Archive for the ‘Singapore’ Category

Black Civil Rights Organisation Wants Moratorium on Academy Schools in America

August 18, 2016

The Black civil rights organisation, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) has attacked charter schools and demanded a moratorium on them. In this video from the Real News, the anchor, Jaisal Noor, talks to Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, a teacher, educationalist and blogger, who’s the head of the leadership in education programme at one of the American universities about the NAACP’s call for a ban. The charter schools are the American equivalent of our academy schools. They were introduced in 2001, and began to expand massively after Obama’s election in 2008 as part of his ‘Race to the Top’ education programme. The NAACP object to these schools on the grounds that they remove public control, enforce segregation and have punitive educational regimes. They also draw a comparison between the proliferation of these schools and the predatory sub-prime mortgage market which was partly responsible for the near collapse of the banking system in 2008.

This isn’t the first time the NAACP has criticised charter schools. In 2010 they made a statement that rather than promoting the expansion of these schools, more money should be given to improving existing public (state) schools in urban America serving Black communities. In 2014 the NAACP further condemned charter schools as part of the privatisation of education of education, and the wider privatisation movement. The demand for the moratorium on these schools was passed this year by a meeting of more than 2200 of the organisation’s delegates. Heilig states that this is a very reasonable position as when they were first introduced, charter schools promised more freedom and more accountability. They have instead gained more freedom and less accountability.

Noor responds by stating that for many Black parents in cities like New York and Baltimore, charter schools represent some hope of improving their children’s education over the dire state schools in their areas, but there are long queues of people trying to get in. He quotes a Black Democrat politician, Shivar Jefferies of Democrats for Education Reform as stating that they should be concentrating on fixing what is broken, and expanding what works. Heilig states that he has offered to debate Jefferies about charter schools in California or New York. Jefferies first accepted, and then declined. Heilig states that when you examine the statistics, the supposed advantages of charter schools melt away. He does agree with Jefferies, however, on the wider point that society has failed Black, Latino, Native American and other poor students deliberately. He states that American society has decided that ‘inequality is OK’. Where Heilig and Jefferies differ is in the way this is to be tackled. He points out that there are big corporations, like Wall Street, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation and many more behind the private control of education. Heilig says that this is where he differs with Jefferies. He and the others in NAACP would like community schools, and community-based charters, district charters and intergovernmental charters. He points out that people are upset with the creation of charter schools, because the free market system they are trying to use to improve schools – he gives the example of the ‘better house you buy, the better the school’, is the very system that has damaged the educational system in the first place.

He states that the key to change and improvement is offering more democratic control for parents in their local schools through community-based programmes. Heilig makes the point that if you look at the polls of what people want, they want less testing, higher quality teachers, and better courses. Those require resources. But the Supreme Court in Texas, however, decided that the $25,000 differences between classes for rich and poor is acceptable at school. This means millions of dollars in difference at the district level.

Noor also asks him about the statistics showing that children at charter schools perform extremely well, and so therefore charter schools are an educational improvement that should be further implemented. Heilig points out that there are some state schools that are also doing a great job. He also makes the point that the 2009 Credo study showed that 89 per cent of students at public schools performed exactly the same as those in state schools. Shivar Jefferies and the others in favour of charters schools don’t like that study, and prefer to quote another Credo study from 2015. This study, however, showed that in charter schools Latinos do 0.008 per cent better in reading, and Black 0.05 per cent. He states that the difference in performance is almost negligible. Furthermore, there are other methods in improving performance that are far more effective. These methods, which include reducing class size, can improve educational performance by between 1000 to 4000 per cent. He states that there’s no secret to what works, and you don’t need to go to countries with high standards in education, like Finland and Singapore to see that. You only have to go ‘across the tracks’ to rich neighbourhoods to see what resources are given to their schools, to see the kind of improvements that have to be made to the schools in poor neighbourhoods.

I’ve reblogged this because this debate is clearly very relevant to what’s happening over here with the academies Blair set up and which Thicky Nicky Morgan wanted to make universal. The system’s critics over here have pointed out that they are a part privatisation of education. The backers in Britain, however, tend to be second-rate businessmen. The leading businesses don’t want to touch them because they’re divisive. They are also very highly selective. A much larger proportion of students are expelled, or effectively expelled, from these schools, often for very trivial reasons. These frequently tend to be the poorer, or less intelligent students, the children the school would have problems with getting them through the exams. So they try to get rid of them by expelling them for supposed infractions of school rules. And discipline is also extremely strict. A few years ago a television documentary on the Vardy schools, set up by an evangelical Christian businessman, had humiliated pupils by refusing them to go to the toilet, even when they were in desperate need, and not allowing the girls to leave to change their sanitary towels. And there are also concerns that they’re socially divisive, especially as many of them are now under the control of the church or religious organisations.

Britain tends to look across the Atlantic to try to see what the Americans are doing in certain issues. This demand by the NAACP for a moratorium on charters/ academies, so that society can take stock of their impact, might have an effect in encouraging Black educationalists over here to follow and further demand a halt to their expansion in Britain. This would not only improve conditions for Blacks, but also for the poor White students that are also falling behind.

John Kampfner on the Growth of the Surveillance State in France under Sarkozy

March 7, 2016

It isn’t just in Britain where the powers of the state to monitor and imprison its citizens have been massively expanded. John Kampfner in his book, Freedom for Sale describes not only the growth of authoritarian government not just in Britain, and in the traditionally closed societies of China and Russia, but also in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, India, Berlusconi’s Italy and France under Sarkozy.

He states that in France Sarko introduced a series of measures expanding the surveillance and intelligence gathering powers of the secret police and authorising the preventative arrest of terrorist or criminal suspects. His Socialist opponents have compiled a ‘black book’ of attacks on liberty by Sarko’s government since 2007.

For example, in November 2008 anti-terrorist police arrested twenty people in the small village of Tarnac. There was little real evidence against them. They were arrested because they were suspected of writing a book, The Coming Insurrection, and of being members of the ‘ultra-left’.

In June 2008, Sarko created EDVIGE, a feminine-sounding acronym that stands for Exploitation documentaire et valorisation de l’information generale. It’s a database of groups, organisations and individuals, which the state considers a threat, or possible threat. The database includes not just known criminals, or criminal suspects, but also the people, who associate with them. The EDVIGE database also includes information on their jobs, marriage status and family history; their former and present addresses, phone numbers and email addresses; their physical appearance, including photographs, and descriptions of how they behave. It also includes their identity papers, car number plates, tax records and legal history.

Gay organisations have been worried and criticised the database because it will also store information on people’s sexual orientation and health, as a means of keeping track of AIDS. It has also been condemned by the French magistrates’ union, which declared that it was ‘undemocratic’ and would ‘inform the government on politically active people’. Even the establishment newspaper, le Monde criticised it, commenting ‘A state governed by the rule of law cannot accept the penalisation of supposed intentions’.

Sarkozy’s government stated that much of the database’s function is to keep track on teenage gangs in the suburbs of the major cities. As part of this, the database will include information on children as young as thirteen. This followed the declaration of the Interior Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, that there had been an increase in teenage delinquency. The French public responded by making her the winner of the tenth Big Brother Awards. The judges decided she deserved the award based on her distinguished contributions to violations of privacy, her love of video surveillance, and ‘immoderate taste for putting French citizens on file’.

The government has also set up a drone programme, ELSA, or Engins legers de surveillance aerienne, creating and testing robot aircraft equipped with night vision cameras to observe criminal and anti-social behaviour from above.

Sarko also used his personal influence to get troublesome journalists either to fall into line. If they didn’t, he got them sacked. When he was Interior Minister, he had the veteran prime-time newsreader, Patrick Poivre d’Arvor sacked from the private station, TFI, after he described Sarko at the G8 summit as ‘looking like a little boy in the big boy’s club’. Alain Genestar was sacked as editor in chief of Paris Match, after he published pictures of his then wife, Cecilie Sarkozy in New York with the man, who later became her husband. He also had another story spiked in Le Journal du Dimanche about Cecilie not voting during the presidential election. When he married his next wife, Carla Bruni, the two were hailed by the newspaper as ‘the Star Couple’.

He also passed a series of legislation strengthening government control over television. In 2009, parliament approved a set of laws gradually phasing out advertising on the state television stations. Instead, the stations would be funded by the state. Furthermore, the Chief Executive of France Televisions would be nominated directly by the president, not by the broadcast regulator.
He was also called ‘le telepresident’ because of the way he orchestrated political events like a reality TV show.

Le Monde describe Sarko as having created ‘a new model of media control’, which fell somewhere between Berlusconi’s and Putin’s style of autocratic government. The newspaper noted that much of Sarko’s control of the press was informal. It observed that unlike Berlusconi, he didn’t have to own newspapers and the media in order to censor and control them. His friends in charge of them did that. (pp. 179-82).

All over Europe and the world, government are becoming increasingly dictatorial and autocratic. This has to be stopped before freedom dies and is replaced across the globe with the jackboot and the fist of the police state.

TYT Reports ‘V for Vendetta’ Finally Screened on Chinese TV

October 31, 2015

This is a slightly more optimistic piece from The Young Turks from 2012. It seems that the Chinese government has finally screened Alan Moore’s story about resistance to a Fascist, totalitarian state. They point out it was never screened in Chinese cinemas. As they say, ‘Oops! How did that one get past (the censor).’

They point out that a lot of Western movies are available in China anyway, and it might simply be due to a new Chinese leader taking power. My guess is that it’s possibly been screened because it’s such a cult film that attempts to stop people seeing it have largely failed. It’s also possibly been made palatable by the fact that the totalitarian state is a Fascist, 21st century Britain. Even so, the precise shade of political party and geographical location shown in the movie doesn’t alter its anti-authoritarian message, or make much of it any the less relevant.

China is a one party police state, which incarcerates and tortures its political prisoners. The scenes in which the guards and staff at the concentration camp are shown disposing of the bodies of hundreds of victims of human experimentation will, amongst older Chinese, recall the mass deaths that resulted from Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

China is also a state that robs its criminals of their organs for transplant surgery before they are executed. Thus Chinese prisoners are the victims of forced medical procedures in that way, another, though possibly not an exact parallel to the horrors in the movie.

The film is similarly set after there has been a holocaust against Muslims, resulting in their extermination and the outlawing of their religion. China similarly is cracking down on its Muslims, and many of the country’s indigenous Muslim ethnic groups, like the Uyghurs, feel that they are being systematically dispossessed, marginalised and persecuted in their home province of Sinkiang.

Among those sent to the concentration camps are homosexuals. In one part of the movie, Natalie Portman’s character is incarcerated to make her experience what the state’s victims go through. During her incarceration she reads letters written by Valerie, a lesbian, who really was rounded up by the regime for her sexuality. I don’t know if homosexuality is illegal in China, but it certainly is in other Asian societies, such as Singapore, and strongly disapproved of in many nations where it is legal, such as Japan. My guess is that it is illegal in China, and that this will be another uncomfortable parallel with the current regime.

But whatever the oppressive government, the Turks’ point out that the film does have a universal message that people should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

As our government tries to shut down the Freedom of Information Act, it’s plain that they are. Very.

Cameron’s Francoist Attack on the Unions

October 6, 2015

A few weeks ago Cameron also launched another Tory attack on the trade unions and their right to strike peacefully. Under the new legislation passed by the Tories, a strike is now illegal if a majority of the union’s members do not vote. This is even if the vast majority of those voting are in favour of strike action.

There is also a personally vindictive and totalitarian element in the legislation. Picketers are now required to give their names to the police. It shows very much how the Tories regard strikers and trade unionists as potential, if not actual criminals. Clearly, it’s so the rozzers can keep tabs on them, ready to arrest them the moment someone in the Tory party or the CBI decides that this has gone too far.

The Tories have, no doubt. made noises about how they’re increasing democracy in the trade unions and accountability. It also shows the amazing double standards operating within the Tory party. Cameron is claiming this is democratic, despite the fact that under the same principle, his government is also invalid. The vast majority of the British people did not vote for his government. I suspect that, if past general elections are anything to go by, the majority of British voters decided that there wasn’t much between the political parties, and so didn’t vote at all. If the same principle was applied to Cameron’s government, then it would have to be dissolved, and his nibs face prosecution under the law. But as the old saying has it, ‘The Conservative party is an organised hypocrisy’, and so no such logic has been applied.

The Tories have, of course, hated trade unions since the days of the Combination Acts in the 19th century. They were illegal on the grounds that they were a threat to the operation of the free market. Then, after they were repealed, there was the Taff Vale judgement, which made trade unions liable for damages caused by picketing.

And the Tories have been particularly keen to smash the unions since the coal miners defeated Heath’s government. Their resentment fuelled their determination to destroy the unions and their power utterly with the miner’s strike in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher. Following the highly militarised suppression of that strike, the Tories have passed increasingly restrictive legislation. This is just the latest, and nastiest, to date.

Even David Davies, one of the most right-wing of the Tories, recognised its totalitarian implications. He denounced it as ‘Francoist’. And indeed it is, if not actually Nazi.

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler: Banned Trade Unions as he claimed they exploited the German worker

I know this is close to becoming another example of Godwin’s Law, which states that whenever there’s an argument on the internet, sooner or later someone will accuse the other of being a Nazi or like Adolf Hitler, but in this instance, this is exactly what it is. Under the Nazis trade unions were banned, and their members and organisers sent to concentration camps. Hitler justified his attack by claiming that he was defending the working class from being exploited by them.

And the Tories have made exactly the same arguments. In the 1980s the Sunday Express made much the same arguments in its violent attacks on trade unions. It demanded tough legislation against them on the ground that union bullying was exploiting the honest, British, Tory-voting worker. In particular, it praised the American laws that made strikes in certain vital industries illegal, and which was used to break a strike by American air traffic controllers. It hardly needs to be said that you can read the same kind of arguments, with the same Nazi attitudes, in the Daily Mail.

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David Cameron and the Tories: want to ban trade unions because they are undemocratic and exploit the British worker

As for taking the names of strikers, this is similar to the tactics used against demonstrators and social activists in that beacon of Asian democracy, Singapore. Under their laws, you can make speeches in public about nearly any topic you like at their equivalent of Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. In order to do so, however, you have to notify the police when you will be speaking, what you will be speaking about, and give your name and address. So far there have been very few people willing to make use of their democratic freedom. Somehow I don’t think the similarity of the Tories’ trade union legislation with this piece of anti-democratic legislation is at all coincidental. The Tories have, after all, told us in the page of Britannia Unchained, that British workers should prepared to work under pretty much the same conditions as the Developing World in order for the country to compete globally. Singapore was one of the Asian ‘Tiger’ economies, whose massive economic growth was admired in the 1990s. Clearly the Tories have decided that if they can’t make the economy grow like theirs, they can at least import their highly illiberal legislation and attitudes.

And once it’s been done to lock up strikers and trade unionists, you can bet it will be used against peaceful demonstrators. They’ve already passed legislation against them on the pretext that they are protecting neighbourhoods from the nuisance caused by masses of people marching through their areas.

It’s another nail in the coffin of British democracy and the destruction of British political freedom and free speech.

The Increasingly Authoritarian Character of Democratic Governments Across Europe

January 15, 2014

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve been attending a course at the M Shed here in Bristol intended to better equip we unemployed to find and hold down a job. It’s an interesting mix of people from a variety of backgrounds, and it’s fascinating talking to them about their experiences and hearing their perspectives on the government and the current situation. One of the ladies on the course is Polish, and its interesting talking to hear about her country and the situation over there after the fall of Communism. Alarmingly, it seems that in both Britain and supposedly democratic Poland, the political elites are becoming increasingly suspicious and distrustful of their citizens.

We’ve seen this most recently in Britain in Ian Duncan Smith’s militaristic conduct before the Work and Pensions Committee. Smith appeared before the Committee accompanied by bodyguards and armed policemen, who pointed their weapons at the public gallery, including a party of disabled people and their carers. Quite what Smith feared a group of respectable members of the British public, who had already been checked by security, would do is a mystery. Presumably he now simply thinks that anyone disabled constitutes some form of threat, regardless of their ability or even basic willingness to assault him. This disgusting incident, the Coalition’s attempt to suppress democratic debate by third parties in their Transparency and Lobbying Bill and the threat to the right to peaceful demonstration posed by the latest anti-nuisance legislation, are merely a part of a long process that has been going on since Thatcher.

One of the other people attending the course jokes about wanting a job as an assassin so he can kill David Cameron. When he did so this week, I replied that he might have a problem with that, as I think there’d be a queue. Someone else added that you’d have a problem getting anywhere near him with the security he’s got round him. I told the Polish lady that this was a real issue. I described how Downing Street had originally been open to the public, who were quite able to go up and down the street as they wished. It was now closed off, and there were similar restrictions around the Houses of Parliament.

She replied that it was like that in Poland. One of her relatives had worked at the Ministry of Information during the Communist dictatorship. At the time it was quite open to the public, so that anyone could walk in off the street and talk to an official there. There was someone sat at a desk watching them, but that was all the security there was. Now it’s completely different. To get into the building now, a visitor has to pass through several layers of security. She said it was one ironic that the place was now so heavily guarded under democracy, when it had been free of this during the Communist dictatorship.

Listening to this, it seems to me that there is a common process at work across the globe. The Guardian’s John Kampfner wrote a book a few years ago discussing how the world’s governments, from Blair’s Britain to Singapore, Putin’s Russia and China, were increasingly suppressing democracy. He believed that at the time the world’s governments were doing this, they were also trying to provide for economic growth. This is almost certainly true in the case of the three other nations I’ve mentioned here, but I see absolutely no evidence of George Osborne being interested in making anyone wealthy, except those who are colossally rich already. The governing elites, whether in the nominally democratic West or in the authoritarian states of Putin’s Russia, Singapore or China, increasingly fear and distrust the people, on whose behalf they claim to govern. In Britain some of this increased security was a result of the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign, which in the 1980s saw a bomb attack on hotel venue for the Conservative Party conference in Brighton, and a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. More recently there have been fears of Islamist terrorists following the 7/7 London suicide bombers, and other attempts, like that during the G8 conference in Glasgow, which have mercifully been foiled.

The increased level of security, and the restrictions on the individual’s right of access to parliament, or passage through Downing Street, is far out of proportion to the actual level of threat. When Blair placed further restrictions on how close public demonstrations could come to parliament, the Conservative press strongly criticised him, pointing out that such measures weren’t imposed by previous governments, even during the IRA’s terror campaign. It seems very much to me that there now exists across Europe and the rest of the world, a transnational governing elite that, in the West at least, loudly and ostensibly declares its support for democracy while harbouring a deep suspicion of the masses whose interests they claim to represent, but with whom socially and educationally they have nothing in common.

And that’s every bit as grave a threat to democracy as any group of murderous extremists. The problem is particularly obvious and acute in eastern Europe. After the fall of Communism in the former East Germany, some of its citizens experienced ‘Ostalgie’, a nostalgia for their old, Communist country. Despite the federal government’s attempts to prop up the old, Communist industries, many of the firms simply could not compete in the new, free Germany and went under. The result was a wave of unemployment. Faced with a democracy that seemed unable to provide for them, some turned instead to the Far Right. There have been similar problems elsewhere in eastern Europe, and other countries have also seen the emergence of extreme Nationalist parties. If democratic governments cannot provide their citizens with a better standard of living than they had under the dictatorships, and actively seem more dictatorial and authoritarian in their way, there is a real danger that their citizens will turn to anti-democratic, authoritarian movements, whether of the Right or Left.

That’s one of the dangers in the East, quite apart from the present danger that, across the globe, Neo-Liberal elites, mouthing reassuring slogans about democracy and pluralism, are gradually suppressing democracy where it conflicts with their policies.