#45 being paid by Putin, according to Kevin McCarthy?

If you read the transcript of the secret June 2016 meeting among Ryan, McCarthy and other Republicans, you see that they are discussing the various methods that Putin and the Russian leadership are using to subvert all the nations to its west — including hacking the DNC and fomenting anti-democratic groups in Europe.
When McCarthy said in the transcript that Putin was paying off Mango Mussolini and Dana Rohrabacher, I think he was probably serious.
Read it for yourself and share what you think.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/read-the-transcript-of-the-conversation-among-gop-leaders-obtained-by-the-post/2209/?tid=a_inl

That being said, of course we all should realize that the CIA and the US Government also try to subvert their opponents by bribery, propaganda, and lots of dirty tricks. And so does every other government that has the means to do so. 

However, it’s quite scary when you have a President and a party that controls 3 major branches of the US government is in thrall to a totally undemocratic, kleptocratic, and kakistocratic bunch of ruthless thieves like Vladimir Putin and his fellow oligarchs.

Published in: on May 17, 2017 at 6:48 pm  Comments (3)  

How NOT to save money: operate two (or a hundred) different school systems in the same district

I would like to reprint the entirety of Valerie Jablow’s recent blog post on how the District of Columbia manages to waste enormous amounts of taxpayer money by opening and closing schools at random. (If you haven’t been keeping score, the total number of publicly-funded schools in Washington DC is at an all time high, while the number of students is NOT.)

The DC Education Costs That Shall Not Be Named

by Valerie Jablow

Testifying the other week during the council’s budget oversight hearing for the DC public charter school board, education advocate and DCPS parent Suzanne Wells called for a study by the DC auditor to compare the costs to run DCPS schools versus charter schools. Wells asked that the study look at administrative in addition to facilities costs in each sector.

Right now, city leaders are consumed by the percentage increase in the funding formula for public school students in the FY18 budget. The mayor’s original proposal for FY18 gave a 1.5% increase–an historic low. Last week (perhaps sensing blood in the water), the mayor proposed raising the increase to 2% . Plenty of others—including a group convened by the state superintendent of education (OSSE)—have recommended a 3.5% increase, and a petition to the council advocating a 3.5% increase has now garnered more than 1000 signatures.

But amid this legitimate concern over funding, there is dead silence about costs.

Imagine, for a moment, anyone in DC leadership going on the record with this statement:

“If there are 32 students in a class and two go to charters, you still have to have a teacher for the 30 [remaining] students.”

That’s what Philadelphia’s chief financial officer recently said after a study commissioned by that city determined that Philadelphia pays nearly $5000 per student in stranded costs each time a student leaves a by right school to attend a charter school. Those stranded costs include staffing, utilities and building maintenance for the schools that such students no longer attend, but that need to keep operating nonetheless because those schools are the guarantors of the right–not chance or choice–to an equitable public education.

Judging from the silence and averted eyes when I asked the council (during the DCPS budget hearing) if DC has a black budget for creating new schools, I’d have to say that discussing stranded costs and associated fiscal drains of opening and closing schools is not exactly, um, popular in these parts.

But such costs are a real issue in DC for tens of thousands of kids and their schools—no matter how little political will there is in DC to account for (much less name!) those costs.

For instance, right now as the deputy mayor for education gets down to updating the master facilities plan, the closure rate of DC charter schools ranges from a low of 33% to a high of 40%.

The closure rate at DCPS is even higher: The deputy mayor for education’s February 2017 report on DCPS closures notes that since 1997 (a year after charter schools started here), 76 DCPS schools have closed—a closure rate of 41%.

Now, if you add those closed DCPS schools to the 38 charter schools closed since 1996, you get a total of 114 DC public schools closed, for an eye-popping closure rate of 57 public schools per decade–or 5 public schools closed every year on average in the last 20 years.

And here’s the kicker: we know school closures cost a lot of money.

So, in addition to not acknowledging those costs of school closures, no one in DC leadership readily acknowledges the emotional cost to children, parents, and staff of school closures. Particularly with neighborhood schools, those buildings are often the core of their communities, sources of pride, civic engagement, as well as shelter in distress.

And that’s not even talking about the longer, sometimes dangerous, commutes for children to avail themselves of the right–not chance or choice–to an equitable education in the wake of DCPS closures. Who is accounting for that cost to our kids and our neighborhoods?

And yet, even while closing a breathtaking 5 schools every year for two decades, DC’s creation of choice-only schools and seats outpaces our growth in living, breathing students to fill them.

That is, even as more than 10,000 public school seats are currently unfilled, more seats are created every year by the charter board. The current crop of proposed new charter schools would, if approved next week, add about 3000 new seats. And that is not counting the (thus far) sidelined proposals of DC Prep and KIPP DC to create almost 4000 other new seats. (See here on both from the April charter board meeting.)

Sadly, the costs entailed by such growth go well beyond unfilled seats:

In school year 1999-2000, DC had 185 public schools serving 74,800 students. In school year 2014-15, DC had 223 public schools serving 85,400 students.

Thus, over a decade and a half, with a gain of 10,600 public school students (14% growth), DC had 38 more public schools (20% growth). Each school created requires infrastructure and staffing, raising costs overall. The mismeasure between those numbers adds to those costs–and increases them further when stranded costs are taken into account.

(All data in my analysis here is from the DME’s 2017 report; the 21st Century School Fund; the NRC report on PERAA (also available here); and a report from the Progressive Policy Institute, in addition to the charter school applications.)

Right now, however, such growth is completely uncoupled from any notional idea of coordination and planning—even with the master facilities plan in the balance and the cross sector task force dedicating a working group to school facilities.

Instead, we as a city pretend that there is an unseen budget that covers all new schools such that we do not tie the approval, location, size, or function of those new schools to any budgetary considerations whatsoever—much less to the best fit for both our students’ needs as well as preserving their right to equitable public education in every neighborhood.

(Come to think of it: Maybe I should have asked the council how our city got so rich that it could be uncaring about where its money goes–and how my kids’ schools can get some of that apparently endless cash?)

So, while the city gears up for oral arguments in the lawsuit filed against the city by charter advocates for supposedly unfair charter school payments, our city leaders remain unwilling to even acknowledge the huge cost implications of school closures and openings—all the while making political hay (and more) about the increase (or lack thereof) in the per pupil funding formula.

All I want to know is:

Can we catch up to Philly, DC auditor Kathy Patterson, and do a study of the costs between our public school sectors?

The cash saved might ensure we won’t have to fight over a 2% increase ever again–something that all city leaders can get behind without fear.

What is to be done?

The reason that American blue collar workers’ jobs and pay are so much at risk is that the capitalists are able to move anywhere in the world, and in order to earn the highest profits and remain wealthy, they seek out countries with little or no environmental standards, extremely low wages and benefits for workers, and, generally a corrupt and dictatorial government.  
Then, If the wages and benefits and environmental conditions get better for the local people (consequently bad for the bosses) they find another, more pliable government by overthrowing that one or relocating to an even lower-wage nation.
What is the solution? It’s not for American workers to enlist in the US military and attack working people overseas. Instead, we need to unite with our brothers and sisters on every continent, no matter what their skin color, native language, or prevailing religion might be, to fight for real living wages everywhere; the right for workers, students and others to organize freely for their own interests; to get rid of corrupt, undemocratic and kleptocratic governments; and to form an international united front against the international class of billionaires and parasites.

Published in: on May 14, 2017 at 7:21 pm  Comments (4)  

Yet another ‘miracle’ charter school

Upon analysis, it’s a miracle that it still keeps collecting tax dollars:

http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/post-investigation-eagle-arts-charter-chaos-are-kids-being-educated/MGH23lilkJ4eN5LRAM694L/

Published in: on May 13, 2017 at 7:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Where have all the insects gone?

Article in Science shows alarming declines in the numbers of insects in nearly every place studied, in just the past 25 years. You may not like bugs very much, but This has a ripple effect: many birds only eat insects, and bird populations are falling as well. 

Are neonic pesticides to blame?

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/where-have-all-insects-gone?utm_campaign=news_daily_2017-05-10&et_rid=17050347&et_cid=1320126

Published in: on May 11, 2017 at 7:11 am  Comments (1)  

Steven Hawking is Wrong

Steven Hawking is quoted as saying we now only have 100 years to leave Earth and find another habitable planet because those in charge of Earth are going to make it unlivable

I think he is absolutely wrong. The amount of fuel and other resources to get to ANY other known exoplanet for even 1,000 humans is a very large fraction of our present total annual energy and materials output of the entire planet — and would impoverish all the remaining 99.9999% of the population of the planet, even the 1% who currently have way too much.

For a very tiny fraction of those financial and material resources, we could devote some time, thought, planning and resources to make it so that wilderness areas are preserved, we stop filling the atmosphere with CO2 and methane, and we stop causing extinctions and fouling our own nest. In other words, we need to stop screwing up the air, the oceans, the lakes, the rivers, and the land itself. We certainly have all the money to give every living human soul a decent life, and we can preserve wild places so that there still will be wild animals running free on every single continent.

To my knowledge as a fairly avid amateur astronomer, we have yet to find even a single exoplanet that humans could actually exist on. While a number of of exoplanets are calculated to be in the ‘warm-enough’ zones, we don’t yet have any way of telling whether life has arisen on any of them. While at some point, spectroscopes will be able to discern what elements make up their atmosphere, it would be a stretch to say we could tell whether there is in fact life of any sort. If some do have living cells, we would not know what sort of overall chemistry they would have. There is no magic law that we know of that says that every ‘habitable-zone’ planet has lots of liquid water, an atmosphere that we would find breathable, and living cells based on RNA, DNA, and chlorophyll.

If we were so lucky as to find such a ‘pink unicorn’ planet around Proxima Centauri, the closest known star –‘only’ about 4 light years away — It would still take about 40 years to get there, at best (if we can get the speed up to  10% of c, the speed of light). Once they arive, the colonists would have to build, pretty much from scratch, all of the resources of NASA, European Space Agency, and those of Russia, China and India — combined. Which might take 50 – 100 years if they work really fast, so it could easily take one or two centuries for the first voyagers to return from Proxima Centauri – the very closest possible known exoplanet system.

No thanks.

No thank you to the idea of leaving this beautiful blue Planet Earth en masse. It’s the only place in the entire universe that we KNOW you can find a place that is reminiscent of Heaven. Yes, life is Hell for many of its residents, but with the proper amount of good will, we could fix that. Sure, let’s keep exploring with robotic drones and orbiting and Earth-based telescopes. It’s fine to send some expeditions to Mars and other places in our Solar System that have human crews, after we’ve made it a bit safer and affordable. But don’t believe for a minute that there is any other place in our Solar System where people can safely and affordably settle and raise families!

Let’s clean up our own nest instead of fouling it up some more for some crack-pot idea of massively escaping the ONE. AND. ONLY. KNOWN. HABITABLE. PLANET. IN. THE. ENTIRE. UNIVERSE.

Yes, it’s true that the owners of the large corporations and those who run governments and even small farmers, fishermen and the rest of us all over the planet are in fact screwing up Planet Earth almost as fast as we can. Our continued use of fossil fuels and generation of smog and water pollution goes on apace. However, we know how to fix all of that. It’s not hard, and many places have instituted protections (regulations) that will slow it down and eventually turn it all around.

Let’s fix Earth, not dream of leaving it.

Sorry, Dr Hawking, you are wrong.

24 Excellent Questions That Mostly Are NOT Being Asked By the Media 

But are posed by Andrew Bacevich…

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/05/andrew-bacevich-obsessing-trump-causes-us-miss.html

Thanks to Steven Ruis for pointing this out.

BTW, here are a few of those questions:

2. American military supremacy: The United States military is undoubtedly the world’s finest.  It’s also far and away the most generously funded, with policymakers offering U.S. troops no shortage of opportunities to practice their craft.  So why doesn’t this great military ever win anything?  Or put another way, why in recent decades have those forces been unable to accomplish Washington’s stated wartime objectives?  Why has the now 15-year-old war on terror failed to result in even a single real success anywhere in the Greater Middle East?  Could it be that we’ve taken the wrong approach?  What should we be doing differently?

3. America’s empire of bases: The U.S. military today garrisons the planet in a fashion without historical precedent.  Successive administrations, regardless of party, justify and perpetuate this policy by insisting that positioning U.S. forces in distant lands fosters peace, stability, and security.  In the present century, however, perpetuating this practice has visibly had the opposite effect.  In the eyes of many of those called upon to “host” American bases, the permanent presence of such forces smacks of occupation.  They resist.  Why should U.S. policymakers expect otherwise?

4. Supporting the troops: In present-day America, expressing reverence for those who serve in uniform is something akin to a religious obligation.  Everyone professes to cherish America’s “warriors.”  Yet such bountiful, if superficial, expressions of regard camouflage a growing gap between those who serve and those who applaud from the sidelines. Our present-day military system, based on the misnamed All-Volunteer Force, is neither democratic nor effective.  Why has discussion and debate about its deficiencies not found a place among the nation’s political priorities? 

5. Prerogatives of the commander-in-chief: Are there any military actions that the president of the United States may not order on his own authority?  If so, what are they?  Bit by bit, decade by decade, Congress has abdicated its assigned role in authorizing war. Today, it merely rubberstamps what presidents decide to do (or simply stays mum).  Who does this deference to an imperial presidency benefit?  Have U.S. policies thereby become more prudent, enlightened, and successful?

Short Video Version of the Rise of Putin (famously friends with Cheeto Hitler)

Interesting video.

 

David Satter, a writer fluent in Russian, has definite evidence that in fact a number of the terrorist incidents in Russia were in fact carried out by Russian security forces to gin up support for war and repression.

Libertarian Approach to Health Care…

… was just explained by one of its advocates. He said that libertarians do not want to prevent [poor] people from getting health care. Instead, libertarians think that the free market would disseminate information and new ideas on health care that would “fill in the cracks” and provide health care at lower costs to everybody, and that everything government does, prevents poor people from getting decent health care.

By, uh, magic.

That is complete bullhockey. What the free market does is guarantee excellence in marketing. It does NOT guarantee excellent products that everybody can afford.

Medical care IS indeed expensive, and none of us know when we might need a whole lot of it, in a hurry, or we die. (Car accidents, cancer, and so on….) And there are many good reasons for that high cost, many of them having to do with totally justified government regulations. 

These days, for example, and unlike the 1800s, doctors and other health professionals must go through years and years of very expensive training before they become CERTIFIED to treat patients. In the past, to be a “doctor”, all you needed was a few bottles of cocaine, morphine  and horse linament, a sharp razor blade, and a sign. Curing people? Well, if they were lucky and their “doctor” didn’t make them lose too much blood, they might get better.

Today, we have drugs, devices, and procedures that are amazing. I myself would have died several times over back in the old days, and I have aunts and uncles I NEVER METBECAUSE THEY DIED YOUNG around 1910-20 from stuff that nobody dies from now.
What person earning $15/hour or less can afford an MRI or a course of chemotherapy or a stint in the ICU out of their own pocket? Nearly every city ends up having all of its taxpayers subsidize hospitals to treat such patients — beyond what can be squeezed out of them at bankruptcy proceedings.

But if we had no regulations preventing patients from being turned away, then hospitals would do so much more dramatically than they already do. So what could a struggling working class person afford? Maybe a $100 fee to an untrained quack doctor or faith healer — illegal now, but I guess that is what the free market would provide if it wasn’t for those pesky regulations. (Remember Laetrile?)

What a future. No thanks. Government regulations were generally put there for very good reasons (though I’m sure some could be revised or deleted). It would also help if something as complicated as a replacement for the current health care system actually was published and printed and was subjected to hearings and debate, rather than pushed through with none of those features.

Let’s just enroll EVERYBODY in a health care system that does as much prevention and small-clinic care as possible, and fund it by general and progressive taxation of everybody according to their means. And give everybody the health care they need.

I know it might sound awfully Communistic, and even Sermon-on-the-mount Christian, but really. We have the money. What we don’t have is enough men and women of good will.

Published in: on May 6, 2017 at 4:45 pm  Comments (3)  

Texas Decision Slams Value Added Measurements

And it does so for many of the reasons that I have been advocating. I am going to quote the entirety of Diane Ravitch’s column on this:


Audrey Amrein-Beardsley of Arizona State University is one of the nation’s most prominent scholars of teacher evaluation. She is especially critical of VAM (value-added measurement); she has studied TVAAS, EVAAS, and other similar metrics and found them deeply flawed. She has testified frequently in court cases as an expert witness.

In this post, she analyzes the court decision that blocks the use of VAM to evaluate teachers in Houston. The misuse of VAM was especially egregious in Houston, which terminated 221 teachers in one year, based on their VAM scores.

This is a very important article. Amrein-Beardsley and Jesse Rothstein of the University of California testified on behalf of the teachers; Tom Kane (who led the Gates’ Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Study) and John Friedman (of the notorious Chetty-Friedman-Rockoff study) testified on behalf of the district.

Amrein-Beardsley writes:

Of primary issue will be the following (as taken from Judge Smith’s Summary Judgment released yesterday): “Plaintiffs [will continue to] challenge the use of EVAAS under various aspects of the Fourteenth Amendment, including: (1) procedural due process, due to lack of sufficient information to meaningfully challenge terminations based on low EVAAS scores,” and given “due process is designed to foster government decision-making that is both fair and accurate.”

Related, and of most importance, as also taken directly from Judge Smith’s Summary, he wrote:

HISD’s value-added appraisal system poses a realistic threat to deprive plaintiffs of constitutionally protected property interests in employment.

HISD does not itself calculate the EVAAS score for any of its teachers. Instead, that task is delegated to its third party vendor, SAS. The scores are generated by complex algorithms, employing “sophisticated software and many layers of calculations.” SAS treats these algorithms and software as trade secrets, refusing to divulge them to either HISD or the teachers themselves. HISD has admitted that it does not itself verify or audit the EVAAS scores received from SAS, nor does it engage any contractor to do so. HISD further concedes that any effort by teachers to replicate their own scores, with the limited information available to them, will necessarily fail. This has been confirmed by plaintiffs’ expert, who was unable to replicate the scores despite being given far greater access to the underlying computer codes than is available to an individual teacher [emphasis added, as also related to a prior post about how SAS claimed that plaintiffs violated SAS’s protective order (protecting its trade secrets), that the court overruled, see here].

The EVAAS score might be erroneously calculated for any number of reasons, ranging from data-entry mistakes to glitches in the computer code itself. Algorithms are human creations, and subject to error like any other human endeavor. HISD has acknowledged that mistakes can occur in calculating a teacher’s EVAAS score; moreover, even when a mistake is found in a particular teacher’s score, it will not be promptly corrected. As HISD candidly explained in response to a frequently asked question, “Why can’t my value-added analysis be recalculated?”:

Once completed, any re-analysis can only occur at the system level. What this means is that if we change information for one teacher, we would have to re- run the analysis for the entire district, which has two effects: one, this would be very costly for the district, as the analysis itself would have to be paid for again; and two, this re-analysis has the potential to change all other teachers’ reports.

The remarkable thing about this passage is not simply that cost considerations trump accuracy in teacher evaluations, troubling as that might be. Of greater concern is the house-of-cards fragility of the EVAAS system, where the wrong score of a single teacher could alter the scores of every other teacher in the district. This interconnectivity means that the accuracy of one score hinges upon the accuracy of all. Thus, without access to data supporting all teacher scores, any teacher facing discharge for a low value-added score will necessarily be unable to verify that her own score is error-free.

HISD’s own discovery responses and witnesses concede that an HISD teacher is unable to verify or replicate his EVAAS score based on the limited information provided by HISD.

According to the unrebutted testimony of plaintiffs’ expert, without access to SAS’s proprietary information – the value-added equations, computer source codes, decision rules, and assumptions – EVAAS scores will remain a mysterious “black box,” impervious to challenge.

While conceding that a teacher’s EVAAS score cannot be independently verified, HISD argues that the Constitution does not require the ability to replicate EVAAS scores “down to the last decimal point.” But EVAAS scores are calculated to the second decimal place, so an error as small as one hundredth of a point could spell the difference between a positive or negative EVAAS effectiveness rating, with serious consequences for the affected teacher.

Hence, “When a public agency adopts a policy of making high stakes employment decisions based on secret algorithms incompatible with minimum due process, the proper remedy is to overturn the policy.”

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