The Company He Keeps

Look who Ted Cruz has recruited as his economic advisor:

If it’s true that a man can be judged by the company he keeps, what are we to make of the appointment of former Sen. Phil Gramm as economic advisor to the Presidential campaign of Ted Cruz?

Cruz made the appointment Friday, when he collected Gramm’s endorsement of his quest for the Presidency.

As Micheal Hiltzik points out in his coverage of this — what’s the word?– curious appointment, Gramm is exactly whom you’d choose if one global financial meltdown just wasn’t delicious enough:

Gramm left a long record as a dedicated financial deregulator on Capitol Hill, with much of his effort aimed at freeing up trading in derivatives. That’s why he’s often identified as one of the godfathers of the 2008 financial crisis, which was spurred in part by banks’ imprudent trading and investing in these extremely complex financial instruments.

JMWTurner_Sunrise_with_Sea_Monsters

Gramm himself is undeterred by his own disastrous record, and clearly Cruz is equally unbothered.  That would be why both men are ignoring Gramm’s last appearance as a campaign surrogate:

Gramm’s previous stint as a Presidential campaign advisor ended inauspiciously. That was in 2008, when he served as co-chairman of John McCain’s Presidential run.

Gramm’s most notable moment in that position came on July 10, 2008, when he dismissed the developing economic crisis as “a mental recession” in an interview–and video–released by the conservative Washington Times. “We’ve never been more dominant,” he said. “We’ve never had more natural advantages than we have today. We’ve sort of become a nation of whiners.” McCain immediately disavowed the remarks, and a few days later Gramm stepped down as his campaign co-chairman.

I’m assuming that Ted Cruz does actually hope to become president, and thus makes his choices in the belief that they will advance him to that end.  So I can only see two possible interpretations for this exhuming of one of the most egregious poster children for GOP economic failure.

One is that this is what epistemic closure looks like when it’s at home.  It takes a hermetic seal between you and reality to think the “nation of whiners” trope is a winner this year (or ever, really, but especially now).

The other is that this is just trolling, or rather yet one more instance of believing an action is simply good in itself, transcendently so, if it pisses liberals off.  Which lands Cruz — and the GOP — in exactly the same place as option one: doubling down on the crazy for reasons extremely clear only to those with the correct implants in their upper left second molar.

All of which is to say that I remain firm in my belief that the entity identifying itself as Senator Cruz is in fact one of these guys.

“Where are we going?”

“Galt’s Gulch”

“When?”

“Real soon!”

Image:  J. W. M. Turner, Sunrise With Sea Monsters, 1845



Problems of a certain subset

I saw this New York Times column by Frank Bruni on the overscheduling of kids and it struck a chord with me:

Scelfo wrote about six suicides in a 13-month period at the University of Pennsylvania; about the prevalence of anxiety and depression on college campuses; about many star students’ inability to cope with even minor setbacks, which are foreign and impermissible.

Those students almost certainly need more sleep. In a study in the medical journal Pediatrics this year, about 55 percent of American teenagers from the ages of 14 to 17 reported that they were getting less than seven hours a night, though the National Sleep Foundation counsels 8 to 10.

I went to a school for undergrad where the unofficial motto was “Choose two: sleep, friends, work”

The cultural expectation was people were expected to run themselves into the ground even past the point of negative returns on work.  People were in the computer labs at two in the morning on Saturday night trying to do homework that was not due until Wednesday as they created more errors than they solved.  If you weren’t zombie-eyed and involuntarily celibate, you were slacking.

I happened to be able to choose all three plus Paris plus a few other amazing adventures while graduating with honors and getting into a top graduate program in my chosen field.  I quickly realized that my best work did not happen at 11:00 at night. Quality went downhill dramatically by 1:00AM.  The one exception was a repeated science experiment which involved filling unused condoms with cheap beer and chucking them off the roof to see if drunk people liked beer from heaven.  Three years worth of data showed most people appreciated it although the campus cops weren’t cool with the non-IRB approved experiment.

There was also a spate of suicides on campus in my freshman and sophomore years.  The underlying cause was most of the people I went to school with were not able to cope with being normal within their immediate peer group.  They never were normal before then.  Not being locally exceptional (while still being globally excellent) was a massive shock to people’s self-conceptualization of worth.

I was lucky in that my neighborhood Irish Catholic parish school had a crazed nun running it.   She made sure 10% to 15% of her graduating classes every year went to Ivy equivilents.  My classmates were like me, the kids of the skilled blue collar tradesmen. The 80 kids who graduated with me plus or minus a year sent three to Harvard, another four to other Ivies, a pair to MIT, me to where I went, one each to Amherst, Stanford and Duke.  Most of us went on near half rides or better.  When we talked in our early twenties, we all agreed 8th grade English was probably the hardest class we had until senior thesis or master level synthesis projects.

I don’t know how to fix this problem, as I was lucky enough to be able to side step it personally but I saw too many of my peers, classmates and friends during undergrad be burned out, lose themselves and lose their passion and potential because they were exhausted eighteen years olds.

 



Marg Bar Banksters (edition ∞)

Via The New York Times an essential article on the ways Big Finance screws serving troops — and the rest of us:

Charles Beard, a sergeant in the Army National Guard, says he was on duty in the Iraqi city of Tikrit when men came to his California home to repossess the family car. Unless his wife handed over the keys, she would go to jail, they said.

The men took the car, even though federal law requires lenders to obtain court orders before seizing the vehicles of active duty service members.

Sergeant Beard had no redress in court: His lawsuit against the auto lender was thrown out because of a clause in his contract that forced any dispute into mandatory arbitration, a private system for resolving complaints where the courtroom rules of evidence do not apply. In the cloistered legal universe of mandatory arbitration, the companies sometimes pick the arbiters, and the results, which cannot be appealed, are almost never made public….

The kicker in that already insufferable situation:

Over the years, Congress has given service members a number of protections — some dating to the Civil War — from repossessions and foreclosures.

Efforts to maintain that special status for service members has run into resistance from the financial industry, including many of the same banks that promote the work they do for veterans. While using mandatory arbitration, some companies repeatedly violate the federal protections, leaving troops and their families vulnerable to predatory lending, the military lawyers and government officials say….

…The Government Accountability Office, for example, found in 2012 that financial institutions had failed to abide by the law more than 15,000 times.

V0017699 A fortune-teller reading the palm of a soldier. Oil painting

Efforts in Congress to block financial companies’ efforts to weaken any vestige of legal protection met the subterranean death favored by the scumsuckers for whom light is poison:

Last year, a bipartisan bill that would have allowed service members to opt out of arbitration and file a lawsuit met with opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street’s major trade group, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma.

“While we remain very supportive of the troops, we see no empirical or other evidence that service members are being harmed by or require relief from arbitration clauses,” Kevin Carroll, a managing director and associate general counsel at Sifma, said in a statement.

Here’s what they mean by “support.”

In lobbying against the bill, several financial industry groups and a large phone company visited with the staff of Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who sponsored the legislation along with Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat.

The trade groups told Mr. Graham’s office that they were already working to make their arbitration procedure more accommodating to service members, according to a person briefed on those discussions who would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

“The message was, ‘Let us fix this internally,’ ” the person said. “Don’t upset the apple cart with a new law.”

Whether or not that line was believed, the result was as desired:

The bill never made it out of committee last year, though Mr. Graham plans to reintroduce it this year.

Committees:  where money talks so effectively — and almost silently.

This at once an infuriating abuse of people doing what their political leaders have tasked them to do, at risk to themselves and costs to their families — and a sign of how bad the system is rigged against all of us.  Realize this:  serving troops at least have some legal protection that, however abused can still be invoked.  Everyone else:  suck it up, face mandatory arbitration, and say “Thank you, sir, may I have another” everytime we have to bend over and take one for the greater good of modern American financial capitalism.

Also: kudos to Senators Graham and Reed for making an attempt.  But let’s be clear:  Republicans — the party that claims the flag and the troops as their personal property — control both houses of Congress and have unfettered control of the agenda there.  So this is a test:  if they can’t fix this — now — then it’s incumbent on those of us on the other side to hang their betrayal of the troops around every member.

Image:  Pietro Muttoni called della Vecchia, A fortune-teller reading the palm of a soldier, before 1678.  I can’t help but thinking the fortune teller is telling the soldier that he sees the future, and the his client is f**ked.



Back to School With Privatization

mpr2003-02cvrsml

This is an actual publication, BTW. I’m gonna read this 2008 issue just to discover what these two things might have in common:

Golf and University Privatization
MPR2008-01: Summer 2008
Published on June 17, 2008

Speaking of privatization, here’s another great education reform idea that is completely about kids and definitely not about racing to the bottom, privatization, or profit:

Michigan Republican Sen. Phil Pavlov, who chairs the state Senate’s education committee, is preparing legislation that would allow public school districts to hire teachers through private, for-profit companies. Privatizing the hiring process would presumably allow school districts to bypass compensation packages sought by teachers unions and let private companies compete for contracts with districts.
Pavlov didn’t respond to a request for comment on the teacher privatization plan. But Pavlov has publicly described his plan, which he said was still in the works, this way: “I look at it as offering options. If there is something out there that can offer school officials the same options at a lower cost, schools need to take a look at that. It needs to [be] part of the conversation on reform.”
Michigan Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, the state Senate minority leader, says she and the Democratic Caucus plan to fight Pavlov’s proposal if it is included in new education legislation. She describes teacher privatization as merely a continuation of Michigan Republicans’ education agenda. “Gov. [Rick] Snyder and Republicans have made no bones about it: they’re trying to dismantle public education in Michigan,” Whitmer says.

Ohio has been reforming schools much longer than Michigan. We’re well into the second decade of this totally new and innovative agenda here, so allow me to predict your future, Michigan. Reform means less funding for every existing public school, lower wages for local school employees and tests. Lots and lots of tests.



Value Voucher Plan scrapped in a hurry

This school reform industry initiative got some attention last week.

According to the Detroit News, a secret work group that includes top aides to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been working to come up with a model for so-called “value schools.”

Other records distributed to group members indicate they want to explore using fewer teachers and more instruction through long-distance video conferencing. Each “value school” student would receive a “Michigan Education Card” to pay for their “tuition” — similar to the electronic benefits transfer used to distribute food stamps and cash assistance for the poor. Students could use leftover money on the “EduCard” for high school Advanced Placement courses, music lessons, sport team fees, remedial education or cyber courses, according to an outline of the advisory team’s agenda.

I like this take:

You see, Michigan’s boldest innovators understand that in order to produce the kind of out-of-the-box boldness that their state’s stifled students so desperately need, they must be free of the shackles of oversight, regulation, public reporting requirements and the state constitution, which prohibits exactly the kind of voucher program that operation Skunk Works is clearly intended to be.

Also totally not needed in this bold experiment: teachers and other so-called educational experts who are incapable of outside-of-the-box thinking because they are literally inside of their box-shaped classrooms.

But who will operate the boldly innovative schools of the future with their “fewer teachers and more instruction through long-distance video conferencing”?

Reader: I give you Richard McLellan. Head of the Oxford Foundation, former lawyer on the Citizen’s United case, advancer of liberty and opportunity, devotee of all things voucher-like, McLellan understands that since Michigan’s public and its constitution do not appear ready for a boldly innovative school voucher system, it is best to begin planning for that system away from the public eye.

The teacher they invited quit when he realized the group was working on a privatization plan. Good for him:

The group had one educator, Paul Galbenski, an Oakland Schools business teacher and Michigan’s 2011 Educator of the Year, but he left the group.”It really kind of looked like for me that they were discussing a special kind of school being created outside of the Michigan public school system,” Galbenski said. “That’s when I started questioning my involvement.”

In January, participants were instructed in a memo to use “alternative” email accounts. Records show Behen, Davenport and two other Department of Technology, Management and Budget employees have since used private email addresses to correspond.

Here’s a tip for those public employees in Michigan who stuck around. When someone instructs you not to use your state email account while supposedly conducting public business, your “transparency” and “accountability” radar should be pinging. If it’s not, you should do the right thing, stop play-acting, and go work directly for the private party. Sometimes ethical dilemmas are very simple, although admittedly never easy:

Behen said he and the other four state employees are mostly working after-hours on the project with Friday evening and Saturday meetings “Why are we using private email addresses? Because it’s just easier,” Behen said. “There’s nothing secret or anything about this.”

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has backed off the secret planning group and is now babbling about “efficiency” to put more money “back into schools”, but he seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would object to the state joining with think tank lawyers and private interests to craft education policy behind closed doors. I actually understand why he’s looked like a deer in the headlights all week, why he’s confused by the uproar. 80% of Michigan’s charter schools are for-profit entities, already. They’re mostly national chains run by appointed boards. This entire district in Michigan has no traditional public school system left at all. It’s gone, replaced by a national charter chain and an appointed board. Snyder didn’t anticipate the blowback to the Value Voucher Plan because no one has raised any questions about public school privatization initiatives before, as long as privatization is put in under the magic word, “reform.” Snyder probably doesn’t see much difference between this state-level group of reformers and the reformers in Detroit or Muskegon Heights or Flint, and why would he? Private donors, a lack of transparency and appointed (not elected) boards are business as usual in reform circles.

What Snyder didn’t realize is that while it’s (apparently!) A-OK for reform industry leaders to privatize and “reform” schools in places like Detroit or Flint, reformers are not necessarily going to be greeted as liberators in suburban and rural public school districts state-wide. You’ll recall that reform industry leaders and media sold “market-based reform” as a cheap fix for Our Failed and Failing Schools. No one in the reform industry mentioned that they’d be “scaling up” once they got a foot in the door of the K-12 market, and taking their privatization mantra into those public school districts that aren’t failing at all. They probably should have been straight with the public about that.

The growing popular pushback to school reform industry initiatives, in my opinion and based on my observation over the last two years, coincides with school reform industry iniatives spreading outside urban districts and into suburban and rural districts. The resistance should surprise no one in the reform industry or their parrots in media because they sold deregulation and market-based reform dishonestly.



I’m not seeing them as underdogs, but it’s entirely possible I lost my place in the test booklet

I’m temperamentally inclined to resist sales pitches that are based on fear. Every time I hear one I think of those home alarm commercials where the frantic women sees the masked intruder crashing through the sliding door. They’re not selling the alarm system. They’re selling fear. They lose me when they choose that approach. The longer I read on the school reform industry-marketing end the more I believe they’re not selling “reform” substantively, to the public, anyway. They’re selling fear that they hope will drive their version of “reform.” Because I have been alive and had a pulse the last 20 years I’m particularly wary of fear-based political appeals that spring from a “bipartisan consensus” because all that really means is a bipartisan group of politicians, think tank, elite non-profits and opinion media people have reached consensus, and what that means to me is there are very few dissenters in the top ranks.

Whether it’s system-wide in Atlanta or DC or Chicago or all the way down to the individual level, where certain anxious fourth graders are taking a high stakes test where they didn’t review the material and they aren’t given enough time to complete the test, fear seems to permeate the whole reform approach. Here’s some political schemers of various stripes and motives who are hoping for low scores on a test that is essentially rigged to produce low scores so they can sell reform in the suburbs. Do they sound like people who are confident in the value of the product? Why would they need to create failed and failing public schools full of failures to sell market-based reform to people in the suburbs? Why not just sell their “sector agnostic” approach to public education– where a public school is the same as a publicly funded for-profit or private school-directly?

While kids are taking their standardized tests some very well compensated reformers are back out on the road, selling reform, or something. This is the message of a reformer who is a particular favorite of Arne Duncan:

Educators make excuses for failing schools, Rhee said. But, she added, “The bottom line is: The system did not become the way that it is by accident. It operates exactly the way it was designed to operate, which is in a wholly unaccountable, dysfunctional manner.
“So when you seek to change that dynamic” – including going after “low-performing” teachers – “you’re gonna have a whole lot of unhappy people on your hands. When you stop that gravy train, somebody is going to be unhappy.”

What is that? What are these awesome, mighty forces that are opposing her? It seems to me she has nearly every powerful political actor and billionaire behind her, including the person who did or did not invent Facebook. How much cheering affirmation does she need? Isn’t South Carolina a Right To Work For Less state, anyway? South Carolina isn’t known for worker protections, reformers. Maybe she didn’t know where she had landed that day, because there’s also this:

Former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee had trouble recalling the names of South Carolina’s “key players” after a quick visit to the State House on Wednesday. But state lawmakers may want to take note of hers.
Rhee’s education advocacy group, StudentsFirst, is lobbying in 18 states, including South Carolina.

Eighteen states! No wonder she can’t keep the “key players” straight. That’s all right. She’ll get it when she writes them a campaign check. The Committee To Elect Reform Rubberstamper probably won’t cut it. Why would the US Department of Education back this stuff, to the extent where Duncan personally intervened to try to save this particular reformer’s job in DC?

I’m the parent of a public school student and I don’t believe our local public school employees are “riding a gravy train.” I know what public school teachers are doing here right now, in fact. They’re prepping for Duncan’s standardized tests. I thought 2011 was the year for the ritual denunciation of public employees, and now we’re back to thanking teachers and firefighters “for their service” after Newtown and then Boston, whatever that means. I hope it doesn’t mean they have to be unpaid volunteers or they’re self-interested and not credible. Why doesn’t that rule apply to lobbyists? I’m not a teacher, but it seems to me they’ve set this up so there’s no way for those teachers who don’t agree with them to question what reformers are doing in our schools without their being labeled wholly self-interested slackers. I’m not a teacher so it also won’t bother me or shut me up (obviously) but why all the threats and grim fear-mongering? There’s nothing new or “transformational” about that. It’s an old, old idea.



Can we just please retire the word “reform”? It doesn’t mean anything.

Lawmakers discover that it is very, very difficult to re-regulate publicly-funded schools after they deregulated and privatized publicly-funded schools:

Ohio’s charter-closure law, which became effective in 2008 and was revised in 2011, calls for automatic closure of schools rated in Academic Emergency for at least two of the three most recent school years.
Oversight of these criteria primarily falls on authorized sponsors, which are responsible for evaluating and reporting on the academic and financial performance of their sponsored schools, and on ODE.
While Ohio law sets up charter school boards as the entity to be held legally responsible for a school’s academic and financial performance, it does not do the same for management companies, many of them for-profit that are contracted by schools to manage their daily operations. These companies are often in charge of making major decisions for a school, including hiring and firing teachers, assessing academic performance, contracting with vendors, budgeting, developing curriculum, and providing basic classroom materials. Yet the closure law places no penalty on CMOs when their schools meet academic closure criteria. This omission creates a loophole for managers to keep “closed” schools open and continue to receive public funds for failing schools.

Policy Matters has documented that of the 20 charter schools ODE has required to close for academic reasons, seven have essentially remained intact, skirting the automatic closure law. In other cases CMO-operated schools facing automatic closure were replaced by nearly identical schools, managed by the same company with much of the same staff. An eighth school, Hope Academy Canton, was ordered closed by its sponsor a year before it would have been shut down by the state. In this case, our investigation showed that by closing early and opening a new school in the same location with much of the same staff, the schools’ for-profit operator, White Hat Management, bought five additional years of life – and revenue – for a low-performing school.
In more than half the cases we examined, the new schools’ academic performance remained the same as the old schools’; five of the eight “new” schools are still ranked in Academic Watch or Emergency, while their management companies and sponsors continue to take in millions of dollars in public funding. For-profit CMOs – the Leona Group, Mosaica Education, and White Hat Management – run six of the eight schools we investigated.

Some background on the national privatization scene (pdf):

Education management organizations, or EMOs, emerged in the early 1990s in the context of widespread interest in so-called market-based school reform proposals. Wall Street analysts coined the term EMO as an analogue to health maintenance organizations (HMOs). Proponents of EMOs claim that they bring a much needed dose of entrepreneurial spirit and a competitive ethos to public education. Opponents argue that outsourcing to EMOs results in already limited school resources being redirected for service fees, profits, or both while creating another layer of administration. Opponents also have expressed concerns about transparency and the implications of public bodies relinquishing control or ownership of schools.

Comparisons could be made to our shambling, patched-together, fragmented wreck of a “health care system” which we’re now desperately trying to “reform” and make universal, except it’s worse in education, because we never had a universal public health care system. We DO have a public education system. Health care is going so well we decided to apply our health care system “principles” to an existing universal public system? Why would we do that?

The number of states in which for-profit EMOs operated was 33 in 2010-2011. The for-profit education management industry expanded into Alaska and Hawaii this past year for the first time. In 2010-2011, 35% of all public charter schools in the U.S. were operated by private EMOs, and these schools accounted for almost 42% of all students enrolled in charter schools.

For-profits operating in 33 states under the guise of “school reform”. Wow. You won’t hear about that innovative and exciting development during School Choice Week. I would think privatization of public schools would be a fundamental policy choice, a decision we make, not something we just belatedly discover has happened while we were busy hating on teachers.

I would think privatization of our universal, public K-12 education system would be raised and debated every single time an unelected or elected school reformer like Michelle Rhee or Jeb Bush or Bill Gates or the Wal-Mart heirs (or Arne Duncan and Corey Booker) appear on television, yet we never talk about the for-profits or maybe more importantly, their lobbyists. God knows we discuss public school teacher salaries often enough, so it isn’t that we don’t “follow the money” in education. Where are the discussions on the CEO salaries of these for-profit outfits? How much money is flowing out of public education and into the pockets of shareholders under “school reform”? Why aren’t school reformers, all of them, forced to address this publicly? Did they not anticipate that deregulation and the introduction of for-profits would lead to capture of lawmakers by those same for-profits? Why not? What do they plan to do about it?