Monday, March 14, 2016

Petition at Columbia University Calling for Divestment from Firms Doing Business With Israel

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) strongly condemns a Faculty Petition calling for divestment from firms engaged in business dealings with Israel, signed by over 50 Columbia University professors, in which they collectively “take issue with our financial involvements in institutions associated with the State of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian lands, continued violations of Palestinian human rights, systematic destruction of life and property, inhumane segregation and systemic forms of discrimination.”

Expressing support of the toxic BDS campaign to promote boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, the Columbia academics “demand that the University divest from corporations that supply, perpetuate, and profit from a system that has subjugated the Palestinian people for over 68 years. We note that our position unequivocally stands in support of a non-violent movement privileging human rights as the only means toward finding a political resolution.”

The petition also proudly proclaims that the signatories “stand with Columbia University Apartheid Divest, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine as well as with Jewish Voice for Peace in calling upon the University to take a moral stance against Israel’s violence in all its forms.”

Despite their moral discourse, each of these groups has a history of virulent anti-Israel activism, both on the Columbia campus and elsewhere, and their activities have caused chronic bias against Israel, a distortion of facts about the Middle East, apologies for Arab terror and intractability, and even the spread of anti-Semitism on campuses where the BDS campaign has been relentless and pervasive.

SPME believes that the BDS movement as a whole is contrary to the search for peace, since it represents a form of misguided economic and cognitive warfare. It is in direct opposition to decades of agreements between Israel and Palestinians, in which both sides pledged to negotiate a peaceful settlement and a commitment to a two state solution. By focusing obsessively on Israel, and not on countries where actual human and civil rights abuses exist and where academics are suppressed, the actions of those supporting the BDS campaign are, as former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers put it, “anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.”

The faculty signatories of the petition, typically, never mention or acknowledge the fact that Israel has been under siege by its Arab neighbors since the founding of the State, including to the current day where homicidal Palestinians have stabbed, run over, and attempted to murder Israeli civilians in the  “knife Intifada.” (This is what the signers of the petition refer to as “non-violent” resistance.) Instead, without any context and completely ignoring the Arab contribution to the conflict, the petitions systematically singles Israel out for denunciation.

Rather than contributing to peace, the supporters of this petition enlist in the war effort of the Palestinian leadership against Israel and any just settlement: the one-sided invective against Israel replicates Palestinian war propaganda rather than reflecting a serious search for a just peace.

“SPME finds it alarming that professors, who are generally expected to exercise reason and scholarship before making assessments about matters of fact, history, or current events, have come up with such a belligerently judgmental formulation without any reference to the nature of Israel’s foes in this conflict,” said Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, Executive Director of SPME. “The belief that if Israel is stripped of its ability to defend itself that peace can somehow be realized is not only naïve, but dangerous.”

“The Columbia signatories claim to act out of a concern for human rights,” said Dr. Richard Landes, Chair of SPME’s Council of Scholars. “Were they so committed in the region, there are many more serious violators of those rights, including Palestinian rights, than Israel. The same Palestinian leaders who promote hatred of Israel and violent “resistance” also systematically violate the human rights of their own people, including the right of people to dissent from their irredentist ‘resistance.’ And in order to effect such a reversal of priorities, they adopt a narrative that reveals a stunning lack of scholarly integrity.”

“The call to boycott Israeli universities is part of the larger, and more destructive, boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, and is based on many of its supporters’ desire, not merely to chastise Israel economically and culturally, but to exclude Israeli voices that might contradict the Manichaean narrative, and work towards dismantling Israel completely,” said Dr. Richard L. Cravatts, president of SPME. “By joining in this world-wide campaign of the demonization and delegitimization of Israel, the Columbia University professors who signed this statement demonstrate a remarkable lack of intellectual integrity combined with a worrisome enthusiasm for some of the most regressive political forces on the planet.”


UK: A £90m zombie school with NO pupils and a financial scandal that will blight all our children's lives

Some of the stars of Liverpool FC were making a television advert this week, promoting the no-doubt invigorating products of their club sponsor, Nivea Men.

The setting was a school in the deprived south Liverpool suburb of Speke, but there were no eager young faces pressed up against the gymnasium windows trying to catch a glimpse of their heroes slapping on deodorant and shaving balm for the cameras. Parklands High School is perfect for discreet filming, as quiet as a school can be, an educational Mary Celeste, in fact.

Laboratories, woodwork rooms, domestic science kitchens all lie empty, awaiting lessons that will never take place. The long, wide, pristine corridors of this imposing complex, completed only 12 years ago, echo only to the sound of the 30 or so full and part-time maintenance staff charged with preventing it from sliding into dereliction.

Parklands shut because it was a thoroughly bad school in academic terms, one of the worst — if not the worst — in the UK. In 2007, one per cent of its pupils managed to achieve five GCSEs, including English and mathematics, at grade C and above. Yes, that’s right — one per cent.

That figure would improve (how could it not?) over the next six years, but only from the truly appalling to the merely dismal.

Yvonne Sharples, the headteacher brought in to rescue Parklands in 2008, was declared the darling of the 2011 Labour Party conference when she used her speech to chastise Michael Gove, then Education Secretary, for denigrating poorly performing schools. But that cut no ice with Ofsted, which placed Parklands in special measures following an inspection in December 2013.

That year, Parklands was still in the lowest one per cent of maintained schools in England. As the school entered its death throes, there were a mere 170 pupils whose parents still saw fit to send them there, inhabiting an institution designed for 900. Good riddance, then, to Parklands High, an institution rightly mourned by few.

Except, of course, that this blue, peach and white elephant of a building, and its equally gigantic energy requirements, isn’t going anywhere.

And when the final bill for its construction and maintenance drops through the letter box in April 2028, it will have cost the council taxpayers of Liverpool, and taxpayers nationally, somewhere not far away from £90 million. And this staggering sum is for a complex — Parklands includes a public library, leisure centre and other council facilities — that cost only £22 million to actually build!

The repayment figures for this ‘zombie’ school — scandalously empty in an era of increasingly scarce classroom space due to huge levels of immigration — are eye-watering.

The building and its attached facilities will cost Liverpool City Council and central government £4.3 million in the year to April, a huge drain on a municipal budget already under severe pressure.

There is much more pain to come. In the next four financial years, beginning next month, the total bill for Parklands will be £17.9 million. Then, in the five years after that, beginning April 2020, the bill will total £24 million. Only then will the pain ease slightly. The bill for the last three years of debt repayment will total a ‘mere’ £12.7 million. Once these bills are finally paid off, the council will own the school.

But why should there be these ‘pay-day loan’ levels of repayment? Parklands, like scores of schools and hospitals across the country, was built with what might be called ‘funny money’, under a scheme called the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Put at its simplest, PFI involved government and councils using private companies to build and manage new public facilities, such as schools and hospitals, in a ‘buy-now-but-pay-later’ arrangement.

The companies used their own investors’ money to construct buildings in a deal that, conveniently for the politicians, failed to show up on the national balance sheet as capital borrowing and so, at the time, were not included in Britain’s deficit or debt figures which, as we all know, are ruinously high.

These funds were to be paid back over a period of typically 25 to 30 years, together with management fees and interest. A mortgage, if you will, but one with a series of rises built into repayments.

In the short-term — the only term that matters to politicians trying to attain or retain power — PFI was the chicken that laid the golden egg. Educational and health facilities that the Treasury had deemed unaffordable sprouted across the land.

John Major was responsible for introducing PFI into Britain, but it was Tony Blair and his Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who became its most ardent devotees. They had promised the rebuilding or refurbishment of virtually every school in the country, and PFI was a way of honouring this pledge without damaging the debit and credit books. But now, inevitably, the PFI chicken is coming home to roost.

Debt is debt is debt, no matter its fancy title. And while canny private sector businessmen tend to be good at drafting profitable contracts, civil servants and town hall officers tend to be the opposite. Governments can borrow more cheaply than any other body because they almost never default, but the interest agreed on PFI deals rarely reflected this financial muscle and was often ridiculously over-generous.

PFI contracts provided government with certainty regarding repayments over the long term, but in an era of chronically low interest rates they now represent awful value for money. Estimates about the cost to the nation of PFI vary, but the final bill could be near to £300 billion, with repayments peaking in 2017-18 at £10 billion.

As of the end of the financial year 2014/15, the Government had paid about £7.5 billion towards existing PFI contracts for schools — on assets worth approximately £8 billion. By the end of the contracts, those repayments will total £30 billion, almost four times the value of the assets being paid for.

Maintenance charges provided a second bonanza, too, for PFI contractors, who often set up subsidiary firms to manage the schools and hospitals they’d built. And every aspect of that management was governed by often lunatic regulations about costing.

Examples of the shocking amounts charged include an episode at County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust, which had to pay £525 to move three beds.

Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust paid out £8,450 to install a dishwasher, while North Staffordshire Trust was charged an incredible £13,704 to install three lights in the garden. North Cumbria University Hospital Trust, meanwhile, had to pay its PFI contractor for maintenance work which included £466 to replace a light fitting, and £184 to install a bell in reception.

Plus, of course, there are Parklands school’s exorbitant maintenance charges. Of the £4.3 million owing in the year to next month, £2 million is simply for keeping the complex running, even without any pupils.

Lord Storey believes a way should have been found to keep Parklands open. ‘It is not beyond the wit of man to come up with an education solution, be it an academy or whatever,’ he says. ‘It was the wrong decision to close it.’


Cruz: Expand Charter Schools, Home Schools, Private Schools and Vouchers

"The most important reform we can do in education after getting the federal government out of it is expand school choice," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said at Thursday's CNN-hosted debate at the University of Miami. He called for the expansion of charter schools, home schooling, vouchers and scholarships.

"Common Core is a disaster," Cruz said, referring to the education standards the Obama administration has pressed the states to adopt.

"And if I am elected president, in the first days as president, I will direct the Department of Education that Common Core ends that day."

Cruz said the Obama administration abused its executive power by using federal funds "to effectively blackmail and force the states to adopt Common Core. Now, the one silver lining of Obama abusing executive power is that everything done with executive power can be undone with executive power, and I intend to do that," he said.

"Beyond that, though, I intend to work to abolish the federal Department of Education and send education back to the states and back to the local governments.

"And let me say finally, the most important reform we can do in education after getting the federal government out of it, is expand school choice -- expand charter schools and home schools and private schools and vouchers, and scholarships. And give every child -- African American, Hispanic -- every child in need an opportunity to access to a quality education."

Trump turns to Carson

Donald Trump said he also opposes Common Core: "I want local education," Trump said. "I want the parents, and I want all of the teachers, and I want everybody to get together around a school and to make education great."

Trump hinted that if he's elected, he'll make room for his former rival Dr. Ben Carson in his cabinet.

"I was with Dr. Ben Carson today, who is endorsing me, by the way, tomorrow morning, and he is...We were talking. We spoke for over an hour on education. And he has such a great handle on it. He wants competitive schools. He wants a lot of different things that are terrific, including charter schools, by the way, that the unions are fighting like crazy. But charter schools work and they work very well.

"So there are a lot of things. But I'm going to have Ben very involved with education, something that's an expertise of his."


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