Friday, August 31, 2007
There has been a lot of moving, shaking and even window-breaking since City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) was arraigned two weeks ago on rape and sexual abuse charges.
First, according to published reports, Queens Supreme Court Justice James Griffin last Wednesday recused himself from the case because Gallagher’s defense attorney at the time, Stephen Mahler, planned to challenge the search warrant that Griffin signed authorizing the search of the councilman’s district office on Metropolitan Avenue.
Police and investigators from the Queens DA’s office combed the premises for DNA and other evidence following a 52-year-old Middle Village grandmother’s complaint that she had been sexually assaulted by Gallagher in a room above the office the previous night. Griffin said he was not able rule on his own actions, and therefore was forced to remove himself entirely.
Earlier this week, Gallagher opted to drop Mahler and retain high-profile criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman. Based in Manhattan, Brafman has represented Sean “Diddy” Combs, reputed Genovese Family godfather Vincent “The Chin” Gigante and Michael Jackson.
When reached at his office Wednesday, Brafman confirmed he was now representing the embattled councilman, but would not say whether he planned on disputing the search warrant as Mahler initiated.
“I don’t intend to comment in the media on any aspect of this case except that we intend to vigorously defend the charges, and that in my opinion Councilman Gallagher will ultimately be vindicated,” Brafman said.
In a strange aside, Gallagher’s district office sustained damage when an unidentified object was thrown through a large front window, according to a staffer. As of press time, a plywood panel replaced the broken window facing Metropolitan Avenue.
Gallagher’s next scheduled court appearance is Sept. 28.
Queens Chronicle - Neighbors’ Rift Results In Alleged Hate Crime:
A dispute between Hamilton Beach neighbors boiled over two weeks ago, resulting in racism accusations flying and the filing of hate crime charges.
Kris Gounden, a Guyanese man, purchased neighboring houses on Broadway and Bayview Avenue last July. But he quickly became the subject of harassment from his neighbors, he said. Gounden claims that they urinated on his property regularly and dumped trash in his yard.
After the guest moved the car and Gounden asked Hussey to leave his property, Hussey began yelling at Gounden and his guests. He then, allegedly, returned to his home, retrieved a baseball bat and again approached Gounden and his guests. He purportedly said: “These n----- don’t belong here,” and threatened to burn Gounden’s house down. The complaint states that Hussey used the word “n-----” four times in the incident.
Hussey was charged with menacing in the second degree as a hate crime, criminal trespassing in the third degree as a hate crime and criminal possession of a weapon.
A police car now remains outside Gounden’s house around the clock.
Responding to noise complaints, police twice visited Gounden’s house on the night of Aug. 11, where roughly 50 people were celebrating. However, on Wednesday morning a man at Hussey’s house would not provide his account of the incident that night. The man, instead, referred questions to his lawyer, who was not available for comment.
A property line dispute sits at the heart of Gounden’s trouble with his neighbors, according to Gounden and others in the community. Shortly after moving in, he fenced in a section of property that residents of Broadway traditionally used to access their houses, which are all on the water.
Gounden claims that he is within his property-owning rights and that he only wants to keep people off his property to limit his liability. But others have concerns about the ability of emergency responders to access the houses on Broadway. Complaints from neighbors about Gounden’s construction practices have led to him receiving thousands of dollars in fines from the Department of Buildings.
Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said that the incident has less to do with one individual’s actions, which he points out are still in dispute, than neighbors’ inability to get along.
In response to Addabbo’s stance, the Neighborhood Communities Alliance of Queens, a largely Guyanese group of community leaders, called for Addabbo’s resignation.
Addabbo, in turn, referred to their call as a “totally political” move orchestrated by a rival and said that he has no intention of stepping aside.
Ever since he moved into the 15,000-square-foot property on Bayview Avenue, Gounden said some of his neighbors have urinated on a bush on his property, damaged his fence, blocked his driveway and complained about him daily to various city agencies.
But the incident that Gounden said led him to contact the 106th Precinct about his neighbors occurred on Aug. 11, when he claimed 19-year-old neighbor Michael Hussey confronted him on his porch with a baseball bat and threatened to torch his home and kill his family.
"This guy's coming over and he's ranting and raving," Gounden recalled during a telephone interview Monday with the TimesLedger. "He comes back with a baseball bat and he goes at it fully with the N-word."
Gounden now has 24-hour police protection at his home. He said he is not sure how long the protection will last.
Hussey was arrested on charges of aggravated harassment, criminal possession of a weapon, trespassing and menacing, police at the 106th Precinct said. All of the charges had hate crime designations.
Gounden claimed the alleged treatment he gets from his neighbors is because of the color of his skin.
"There's certain people who don't want me here," he said.
City Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said race had nothing to do with the matter, contending Gounden has about $8,000 in buildings violations because he did not build his home according to code.
But a TimesLedger review of city Department of Buildings records showed Gounden owes only $2,000 for violating a stop work order.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Gounden could not get along with his neighbors because of the work he was doing on his properties.," Addabbo said. "These building violations don't know color."
But Addabbo called the situation "really unfortunate" and said the matter should not have come to a point where Gounden was allegedly threatened with a baseball bat.
Albert Baldeo, a candidate for state Senate who is Indo-Guyanese, said Addabbo should resign from his Council seat over the way he handled the matter because the councilman would not take Gounden's side.
But Addabbo said he offered to help Gounden fix the violations in 2006 and contended Baldeo's involvement in the situation is politically motivated.
"It's unfortunate that someone would use this for political gain," said Addabbo, who is mulling a run for the state Senate seat that Baldeo also has his eyes on.
Despite the alleged harassment, Gounden said he has no plans to move out of Howard Beach.
"This is our home," he said.
Dishonored City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) and his wife, Donna, bobbed and weaved hand-in-hand along Queens Boulevard late Friday morning, doing their best to avoid the zealous media mob like a weary prizefighter cheating the knockout blow.
Couple that scene with the surreal image of Gallagher, 43, being escorted into Queens County Supreme Court in handcuffs by four tight-lipped detectives stuffed in suits earlier that morning and you have quite the sensational, if sad, setting.
But this is not a novel sight to some Queens residents and local political pundits. Dennis Gallagher simply is the latest in a line of elected Queens community leaders to be at the center of scandal.
Gallagher, a father of two teenaged boys, surrendered Friday morning to the NYPD Queens Special Victims Squad at the 112th Precinct in Forest Hills. A grand jury handed down a 10-count indictment that charged the 30th District councilman with various counts of rape, criminal sexual act and assault.
Bail was set at $200,000, which Gallagher immediately posted with the aid of his brother. His next scheduled court date is Sept. 28.
The indictment is the result of an investigation into a 52-year-old Middle Village grandmother’s claim that Gallagher sexually assaulted and physically abused her on a Sunday night in early July in a second-floor room at his district office on Metropolitan Avenue.
Gallagher has repeatedly refuted the woman’s claims, saying the encounter was consensual and the he will be “vindicated in the end.”
Gallagher was officially charged with three counts of first-degree rape, three counts of third-degree rape, one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree, one count of criminal sexual act in the third degree and one count each of second and third-degree assault.
The most serious charges – first degree rape and criminal sexual act in the first degree, both violent felonies – carry maximum sentences of 25 and 20 years, respectively, and require the convicted to register with their local precinct as a sex offender.
“The charges are clear: there was no consent in this case,” said Queens DA Richard Brown, who characterized the indictment as proof that “no one is above the law.”
“The thing that troubles me most is that we’re dealing with the actions of a public official,” Brown lamented.
As a result of the criminal developments, Gallagher informed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn Friday afternoon that he would be stepping down from his leadership position as Minority Whip, his position on the Budget Negotiating Team and asked that he be temporarily removed from his Council committee assignments.
Due to term limits, Gallagher is set to relinquish his Council seat in 2009.
The Queens Buzz
This isn’t the first time Dennis Gallagher has stumbled into the scandalous spotlight. In 2001 he was accused of selling pornography – believed at the time to be comprised of vintage issues of Playboy and Penthouse magazines – from a fourth-floor office that he rented from Christ the King Regional High School in Middle Village. Gallagher was investigated but cleared of any wrongdoing.
Some have speculated in recent reports that Gallagher’s marriage has been troubled for some time, and that part of it stems from his alleged affinity for spirits and frequenting neighborhood watering holes like Woodhaven House on Woodhaven Boulevard and Danny Boy’s on Dry Harbor Road on a regular basis; the latter is where Gallagher is said to have met the complainant on the night in question.
That a Queens politician is no saint is, unfortunately, not stop-the-presses fare in this city. Sex scandals, fraud, embezzlement and bribery are just some of the issues that have recently managed to make headlines and seep into the fabric of the borough’s proud political lore.
New York - WABC, August 24, 2007) - A family's dream home on the waterfront in Queens turned into a living hell. The family says white neighbors in Howard Beach have made it clear they're not welcomed.
It happened in a neighborhood infamous for racism -- the Hamilton Beach Section of Howard Beach.
Eyewitness News reporter Jim Dolan is there with the story.
Police are outside Kris Gounden's house here 24 hours a day protecting his family. Though we should point out that the neighbors say it has nothing at all to do with race, that they are upset with some construction that he is doing.
Kris Gounden couldn't believe what he was hearing from his own neighbor.
"He started yelling racial slurs to me ... sick and tired of this fence ... and so I was trying to figure out what really it is I could do. I can't change the color of my skin or change the fence," he said.
Gounden bought his Howard Beach home seventeen months ago and he claims the harrassment began immediately. But on a recent night it boiled over with an attack.
"He proceeded to run in, grab a baseball bat, running out ... saying I want to kill you," Gounden said.
Nineteen-year-old Michael Hussey, who lives next door, was arrested and charged with hate crimes. He was not taking visitors today. But neighbors, who did not want to be identified, said it has nothing to do with the color of his skin.
"It's his arrogance," one neighbor told us.
The local councilman hasn't been much help, blaming Gounden for being attacked.
Councilman Joseph Addabbo: "He done everything that is up to code ..."
Jim Dolan: "So what he did on the property is why he got attacked?"
Councilman Joseph Addabbo: "That's right."
Meanwhile, Gounden's fourteen-year-old daughter has learned a lot in Howard Beach.
"I just didn't think that anything like that really ... any racism has existed still," she said.
Gounden say he has no intention of leaving and intends to finish the work on his house.
An alleged bias attack in Howard Beach has reignited a political rivalry and spawned calls for City Councilman Joseph Addabbo's resignation.
Albert Baldeo, a declared state Senate candidate and head of a southern Queens community group, is demanding that Addabbo step down for televised remarks he made after a GuyaneseAmerican family was allegedly threatened by a white neighbor screaming racial epithets.
"Councilman Addabbo is reckless and perverted," said Baldeo. "He should set a better example and not pit people of different races against each other."
But Addabbo said yesterday his quotes were taken out of context, and accused Baldeo of a politically motivated attack.
"When an unfortunate situation is used for political gain, it's sad," said Addabbo, who is considering a run for the 15th Senate District seat.
At issue is a WABC-TV newscast in which Addabbo seemed to suggest the family brought on the attack themselves by committing a series of building code violations.
Addabbo said WABC reporter Jim Dolan jumped into the middle of an interview with other reporters and asked the councilman a question while he was responding to another issue.
"It was unprofessional of Jim Dolan," Addabbo said.
Dolan did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Kris Gounden's story made headlines last week when a neighbor allegedly attacked him with a baseball bat while yelling racial epithets.
Gounden said he was repeatedly harassed by neighbors and city officials since his family moved into the Hamilton Beach section of Howard Beach 17 months ago.
Neighbors regularly urinated on his lawn, and called city agencies to file false complaints against him because of his race, Gounden said.
"Hamilton Beach is like the Wild, Wild West," he said. "We're thinking about selling and moving to a more minority-friendly neighborhood."
Gounden's house is now monitored 24 hours a day by a squad car from the 106th Precinct parked outside.
He said he reached out to Addabbo for help in 2006, but never received any.
"I worked and tried my best to help Mr. Gounden," Addabbo countered. "I went to his house, and said, 'Let's try and work this out with the neighbors.'"
Baldeo said his calls for Addabbo's resignations are not politically motivated.
"The family is being held hostage, and the elected official has failed to do the right thing," Baldeo said.
In 2005, Baldeo was charged with aiming a gun at a political rival's wife and threatening to kill her family if her husband, Robert Mahadeo, did not withdraw from a City Council race. The charges were later dropped.
Baldeo ran for the 15th Senate District seat last year but narrowly lost to incumbent Serphin Maltese.
Kris Gounden, who is Guyanese, said his white neighbors have tried to run him out of his big new house in Hamilton Beach since he moved there 17 months ago.
Gounden said neighbors called city inspectors on his every move, and the harassment peaked Aug. 11 when a neighbor's son threatened him with a baseball bat. Howard Beach has been infamous for racist incidents.
Michael Hussey, 19, allegedly shouted the N-word as he menaced Gounden, who was hosting a large party.
Police made no arrests at the time, but ticketed a Hussey pal for blocking a driveway.
Gounden said Hussey was arrested Aug. 18 on hate-crime charges only after he complained to higher-ups at the 106th Precinct.
Several days after the party, Gounden said, the ticketed young man showed up with a cop who gave Gounden a summons for excessive noise. Gounden said the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau was investigating whether Officer Richard Lennon improperly gave Gounden the summons. Police sources confirmed the probe.
Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), however, accused Gounden of playing the race card after getting written up for an expensive building violation.
"He knew Howard Beach. He knew its history and he used it to try to get around the building code," said Addabbo. "If he had done things up to code, no one would have bothered him."
Inspectors went to Gounden's home nine times in the past year, according to Buildings Department records. Seven of the complaints resulted in fines totaling $10,500. Two complaints were unfounded.
Neighbor Mark Troia, who said Michael Hussey Sr. smacked him with a bat last August, nonetheless blamed Gounden for the strife. "This had nothing to do with color," Troia said. "He's just a low-life that's making all kinds of waves around the neighborhood."
But Gounden is of Guyanese descent, and some of his white neighbors have undertaken a harassment campaign to run him out of the neighborhood, which became infamous for racism in the 1980s.
Now there is a constant police presence outside his home in Hamilton Beach and a neighbor has been busted on felony hate-crime charges.
Since he moved from Ozone Park in July last year, Gounden said he has put up with his next-door neighbors and their pals blocking his driveway, dumping garbage and urinating on his property - and logging daily complaints against him with city agencies.
"It's something out of the Deep South, or the backwoods, circa 1950," a police source said.
The last straw came Aug.11, when a neighbor, 19-year-old Michael Hussey, threatened Gounden's family as they sat out on the deck.
"He comes back with a baseball bat," Gounden said. "He said, 'F--k you, n----r. You don't belong in here. I will burn this house. I'll kill all of you.'"
Responding police officers told the teen only to keep to himself. But Hussey was busted Saturday after Gounden complained to the commanding officer of the 106th Precinct.
Hussey was charged with menacing, aggravated harassment, criminal possession of a weapon and trespassing - all as hate crimes. He declined to comment last night.
On Dec. 19, 1986, Howard Beach became notorious when a dozen white teens chased a 23-year-old black man, Michael Griffith, onto the Belt Parkway, where he was killed by a car. But Gounden said he won't be intimidated. "I'm staying here," he said.
With Ethan Rouen
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Police "belittled" her, told her she reeked of alcohol and locked her in an interrogation room for over half an hour after her traumatic encounter, she said.
"I felt like I was being raped twice," said the victim, a 52-year-old grandmother whose name is being withheld by the Daily News. "They were nasty to me."
But police officials denied the woman had been mistreated. Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said the Internal Affairs Bureau was looking into her allegations, but all records indicate she was properly interviewed after receiving medical treatment.
Yesterday the victim said she has filed a formal complaint with the NYPD. She also has protested to the Queens district attorney's office.
She said she was horrified when one detective told her "God, you reek of Scotch, you smell like a brewery."
"I didn't say anything back to him, but I thought to myself 'I just got raped by [Gallagher].'"
Gallagher, 43, a Republican from Middle Village, Queens, was indicted on 10 counts of rape, criminal sex acts and assault after allegedly attacking the woman July 8 in his district office on Metropolitan Ave.
The woman said it took weeks in therapy to give her the strength to come forward about her treatment by two cops assigned to the Queens special victims squad.
"They made me feel so little," she said. "They saw how I was beat up. They should be a little sympathetic, whether they believe you or not."
Once inside the squad's office, she was left alone in a locked room with a bench, a table and a metal bar with handcuffs attached, she said.
A video camera was on one wall, she said, and no one explained to her where she was or what she was doing there. According to police reports, the victim was taken in for "further questioning." But she said no one spoke to her or questioned her while she was kept there.
From there, she said, cops drove her home, then to the DA's office, where they waited as she was interviewed by prosecutors.
She said cops may have been trying to protect Gallagher and intimidate her.
"I have to stand up. It's not just me. What about the other people this happens to?" she said. "I was raped of my dignity from them - who should have been there to support me."
A police source said nothing supports her allegations that she was belittled or that any of the officers who interviewed her made any derogatory comments.
"She was treated with dignity, and now she is turning on the very officers who made her case," a source said.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
With Turnover High, Schools Fight for Teachers
GREENSBORO, N.C. — The retirement of thousands of baby boomer teachers coupled with the departure of younger teachers frustrated by the stress of working in low-performing schools is fueling a crisis in teacher turnover that is costing school districts substantial amounts of money as they scramble to fill their ranks for the fall term.
Superintendents and recruiters across the nation say the challenge of putting a qualified teacher in every classroom is heightened in subjects like math and science and is a particular struggle in high-poverty schools, where the turnover is highest. Thousands of classes in such schools have opened with substitute teachers in recent years.
Here in Guilford County, N.C., turnover had become so severe in some high-poverty schools that principals were hiring new teachers for nearly every class, every term. To staff its neediest schools before classes start on Aug. 28, recruiters have been advertising nationwide, organizing teacher fairs and offering one of the nation’s largest recruitment bonuses, $10,000 to instructors who sign up to teach Algebra I.
“We had schools where we didn’t have a single certified math teacher,” said Terry Grier, the schools superintendent. “We needed an incentive, because we couldn’t convince teachers to go to these schools without one.”
Guilford County, which has 116 schools, is far from the only district to take this route as school systems compete to fill their ranks. Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit policy group that seeks to encourage better teaching, said hundreds of districts were offering recruitment incentives this summer.
Officials in New York, which has the nation’s largest school system, said they had recruited about 5,000 new teachers by mid-August, attracting those certified in math, science and special education with a housing incentive that can include $5,000 for a down payment.
New York also offers subsidies through its teaching fellows program, which recruits midcareer professionals from fields like health care, law and finance. The money helps defer the cost of study for a master’s degree. The city expects to hire at least 1,300 additional teachers before school begins on Sept. 4, said Vicki Bernstein, director of teacher recruitment.
Los Angeles has offered teachers signing with low-performing schools a $5,000 bonus. The district, the second-largest in the country, had hired only about 500 of the 2,500 teachers it needed by Aug. 15 but hoped to begin classes fully staffed, said Deborah Ignagni, chief of teacher recruitment.
In Kansas, Alexa Posny, the state’s education commissioner, said the schools had been working to fill “the largest number of vacancies” the state had ever faced. This is partly because of baby boomer retirements and partly because districts in Texas and elsewhere were offering recruitment bonuses and housing allowances, luring Kansas teachers away.
“This is an acute problem that is becoming a crisis,” Ms. Posny said.
In June, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a nonprofit group that seeks to increase the retention of quality teachers, estimated from a survey of several districts that teacher turnover was costing the nation’s districts some $7 billion annually for recruiting, hiring and training.
Demographers agree that education is one of the fields hardest hit by the departure of hundreds of thousands of baby boomers from the work force, particularly because a slowdown in hiring in the 1980s and 1990s raised the average age of the teaching profession. Still, they debate how serious the attrition will turn out to be.
In New York, the wave of such retirements crested in the early years of this decade as teachers left well before they hit their 60s, without a disruptive teacher shortage, Ms. Bernstein said.
In other parts of the country, the retirement bulge is still approaching, because pension policies vary among states, said Michael Podgursky, an economist at the University of Missouri. California is projecting that it will need 100,000 new teachers over the next decade from the retirement of the baby boomers alone.
Some educators say it is the confluence of such retirements with the departure of disillusioned young teachers that is creating the challenge. In addition, higher salaries in the business world and more opportunities for women are drawing away from the field recruits who might in another era have proved to be talented teachers with strong academic backgrounds.
“The problem is not mainly with retirement,” said Thomas G. Carroll, the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. “Our teacher preparation system can accommodate the retirement rate. The problem is that our schools are like a bucket with holes in the bottom, and we keep pouring in teachers.”
The commission has calculated that these days nearly a third of all new teachers leave the profession after just three years, and that after five years almost half are gone — a higher turnover rate than in the past.
All the coming and going of young teachers is tremendously disruptive, especially to schools in poor neighborhoods where teacher turnover is highest and students’ needs are greatest.
According to the most recent Department of Education statistics available, about 269,000 of the nation’s 3.2 million public school teachers, or 8.4 percent, quit the field in the 2003-4 school year. Thirty percent of them retired, and 56 percent said they left to pursue another career or because they were dissatisfied.
The federal No Child Left Behind law requires schools and districts to put a qualified teacher in every classroom. The law has led districts to focus more seriously on staffing its low-performing schools, educators said, but it does not appear to have helped persuade veteran teachers to continue their service in them.
Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a group that helps urban districts recruit teachers, said attrition often resulted from chaotic hiring practices, because novice teachers are often assigned at the last moment to positions for which they have not even interviewed. Later, overwhelmed by classroom stress, many leave the field.
Chicago and New York are districts that have invested heavily and worked with teachers unions in recent years to improve hiring and transfer policies, Mr. Daly said.
“But most of the urban districts have no coherent hiring strategy,” he said. Many receive thousands of teacher applications in the spring but leave them unprocessed until principals return from August vacations, when more organized suburban districts have already hired the most-qualified teachers, he said.
“There isn’t any maliciousness in this,” Mr. Daly said, “it’s just a conspiracy of dysfunction.”
In Guilford County, Washington Elementary School, which serves students from a housing project, had churned through several principals and most of its teachers several years ago, and had repeatedly failed to make federal testing goals, said Dr. Grier, the superintendent.
“Teachers were worried it was becoming a failing school,” Dr. Grier said. To rebuild morale, he recruited a principal from Chicago, Grenita Lathan. Her first year at Washington was a nightmare, Ms. Lathan said, because her predecessors had been so panicked to fill classroom vacancies that they had hired “just anybody.”
“All they wanted was warm bodies in the classroom,” she said. At job fairs, qualified teachers she tried to hire shunned her, she said.
Under Guilford County’s incentive program, math or reading teachers who sign on at any of 29 high-poverty schools receive bonuses of $2,500 to $10,000. They can earn additional bonuses if they raise achievement.
Those incentives helped Ms. Lathan recruit solid teachers last year, she said, and after much tutoring and hard work, students met federal testing targets. This summer all but one teacher signed up for another year.
Other Guilford County schools have also used the incentives to hire promising people.
Rebecca Rheinheimer moved from Indiana this summer, attracted by a $2,500 bonus to teach at Oak Hill Elementary, where the teaching staff has been strengthened by the use of such bonuses. The school, in High Point, met its federal testing targets this spring for the first time in several years.
Margaret Eaddy-Busch, a veteran math teacher, moved from Philadelphia this summer to teach at Dudley High, which had become known as a hard-to-staff school. She will receive a $10,000 bonus for teaching Algebra I.
“If I survived in Philly for 10 years,” Ms. Eaddy-Busch said, “I’ll do just fine here.”
But it remains unclear whether the incentive program will retain good teachers as effectively as it attracts them.
“It’s challenging to teach in these high-needs schools,” said Mark Jewell, president of the local teachers union. “These new teachers will have a trial by fire, and then it’ll be a revolving door.”
Grading Mayoral Control
By Sol Stern
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Mayoral control, the hot new trend in urban school reform, began in Boston and Chicago in the 1990s. Now it's the New York City school system, under the authority of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that's become the beacon for education-mayor wannabes like Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. Influential philanthropic foundations, such as the Los Angeles–based Broad Foundation (headed by Bloomberg friend and fellow billionaire Eli Broad) and the Gates Foundation, are investing in Bloomberg as the model big-city mayor who uses his new executive powers over the schools to advance a daring reform agenda. Meanwhile, the national media's positive coverage of mayoral control in Gotham is adding to the luster of a possible Bloomberg presidential run.
For New Yorkers, though, the original appeal of mayoral control was entirely parochial. The old Board of Education—with seven members, appointed by six elected city officials—offered a case study of the paralysis that sets in when fragmented political authority tries to direct a dysfunctional bureaucracy. New Yorkers arrived at a consensus that there was not much hope of lifting student achievement substantially under such a regime. The newly elected Bloomberg made an offer that they couldn't refuse: Give me the authority to improve the schools, and then hold me accountable for the results.
So on June 12, 2002, Bloomberg appeared at the mayoral-control bill-signing ceremony alongside Governor George Pataki. The bill would "give the school system the one thing it fundamentally needs: accountability," said Bloomberg. The new governance system won enthusiastic support across the political spectrum, from conservative think tanks to the New York Times and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), whose members got a huge pay raise.
Just five years later, that consensus has fractured. Some state legislators representing the city, including influential Assembly education-committee chair Catherine Nolan, promise a tough review process when reauthorization of mayoral control comes up in 2008. There's also a significant demographic divide on the benefits of the reform. Business leaders, editorial boards, and many education experts remain enthusiastic. Constituents at the grass roots, however, feel increasingly frustrated. More than two dozen parent groups and district education councils have passed resolutions opposing Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's latest school reorganization plans. According to the Quinnipiac poll of city residents, Klein's favorability rating has fallen to just 37 percent, and a majority of New Yorkers want something like an independent board of education or a commission with oversight powers.
Stirring public unease is the realization that what Bloomberg really meant by accountability was one election, one time. If you didn't like the way that mayoral control was working under Bloomberg, you could vote for Democrat Freddy Ferrer in the 2005 mayoral election (Bloomberg's last, because of term limits). But what could you do after that election? Bloomberg's suggestion: "Boo me at parades."
The arrogance of that response demonstrates how little Bloomberg really seems to care about accountability. In fact, his Department of Education routinely undermines accountability with a public-relations juggernaut that deflects legitimate criticism of his education policies, dominates the mainstream press, uses the schools as campaign props, and, most ominously, distorts student test-score data. Without transparency, real accountability doesn't exist.
Admittedly, any mayor taking over the city's dysfunctional school system would need an effective information campaign to win public support for the wrenching changes necessary. But Bloomberg also wants to conquer new political frontiers. If he does run for president, it will be partly on his education record.
That ambition has driven the administration's media operations on education. It's why the Department of Education's communications office is 29-strong, four times as many employees as worked in the press office under the old Board of Ed. And that doesn't include the city hall press operation, which often joins in promoting new education initiatives, or the substantial public-relations and marketing services that the administration has received from companies, either pro bono or paid for by third-party private contributions.
Recently, for example, the Fund for Public Schools—ostensibly an independent, not-for-profit organization that raises private money for the schools—launched a two-month ad campaign bolstering administration claims that reading and math scores were rising and calling on New Yorkers to "help keep the progress going." The full-page ad that ran in the New York Times on June 7 didn't mention, though, that Klein was the fund's chairman or that the mayor's friends, including the Broad Foundation, had helped pay the $1 million cost of the ad campaign.
Such media spin has become so commonplace that it's producing a backlash among New Yorkers who might otherwise be on the mayor's side, such as David Bloomfield, president of the citywide education council for high schools and a Brooklyn College professor who trains future public school principals. (He's also the author of a Manhattan Institute study advocating charter school legislation.) An early mayoral-control enthusiast, Bloomfield was recently asked by an education department official to make suggestions for redesigning the department's website. His response: "The website should be transformed from a mayoral campaign vehicle to something really useful to parents and other members of the public. . . . Instead it's all buttercups-and-roses, smoke and mirrors. Why is there never any bad news? Just press releases on the home page taking credit for the sun rising. . . . The website is a perfect example of what makes everyone so mad about the way the Mayor has handled the schools: data manipulation, grandiose claims, and almost no way to find out that a third (or is it more?) of our schools are failing under No Child Left Behind."
The most notorious case of Bloomberg's data manipulation occurred during the 2005 mayoral race. In May of that year, city hall bused education reporters to P.S. 33, a poor, predominantly minority school in the Bronx, where Bloomberg congratulated the children, their teachers, and Principal Elba Lopez on a miracle: 83 percent of the school's fourth-graders scored at grade level on the 2005 reading test, compared with only 35.8 percent the previous year—an unheard-of one-year gain of close to 50 percentage points. The school's score was just 4 percentage points below the average for the state's richest suburban districts. Further, the mayor announced, the percentage of the city's fourth-graders passing the state's reading test had risen by a "record-breaking" 10 points in just one year.
If Bloomberg had really introduced accountability into the city's education system, the implausible P.S. 33 scores would have raised red flags at the education department and perhaps even prompted a fraud referral to the city's Special Commissioner of Investigations. Instead, the mayor got the political boost that he sought, with front-page headlines hailing the "historic" gains. Almost no commentary pointed out that fourth-grade reading scores rose by almost 10 percentage points in the rest of the state, too, suggesting that the 2005 test might have been easier than the previous year's.
The "miracle" eventually unraveled, but only after Bloomberg's reelection. When the 2006 scores arrived, they showed that the P.S. 33 fourth-graders, now fifth-graders, had plummeted back to a pass rate of 41 percent on their reading tests. Principal Lopez, meantime, had retired, with a pensionable $15,000 bonus for her school's 2005 scores. After I published an article about the suspicious scores in the Autumn 2006 City Journal, and after Andrew Wolf published another one in the New York Sun, the DOE launched an internal investigation. Last December, Klein concluded that enough evidence of possible fraud existed to ask DOE counsel Michael Best to make a referral to the city's Special Commissioner of Investigations. But the counsel's office somehow forgot to do it, according to DOE press secretary David Cantor. The referral was finally made, but only after another inquiry by Wolf in early June.
Fred Smith, a former Board of Education statistical analyst, further discredited the 2005 reading scores in the Sun. Using information obtained from a Freedom of Information request, Smith concluded that 4 percentage points of the citywide 10-point test-score rise resulted from the DOE's exclusion of 2,170 students who spoke another language at home, and of another 3,000 students with reading difficulties who had been held back in third grade because of the administration's (salutary) new policy of ending social promotion. As Smith concluded, "Much of 2005's publicized record-setting increases were a phantom—a case of addition by subtraction."
But the DOE never looks back and never concedes error. In fact, Klein and his deputies now compound the previous distortions by boasting that on their watch, there has been an overall rise of 12 percentage points in the number of students passing the state's fourth-grade reading test. Even if true, it would be only a modest breakthrough, an average yearly increase of 2.5 percentage points. But it isn't true. The only way that the DOE can justify the claim is to borrow a 5.9-point reading-score increase that occurred between 2002 and 2003, credit for which ought to go to Klein's predecessor, Harold O. Levy, or to no chancellor at all.
Consider: Bloomberg took office on January 1, 2002, but he didn't win control of the schools until June 12 of that year. Klein wasn't appointed until August, and then he spent the rest of the year studying the system and appointing task forces to advise the administration on how to restructure the schools. By the time the chancellor finished studying, students were taking the 2003 fourth-grade reading test. The system was, in effect, operating on autopilot during the year that the students recorded the healthy 5.9 percentage-point improvement.
At the time, Klein knew that he couldn't convincingly claim credit for the 2003 test scores, and he didn't even hold a press conference to celebrate them. Four years later, the fourth-grade reading scores have inched up by another 7 percentage points, only half the average yearly increase achieved under the tenures of Chancellors Levy and Rudy Crew. But to avoid that invidious comparison, the mayor and the chancellor simply take the 2003 result and add it to their own column.
The administration has dissembled even more egregiously on math scores. Granted, the 2007 math tests brought some good news, with the city's fourth-graders improving by 3.2 percentage points—one point ahead of the state as a whole—and the city's eighth-graders bumping up by 6 percentage points, compared with the state's rise of 5 points. Once more, however, this modest gain wasn't good enough for the potential presidential candidate who wants to be known as the "education mayor." So the press release issued by city hall claimed that "since 2002, the first year of the Bloomberg administration," elementary- and middle-school math scores went up by a total of 27.8 percentage points. The release didn't mention that two-thirds of the fourth-grade gain was earned during the 2002–03 school year and, again, ought to have been credited to Levy or to no one. Further, the press release mixed up city and state test scores to arrive at its figure—a violation of every rule of psychometrics.
Education historian Diane Ravitch, author of the definitive history of the New York City public schools and a nationally recognized expert on testing and standards, finds this cooking of the books appalling. Says Ravitch: "Whenever new data appear about test scores or graduation rates, they are immediately massaged and packaged by the public-relations department at the Department of Education. With all its faults, the old Board of Education did have a research department, where conscientious, nonpartisan researchers tallied up the good news and the bad news and gave it straight to the public, without adding self-serving praise or toying with the interpretation of the numbers."
The only education numbers that can't be manipulated are those that tell how steeply education spending has increased under the Bloomberg-Klein regime. In the past four years, total expenditures on city schools from all sources—state, city, federal, and private—surged from $14 billion to $18 billion yearly, the greatest increase in history. The new funding allowed the system to hold the equivalent of 15 extra days of school per year and to hire thousands of extra teachers.
There's no denying that there have been some improvements since Bloomberg and Klein announced the first set of mayoral reforms in 2003. In addition to the gains already mentioned, eighth-grade reading scores, flat for the past eight years, jumped by 5 percentage points in 2007 (though scores went up by even higher amounts throughout the state, again suggesting an easier test). Fourth-grade math scores are up by a total of 7.7 percentage points overall in four years, and eighth-grade math scores are up by about 12 points. But considering the extra $4 billion spent, plus the 15 additional days of school, that hardly deserves to be regarded as a major achievement for either the mayor or the institution of mayoral control.
Even if the administration's claims about test scores were accurate, it would still be difficult to know which of its structural or instructional initiatives should get credit for the improvement. That's partly because Klein's Department of Education does no research on which programs work and which do not, and partly because within just three years, he and Bloomberg have flip-flopped on their plans for the school system's structure. The first phase of mayoral control was all about top-down centralization; in the second phase, the rallying cry is market incentives and autonomy for the principals.
Bloomberg presented his first school reorganization plan in a dramatic Martin Luther King Day speech in 2003, seven months after taking control of the schools. The city's 32 community school boards would be shut down, the mayor announced, and replaced with "one unified, focused, streamlined chain of command," running directly from city hall to the chancellor's office, then through ten powerful regional superintendents reporting directly to the chancellor, and finally down to each school's principal. From now on, the mayor said, "the chancellor will dictate the curriculum and pedagogical methods" in all but 200 schools.
"Dictate" is exactly what Klein did for the next three years. The city's principals were deemed so deficient in pedagogical understanding that Klein and his lieutenants would tell them how to arrange the chairs, the desks, the rugs, and even the bulletin boards in their classrooms. But Klein's directions on more important matters did not inspire confidence: for example, he imposed a reading program that progressive educators favor called Balanced Literacy (a euphemism for the "whole language" instructional approach), despite the lack of evidence that it works for disadvantaged children.
Sometime after the mayor's reelection, Bloomberg and Klein launched another radical restructuring of the system. The administration maintained its public posture that the first reorganization was working perfectly. But Klein's planners at the Tweed Courthouse were quietly preparing the ground for a 180-degree change. Klein hired three new deputy chancellors with reputations as strategic thinkers and a bent for systems management; all were Ivy League law school graduates who, like Klein, had clerked at the Supreme Court, though they had little or no education background. Klein also brought in a host of management consultants, including Sir Michael Barber, a former education advisor to British prime minister Tony Blair and now a partner at the consulting firm McKinsey and Company, where he specializes in "performance management systems." As one former DOE official put it, the new brain trust "stopped talking about education. It was all about systems and incentives."
Klein soon become convinced that the best way to drive improvement in test scores was to create financial and other incentives for each of the important actors in the system—principals, teachers, even students—to work harder and more effectively. In fact, with the encouragement of Alvarez and Marsal, a high-priced consulting firm hired by the DOE, Klein created a new office in the Department of Education: the "Market Maker." From operating like a regulated, command-and-control economy, the system would go almost overnight to something that, on paper at least, would work like Adam Smith's invisible hand. It was all theoretical, of course. There were no precedents to consult and no research to back it up, because no one had ever tried to simulate a market system within a big-city school district—certainly not so swiftly.
But Sir Barber was telling Klein that the only way to make a radical transition in a big system like New York's was to push through changes quickly before the special interests mobilized—somewhat like the "shock therapy" that some Western economists once advocated for former Soviet bloc countries transitioning from state socialism to free markets.
Bloomberg administered the first big shock in last January's State of the City speech. Market-based accountability, he explained, would rest on four pillars. The city's 1,450 principals would throw off the shackles of central bureaucracy and become independent CEOs, running their schools as small enterprises. Principals would be rewarded or fired based on a sophisticated new data system that tracked their students' progress on test scores as they advanced through the grades. Tenure rules would be reformed, making it possible to apply market discipline to the teaching labor force. And school-funding formulas would be equalized: each student in the school system would be funded with the same base dollar amount, with schools getting higher funding levels for immigrants still learning English and for special-education students.
Each of these reform proposals contains considerable potential for good. Giving principals more autonomy is certainly preferable to dictatorship. More data on student performance are always welcome and will, if trustworthy, lead to more accurate performance evaluations of principals. Reforming tenure is worth exploring, since the rules for weeding out bad teachers are broken. Finally, equalizing funding for students, an idea first proposed by the Fordham Foundation last year, is not only a matter of elementary fairness; it can also provide needed aid for poorly performing schools, and it ensures that competition among schools takes place on a level playing field.
Unfortunately, the latest reorganization plan is already falling apart. The administration has applied reasonable-sounding reforms with little appreciation for the culture of the schools. One glaring example is the equitable-funding plan. The administration decided to count teacher salaries against each school's new budget under the proposed funding formula. Since teacher salaries are based largely on seniority, this would penalize stable schools with long-serving staffs.
The Bloomberg administration must have known that the UFT would have to protect its senior teachers. Along with a coalition of activist groups that opposed the entire reorganization, the union began organizing a massive City Hall protest rally. The mayor initially hung tough: he called his own mini-rally, attended by 100 supporters, attacked the "special interests" blocking progress in the schools, and likened the UFT to the National Rifle Association.
But the next morning, the mayor was breakfasting with union president Randi Weingarten. After a weeklong negotiation, the administration took both the new funding proposal and the tenure initiative off the table for the next two years—by which time Bloomberg will be packing to leave City Hall. The mayor may have been right about the "special interests," but his retreat had plenty to do with politics and his own interests. A big fight with the teachers would have damaged his reputation as the "education mayor" and threatened his potential White House run.
One of the two remaining parts of the second reorganization, the principals' empowerment initiative, gives educators only an illusion of the free market that they would need to manage schools as businesses. This became clear on a recent spring afternoon at the Grand Hyatt New York. In an event organized by Klein's Market Maker office, all the city's principals were invited to the luxury hotel for a celebration of their impending liberation from central bureaucratic control. Ushered into the hotel's huge ballroom to the beat of a live jazz band, the principals were treated to a video starring New York City public school alums Henry Kissinger, Spike Lee, and Joan Rivers, plus a half-dozen of the most adorable, well-spoken children presently attending city schools. The alums and the kids recounted charming stories about their schools' dedicated principals, and Spike Lee narrated a separate segment explaining the principals' new roles in the reorganization. After the video, Klein told the principals that they were about to become results-oriented CEOs with the managerial and pedagogical skills to drive the next phase of Bloomberg's turnaround of the schools.
The soon-to-be-empowered principals then got to wander through the hotel's exhibition halls, transformed into a supermarket of education service providers. The educators got a taste of the services that they would soon be able to buy for their schools to replace those currently supplied by the central bureaucracy. In turn, the 14 providers competed against one another to sign up the principals, now in control of their own budgets, as customers.
To his credit, Klein approved the inclusion of several providers with substantive academic programs. One of these was the Success for All Foundation, which features the scientifically tested reading program that Klein unwisely dumped from dozens of schools in his first year in office. But it soon became clear that the program didn't have much of a chance to sell its goods in Klein's new supermarket. When I visited the hall in which SFA staffers were making their presentation, it was practically empty. Nervous principals, shell-shocked by this latest reorganization, decided to play it safe and go with one of the providers that knew its way around the DOE headquarters, rather than with an out-of-town organization like Success for All. Several sources also confirmed that providers had offered jobs to some of the supervisors departing the school system—on condition that they sign up as customers the principals whom they used to supervise.
What's left of the mayor's new reorganization plan is the sophisticated data management system, developed by Columbia Law School professor James Liebman. It promises to go further in charting how much students in the city's schools are learning than any tool available in any school system in the country. Kudos are certainly in order for Bloomberg, Klein, and Liebman. But after the past five years' experience with the education department's public-relations machine, there must be guarantees that all these data will be completely transparent, available to all, and free of manipulation.
When the state legislature begins debating the reauthorization of mayoral control next year, one question that it will surely have to consider is whether mayoral control can deliver true accountability. The only way to ensure this is to create an independent agency with the authority to mine all the education department's data about test scores and graduation rates, to do research about which programs are working, and then to make all that information available to the public on a regular, timely basis. No sane person would want to go back to anything like the discredited Board of Ed. But without a guarantee that an independent research agency will be created and properly funded, extending mayoral control would be an invitation for the next politically ambitious mayor to keep undermining the credibility of the public education system that is so essential to our democracy.
Sol Stern is a contributing editor to City Journal and a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. He writes passionately on education reform, and his writings on that topic have helped shape the terms of the current debate in New York City.
I would urge people to complete the NY Parks Dept survey concerning the Ridgewood Reservoir...I believe the Parks Dept wants to raze this natural area to construct unnecessary sports fields...I feel it's necessary to maintain this valuable birding area and others within the city limits...
Please complete the survey...Thank you...
Gillian Stewart and John Waldman of Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY), along with the National Park Service (NPS) and Jamaica Bay Institute (JBI), are organizing a Bioblitz of Jamaica Bay from 3pm Friday, September 7th through 3pm Saturday, September 8th 2007. Briefly, a Bioblitz is a 24 hour event aimed at cataloguing the diversity of organisms in a particular area. This Bioblitz will be part contest (racing against the 24 hour clock), part educational event, and part scientific endeavor. We hope to increase the public’s awareness of the diversity of their own “backyard,” while highlighting the need to protect sensitive ecosystems like Jamaica Bay.
Find out about Jamaica Bay BioBlitz 2007!
Online Registration page...
The NBA Wizards Magazine on the web- Michael Ruffin and his family participate in the Rock Creek Park Bio Blitz to help raise awareness about some of the United States oldest urban parks. Jumoke Davis reporting.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
In the five decades since “On the Road” first appeared in print, Jack Kerouac has proven troublingly elusive for any devotee searching for signs of the writer’s ghost in his old Queens haunts.
The novelist, who penned what would become the bible of the Beat Generation, lived for 12 years in Queens — spending six years with his mother and father in Ozone Park, then another six with his mother in Richmond Hill.
There, he not only wrote long portions of his famed travelogue, he also used Ozone Park — fictionalized as Paterson, N.J. — as the real-world departure point for his cross-country travels with counterculture icon Neal Cassidy (aka Dean Moriarty) in “On the Road.”
The borough is teeming with other reminders of his literary genius. Yet, walk into any Kerouac landmark today, and you’re likely to encounter anything from polite dismissals to blank stares upon mentioning his name.
“You want to know about Kerouac?” asked an employee in the flower shop that sits below the writer’s former Ozone Park apartment. “Plaque’s around the corner,” she said, pointing to the front door, which leads to a small wooden memorial hanging inconspicuously on the side of the building.
At the bar across Crossbay Boulevard, where Kerouac and his father used to drink together, one patron simply shrugged at questions about Kerouac. Another scoffed.
“That’s the type of reaction I just don’t understand,” said writer Patrick Fenton, when asked of Kerouac’s posthumous absence from his old stomping grounds. Fenton was responsible for getting the plaque erected in 1996, after spending years studying Keroauc’s connection to Queens.
“This is where he planned an incredible adventure, where he came up with this great American novel. Now, it’s like some people could care less.”
“A plaque,” he added, “isn’t enough.”
The only fitting memorial for the so-called “Wizard of Ozone Park,” he believes, would be an entire literary trail across Queens, replete with dozens of signposts detailing the real-life experiences Kerouac had at each location and fictionalized in his work.
Where would such a trail start?
Possibly at 133-01 Crossbay Blvd. There, Kerouac penned his first novel, “The Town and the City” in the “cursed kitchen” of his mom’s apartment where, just months before, he had witnessed his father succumb to stomach cancer. The home was also where Kerouac, at age 25, set out for San Francisco, Calif., on the first leg of the classic journey that later became the subject of his novel.
Kerouac lived with his mother, Gabrielle (fictionalized as his aunt in the book), on the second floor of what used to be a drugstore from 1943 to 1949.
Today, the Ozone Park building is home to a flower shop and the Lindenwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which occupies the back rooms and top floors. The kitchen where Kerouac stayed up until dawn for weeks, writing “The Town and the City,” is now the emergency call center. The upper left window was his bedroom, and passers-by could often hear piano melodies pouring forth from the jazz-lover’s room on summer nights, according to Fenton.
“There were a lot of brilliant ideas hatched in that room,” he said.
Now, the only visible evidence of such brilliance is the wooden plaque outside.
Across the street is Glen Patrick’s Pub, formerly McNolte’s Tavern, where Kerouac used to spend evenings playing shuffleboard and drinking beer with his father. Old friends recalled how the family would eat Gabrielle’s French-Canadian stew at night. During dinner, the young writer would often run across the street to McNolte’s to have them fill a tea kettle with beer for her. Over drinks, Kerouac would then start reading from his latest manuscripts, Fenton said.
Today, the bar’s only memorial is also a creation of Fenton’s — a framed 1997 Newsday article he wrote, hung on a wall near the back door.
Shortly after his father’s death, Kerouac moved with his mother to 94-21 134th St. in Richmond Hill, where they lived for another five-or-so years.
With no breadwinner in the family, Gabrielle took work at a Brooklyn shoe factory — leaving Kerouac alone to entertain the “wild” writer friends she so often shunned and barred from her old apartment in Ozone Park.
One was Cassidy, who often came to play basketball in a nearby park. The pair could often be seen running down opposite sides of Atlantic Avenue, tossing a ball back and forth, diving into hedges.
Another regular was beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who used to join Kerouac on walks over to the Van Wyck Expressway, where the pair would stare down at the traffic, while discussing each other’s work.
According to Fenton, the author loathed the Van Wyck and often complained to Ginsberg about how it had ruined the neighborhood.
Perhaps that’s why Kerouac chose such an ugly location to set the final farewell between Moriarty and Sal Paradise (the author’s alter-ego).
Moriarty is incoherent and lost when Paradise abruptly leaves him standing near the corner of Atlantic Avenue and the Van Wyck, marking an abrupt end to their deep friendship. “I waved back,” Kerouac wrote. “Suddenly he bent to his life and walked quickly out of sight.”
No marker commemorates that spot, and Fenton believes no other place deserves it more.
“People need to know more about these places,” he said, as he listed the possible benefits of a literary trail. “For people who grew up here, it would be a point of pride. ... If you bring tourists here, it’s a way to make money.
“If you bring high school students and tell them what happened here in the book — and if that inspires just one kid to become a writer, that’s perfect.”
Thursday, August 23, 2007
The War as We Saw It
VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.
A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.
As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.
Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.
However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.
In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.
Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.
Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.
The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.
Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.
Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.
At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.
In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.
Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.
We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.
Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Independent (UK)Online Edition: World's birds on death row: Race against time to save 189 species from extinction...
The biggest and most wide-ranging bird conservation programme the world has ever seen will be launched next week with the aim of saving every one of the planet's critically endangered species from extinction.
The task is urgent. There are now no fewer than 189 birds in this most precipitous category – 51 more than there were just seven years ago. Scientists say that if no action is taken then all of them could be gone within the next 10 years; 15 are already classified as "possibly extinct ".
The death of bird species is now happening faster than at any time in history. Without human interference, the natural rate of loss would be one bird each century. But extinctions are accelerating and running at 50 times that rate. In the past 30 years alone, 21 have gone – three of them since 2000.
BirdLife International, which acts as a scientific and conservation " United Nations" for bird organisations worldwide, now aims to stop the rot. So next week at Birdfair, the three-day festival for British enthusiasts co-organised by the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts, Birdlife will launch a project to pull each and every one of the 189 species back from the brink.
This danger list includes six owls, three albatrosses, 16 birds of prey, 10 hummingbirds, 17 parrots, four woodpeckers, six ducks and umpteen pigeons, plovers, wrens, warblers, finches, curlews and larks.
Their names are some of the most evocative in the bird world: the gorgeted wood-quail, sapphire-bellied hummingbird, Alagoas foliage-gleaner, Pernambuco pygmy-owl and Iquitos gnatcatcher (some of which have never been photographed), Bulo Burti boubou (a shrike, discovered in Somalia in 1988), the kakapo (the world's only flightless, nocturnal parrot), and the turquoise-throated puffleg, a hummingbird so rare no one has seen it since 1850. There are, happily, no British birds on the list.
BirdLife's project, called "Preventing Extinctions: Saving the World's Most Threatened Birds", will launch what are in effect 189 different races against time.
For each bird there will be a "species guardian", a local body that will work with BirdLife to carry out the conservation. And, for each of the 189 at risk, BirdLife is also seeking a "species champion" – a company, organisation or institution that will "adopt" a threatened bird and provide regular funding.
Donations from individuals are also, of course, very welcome. Some £20,000 is needed to kick-start a protection project for each species of bird, and, to save all 189, BirdLife calculates it will need to raise at least £19m over the next five years.
Dr Mike Rands, chief executive of BirdLife International, told The Independent on Sunday: "Through this innovative approach every single critically endangered bird can be saved from extinction. We know the priority conservation actions needed for each species – what we need now is the support of companies, organisations or even individuals. This is an enormous challenge, but one that we are fully committed to achieving."
TV's Springwatch presenter and wildlife film-maker Simon King said: " This is a exciting and ambitious project and deserves to be supported by every nature lover in the country."
Birdfair, which he, Bill Oddie and tens of thousands of other enthusiasts will attend at Rutland Water next weekend, has singled out four of the most pressing cases as the focus of its fund-raising. The birds' plight illustrates the desperately urgent work that needs to be done. There is the Bengal florican, the world's rarest bustard, now down to fewer than 1,000 in south-east Asia through loss of its wet grassland habitat; the Restinga antwren – a mere 10 square kilometres of its Brazilian beach-scrub habitat remains, and even that's under threat; Belding's yellowthroat, a warbler of Mexican wetlands, now confined through development to just a few marshes; and the Djibouti francolin, which is blighted by habitat loss, climate change and hunting.
Other emergency projects will try to save the long-billed apalis (a warbler of central east Africa suffering through destruction of woodland); the dwarf olive ibis (a forest dweller endemic to the west African island of São Tomé, suffering from tree-clearance); the Puerto Rican nightjar (confined to the south-west of the island, under pressure from development and feral cats); the Mindoro bleeding heart (a ground-living pigeon endemic to one Philippine island, it was once common but now nearly all of its wooded habitat is gone); and the white-shouldered ibis (a wetland species of south-east Asia, whose habitat has been wrecked through logging and intensive agriculture).
Some of the birds on the list, such as the black stilt, are now down to just a handful of individuals, while others, including the red-headed vulture, still number in the thousands but have lost nearly 90 per cent of their population in the past 10 years.
There is concern, too, about some long-lived species, such as the three albatrosses on the list and the Philippine eagle, whose young are not surviving to replace the adults who will die out in the next decade or so.
The task is to stop these birds following into oblivion the 72 species that were lost in the 20th century, the most costly era for extinctions in recorded history. Those that will fly no more include the slender-billed grackle, a songbird endemic to Mexico not seen since 1910; the thick-billed ground-dove (1927); robust white-eye (small Australian songbird, 1928); the Hawaiian oo (one of four honey-eaters that became extinct after Europeans arrived, 1934); the red-moustached fruit-dove (1950); laughing owl (1970); the Alaotra grebe (killed off in Madagascan waters by fishing and an introduced carnivorous fish, 1988); and the po'o-uli (a honeycreeper, presumed extinct in Hawaii through habitat destruction and disease-carrying mosquitoes, 2004).
What gives BirdLife hope is some recent successes. In the 10 years between 1994 and 2004, 16 species were saved from extinction, all as a result of targeted conservation. They include the Norfolk Island green parrot, which in the Nineties was down to just four females of breeding age, but which now can boast 200-300 and is rapidly increasing; the Bali starling, which poaching eradicated in the wild but which thanks to captive breeding is now thriving once more; and the Chatham Island taiko, a seabird from the petrel family – it was reduced to just four pairs in 1994 but control of predators has seen it start to recover, with 11 chicks hatching in 2006.
And, in a demonstration of how apparently insuperable obstacles can be overcome, only last week Timor-Leste, formerly the deeply troubled land of East Timor, announced its first national park just five years after gaining independence.
The Nino Konis Santana National Park covers 304,000 acres and includes the territory of the yellow-crested cockatoo, one of the species on BirdLife's list. It continues to be severely threatened by illegal trapping for the exotic bird trade, but the safeguarding of its home is a good omen for the work ahead with the other 188 critically endangered birds.
Additional reporting by Rachel Wolff
SOS: species on the BirdLife International list
White-winged guan ¿ Trinidad piping-guan ¿ blue-billed curassow ¿ gorgeted wood-quail ¿ Djibouti francolin ¿ Himalayan quail ¿ crested shelduck ¿ Laysan duck ¿ Campbell Islands teal ¿ pink-headed duck ¿ Madagascar pochard ¿ Brazilian merganser ¿ Amsterdam albatross ¿ waved albatross ¿ Chatham albatross ¿ Galapagos petrel ¿ Jamaica petrel ¿ magenta petrel ¿ Chatham petrel ¿ Fiji petrel ¿ Beck's petrel ¿ Mascarene petrel ¿ Balearic shearwater ¿ Townsend's shearwater ¿ New Zealand storm-petrel ¿ Guadalupe storm-petrel ¿ Alaotra grebe ¿ Junin grebe ¿ white-bellied heron ¿ white-shouldered ibis ¿ giant ibis ¿ northern bald ibis ¿ dwarf olive ibis ¿ Christmas frigatebird ¿ Chatham Islands shag ¿ California condor ¿ white-collared kite ¿ Cuban kite ¿ Madagascar fish-eagle ¿ white-rumped vulture ¿ Indian vulture ¿ slender-billed vulture ¿ red-headed vulture ¿ Ridgway's hawk ¿ Philippine eagle ¿ Bengal florican ¿ New Caledonian rail ¿ Samoan moorhen ¿ Makira moorhen ¿ Siberian crane ¿ black stilt ¿ Javan lapwing ¿ sociable lapwing ¿ St Helena plover ¿ Eskimo curlew ¿ slender-billed curlew ¿ Jerdon's courser ¿ Chinese crested tern ¿ Kittlitz's murrelet ¿ silvery wood-pigeon ¿ blue-eyed ground-dove ¿ purple-winged ground-dove ¿ Grenada dove ¿ Mindoro bleeding-heart ¿ Negros bleeding-heart ¿ Sulu bleeding-heart ¿ Polynesian ground-dove ¿ Negros fruit-dove ¿ Marquesan imperial-pigeon ¿ kakapo ¿ yellow-crested cockatoo ¿ Philippine cockatoo ¿ blue-fronted lorikeet ¿ New Caledonian lorikeet ¿ red-throated lorikeet ¿ Malherbe's parakeet ¿ orange-bellied parrot ¿ night parrot ¿ Lear's macaw ¿ glaucous macaw ¿ spix's macaw ¿ blue-throated macaw ¿ yellow-eared parrot ¿ grey-breasted parakeet ¿ indigo-winged parrot ¿ Puerto Rican amazon ¿ Sumatran ground-cuckoo ¿ black-hooded coucal ¿ Siau scops-owl ¿ Anjouan scops-owl ¿ Moheli scops-owl ¿ Grand Comoro scops-owl ¿ Pernambuco pygmy-owl ¿ forest owlet ¿ Jamaican pauraque ¿ Puerto Rican nightjar ¿ New Caledonian owlet-nightjar ¿ short-crested coquette ¿ sapphire-bellied hummingbird ¿ Honduran emerald ¿ chestnut-bellied hummingbird ¿ purple-backed sunbeam ¿ dusky starfrontlet ¿ Juan Fernandez firecrown ¿ black breasted puffleg ¿ turquoise-throated puffleg ¿ colourful puffleg ¿ Tuamotu kingfisher ¿ Sulu hornbill ¿ rufous-headed hornbill ¿ Okinawa woodpecker ¿ imperial woodpecker ¿ ivory-billed woodpecker ¿ Kaempfer's woodpecker ¿ Gurney's pitta ¿ Araripe manakin ¿ Kinglet calyptura ¿ Minas Gerais tyrannulet ¿ Kaempfer's tody-tyrant ¿ Rondonia bushbird ¿ Rio de Janeiro antwren ¿ Alagoas antwren ¿ Restinga antwren ¿ Stresemann's bristlefront ¿ Bahia tapaculo ¿ Royal cinclodes ¿ Masafuera rayadito ¿ Alagoas foliage-gleaner ¿ Uluguru bush-shrike ¿ Bulo Burti boubou ¿ Sao Tome fiscal ¿ Isabela oriole ¿ Sangihe shrike-thrush ¿ caerulean paradise-flycatcher ¿ Seychelles paradise-flycatcher ¿ Tahiti monarch ¿ Fatuhiva monarch ¿ black-chinned monarch ¿ Banggai crow ¿ white-eyed river-martin ¿ Archer's lark ¿ Raso lark ¿ Taita apalis ¿ long-billed apalis ¿ Liberian greenbul ¿ millerbird ¿ blue-crowned laughingthrush ¿ Mauritius olive white-eye ¿ Rota bridled white-eye ¿ Sangihe white-eye ¿ white-chested white-eye ¿ Faichuk white-eye ¿ golden white-eye ¿ Niceforo's wren ¿ Munchique wood-wren ¿ Iquitos gnatcatcher ¿ Socorro mockingbird ¿ Cozumel rhrasher ¿ Pohnpei starling ¿ Bali starling ¿ olomao ¿ puaiohi ¿ Somali thrush ¿ Taita thrush ¿ Rueck's blue-flycatcher ¿ Cebu flowerpecker ¿ Mauritius fody ¿ Sao Tome grosbeak ¿ Azores bullfinch ¿ Nihoa finch ¿ ou ¿ Maui parrotbill ¿ nukupuu ¿ akikiki ¿ Oahu alauahio ¿ akohekohe ¿ po'o-uli ¿ Bachman's warbler ¿ Belding's yellowthroat ¿ Semper's warbler ¿ Montserrat oriole ¿ Guadalupe junco ¿ hooded seedeater ¿ Entre Rios seedeater ¿ Carrizal blue-black seedeater ¿ mangrove finch ¿ pale-headed brush-finch ¿ cone-billed tanager ¿ cherry-throated tanager
How 'IoS' readers can help
We are asking every reader to support BirdLife's Preventing Extinctions project in its efforts to protect endangered species. For full details, and to make a donation, visit: www.birdlife.org