Thursday, March 28, 2013

Netfix Boss Pushes Anti-Teacher Union Theme in House of Cards

I've been watching House of Cards and was intending to write something about the anti-teacher union POV so thanks to Randy Shaw at Portside for this. He doesn't mention that Netflix boss Reed Hastings is a noted deformer  at the Broad/Gates level. Here are some links to more on Hastings and below the Portside piece another good analysis from Crooks and Liars.
  1. Reed Hastings - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Jump to California State Board of Education‎: He became interested in educational reform in ... State Board of Education, and in 2001, Hastings became its ...
  2. Reed Hastings On How To Build A $20 Billion Education Juggernaut ...
    May 11, 2012 – REED HASTINGS: About half my work in education is US political reform around school districts and charter schools, and creating more room ...
  3. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings Blew $12 Billion In Market Cap. Why We ...
    May 3, 2012 – I cover education as a sector and as the bedrock of all sectors. ... on competition, technology, and accountability as three pillars of education reform, ... Below are excerpts from Reed Hastings' Education Innovation Sumit talk, ...
  4. Schools Matter: Duncan, Hastings, and Gates: The Digital Promise ...
    Sep 24, 2011 – When it comes to education, R&D cycles can take years, producing results that are out of date the minute they're ... That Reed Hastings doesn't miss a beat, does he! .... If the Public Mattered to Arne and the Reform Scho.
  5. Netflix CEO's Education Reform Views Sneak Into House of Cards ...

    6 days ago – Netflix's terrific new series, House of Cards, features a legislative battle over education reform as envisioned by Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO.

Randy Shaw
March 27, 2013

Netflix’s new House of Cards series offers an inside look at Beltway power games and is far better than most of this genre---which is why its retrograde and even racist union-bashing is so unfortunate.


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Netflix’s new House of Cards series offers an inside look at Beltway power games and is far better than most of this genre---which is why its retrograde and even racist union-bashing is so unfortunate. For example, episode 5 sympathetically portrays politicians who lie to unions, and claims eliminating federal funding for school districts engaged in collective bargaining is necessary for education reform. Teachers’ unions are shown as completely out of touch with members, and run not by their female and African-American elected political leadership but rather by white male political consultants. And in an episode that could have been produced by either Michelle Rhee or the National Right to Work Committee, House of Cards depicts elite interests as knowing better what workers want than their own unions. Beneath its plot turns and star power, the series whose theme is “Bad, for a greater good” is a clever advertisement for the interests of the 1%.
After such false anti-union films as Won’t Back Down and Waiting for Superman, House of Cards shows that union-bashing in supposedly “liberal” Hollywood continues. And it’s unfortunate, because the Kevin Spacey driven show has a lot of great features that drive viewer interest.
Here are the lessons about unions that episode 5 of House of Cards offers:
1. Politicians should lie to workers for “the greater good.”
Spacey’s character, Franklin Underwood, is a powerful Democratic Congressman from South Carolina charged with getting a newly elected President’s education bill through Congress. After days of round the clock negotiations, Underwood reaches a deal with teachers unions on the key terms.
But Underwood had no intention of keeping his commitments. And when the unions learn that he has inserted language that would eliminate federal education funding for districts with collective bargaining---i.e. districts with teachers unions--- they understandably go ballistic.
Yet Underwood’s deceitful conduct toward the teachers unions is shown favorably; he, unlike unions, knows how to get things done Underwood treats the union like ignorant children for not understanding the shifting flow of the legislative process, and refuses to keep his original commitments or to amend the now viciously anti-union bill.
When the unions decide to retaliate by holding a protest against a fundraising event for a nonprofit headed by Underwood’s wife, we get the episode’s second lesson:
2. Union Leaders Are Out of Touch With Members
Unlike the real world, as in Madison in 2011 when rank and file union members mobilized to protect collective bargaining rights, House of Cards portrays teachers as uninterested in the issue. When the teacher’s consultant demands that bodies show up to protest Underwood’s fundraiser, he is told that it’s not clear that the teachers really care enough to attend. He then demands that bodies be brought to the protest whether they are teachers or not—and says that they could ask Teamster members to attend if teachers are not interested (I assume Teamsters were named due to the producer’s association with their corrupt leadership of the pre-1990’s)
Predictably, the media coverage of the protests questions whether any of those present even are teachers—because we are supposed to understand that “real” unionized teachers would quietly accept the loss of collective bargaining rights quietly. By exposing the consultant and the unions for promoting a “fake” event, labor’s unethical behavior is highlighted while Underwood’s broken commitments and lies are ignored.
In every interaction involving the unions, elected teacher leaders---shown to be African-American women-- are treated like support staff for their paid male consultant. In the Michelle Rhee/House of Cards world, no powerful African-American or female labor leaders like the Chicago Teachers Union’s Karen Lewis exist---a troubling departure from the truth from a show that allegedly tries to even get the smallest details right.
3. Corporative/Conservative Interests Know Workers Interests Best
As fanatically anti-union as all of the above is, the crowning indictment comes when Underwood and others bring food from the lavish fundraiser to the chanting protesters.
In the fantasy world created by House of Cards, the male consultant had refused to provide any food to the protesters, who are primarily women of color (since we are told they are not teachers and presumably are not Teamsters, how they got to the protest is unclear. One implication is that they were paid).
But unlike the manipulative union consultant, who does not care if his protesters go hungry, Underwood and his anti-union allies understand that workers need food. Although the consultant tries to discourage the protesters from eating what has been offered, they accept the food greedily and graciously----leaving the audience believing that the conservative Underwood knows their needs better than unions.
This portrayal is so false, base, and degrading to the integrity and fighting spirit of union members as to rival the many Southern-produced films negatively depicting African-Americans in the pre-civil rights era. It seems that anything goes in bashing unions.
In the real world, unions provide food for members on picket lines or engaged in evening protests. And I describe in The Activist’s Handbook how low-income residents in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district were confronted with a similar offer of food by their adversaries and enjoyed the meal while never relenting on their demands.
In House of Cards, it is unions rather than corporations or the wealthy who must sacrifice for “the greater good.” Its packaging of Spacey, Robin Wright and other strong actors along with a fast paced plot transforms the series into a national advertisement for the glory and power of the Republican agenda and the 1%---a fact that Spacey’s cynical sensibility may cause many viewers to overlook.
Randy Shaw is also author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century


Crooks and Liars:

I blame John Amato for getting me hooked on the new Netflix Series, House of Cards. Kevin Spacey is fantastic, the pace is great, but unfortunately, the policy issues they tackle in this first season are predictably corporate.
Nothing screams corporate like the storyline about education reform. After Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) forces his colleague to abandon education reform because he's "too left", Underwood finds himself negotiating a package with union representatives that feels a lot like Reed Hastings' dream "reform package."
Adam Bessie introduces Ms. Reform, Hastings' dream girl of education reform:
Ms. Reform is the Marilyn Monroe of domestic policy. The corporate media – and the President himself – can’t get enough of her.
It’s no surprise she’s become famous. Ms. Reform is sexy and seductive, especially to the powerful: she looks like a philanthropist – kind and nurturing, committed to helping the poor, forgotten black and brown children in the inner-cities. Who in their right mind could be against her plans to help our children – especially our most vulnerable and least privileged – have a fair shot in life? But inside – a side she never shows the camera, and when she does, it’s Photoshopped – Ms.Reform is a cutthroat businesswoman: she’s read Ronald Reagan’s economic advisor Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom from cover to cover, she has complete faith in “free enterprise,” she’s never heard of John Dewey nor deigned to teach a day in her life, and boy, does she friggin’ hate unions. In short, Ms. Reform appeals not just to the bleeding heart social justice Obamaites, but also, to venture capitalists that think Obama is fomenting a socialist take-over of America. The only surprise is that she didn’t become famous sooner.
Now, Ms. Reform is starring once again, this time, along (another) Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey in the NetFlix original seriesHouse of Cards, which explores the sordid underbelly of Washington politics. The protagonist Congressman Frank Underwood – who has no allegiance but to his own power – takes on the education reform bill for the new President, one which looks strikingly similar to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top: the bill increases charter schools, and ties test scores to teacher evaluation, echoing the corporate style, free enterprise reforms both bills have implemented. And of course, as is always the case, Ms. Reform is cast as heroine – and the unions, at best obstructionist and only interested in the needs of the teachers, and not the children (To be fair, though, it’s clear that the real villain in the show is not the unions, but Underwood himself – and as Underwood is supporting the bill, it might cast a negative light on the policies to some viewers).
To be clear, Ms.Reform’s on-screen portrayal mirrors Hasting’s values and his hefty investments. Hastings – who objectifies and commodifies education by characterizing it as business “space,” devoid of humanity – is invested both in for-profit, non-profit, and lobbying efforts that push for the very reforms reflected in House of Cards.
Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress noticed it too:
Elsewhere in the education fight, the only discussion of policy are facile mentions of charter schools, collective bargaining, and performance standards. A union official appears in one scene to declare that “Charters jeapordize our ability to organize, which is reason enough” to object to Frank’s draft of the bill. Otherwise, the movement is represented only by picketers who melt when Frank and his wife serve them barbeque, and by a paid lobbyist who is manipulated into decking Frank in his office, giving him the advantage he needs to force a settlement to a teacher’s strike and a legislative deadlock. When Frank manipulates Congressman Russo (Corey Stoll) into running for Governor of Pennsylvania, his opposition is largely personified by the head of a shipbuilder’s union decimated by the BRAC process that shutters a local shipyard.
It's true that Hastings didn't write the script, but I can't help thinking he shaped a narrative that lends itself to such a script. The casual treatment and perception of unions as thugs, of teachers as incompetent, of solutions as simply privatizing the effort altogether while using data analysis as the benchmark for nearly everything is characteristic of today's reform discussion.
News broke late tonight that Chicago Public Schools may be closing 50 public schools. FIFTY. There is absolutely no way the school system can absorb that kind of shock. I don't think the number 50 is a coincidence. Back in the days when the Gates Foundation thought charters were the answer to everything, the foundation put millions into the district to create charter schools, including 50 new high schools under their "small high school" initiatve.

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