

Published: September 23, 2007

FIFTY years ago this week, all eyes were on Little Rock, Ark., where nine black students were trying, for the first time, to desegregate a major Southern high school. With fewer than 150 blacks, the town of Grand Forks, N.D., hardly figured to be a key front in that battle — until, that is, Larry Lubenow talked to Louis Armstrong.

On the night of Sept. 17, 1957, two weeks after the Little Rock Nine were first barred from Central High School, the jazz trumpeter happened to be on tour with his All Stars band in Grand Forks. Larry Lubenow, meanwhile, was a 21-year-old journalism student and jazz fan at the University of North Dakota, moonlighting for $1.75 an hour at The Grand Forks Herald.

Shortly before Mr. Armstrong’s concert, Mr. Lubenow’s editor sent him to the Dakota Hotel, where Mr. Armstrong was staying, to see if he could land an interview. Perhaps sensing trouble — Mr. Lubenow was, he now says, a “rabble-rouser and liberal” — his boss laid out the ground rules: “No politics,” he ordered. That hardly seemed necessary, for Mr. Armstrong rarely ventured into such things anyway. “I don’t get involved in politics,” he once said. “I just blow my horn.”

But Mr. Lubenow was thinking about other things, race relations among them. The bell captain, with whom he was friendly, had told him that Mr. Armstrong was quietly making history in Grand Forks, as he had done innumerable times and ways before, by becoming the first black man ever to stay at what was then the best hotel in town. Mr. Lubenow knew, too, that Grand Forks had its own link to Little Rock: it was the hometown of Judge Ronald Davies, who’d just ordered that the desegregation plan in Little Rock proceed after Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas and a band of local segregationists tried to block it.

As Mr. Armstrong prepared to play that night — oddly enough, at Grand Forks’s own Central High School — members of the Arkansas National Guard ringed the school in Little Rock, ordered to keep the black students out. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s meeting with Governor Faubus three days earlier in Newport, R.I., had ended inconclusively. Central High School was open, but the black children stayed home.

Mr. Lubenow was first told he couldn’t talk to Mr. Armstrong until after the concert. That wouldn’t do. With the connivance of the bell captain, he snuck into Mr. Armstrong’s suite with a room service lobster dinner. And Mr. Armstrong, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, agreed to talk. Mr. Lubenow stuck initially to his editor’s script, asking Mr. Armstrong to name his favorite musician. (Bing Crosby, it turned out.) But soon he brought up Little Rock, and he could not believe what he heard. “It’s getting almost so bad a colored man hasn’t got any country,” a furious Mr. Armstrong told him. President Eisenhower, he charged, was “two faced,” and had “no guts.” For Governor Faubus, he used a double-barreled hyphenated expletive, utterly unfit for print. The two settled on something safer: “uneducated plow boy.” The euphemism, Mr. Lubenow says, was far more his than Mr. Armstrong’s.

Mr. Armstrong bitterly recounted some of his experiences touring in the Jim Crow South. He then sang the opening bar of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” inserting obscenities into the lyrics and prompting Velma Middleton, the vocalist who toured with Mr. Armstrong and who had joined them in the room, to hush him up.

Mr. Armstrong had been contemplating a good-will tour to the Soviet Union for the State Department. “They ain’t so cold but what we couldn’t bruise them with happy music,” he had said. Now, though, he confessed to having second thoughts. “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell,” he said, offering further choice words about the secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. “The people over there ask me what’s wrong with my country. What am I supposed to say?”

Mr. Lubenow, who came from a small North Dakota farming community, was shocked by what he heard, but he also knew he had a story; he skipped the concert and went back to the paper to write it up. It was too late to get it in his own paper; nor would the Associated Press editor in Minneapolis, dubious that Mr. Armstrong could have said such things, put it on the national wire, at least until Mr. Lubenow could prove he hadn’t made it all up. So the next morning Mr. Lubenow returned to the Dakota Hotel and, as Mr. Armstrong shaved, had the Herald photographer take their picture together. Then Mr. Lubenow showed Mr. Armstrong what he’d written. “Don’t take nothing out of that story,” Mr. Armstrong declared. “That’s just what I said, and still say.” He then wrote “solid” on the bottom of the yellow copy paper, and signed his name.

The article ran all over the country. Douglas Edwards and John Cameron Swayze broadcast it on the evening news. The Russians, an anonymous government spokesman warned, would relish everything Mr. Armstrong had said. A radio station in Hattiesburg, Miss., threw out all of Mr. Armstrong’s records. Sammy Davis Jr. criticized Mr. Armstrong for not speaking out earlier. But Jackie Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt and Marian Anderson quickly backed him up.

Mostly, there was surprise, especially among blacks. Secretary Dulles might just as well have stood up at the United Nations and led a chorus of the Russian national anthem, declared Jet magazine, which once called Mr. Armstrong an “Uncle Tom.” Mr. Armstrong had long tried to convince people throughout the world that “the Negro’s lot in America is a happy one,” it observed, but in one bold stroke he’d pulled nearly 15 million American blacks to his bosom. Any white confused by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s polite talk need only listen to Mr. Armstrong, The Amsterdam News declared. Mr. Armstrong’s words had the “explosive effect of an H-bomb,” said The Chicago Defender. “He may not have been grammatical, but he was eloquent.”

His road manager quickly put out that Mr. Armstrong had been tricked, and regretted his statements, but Mr. Armstrong would have none of that. “I said what somebody should have said a long time ago,” he said the following day in Montevideo, Minn., where he gave his next concert. He closed that show with “The Star-Spangled Banner” — this time, minus the obscenities.

Mr. Armstrong was to pay a price for his outspokenness. There were calls for boycotts of his concerts. The Ford Motor Company threatened to pull out of a Bing Crosby special on which Mr. Armstrong was to appear. Van Cliburn’s manager refused to let him perform a duet with Mr. Armstrong on Steve Allen’s talk show.

But it didn’t really matter. On Sept. 24, President Eisenhower sent 1,200 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne into Little Rock, and the next day soldiers escorted the nine students into Central High School. Mr. Armstrong exulted. “If you decide to walk into the schools with the little colored kids, take me along, Daddy,” he wired the president. “God bless you.” As for Mr. Lubenow, who now works in public relations in Cedar Park, Tex., he got $3.50 for writing the story and, perhaps, for changing history. But his editor was miffed — he’d gotten into politics, after all. Within a week, he left the paper.

David Margolick, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the author of “Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink.’’

Are For-Profit Schools “The Answer” — Sherry Linkon

Education or Exploitation? For-profit schools and working-class students

If you read yesterday’s New York Times, you may have noticed the full-page ad, paid for by Corinthian Colleges, Inc., one of the largest for-profit education providers in the US.  The ad urged readers to contact our Congressional representatives to “put the brakes on” proposed regulations that link educational programs’ eligibility for federal financial aid with the post-graduation income and debt repayment of students.  The ad suggests that proposed new rules would lead to the loss of thousands of jobs and limit college access for low-income and minority students.

Responding to the proposed rules, Harry C. Alford, CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, argues that the Department of Education was “singling out one vitally important segment of the post-secondary landscape and putting up ‘no trespassing’ signs, keeping out the students who would benefit the most.”  While this rhetoric is appealing, the question of whether for-profit schools – which Alford describes as “career colleges” – serve the best interests of working-class students is not simple.

For-profit schools have thrived for several reasons.  First, they offer an alternative to traditional college programs.  States have cut funding to higher education, and in some cases – California   most dramatically – have limited enrollment.  Meanwhile, the most common advice given to those who are out of work is “get a college education.” So it’s no surprise that enrollments are up across the country.  For-profit programs provide alternatives to students who can’t get in to crowded colleges or programs with limited enrollments.  Read more here.

Mayor Bloomberg Goes Bipartisan — Which Way for Us?

John Keller, in his incisive book Power in America, comments that there have been many depressions and recessions in American history, but only a few resulted in political realignment.  He shows how new party formations developed following these “critical crises” (e.g. in the decade preceding the Civil War).  He also shows how the center of gravity shifted in the existing parties following other “critical crises.”  All along the way third party formations emerged and receded.  All of these changes followed dramatic shifts in the economy from one form of production to another.  The most clear cut such shift, of course, came about in the period from 1830 to 1863.  At the beginning of this period through 1860, the amount of capital invested in slave labor was greater than all other capital investments.  The civil war changed all that, and leading up to that was a depression in the 1830’s and the splitting of the major parties on the issue of slavery and the future of the economy.  Even though the recently formed Republican Party had achieved a massive, artificial majority during the Civil War, the  rapid  political realignment that followed was bitterly contested.  This realignment reflected the change from an agricultural society, based on Southern slavery in cotton, to an industrial society centered in the North and based (initially) on railroad production.

There is some evidence to say that we are living in a period of political realignment again.  The current overture by New York’s Mayor Bloomberg is a reaction to the Tea Party, which he calls a “boomlet” no different than the Ross Perot candidacy a few years back.  Michael Barbaro, in the Sept. 18, 2010 New York Times, says “The mayor [Bloomberg], who started out as a Democrat, then became a Republican and later an independent, said Mr. Obama was seeking ‘to be seen to be, if not reaching across the aisle, at least reaching out for an independent view.’”

Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg backs Lincoln D. Chafee, right, for governor of Rhode Island.

But perhaps both Bloomberg and the Tea Party are responses to something much deeper than what either one of them are discussing.  We are in the midst of an even more fundamental change than from slave labor to industrial labor. Robotic/electronic labor is superseding the role of humans in production. This new means of production is actually eliminating the category of labor-power itself.  A third way of saying this:  robotics is calling into question the meaning of labor power as a commodity.

The practical question which is at the root of the economic depression we are facing is the realization of profit.  That is, when business invests to make a product to sell, it anticipates that it will find in the marketplace people to buy its product.  The industrial boom and bust cycle has flourished and perished because of business anarchy — that is, each capitalist attempting to dominate a limited market.  At the end of each bust, capital has revived and expanded, only in its enthusiasm to capture the markets they overreach the limits of what people could pay for.  What is called “demand” has always been limited by geography (how many consumers in a given area) and income (how high a level of income the consumers have).  Add to the latter limit a structural issue not before seen, and we have a new situation developing.

That structural issue is the emergence of a class of people ejected from the labor force, separated from their relation to capital.  It is matched by the introduction into the “workforce” of a kind of labor replacing information technology which has no need for food, clothing, shelter, health care (unless you consider repair of software and hardware a health care issue), or cultural participation.  These “robots” (though very few of them have the classic horror tale appearance of a Frankenstein) will not buy dinner, the latest Gucci fashions, do not need a condo by the lake, and will not go clubbing or to see Green Day on tour this year.  Everyone has to reckon with this phenomenon.

The Obama administration finds itself in the worst depression in over 60 years, but it is having difficulty convincing us that it knows the way out.  The Tea Party leadership is challenging the Republicans as much as the Democrats (who, despite their current majorities in both houses and controlling the presidency are ineffectual).  Barbaro points out, in the NYT, that both Obama and Bloomberg are grasping about for a kind of bipartisan stability, one that is not hostile to the needs of the corporations (Bloomberg explains that Obama has angered the mayor’s big business friends):

“I feel very strongly we should not be — success should not be frowned on, and I have lots of friends, wealthy people, made a lot of money, were big Obama supporters, gave him money, raised money for him, who are not happy now,” he said.

“They all say the same thing: ‘I knew I was going to have to pay more taxes. Somebody’s got to do it, and I’ve got the money,’ ” he said. “ ‘But I didn’t expect to be vilified.’ ”

It is too early to tell what the political realignment will look like as a result of the economic transformation.  Something people see in Congress and the White House that seem to run contrary to these changes is the stubborn partisanship evident in votes on, for example, health care and extending unemployment benefits.  One thing is certain however:  the economic changes by themselves call capitalism into question,  just as the economic changes prior to the Civil War called the slave system into question. With one difference:  both slavery and industrialism are systems of private property.  The robot challenges the very existence of private property, as it destroys commodity relations and commodity production.

There is some jockeying taking place, but the main item on the corporate agenda is how to protect capital’s interest in the coming decades when labor power is largely not needed.  As trade union power becomes more marginal, as other social organizations become more marginal, how can they maintain a mass base when the base they have always relied on — the working class — is disintegrating.  We should beware of these overtures for bipartisanship, as much as we are wary of the overtly reactionary responses that want to take us back to the days of the founding fathers, a la Glen Beck.  Bipartisanship is today a code word for the coming together of the corporate forces  and the development of a new society, on the basis of robotics, but organized for private profit of the corporations.

That form of organization need not happen.  The class of people being separated from the relations of capitalism, those dispossessed and disenfranchised, have interests contradictory to distribution of the wealth according to who pays.  It is the first class of people, since the transition to the first agricultural societies 10,000 years ago, who can solve their problems only by reorganizing society in the common interest. If the introduction of robotics cheapens human labor power, making it valueless, it also liberates human life, freeing the worker from the capital relationship, opening the way to a new society.  Necessity again becomes the mother of freedom.

Beware, therefore, the pinstriped and blue-jeaned peddlers of bipartisanship cajoling us with honeyed words. They speak for continued corporate lies and domination.  They are the faces of friendly fascism today.

–Lew Rosenbaum

An Inconvenient Superman — Rick Ayers in Huffington Post

An Inconvenient Superman: Davis Guggenheim’s New Film Hijacks School Reform

by Rick Ayers

Adjunct Professor in Education, University of San Francisco

Posted: September 17, 2010 12:04 PM

Davis Guggenheim’s 2010 film Waiting for Superman is a slick marketing piece full of half-truths and distortions. The film suggests the problems in education are the fault of teachers and teacher unions alone, and it asserts that the solution to those problems is a greater focus on top-down instruction driven by test scores. It rejects the inconvenient truth that our schools are being starved of funds and other necessary resources, and instead opts for an era of privatization and market-driven school change. Its focus effectively suppresses a more complex and nuanced discussion of what it might actually take to leave no child behind, such as a living wage, a full-employment economy, the de-militarization of our schools, and an education based on the democratic ideal that the fullest development of each is the condition for the full development of all. The film is positioned to become a leading voice in framing the debate on school reform, much like Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth did for the discussion of global warming, and that’s heartbreaking.

I’m not categorically opposed to charter schools; they can and often do allow a group of creative and innovative teachers, parents, and communities to build schools that work for their kids and are free of the deadening bureaucracy of most districts. These schools can be catalysts for even larger changes. But there are really two main opposing positions in the “charter movement” — it’s not really a movement, by the way, but rather a diverse range of different projects. On one side are those who hope to use the charter option to operate effective small schools that are autonomous from districts. On the other side are the corporate powerhouses and the ideological opponents of all things public who see this as a chance to break the teacher’s unions and to privatize education. Superman is a shill for the latter. Caring, thoughtful teachers are working hard in both types of schools. But their efforts are being framed and defined, even undermined, by powerful forces that have seized the mantle of “reform.”

The film dismisses with a side comment the inconvenient truth that our schools are criminally underfunded. Money’s not the answer, it glibly declares. Nor does it suggest that students would have better outcomes if their communities had jobs, health care, decent housing, and a living wage. Particularly dishonest is the fact that Guggenheim never mentions the tens of millions of dollars of private money that has poured into the Harlem Children’s Zone, the model and superman we are relentlessly instructed to aspire to. Those funds create full family services and a state of the art school. In a sleight of hand, the film magically shifts focus, turning to “bad teaching” as the problem in the poor schools while ignoring these millions of dollars that make people clamor to get into the Promise Academy. As a friend of mine said, “Well, at least now we know what it costs.”

It is so sad to see hundreds of families lined up at these essentially private schools with a public charter cover, praying to get in. Who wouldn’t want to get in? Families are paraded in front of the cameras as they wait for an admission lottery in an auditorium where the winners’ names are pulled from a hat and read aloud, while the losing families trudge out in tears with cameras looming in their faces.

After dismissing funding as a factor, Superman rolls out the drum-beat of attacks on teachers as the first and really the only problem. Except for a few patronizing pats on the head for educators, the film describes school failure as boiling down to bad teachers. Relying on old clichés that single out the handful of loser teachers anyone could dig up, Waiting for Superman asserts that the unions are the boogey man. In his perfect world, there would be no unions — we could drive teacher wages even lower, run schools like little corporations, and race to the bottom just as we have in the manufacturing sector. Imagining that the profit motive works best, the privatizers propose merit pay for teachers whose students test well. Such a scheme would only lead to adult cheating (which has already started), to well-connected teachers packing their classes with privileged kids, and to an undermining of the very essence of effective schools — collaboration between teachers, generous community building with students.

It is interesting to note that Arne Duncan’s kids, as well as the Obama kids, attended the University of Chicago Lab Schools — where teachers had small classes, good pay, and, yes, a union. Students did not concentrate on rote learning and mindless drill and skill or test prep. They were offered in part an exploratory, questioning curriculum. The school for the Obama kids in D.C., Sidwell Friends, also has a unionized faculty. But apparently the masses need to have sweatshop schools. Waiting for Superman sets up AFT president Randi Weingarten as its Darth Vader — accompanying her appearance on the screen with dire background music. They tell us that the teachers unions have put $50 million into election campaigns over the last ten years, essentially buying politicians. Actually, this number is a pittance compared to what corporations and the rich throw in. It is less than Meg Whitman spent of her own money in one run for governor of California. But the film carefully avoids interviewing Diane Ravitch, the lead organizer of the Education Trust and No Child Left Behind efforts who has been lately writing and speaking about her realization that these reforms have had a disastrous effect on schools and teaching and learning.

When African American and Chicano Latino families in the 1960’s were demanding quality education and access to the resources of the best schools, they were also rejecting the myths about blackness meaning culturally deprived. Today that social revolution has been effectively set back. Schools are more segregated today than before Brown v. Board of Education in 1954; nothing is said about that. Black and Brown students are being suspended and expelled, searched and criminalized; not a word. In place of a movement for transforming power relationships in our society, privatizers and corporate managers step up to define the problem — proposing a revolution that is anything but revolutionary.

A strong project of education transformation would recognize the funds of knowledge urban students come to school with; it would honor the literacy and language practices of the community. It would support a curriculum of questioning, as students examine their world and imagine ways to make it better. It would put front and center the need to build learning communities, to motivate students to want to learn and believe there was something worth learning. It would create an engaged learning experience for all students, not just the handful who learn to endure boredom and insult in hopes of high income later. In the hands of these so-called reformers, though, the only goal is to train urban students to be obedient followers; they never propose a project that transforms and empowers communities, only holding out the promise for a few exceptional students to escape the ghetto. You can see white middle class audience members sighing, comforted to know that everyone really wants to be like us; that everyone who is not like us is tragic. The film bubbles over with terms like escape and rescue, promoting a liberal charity mentality that is never in solidarity the local community, only regards it as something dysfunctional that needs to be controlled.

In addition, Waiting for Superman promotes the idea that we are in a dire war for US dominance in the world. The poster advertising the film shows a nightmarish battlefield in stark grey, then a little white girl sitting at a desk is dropped in the midst of it. The text: “The fate of our country won’t be decided on a battlefield. It will be determined in a classroom.” This is a common theme of the so-called reformers: we are at war with India and China and we have to out-math them and crush them so that we can remain rich and they can stay in the sweatshops. But really, who declared this war? When did I as a teacher sign up as an officer in this war? And when did that 4th grade girl become a soldier in it? I have nothing against the Chinese, the Indians, or anyone else in the world — I wish them well. Instead of this Global Social Darwinist fantasy, perhaps we should be helping kids imagine a world of global cooperation, sustainable economies, and equity

Waiting for Superman accepts a theory of learning that is embarrassing in its stupidity. In one of its many little cartoon segments, it purports to show how kids learn. The top of a child’s head is cut open and a jumble of factoids is poured in. Ouch! Oh, and then the evil teacher union and regulations stop this productive pouring project. The film-makers betray no understanding of how people actually learn, the active and agentive participation of students in the learning process. They ignore the social construction of knowledge, the difference between deep learning and rote memorization. The film unquestioningly bows down to standardized tests as the measure of student knowledge, school success. Such a testing regime bullies aside deeper learning, authentic assessment, portfolio and project based learning. Yes, deeper learning like this is difficult to measure with simple numbers — but we can’t let the desire for simple numbers simplify the educational project. Extensive research has demonstrated definitively that standardized testing reproduces inequities, marginalizes English Language Learners and those who do not grow up speaking a middle class vernacular, dumbs down the curriculum, and misinform policy. It is the wisdom of the misinformed, accepted against educational evidence and research. Never mind, they declare: we will define the future of education anyway.

Sadly, the narrow and blinkered reasoning in Waiting for Superman is behind the No Child Left Behind disaster rebranded as Race to the Top. Don’t believe the hype. We can and we must do education, and educational change, much differently. We could develop an economy that supported communities which were well-resourced and democratic. We can right now create pathways in which all kids have a reasonable prospect of an honorable, interesting job in their future. And if democracy and the future society concern us at all, we can and we must create schools which unleash students’ creativity, imagination, and initiative.

China, The U.S. and Energy — a Tomgram Declining America Report by Michael Klare

Twenty-First Century Energy Superpower
China, Energy, and Global Power

Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet by Michael Klare

By Michael T. Klare

If you want to know which way the global wind is blowing (or the sun shining or the coal burning), watch China.  That’s the news for our energy future and for the future of great-power politics on planet Earth.  Washington is already watching — with anxiety.

Rarely has a simple press interview said more about the global power shifts taking place in our world.  On July 20th, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, told the Wall Street Journal that China had overtaken the United States to become the world’s number one energy consumer.  One can read this development in many ways: as evidence of China’s continuing industrial prowess, of the lingering recession in the United States, of the growing popularity of automobiles in China, even of America’s superior energy efficiency as compared to that of China.  All of these observations are valid, but all miss the main point: by becoming the world’s leading energy consumer, China will also become an ever more dominant international actor and so set the pace in shaping our global future.

Because energy is tied to so many aspects of the global economy, and because doubts are growing about the future availability of oil and other vital fuels, the decisions China makes regarding its energy portfolio will have far-reaching consequences.  As the leading player in the global energy market, China will significantly determine not only the prices we will be paying for critical fuels but also the type of energy systems we will come to rely on.  More importantly, China’s decisions on energy preferences will largely determine whether China and the United States can avoid becoming embroiled in a global struggle over imported oil and whether the world will escape catastrophic climate change.

How to Rise to Global Preeminence

You can’t really appreciate the significance of China’s newfound energy prominence if you don’t first grasp the role of energy in America’s rise to global preeminence. Read more here.

The School Board, The Police, and The Parents — from Substance News

[The Chicago School Board called on the Chicago police to enforce their ruling to demolish a building parents want to be used as a library! This is NOT a story from The Onion.  The following report, from Substance News, explains the context.  As of Saturday, September 18, the parents were holding steady.  Those who are able are encouraged to visit Camp Whittier to offer encouragement, bring donations of food and drink, and spend time to show the city that these parents are not alone. Note also at the bottom of this entry two related items of importance. — Lew Rosenbaum]

Community breaks police blockade, ‘Camp Whittier’ gets a third night to demand a library for the children

George N. Schmidt – September 17, 2010

It could have been a scene from the blacklisted movie “Salt of the Earth,” or from any of a dozen other films that depict the struggles of working people. But it was happening in real time in Chicago in 2010, and once again a group of working people, most of them women and children, broke a police blockade and thwarted attempts by Ron Huberman and the people who rule Chicago’s public schools to demolish a simple wooden building just west of the century old Whittier Elementary School on Chicago’s Southwest side.

Part of the crowd celebrating the departure of Chicago police from the Whittier Elementary School field house at approximately 3:00 p.m. on September 17, 2010. The protesters above had defied a police cordon and swarmed down 23rd St. to the site of the protest just before police were to move in and arrest the mothers who had been occupying the field house for two nights and days. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

The stage had been set all day, as Chicago police, acting on orders from two Chicago Public Schools officials, CPS Communications Chief Monique Bond and CPS Security Chief Michael Shields, prepared to arrest a small group of protesters, most of them mothers, who had occupied the Whittier Elementary School fieldhouse in the 1900 block of west 23rd St., to stop the demolition of the structure. The community wants the building turned into a library. The Board of Education wants to demolish and turn into a soccer field primarily for the use of a parochial school (Cristo Rey) nearby.

The word had spread at “Camp Whittier” that the Chicago police were going to force the protesters out of the Whitter field house and arrest those who refused to leave. (Read the entire story here)

Note also:  Labor Express Radio (WLUW 10 AM Monday) will have a report from Camp Whittier:
On this Monday’s episode of Labor Express Radio

The back to school edition of Labor Express Radio. First will hear about the Siege of La Casita. For most of the past week, parents of children at the Whittier school in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and their community allies, have occupied a field house on the school’s grounds day and night. CPS plans to demolish the building which is used currently used as an activity center for the school’s children. On Friday, the parents faced off with the Chicago Police and in the end it was the police who retreated.

Will also hear about a planned rally by the Chicago Teachers Union for downtown Chicago next Tuesday and about organizing of charter school teachers in the city.

And lastly will hear about plans for a massive march planned for Washington D.C. Oct. 2nd demanding money for jobs and not war.

Also : Rally for Education Rights
Chicago Parents and Teachers, Unite!

Tuesday, September 21
4:00 PM at Daley Plaza
Washington & Dearborn Streets
Across from City Hall

Chicago Educators, Parents, and Students Demand:

  • Mayor Daley give $350 million in TIF surplus back to schools!
  • CPS end overcrowding and guarantee stable classes!
  • The Board rehire 1,000 seasoned educators with the Federal Education Jobs Bill funds!
  • The Board stop turnarounds and closings and promote school safety.

For more information please contact:

One In Seven Below The (Official) Poverty Line — Eric Eckholm in the NYT

Recession Raises Poverty Rate to a 15-Year High

Published: September 16, 2010

The percentage of Americans struggling below the poverty line in 2009 was the highest it has been in 15 years, the Census Bureau reported Thursday, and interviews with poverty experts and aid groups said the increase appeared to be continuing this year.

With the country in its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, four million additional Americans found themselves in poverty in 2009, with the total reaching 44 million, or one in seven residents. Millions more were surviving only because of expanded unemployment insurance and other assistance.

And the numbers could have climbed higher: One way embattled Americans have gotten by is sharing homes with siblings, parents or even nonrelatives, sometimes resulting in overused couches and frayed nerves but holding down the rise in the national poverty rate, according to the report.

The share of residents in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest level recorded since 1994. The rise was steepest for children, with one in five affected, the bureau said.

The report provides the most detailed picture yet of the impact of the recession and unemployment on incomes, especially at the bottom of the scale. It also indicated that the temporary increases in aid provided in last year’s stimulus bill eased the burdens on millions of families.

For a single adult in 2009, the poverty line was $10,830 in pretax cash income; for a family of four, $22,050.

Given the depth of the recession, some economists had expected an even larger jump in the poor.

“A lot of people would have been worse off if they didn’t have someone to move in with,” said Timothy M. Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Smeeding said that in a typical case, a struggling family, like a mother and children who would be in poverty on their own, stays with more prosperous parents or other relatives.

The Census study found an 11.6 percent increase in the number of such multifamily households over the last two years. Included in that number was James Davis, 22, of Chicago, who lost his job as a package handler for Fed Ex in February 2009. As he ran out of money, he and his 2-year-old daughter moved in with his mother about a year ago, avoiding destitution while he searched for work.

“I couldn’t afford rent,” he said.

Danise Sanders, 31, and her three children have been sleeping in the living room of her mother and sister’s one-bedroom apartment in San Pablo, Calif., for the last month, with no end in sight. They doubled up after the bank foreclosed on her landlord, forcing her to move.

“It’s getting harder,” said Ms. Sanders, who makes a low income as a mail clerk. “We’re all pitching in for rent and bills.”

There are strong signs that the high poverty numbers have continued into 2010 and are probably still rising, some experts said, as the recovery sputters and unemployment remains near 10 percent.

“Historically, it takes time for poverty to recover after unemployment starts to go down,” said LaDonna Pavetti, a welfare expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group in Washington.

Dr. Smeeding said it seemed almost certain that poverty would further rise this year. He noted that the increase in unemployment and poverty had been concentrated among young adults without college educations and their children, and that these people remained at the end of the line in their search for work.

One indirect sign of continuing hardship is the rise in food stamp recipients, who now include nearly one in seven adults and an even greater share of the nation’s children. While other factors as well as declining incomes have driven the rise, by mid-2010 the number of recipients had reached 41.3 million, compared with 39 million at the beginning of the year.

Food banks, too, report swelling demand.

“We’re seeing more younger people coming in that not only don’t have any food, but nowhere to stay,” said Marla Goodwin, director of Jeremiah’s Food Pantry in East St. Louis, Ill. The pantry was open one day a month when it opened in 2008 but expanded this year to five days a month.

And Texas food banks said they distributed 14 percent more food in the second quarter of 2010 than in the same period last year.

The Census report showed increases in poverty for whites, blacks and Hispanic Americans, with historic disparities continuing. The poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites was 9.4 percent, for blacks 25.8 percent and for Hispanics 25.3 percent. The rate for Asians was unchanged at 12.5 percent.

The median income of all households stayed roughly the same from 2008 to 2009. It had fallen sharply the year before, as the recession gained steam and remains well below the levels of the late 1990s — a sign of the stagnating prospects for the middle class.

The decline in incomes in 2008 had been greater than expected, and when the two recession years are considered together, the decline since 2007 was 4.2 percent, said Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard. Gains achieved earlier in the decade were wiped out, and median family incomes in 2009 were 5 percent lower than in 1999.

“This is the first time in memory that an entire decade has produced essentially no economic growth for the typical American household,” Mr. Katz said.

The number of United States residents without health insurance climbed to 51 million in 2009, from 46 million in 2008, the Census said. Their ranks are expected to shrink in coming years as the health care overhaul adopted by Congress in March begins to take effect.

Government benefits like food stamps and tax credits, which can provide hundreds or even thousands of dollars in extra income, are not included in calculating whether a family’s income falls above or below the poverty line.

But rises in the cost of housing, medical care or energy and the large regional differences in the cost of living are not taken into account either.

If food-stamp benefits and low-income tax credits were included as income, close to 8 million of those labeled as poor in the report would instead be just above the poverty line, the Census report estimated. At the same time, a person who starts a job and receives the earned income tax credit could have new work-related expenses like transportation and child care. Unemployment benefits, which are considered cash income and included in the calculations, helped keep 3 million families above the line last year, the report said, with temporary extensions and higher payments helping all the more.

The poverty line is a flawed measure, experts agree, but it remains the best consistent long-term gauge of need available, and its ups and downs reflect genuine trends.

The federal government will issue an alternate calculation next year that will include important noncash and after-tax income and also account for regional differences in the cost of living.

But it will continue to calculate the rate in the old way as well, in part because eligibility for many programs, from Medicaid to free school lunches, is linked to the longstanding poverty line.

Reporting was contributed by Rebecca Cathcart in Los Angeles, Emma Graves Fitzsimmons in Chicago, Malcolm Gay in St. Louis, Robert Gebeloff in New York and Malia Wollan in San Francisco.

Beautiful Struggle: KPFK Radio Broadcast on Public Education

Why is “value added” evaluation a methodology which cannot work? What does weeding out “bad teachers” mean?  How are teachers evaluated now?  What is the “corporate attack” on public education?  Who has hijacked public education and why?  This recent broadcast explores how commodification of education leads to corporatization of education.  Dr. Bill Watkins, professor in the department of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago,  Lamonte Harris, a parent and community activist in Milwaukee, who helped organize the defeat of mayoral takeover of the public schools in Milwaukee; and Joshua Peschalt, Vice President of United Teachers of Los Angeles are featured in a program introduced and moderated by Kimberly King.  Listen to Beautiful Struggle here.