Insights from Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: While Americans Sleep, Our Corporate Overlords Make Progress Impossible

Posted on  by Jerri-Lynn Scofield

By Ralph Nader, a consumer advocate and the author of “The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future” (2012). His new book is, “Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All” (2020, co-authored with Mark Green).Originally published at Common Dreams

“Polarization” is the word most associated with the positions of the Republicans and Democrats in Congress. The mass media and the commentators never tire of this focus, in part because such clashes create the flashes conducive to daily coverage.

Politicians from both parties exploit voters who don’t do their homework on voting records and let the lawmakers use the people’s sovereign power (remember the Constitution’s “We the People”) against them on behalf of the big corporate bosses.

The quiet harmony between the two parties created by the omnipresent power of Big Business and other powerful single-issue lobbyists is often the status quo. That’s why there are so few changes in this country’s politics.

In many cases, the similarities of both major parties are tied to the fundamental concentration of power by the few over the many. In short, the two parties regularly agree on anti-democratic abuses of power. Granted, there are always a few exceptions among the rank & file. Here are some areas of Republican and Democrat concurrence:

1. The Duopoly shares the same stage on a militaristic, imperial foreign policy and massive unaudited military budgets. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Pentagon budget was voted out of a House committee by the Democrats and the GOP with $24 billion MORE than what President Biden asked for from Congress. Neither party does much of anything to curtail the huge waste, fraud, and abuse of corporate military contractors, or the Pentagon’s violation of federal law since 1992 requiring annual auditable data on DOD spending be provided to Congress, the president, and the public.

2. Both Parties allow unconstitutional wars violating federal laws and international treaties that we signed onto long ago, including restrictions on the use of force under the United Nations Charter.

3. Both Parties ignore the burgeoning corporate welfare subsidies, handouts, giveaways, and bailouts turning oceans of inefficient, mismanaged, and coddled profit-glutted companies into tenured corporate welfare Kings.

4. Both Parties decline to crack down on the nationwide corporate crime spree. They don’t even like to use the phrase “corporate crime” or “corporate crime wave.” They prefer to delicately allude to “white-collar crime.”

Trillions of dollars are at stake every year, yet neither party holds corporate crime hearings nor proposes an update of the obsolete, weak federal corporate criminal laws.

In some instances, there is no criminal penalty at all for willful and knowing violations of safety regulatory laws (e.g., the auto safety and aviation safety laws). Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is trying to find just one Republican Senator to co-sponsor the “Hide No Harm Act” that would make it a crime for a corporate officer to knowingly conceal information about a corporate action or product that poses the danger of death or serious physical injury to consumers or workers.

5. Both Parties allow Wall Street’s inexhaustibly greedy CEOs to prey on innocents, including small investors. They also do nothing to curb hundreds of billions of dollars in computerized billing fraud, especially in the health care industry. (See, License to Steal by Malcolm K. Sparrow and a GAO Report about thirty years ago).

6. The third leading cause of death in the U.S. is fatalities from preventable problems in hospitals and clinics. According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study in 2015, a conservative estimate is that 250,000 people yearly are dying from preventable conditions. Neither Congress nor the Executive Branch has an effort remotely up to the scale required to reduce this staggering level of mortality and morbidity. Nor is the American Medical Association (AMA) engaging with this avoidable epidemic.

7. Both Parties sped bailout of over $50 billion to the airline industry during Covid-19, after the companies had spent about $45 billion on unproductive stock buybacks over the last few years to raise the metrics used to boost executive pay.

8. Both Parties starve corporate law enforcement budgets in the Justice Department, the regulatory agencies, and such departments as Labor, Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, and Health and Human Services. The Duopoly’s view is that there be no additional federal cops on the corporate crime beat.

9. Both Parties prostrate themselves before the bank-funded Federal Reserve. There are no congressional audits, no congressional oversight of the Fed’s secret, murky operations, and massive printing of money to juice up Wall Street, while keeping interest rates near zero for trillions of dollars held by over one hundred million small to midsize savers in America.

10. Both Parties are wedded to constant and huge bailouts of the risky declining, uncompetitive (with solar and wind energy) nuclear power industry. This is corporate socialism at its worst. Without your taxpayer and ratepayer dollars, nuclear plants would be closing down faster than is now the case. Bipartisan proposals for more nukes come with large subsidies and guarantees by Uncle Sam.

11. Both Parties hate Third Parties and engage in the political bigotry of obstructing their ballot access (See: Richard Winger’s Ballot Access News), with hurdles, harassing lawsuits, and exclusions from public debates. The goal of both parties is to stop a competitive democracy.

12. Both Parties overwhelmingly rubber-stamp whatever the Israeli government wants in the latest U.S. military weaponry, the suppression of Palestinians and illegal occupation of the remaining Palestinian lands, and the periodic slaughter of Gazans with U.S. weapons. The Duopoly also supports the use of the U.S. veto in the UN Security Council to insulate Israel from UN sanctions.

13. Continuing Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich’s debilitating internal deforms of congressional infrastructures, the Democrats have gone along with the GOP’s shrinking of committee and staff budgets, abolition of the crucial Office of Technology Assessment’s (OTA) budget, and concentration of excessive power in the hands of the Speaker and Senate leader. This little noticed immolation reduces further the legislature’s ability to oversee the huge sprawling Executive Branch. The erosion of congressional power is furthered by the three-day work week Congress has reserved for itself.

14. Even on what might seem to be healthy partisan differences, the Democrats and the GOP agree not to replace or ease out Trump’s Director of the Internal Revenue Service, a former corporate loophole tax lawyer, or the head of the U.S. Postal Service, a former profiteer off the Post Office who will shortly curtail service even more than he did in 2020 (See: First Class: The U.S. Postal Service, Democracy, and the Corporate Threat, by Christopher W Shaw).

Right now, both Parties are readying to give over $50 billion of your tax money to the very profitable under-taxed computer chip industry companies like Intel and Nvidia, so they can make more profit-building plants in the U.S. These companies are loaded with cash. They should invest their own money and stop the stock buyback craze. Isn’t that what capitalism is all about?

Both Parties vote as if the American middle-class taxpayer is a sleeping sucker. Politicians from both parties exploit voters who don’t do their homework on voting records and let the lawmakers use the people’s sovereign power (remember the Constitution’s “We the People”) against them on behalf of the big corporate bosses.

Sleep on America, you have nothing to lose but your dreams.

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This entry was posted in Banana republicGuest PostIncome disparityLegalPoliticsRegulations and regulatorsRidiculously obvious scamsThe destruction of the middle class on  by Jerri-Lynn Scofield.

‘No Excuses’ Charter Schools

The sacred and the profane: A former D.C. charter school board member calls for change

By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Reporter

September 23, 2021 at 10:29 a.m. EDT

Steve Bumbaugh is a former member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, having served on the seven-member volunteer panel from 2015 until early this year. During that time, Bumbaugh visited numerous charter schools and attended many board meetings where questions of whether schools should be authorized, sanctioned or closed were discussed.

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently from the school systems in the areas where they are located. In the nation’s capital, charters enroll nearly as many of the city’s schoolchildren as the system does. Supporters of charters say that they provide families with a necessary alternative to schools in traditional districts. Critics say they do not, on average, provide better student outcomes than traditional districts and steer public money away from districts that educate most schoolchildren.

Bumbaugh is a big supporter of charter schools. In this unusual post, he writes about his experience on the charter board and makes recommendations for change that he said will be bring better representation from the community.

Bumbaugh has worked in the education field for several decades in various roles. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science at Yale University and an MBA at Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

By Steve Bumbaugh

Let’s travel back to September 2017. I was in Southeast Washington, D.C., scheduled to tour a school in an hour. I remember visiting 25 years ago when it was part of the D.C. public school system. That school was closed in 2009 — one of dozens closed in the last 15 years — and now several charter schools occupy the campus.

At the time of this visit, I was a member of board of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), having started my tenure in 2015 and serving until early this year. In that capacity, I visited dozens of D.C.-based charter schools. Sometimes, I left those visits saddened, even defeated.

This was one of those times.

Over several decades of work at the intersection of education and poverty, I have learned that much of a school’s character can be divined through its start-of-the-day ritual. So on that day in 2017, I arrived early and sat in my car, far enough away that no one seemed to notice me, but near enough so that I could observe the comings and goings. Several young Black women arrived at school with their children who look to be 5 or 6 years old. They were greeted by staff members, and I observed them having what appeared to be tense conversations with the women. Some of these women left with their children in tow. Others handed their children over to staff members and departed.

When I entered the school for my scheduled visit, I was greeted by one of the founders, a 30-something man with energy and charm. He was joined by the school’s board chair, a distinguished senior partner from one of D.C.’s blue-chip law firms. They took me on a tour of several classrooms. I noticed that the leadership of the school was entirely White as were many of the teachers. All of the students were African American, most from families that struggle financially.

For the most part, the school looked like most other “no excuses” charter schools in the nation’s capital, dotting low-income African American neighborhoods, and in other places across the country.

These schools start with the belief that there is no good reason for the huge academic gaps between privileged and poor minority students — and that strict discipline, obedience, uniform teaching methods and other policies could erase the gaps. A feature of many of these schools, and one evident on this site visit, are lines painted on the hallway floors. Students are expected to walk on these lines as they move from classroom to classroom. Any deviation is likely to result in punishment. The only other places I had seen this before was at correctional facilities.

I entered a preschool classroom where students were gathered in a semi-circle on a rug. Like curious 4-year-olds everywhere, the students turned their heads to scrutinize us. Many smiled widely and some even waved. The teacher snapped at the children, demanding their attention. I was startled by her aggression. They were, after all, 4-year old children engaging in age-appropriate behavior.

That evening I called a staff person from this school who I’ve known for several years. I asked her to translate the scenes I witnessed outside the school. The conversation went something like this:

–“Those scholars probably had uniform violations. The staff persons were probably telling the moms to go home to have the kids change.”

–“I didn’t notice that they were wearing anything different from the other children.”

–“Well, they may have had the wrong color shoes. Or maybe they had the correct color shirt, but it didn’t have the school’s insignia on it.”

–“They have to go back home for that?”

–“Unless they want to spend the day in a behavior support room.”

Incredulous, I pressed my friend for details. I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?

This sort of interaction between students and staff was not uncommon in no-excuses charter schools I visited over the years.

Occasionally I did visit schools that combine academic rigor and kindness with student bodies that are mostly Black and low-income. But those schools were the exception. I’ve seen schools where children are taught to track the teachers with their eyes, move their mouths in a specific way, and engage in other humiliating rituals that have little educational value.

I visited a school that suspended 40 percent of its 5-year-old children who had been diagnosed with disabilities. At some schools, when children are sick, their parents were forced to produce a doctor’s note because school leaders believed the parents were lying. But some of these parents were uninsured and there weren’t — and still aren’t — many doctors in their neighborhoods. Obtaining a doctor’s note required them to take their children onto packed public buses so they could go to public health clinics or emergency rooms.

Schools that still do this are telling these parents that they are not trusted. And while children in these schools are taught computational math and textual analysis, they also learn that they are congenitally profane.

Charter schools arose a generation ago in Washington, D.C. when the city was poor and in the grips of a decade-long homicide epidemic. I was part of a group of 20-somethings frustrated with the lack of progress in the city’s long-troubled public school system. We had been creating programs for the D.C. Public Schools system that dramatically outpaced the district’s regular academic outcomes, and we wanted to turn these programs into actual schools.

We talked about forging solutions with parents and students, working to retain every single student, exhorting patience about building the infrastructure from which improved academic outcomes would spring.

But little of this vision was attractive to an emerging cadre of funders and policymakers who placed huge bets on charter schools. They submitted to a vision, not based on a shred of evidence, that Black and Brown children would thrive if they were taught “character” and “grit.” The way to do this, apparently, was to create an assembly-line model of instruction with rigid rules. Children who could not abide by these rules were “counseled out” to return to traditional public schools. Now about one-third of D.C. charter schools are in the no-excuses category, enrolling at least half of the charter student population. (Some of these schools say they are changing, but I haven’t seen real evidence of that.)

Some ‘no-excuses’ charter schools say they are changing. Are they? Can they?

Remember, this was a time when Black communities were ravaged by an epidemic of crack cocaine and criminal justice laws that sent Blacks to jail for far longer sentences than Whites arrested for using essentially the same drug. Hillary Clinton, then first lady, warned against “the kinds of kids that are called super predators, no conscience, no empathy” — which many of us took to mean low-income Black children. In this context, powerful people not familiar with low-income communities were easily seduced by plans to tightly control children who might otherwise grow into dangerous adults.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board was created in 1996, at a time when homicide rates in the District were so high the city was dubbed the “murder capital.” It is no wonder the D.C. Public Charter School Board jumped on the “no-excuses” bandwagon.

What have we gained from this system? As of 2018-19 — the latest data available on the website of the charter school board — only 8.5 percent of Black high school students (about 80 percent of the student population) in charter schools were deemed proficient in math and 21 percent in English Language Arts, according to scores on the standardized PARCC exam.

There are some charter schools that are doing amazing work, but the system itself is ineffective. The vast majority of our students are not remotely ready for the rigors of college coursework.

After untold millions of dollars of investment and the creation of scores of schools — there were 128 operating this year — it is time for us to admit that this experiment is not working as it should.

So what must be done?

The District must rethink its charter schools, and more specifically, charter schools must be integrated. “Chocolate City” has been replaced by a city where upper-income White residents and a more diverse spectrum of Black residents exist in equal numbers.

One of the few scalable policies that dramatically improved academic outcomes for Black students was the integration of American public schools in the 1970s and ’80s. The Performance Management Framework that ranks the quality of each charter school should ensure that schools reflect the demographics of the city as it is today, particularly given that charter schools are not constrained by neighborhood boundaries that enforce segregation in traditional public schools.

New York City provides a replicable, legal model to enact a charter school system that prevents the proliferation of a worrying trend in D.C’s charter schools: elite charters that essentially shut out vulnerable, low-income Black children. (Though the city also has some of the most egregious no-excuses charters.)

What we have now, with some notable exceptions, is a system where highly resourced families crowd into a handful of desirable schools that have impossibly long waiting lists, and students from poor families attend no-excuses schools or charters that struggle to remain open. A school that serves a student body where 6-8 percent of the students meet the definition of “at risk” should not be considered top tier when 51 percent of the students (a statistic confirmed by a charter board staff member) in the entire system are at risk.

Similarly, schools should not be penalized or subtly encouraged to move out low-performing students when they serve student bodies that are overwhelmingly at risk.

“Separate and equal” should not stand in one of the most liberal cities in the United States.

Moreover power needs to be distributed more evenly. At first glance, the concentration of institutional power is not evident at the Public Charter School Board.

Most of the board members, including the current executive director, are Black or Latino. A closer look — and I am including myself in this observation — reveals that we are not remotely similar to most of the families with children attending D.C. public charter schools. Fully 80 percent of these families are African Americans who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is not the same as at risk, but which is generally seen as a proxy for school poverty.

The people who are on the charter school board are highly educated professionals. Since I began serving on the panel — which has seven rotating volunteers, all appointed by the D.C. mayor — there have been 10 sitting members, half of whom attended Yale, Stanford or Harvard universities, or some combination of the three. We are well-versed in the contours of institutional power and know how to operate inside of its rarely articulated but clearly delineated boundaries. We’ve been rewarded for decoding these rules and abiding by them, which is precisely why we are selected for these coveted roles. We provide cover through optical diversity.

But if we really want to embrace equity, it’s time to rethink the make-up of the Public Charter School Board. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will have a unique opportunity to reshape this board over the coming year as five of its seven members will be termed out.

We need a board with members who reflect the communities served by D.C. charter sector. As cities move away from elected school boards to mayoral appointments, it’s critical that the voices that used to represent low-income communities continue to be present.

In the District, 80 percent of families attending charters are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but the charter school board has not in its 25-year history appointed a single board member who lives in poverty. Why not adjust the PCSB’s contours to reflect the communities in which these schools are located instead of incessantly asking poor Black people to acclimate?

Continuing to govern charter schools without input from low-income parents robs them of agency. This one-way flow of power is precisely the mistake this movement has made at the student level. Involving parents in the co-architecture of the sector would signal an evolutionary step forward.

Lastly, “no excuses” schools must be banned outright. The central failure of the education reform movement is the mimicking of carceral institutions, established and often celebrated by highly resourced outsiders. The idea that low-income Black and Latino students need to be tightly controlled in order to do well is a relic of Jim Crow.

My parents were Protestant ministers whose doctrine was best reflected in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. In their theology, elites look askance at the most vulnerable even though it is the most vulnerable — the poor, the outcasts — who can redeem a flawed world. It is the poor who are sacred. Their unearned suffering is both incessant and redemptive. This inversion of what is truly sacred and what is genuinely profane is a persistent theme in religion because the human spirit is so inclined to side with power; the path of least resistance. The education reform world is no different in this regard.

When I was teaching at Eastern High School in the early 1990s, we forbade our students from wearing T-shirts popular with their generation that sported curse words and gun imagery. Teenagers being teenagers, they pushed back against this restriction accusing us of violating their rights.

Over lunch one day, we put the dress code on trial. In my closing argument I asked the defendant if he would wear an offending T-shirt to his grandmother’s house or to church. “No” he responded. Somewhat theatrically I leaped: “Of course you wouldn’t! Your grandma’s house and church are sacred spaces.” I pulled the snare tightly across the throat of his argument, asking him in a whisper: “Why isn’t my classroom a sacred space?”

Then as now, the sacred places don’t exist in their neighborhoods. Where are the bookstores and the movie theaters and the art studios? They are in the wealthier neighborhoods where the people are sacred.

This hoarding of the sacred expresses itself in remarkable fits of paradox. In the education reform world, those of us who can retreat to our own sacred places sometimes expect to be praised for the simple reason that we take notice of the profane at all.

So even though the education reform world is replete with leaders whose own children are too sacred to attend the schools they found or fund or otherwise support, we are expected to ignore the contradiction when we tout these schools to the general public.

This is because there is an understanding at an almost cellular level that some children deserve sacred spaces and others should gratefully accept what the sacred give them.

In an era when Black Lives Matter signs are ubiquitous and a national conversation is underway about how to untangle our historical caste system, the PCSB has a role to play.

We can create a system that sees every child as sacred, regardless of ethnic stripe or socio-economic status.

And because effective social movements are not led by outsiders, we must create a system where families who attend these schools fully participate in the institutions of power. This is the beautiful, messy contract required by democracy.

10 Year Assessment of Education Reform in DC — a Fraud, says its former director of assessments, Richard Phelps

Stolen from Valerie Jablow:

Looking Back on DC Education Reform 10 Years Later, Part 1: The Grand Tourby Valerie Jablow

[Ed. Note: As DC’s office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) seeks a waiver of PARCC testing again (recall that OSSE waived PARCC last school year due to the pandemic) and the DC auditor just released a bombshell report of poor stewardship of DC’s education data, it is time to revisit how standardized test data, teacher evaluations, and harsh school penalties were united by ed reformers in DCPS under mayoral control. This first-hand account of what went down in DCPS, the first of two parts by semi-retired educator Richard P. Phelps, appeared in Nonpartisan Education Review in September 2020 and is reprinted here with permission. The author thanks DC budget expert Mary Levy and retired DCPS teacher Erich Martel for their helpful comments in the research of this article.]

By Richard P. Phelps

Ten years ago, I worked as the director of assessments for DCPS. My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as chancellor. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary.

My primary task was to design an expansion of that testing program that served the IMPACT teacher evaluation system to include all core subjects and all grade levels. Despite its fame (or infamy), the test score aspect of the IMPACT program affected only 13% of teachers, those teaching either reading or math in grades four through eight. Only those subjects and grade levels included the requisite pre- and post-tests required for teacher “value added” measurements (VAM). Not included were most subjects (e.g., science, social studies, art, music, physical education), grades kindergarten to two, and high school.

Chancellor Rhee wanted many more teachers included. So, I designed a system that would cover more than half the DCPS teacher force, from kindergarten through high school. You haven’t heard about it because it never happened. The newly elected Vincent Gray had promised during his mayoral campaign to reduce the amount of testing; the proposed expansion would have increased it fourfold.

VAM affected teachers’ jobs. A low value-added score could lead to termination; a high score, to promotion and a cash bonus. VAM as it was then structured was obviously, glaringly flawed, as anyone with a strong background in educational testing could have seen. Unfortunately, among the many new central office hires from the elite of ed reform circles, none had such a background. (Even a primary grades teacher with the same group of students the entire school day had those students for less than six hours a day, five days a week, for less than half the year. All told, even in the highest exposure circumstances, a teacher interacted with the same group of students for less than a tenth of each student’s waking hours in a year, and for less than a twentieth in the tested subjects of English and math. In the lowest exposure circumstance, a high school teacher might interact with a class of English or math students for less than three percent of a student’s annual hours.

Before posting a request for proposals from commercial test developers for the testing expansion plan, I was instructed to survey two groups of stakeholders—central office managers and school-level teachers and administrators.

Not surprisingly, some of the central office managers consulted requested additions or changes to the proposed testing program where they thought it would benefit their domain of responsibility. The net effect on school-level personnel would have been to add to their administrative burden. Nonetheless, all requests from central office managers would be honored.

The Grand Tour

At about the same time, over several weeks of the late spring and early summer of 2010, along with a bright summer intern, I visited a dozen DCPS schools. The alleged purpose was to collect feedback on the design of the expanded testing program. I enjoyed these meetings. They were informative, animated, and very well attended. School staff appreciated the apparent opportunity to contribute to policy decisions and tried to make the most of it.

Each school greeted us with a full complement of faculty and staff on their days off, numbering a several dozen educators at some venues. They believed what we had told them: that we were in the process of redesigning the DCPS assessment program and were genuinely interested in their suggestions for how best to do it.

At no venue did we encounter stand-pat knee-jerk rejection of education reform efforts. Some educators were avowed advocates for the Rhee administration’s reform policies, but most were basically dedicated educators determined to do what was best for their community within the current context.

The Grand Tour was insightful, too. I learned for the first time of certain aspects of DCPS’s assessment system that were essential to consider in its proper design, aspects of which the higher-ups in the DCPS Central Office either were not aware or did not consider relevant.

The group of visited schools represented DCPS as a whole in appropriate proportions geographically, ethnically, and by education level (i.e., primary, middle, and high). Within those parameters, however, only schools with “friendly” administrations were chosen. That is, we only visited schools with principals and staff openly supportive of the Rhee-Henderson agenda.

But even they desired changes to the testing program, whether or not it was expanded. Their suggestions covered both the annual districtwide DC-CAS (or “comprehensive” assessment system), on which the teacher evaluation system was based, and the DC-BAS (or “benchmarking” assessment system), a series of four annual “no-stakes” interim tests unique to DCPS, ostensibly offered to help prepare students and teachers for the consequential-for-some-school-staff DC-CAS. (Though officially “no stakes,” some principals analyzed results from the DC-BAS to identify students whose scores lay just under the next higher benchmark and encouraged teachers to focus their instructional efforts on them. Moreover, at the high school level, where testing occurred only in grade 10, students who performed poorly on the DC-BAS might be artificially re-classified as held-back 9th graders or advanced prematurely to 11th grade in order to avoid the DC-CAS.)

At each staff meeting I asked for a show of hands on several issues of interest that I thought were actionable. Some suggestions for program changes received close to unanimous support. Allow me to describe several.

***Move DC-CAS test administration later in the school year. Many citizens may have logically assumed that the IMPACT teacher evaluation numbers were calculated from a standard pre-post test schedule, testing a teacher’s students at the beginning of their academic year together and then again at the end. In 2010, however, the DC-CAS was administered in March, three months before school year end. Moreover, that single administration of the test served as both pre- and post-test, posttest for the current school year and pretest for the following school year. Thus, before a teacher even met their new students in late August or early September, almost half of the year for which teachers were judged had already transpired—the three months in the spring spent with the previous year’s teacher and almost three months of summer vacation.

School staff recommended pushing DC-CAS administration to later in the school year. Furthermore, they advocated a genuine pre-post-test administration schedule—pre-test the students in late August–early September and post-test them in late-May–early June—to cover a teacher’s actual span of time with the students.

This suggestion was rejected because the test development firm with the DC-CAS contract required three months to score some portions of the test in time for the IMPACT teacher ratings scheduled for early July delivery, before the start of the new school year. Some small number of teachers would be terminated based on their IMPACT scores, so management demanded those scores be available before preparations for the new school year began. (Even a primary grades teacher with the same group of students the entire school day had those students for less than six hours a day, five days a week, for less than half the year. All told, even in the highest exposure circumstances, a teacher interacted with the same group of students for less than a tenth of each student’s waking hours in a year, and for less than a twentieth in the tested subjects of English and math. In the lowest exposure circumstance, a high school teacher might interact with a class of English or math students for less than three percent of a student’s annual hours.)

The tail wagged the dog.

***Add some stakes to the DC-CAS in the upper grades. Because DC-CAS test scores portended consequences for teachers but none for students, some students expended little effort on the test. Indeed, extensive research on “no-stakes” (for students) tests reveal that motivation and effort vary by a range of factors including gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, the weather, and age. Generally, the older the student, the lower the test-taking effort. This disadvantaged some teachers in the IMPACT ratings for circumstances beyond their control: unlucky student demographics.

Central office management rejected this suggestion to add even modest stakes to the upper grades’ DC-CAS; no reason given.

***Move one of the DC-BAS tests to year end. If management rejected the suggestion to move DC-CAS test administration to the end of the school year, school staff suggested scheduling one of the no-stakes DC-BAS benchmarking tests for late May–early June. As it was, the schedule squeezed all four benchmarking test administrations between early September and mid-February. Moving just one of them to the end of the year would give the following year’s teachers a more recent reading (by more than three months) of their new students’ academic levels and needs.

Central office management rejected this suggestion probably because the real purpose of the DC-BAS was not to help teachers understand their students’ academic levels and needs, as the following will explain.

***Change DC-BAS tests so they cover recently taught content. Many DC citizens probably assumed that, like most tests, the DC-BAS interim tests covered recently taught content, such as that covered since the previous test administration. Not so in 2010. The first annual DC-BAS was administered in early September, just after the year’s courses commenced. Moreover, it covered the same content domain—that for the entirety of the school year—as each of the next three DC-BAS tests.

School staff proposed changing the full-year “comprehensive” content coverage of each DC-BAS test to partial-year “cumulative” coverage, so students would only be tested on what they had been taught prior to each test administration.

This suggestion, too, was rejected. Testing the same full-year comprehensive content domain produced a predictable, flattering score rise. With each DC-BAS test administration, students recognized more of the content, because they had just been exposed to more of it, so average scores predictably rose. With test scores always rising, it looked like student achievement improved steadily each year. Achieving this contrived score increase required testing students on some material to which they had not yet been exposed, both a violation of professional testing standards and a poor method for instilling student confidence. (Of course, it was also less expensive to administer essentially the same test four times a year than to develop four genuinely different tests.)

***Synchronize the sequencing of curricular content across the District. DCPS management rhetoric circa 2010 attributed classroom-level benefits to the testing program. Teachers would know more about their students’ levels and needs and could also learn from each other. Yet, the only student test results teachers received at the beginning of each school year was half-a-year old, and most of the information they received over the course of four DC-BAS test administrations was based on not-yet-taught content.

As for cross-district teacher cooperation, unfortunately there was no cross-District coordination of common curricular sequences. Each teacher paced their subject matter however they wished and varied topical emphases according to their own personal preference.

It took DCPS’s chief academic officer, Carey Wright, and her chief of staff, Dan Gordon, less than a minute to reject the suggestion to standardize topical sequencing across schools so that teachers could consult with one another in real time. Tallying up the votes: several hundred school-level District educators favored the proposal, two of Rhee’s trusted lieutenants opposed it. It lost.

***Offer and require a keyboarding course in the early grades. DCPS was planning to convert all its testing from paper-and-pencil mode to computer delivery within a few years. Yet, keyboarding courses were rare in the early grades. Obviously, without systemwide keyboarding training in computer use some students would be at a disadvantage in computer testing.

Suggestion rejected.

In all, I had polled over 500 DCPS school staff. Not only were all of their suggestions reasonable, some were essential in order to comply with professional assessment standards and ethics.

Nonetheless, back at DCPS’s central office, each suggestion was rejected without, to my observation, any serious consideration. The rejecters included Chancellor Rhee, the head of the office of data and accountability—the self-titled “Data Lady,” Erin McGoldrick—and the head of the curriculum and instruction division, Carey Wright, and her chief deputy, Dan Gordon.

Four central office staff outvoted several hundred school staff (and my recommendations as assessment director). In each case, the changes recommended would have meant some additional work on their parts, but in return for substantial improvements in the testing program. Their rhetoric was all about helping teachers and students; but the facts were that the testing program wasn’t structured to help them.

What was the purpose of my several weeks of school visits and staff polling? To solicit “buy in” from school level staff, not feedback.

Ultimately, the new testing program proposal would incorporate all the new features requested by senior central office staff, no matter how burdensome, and not a single feature requested by several hundred supportive school-level staff, no matter how helpful. Like many others, I had hoped that the education reform intention of the Rhee-Henderson years was genuine. DCPS could certainly have benefitted from some genuine reform.

Alas, much of the activity labelled “reform” was just for show, and for padding resumes. Numerous central office managers would later work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous others would work for entities supported by the Gates or aligned foundations, or in jurisdictions such as Louisiana, where ed reformers held political power. Most would be well paid.

Their genuine accomplishments, or lack thereof, while at DCPS seemed to matter little. What mattered was the appearance of accomplishment and, above all, loyalty to the group. That loyalty required going along to get along: complicity in maintaining the façade of success while withholding any public criticism of or disagreement with other in-group members.

Unfortunately, in the United States what is commonly showcased as education reform is neither a civic enterprise nor a popular movement. Neither parents, the public, nor school-level educators have any direct influence. Rather, at the national level, U.S. education reform is an elite, private club—a small group of tightly connected politicos and academics—a mutual admiration society dedicated to the career advancement, political influence, and financial benefit of its members, supported by a gaggle of wealthy foundations (e.g., Gates, Walton, Broad, Wallace, Hewlett, Smith-Richardson).

For over a decade, The Ed Reform Club exploited DC for its own benefit. Local elite formed the DC Public Education Fund (DCPEF) to sponsor education projects, such as IMPACT, which they deemed worthy. In the negotiations between the Washington Teachers’ Union and DCPS concluded in 2010, DCPEF arranged a 3-year grant of $64.5 million from the Arnold, Broad, Robertson, and Walton foundations to fund a 5-year retroactive teacher pay raise in return for contract language allowing teacher excessing tied to IMPACT, which Rhee promised would lead to annual student test score increases by 2012. Projected goals were not met; foundation support continued nonetheless.

Michelle Johnson (nee Rhee) chaired the board of a charter school chain in California and occasionally collects $30,000+ in speaker fees but, otherwise, seems to have deliberately withdrawn from the limelight. Despite contributing her own additional scandals after she assumed the DCPS chancellorship, Kaya Henderson ascended to great fame and glory with a “distinguished professorship” at Georgetown; honorary degrees from Georgetown and Catholic universities; gigs with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Broad Leadership Academy, and Teach for All; and board memberships with The Aspen Institute, The College Board, Robin Hood NYC, and Teach For America. Carey Wright is now state superintendent in Mississippi. Dan Gordon runs a 30-person consulting firm, Education Counsel, which strategically partners with major players in U.S. education policy. The manager of the IMPACT teacher evaluation program, Jason Kamras, now works as superintendent of the Richmond, VA public schools.

Arguably the person most directly responsible for the recurring assessment system fiascos of the Rhee-Henderson years, then chief of data and accountability Erin McGoldrick, now specializes in “data innovation” as partner and chief operating officer at an education management consulting firm. Her firm, Kitamba, strategically partners with its own panoply of major players in U.S. education policy. Its list of recent clients includes the DC Public Charter School Board and DCPS.

If the ambitious DC central office folk who gaudily declared themselves leading education reformers were not really, who were the genuine education reformers during the Rhee-Henderson decade of massive upheaval and per-student expenditures three times those in the state of Utah? They were the school principals and staff whose practical suggestions were ignored by central office glitterati. They were whistleblowers like history teacher Erich Martel, who had documented DCPS’s manipulation of student records and phony graduation rates years before the investigation of Ballou High School and was demoted and then “excessed” by Henderson. Or school principal Adell Cothorne, who spilled the beans on test answer sheet “erasure parties” at Noyes Education Campus and lost her job under Rhee.

Real reformers with “skin in the game” can’t play it safe.Valerie Jablow | March 11, 2021 at 4:28 pm | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: https://wp.me/p6Dj0P-3TL

A Republican Congressman Who isn’t a Wacko!

Who is he?

A few hints: He voted to accept the results of the 2020 vote, AND to impeach Trump.

He also represents the same district that Justin Amash and Gerald Ford used to.

He also is being attacked by the Trumpisters and is resigned to the fact that he may be a one-term Congressman.

He had a long interview at The View. I found reading the transcript somewhat hopeful — perhaps more Republicans will snap out of their craziness. I am cutting and pasting some of the most trenchant paragraphs.

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Peter Meijer (the Congressman): … the rhetoric and the narrative in the public was wildly out of step with what more serious minds were discussing in the halls of Congress. A lot of my colleagues who were planning to object to the Electoral College certification, most of those objections hinged upon an interpretation of Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution, around the time, place and manner of elections, and how state legislatures had primacy in determining electoral processes. Now, it was an argument being made selectively against six states that the president had lost, and not being made in a dozen plus states that he had won. So I had issues on the consistency.

But a lot of the folks who were arguing to not certify the Electoral College results — and specifically, Arizona and Pennsylvania ended up being challenged with a Senator joining, so they were brought to the floor. It wasn’t that this was a massively fraudulent stolen election. It was much more grounded arcane basis, but with the understanding that this is an attempt for us to talk more about the process. That was the feeling inside the chamber. Those were the conversations. And then contrast that with President Trump’s Twitter account, and you see how two worlds of thought emerged. The world that said, this was actually a landslide victory for Donald Trump, that it was all stolen away and changed, and votes were flipped in Dominion Voting Systems.

And then you just go into the fever swamp of conspiracy theories. That’s what a lot of the supporters of the president were told. And that’s where some could argue, oh, when we meant stop the steal, we just meant, again, we don’t like these electoral process modifications. But that’s not how it came across.

Michael Barbaro (interviewer): Well, congressman, you sound like you’re being quite sympathetic toward your Republican colleagues in the House who chose not to certify the results. Do you think that those arguments and sentiments were genuine on their part?

Peter Meijer: I think, for some, absolutely. Again, I have disagreements. I do think some arrived at those conclusions in a genuine way. It’s —

Michael Barbaro: Because I think their support undeniably contributed, along with the president’s claims, to a pretty widespread consensus among Republicans that was baseless, right? That the election had been fraudulent. You really don’t think that they were operating primarily out of fear of their constituents and of the president in making these objections?

Peter Meijer: I’m not going to speak to what’s in their hearts. I know that I was watching the president’s speech on January 6. I was watching the speeches that came before it, the threats from members of the Trump family that if we didn’t object and try to change the results — there was a tremendous amount of political pressure. […]

Going into the Electoral College certification, I thought it would be one of the toughest votes of this term because of how many people were calling in and sharing, oftentimes easily disprovable, Facebook screenshots or sending a report. And I’d say, well, I’ve read this and I’ve looked into these citations, or I’ve actually called that clerk — and just how much got amplified. And it was a kind of a game of factual whack-a-mole. You would push back on one thing, such as, well, 60 of the 61 cases that the Trump campaign brought, they lost. And the one they won was very minor, and I think it was a temporary stay.

And then the pushback is, well, they were dismissed due to a lack of standing. OK, I mean, that’s a response, but that’s also not a good response. Well, here was all the widespread fraud? Well then, how come even the president’s lawyers were not arguing in court that there was fraud?

And you just find me a law enforcement body that has actually substantiated any of this, an investigative body, a court of law, anything that we can point to in a credible manner. But the point is, I mean, a lot of our constituents felt that this had been a stolen election because people they looked to and trusted told them that it was.

Michael Barbaro: Right, including congresspeople.

Peter Meijer: Including members of Congress.

Michael Barbaro: You seem to be nibbling around the edges of this, but I just want to state it really clearly. You saw a distinction in what your Republican colleagues in the House were up to. They were concerned about a process, frankly mail-in voting during a pandemic and whether it was done properly. But the way their concerns were being interpreted by their voters — and alongside the president’s public claims — was that a massive fraud had been perpetrated, Joe Biden’s victory was fraudulent.

And I just have to say it feels to me that many of these colleagues of yours must have known that that would be the impact. You can’t really divorce what they’re doing from what the president is doing and say, oh, they had a higher minded approach to this.

Peter Meijer: There’s a reason why I voted to certify both. There’s a reason why I signed on to a surprisingly cross-ideological letter stating why we believe that the challenge process was unwise. I think the individual arguments — I understand how some could make it. It was when the collective argument became something completely different. The whole was a more dangerous version of the sum of its parts.Michael Barbaro

I’m sensing that very early on, you are already figuring out how to navigate your way in a Republican Party where you and your views are in the minority.Peter Meijer

There was immense pressure. And again, I don’t want this to come across that any one individual’s vote was influenced solely by one thing or the other. But I had colleagues who were resigned to the fact that they may get primaried because they wouldn’t vote to object to Electoral College certification in one state or another, that this would guarantee them they would fall on the wrong side of an out-of-office Donald Trump, who has hundreds of millions of dollars in the campaign account.

I had another colleague who expressed concern about that colleague’s family and their safety if he voted to — how he were to be interpreted if he voted to affirm a stolen election. So I think there was just a ton of pressure from a variety of angles. And myself, I had consigned myself that this would be probably a potentially fatal — I thought I could survive it — but a potentially fatal political vote.

[He describes at some length the horrors of being in the Capitol on January 6, then finding out the Capitol has been breached and then having to hide with the rest of the members of Congress for their very lives. Afterwards:]

Peter Meijer: I had hoped that folks would see, I mean, just the fire that was being played with. And then I think several senators did. I mean, many of the objections that had been raised were withdrawn.

Michael Barbaro: But not many House members.

Peter Meijer: There were a handful. And I get it. I mean, the names were signed. Right? The statements had been put out. They had been talking about it on social media. It wasn’t the easiest thing to undo. But let me put it this way. There were a number of folks who got up on the floor and gave the same speech that night, while there was a crime scene investigation and a dead woman’s blood drying a couple of feet outside the door, they were giving the same speech that evening they had written this morning. Maybe a throwaway line about condemning political violence.

But I mean, just the dissonance, it was staggering.

Michael Barbaro: Right. Let me ask you this. Were you disappointed by the number of House colleagues who, after what had just happened that day, after their own lives had been threatened, went on and voted to object to Biden’s win?

Peter Meijer: I think there was just a disbelief. I get the sense that sometimes, especially if you’re running in a district where winning the primary means you win the general, you get these feedback loops. And where —

Michael Barbaro: But you’re talking — you’re talking politics, and I get that. But I’m asking if you, in your heart of hearts, were disappointed.

Peter Meijer: Yes. Yes. Can I go back to politics?

Democrats Need to Get a Clue About Education!

Peter Greene at Curmudgucation gets it right again, even more when we realize that big business has always been lying about not having enough skilled workers. (see)

Democrats Need A New Theory Of Action
Posted: 28 Dec 2020 07:24 AM PST
For four years, Democrats have had a fairly simple theory of action when it came to education.

Something along the lines of “Good lord, a crazy lady just came into our china shop riding a bull, waving around a flamethrower, and dragging a shark with a head-mounted laser beam; we have to stop her from destroying the place (while pretending that we have a bull and a shark in the back just like hers).” 

Now, of course, that will, thank heavens, no longer fit the circumstances. The Democrats will need a new plan.

Trouble is, the old plan, the one spanning both the Clinton and Obama years, is not a winner. It went, roughly, like this:

The way to fix poverty, racism, injustice, inequity and economic strife is to get a bunch of children to make higher scores on a single narrow standardized test; the best shot at getting this done is to give education amateurs the opportunity to make money doing it.

This was never, ever a good plan.
Ever.
Let me count the ways.
For one thing, education’s ability to fix social injustice is limited. Having a better education will not raise the minimum wage. It will not eradicate poverty. And as we’ve just spent four years having hammered into us, it will not even be sure to make people better thinkers or cleanse them of racism. It will help some people escape the tar pit, but it will not cleanse the pit itself.

And that, of course, is simply talking about education, and that’s not what the Dems theory was about anyway–it was about a mediocre computer-scorable once-a-year test of math and reading. And that was never going to fix a thing. Nobody was going to get a better job because she got a high score on the PARCC. Nobody was ever going to achieve a happier, healthier life just because they’d raised their Big Standardized Test scores by fifty points. Any such score bump was always going to be the result of test prep and test-taker training, and that sort of preparation was always going to come at the expense of real education.

Now, a couple of decades on, all the evidence says that test-centric education didn’t improve society, schools, or the lives of the young humans who passed through the system.

Democrats must also wrestle with the fact that many of the ideas attached to this theory of action were always conservative ideas, always ideas that didn’t belong to traditional Democratic Party stuff at all. 

Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire talk about a “treaty” between Dems and the GOP, and that’s a way to look at how the ed reform movement brought people into each side who weren’t natural fits. The conservative market reform side teamed up with folks who believed choice was a matter of social justice, and that truce held until about four years ago, actually before Trump was elected.

Meanwhile, in Schneider and Berkshire’s telling, Democrats gave up supporting teachers (or at least their unions) while embracing the Thought Leadership of groups like Democrats for Education Reform, a group launched by hedge fund guys who adopted “Democrat” because it seemed like a good way to get the support they needed. Plus (and this seems like it was a thousand years ago) embracing “heroes” like Michelle Rhee, nominally listed as a Democrat, but certainly not acting like one. 

All of this made a perfect soup for feeding neo-liberals. It had the additional effect of seriously muddying the water about what, exactly, Democrats stand for when it comes to public education. The laundry list of ideas now has two problems. One is that they have all been given a long, hard trial, and they’ve failed. The other, which is perhaps worse from a political gamesmanship standpoint, is that they have Trump/DeVos stink all over them. 

But while Dems and the GOP share the problems with the first half of that statement, it’s the Democrats who have to own the second part. The amateur part.

I often complain that the roots of almost all our education woes for the modern reform period come from the empowerment of clueless amateurs, and while it may appear at first glance that both parties are responsible, on closer examination, I’m not so sure.

The GOP position hasn’t been that we need more amateurs and fewer professionals–their stance is that education is being run by the wrong profession. Eli Broad has built his whole edu-brand on the assertion that education doesn’t have education problems, it has business management problems, and that they will best be solved by management professionals.

In some regions, education has been reinterpreted by conservatives as a real estate problem, best solved by real estate professionals. The conservative model calls for education to be properly understood as a business, and as such, run not by elected bozos on a board or by a bunch of teachers, but by visionary CEOs with the power to hire and fire and set the rules and not be tied down by regulations and unions. 

Democrats of the neo-liberal persuasion kind of agree with that last part. And they have taken it a step further by embracing the notion that all it takes to run a school is a vision, with no professional expertise of any sort at all.

I blame Democrats for the whole business of putting un-trained Best and Brightest Ivy Leaguers in classrooms, and the letting them turn around and use their brief classroom visit to establish themselves as “experts” capable of running entire district or even state systems. It takes Democrats to decide that a clueless amateur like David Coleman should be given a chance to impose his vision on the entire nation (and it takes right-tilted folks to see that this is a perfect chance to cash in big time). 

Am I over-simplifying? Sure.

But you get the idea.

Democrats turned their backs on public education and the teaching profession. They decided that virtually every ill in society is caused by teachers with low expectations and lousy standards, and then they jumped on the bandwagon that insisted that somehow all of that could be fixed by making students take a Big Standardized Test and generating a pile of data that could be massaged for any and all purposes (never forget–No Child Left Behind was hailed as a great bi-partisan achievement). I would be far more excited about Biden if at any point in the campaign he had said something along the lines of, “Boy, did we get education policy wrong.”

And I suppose that’s a lot to ask.

But if Democrats are going to launch a new day in education, they have a lot to turn their backs on, along with a pressing need for a new theory of action.
They need to reject the concept of an entire system built on the flawed foundation of a single standardized test. Operating with flawed data is, in fact, worse than no data at all, and for decades ed policy has been driven by folks looking for their car keys under a lamppost hundreds of feet away from where the keys were dropped because “the light’s better over here.”

They need to embrace the notion that teachers are, in fact, the pre-eminent experts in the field of education.

They need to accept that while education can be a powerful engine for pulling against the forces of inequity and injustice, but those forces also shape the environment within which schools must work.

 They need to stop listening to amateurs. Success in other fields does not qualify someone to set education policy. Cruising through a classroom for two years does not make someone an education expert. Everyone who ever went to the doctor is not a medical expert, everyone who ever had their car worked on is not a mechanic, and everyone who ever went to school is not an education expert. Doesn’t mean they can’t add something to the conversation, but they shouldn’t be leading it.

They need to grasp that schools are not businesses. And not only are schools not businesses, but their primary function is not to supply businesses with useful worker bees. If they want to run multiple parallel education systems with charters and vouchers and all the rest, they need to face up to properly funding it. If they won’t do that, then they need to shut up about choicey policies.

“We can run three or four school systems for the cost of one” was always a lie, and it’s time to stop pretending otherwise. Otherwise school choice is just one more unfunded mandate.
They need to accept that privatized school systems have not come up with anything new, revolutionary, or previously undiscovered about education. But they have come up with some clever new ways to waste and make off with taxpayer money.

Listen to teachers. Listen to parents in the community served by the school. Commit to a search for long term solutions instead of quick fixy silver bullets. And maybe become a force for public education slightly more useful than simply fending off a crazy lady with a flamethrower. 



Yet another military cheating scandal

I think this is the money quote from the New York Times article on the latest case of over 70 West Point cadets cheating on a calculus test:

“…cheating is a recurring problem at the academies; decades of surveys suggest most cadets get away with it, and only about 20 percent are caught.”

Think about that when you think about the US military officers who graduated from West Point, Annapolis, or the Coast Guard or Air Force academies.

Don’t Give Employers a COVID Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card!

This is by David Sirota and Julia Rock, published in The Guardian.

“Support from Democratic lawmakers for the liability shield legislation comes after the same healthcare lobby group that drafted New York’s law has poured more than $11m into House and Senate Democratic Super PACs.

“The party, though, doesn’t seem to want its own voters to know the details of the deal it is cutting with the Republican party: in a comically on-the-nose attempt at a bait-and-switch, the Democratic senator Joe Manchin touted the legislation as only financial aid for communities – leaving out the fact that it includes a liability shield for corporations.

“US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been one of the few Democratic lawmakers to spotlight what’s really going on. Last week, she tweeted: “If you want to know why Covid-19 relief is tied up in Congress, one key reason is that Republicans are demanding legal immunity for corporations so they can expose their workers to Covid without repercussions.”

“The bipartisan initiative aims to obscure its Dr Evil level of depravity by superficially depicting the liability shield as merely temporary. But that seems like a ruse, as indicated by private equity mogul and senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who said the federal Covid-19 liability shield provision “provides a temporary suspension of any liability-related lawsuits, state or federal level associated with Covid-19, giving states enough time to put in place their own protections”.

“Though full legislative language has not been released, the goal seems clear: to give state legislatures more time to permanently prevent workers from suing employers who endanger them, and to permanently block their families from mounting such lawsuits when the workers die.”

Notably, lawmakers announcing the proposal did not point to a spate of frivolous wrongful death lawsuits that corporations have been warning about as a rationale for the liability shield. Instead, as the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense recently noted, “of more than 4,100 Covid-19 related lawsuits filed, only 75 are for wrongful death or injury as a result of getting sick at work. Two-thirds fall into three categories – insurance disputes, prison cases and civil rights cases, including challenging shelter-in-place orders.”

Liability shields, laundered as a necessary Covid-19 salve, are really designed to permanently remove the last remaining deterrent to corporate abuse

“The liability shield legislation is not some standalone cause – it should be understood as the culmination of a much larger, long-term campaign to remove countervailing force and give capital supreme power over labor.

“Over the last few decades, the government – through legislation and court rulings – has weakened unions, which have used collective bargaining to protect workers rights; limited class action lawsuits and punitive damages, which are designed to punish corporate misbehavior; and gutted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is supposed to enforce the weak workplace safety laws still on the books.”

How Will We Pay For This?

This question is never really asked about all the extremely expensive surveillance spyware and high-tech munitions. It’s only asked about things that will HELP people and the planet, such as the Green New Deal.

The following essay, from Forbes, argues that ‘we’ can pay for all of the suggested GND infrastructure improvements the old fashioned way: printing money. And that no, it won’t lead to inflation – in fact, we have now had 40 years of DEflation, which is much worse.

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90,142 views|Jan 16, 2019,07:15pm EST

The Green New Deal: How We Will Pay For It Isn’t ‘A Thing’ – And Inflation Isn’t Either

Robert Hockett

Robert HockettContributor

Markets

I cover law, justice, money, finance and economics.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s announcement of an ambitious new Green New Deal Initiative in Congress has brought predictable – and predictably silly – callouts from conservative pundits and scared politicians. ‘How will we pay for it?,’ they ask with pretend-incredulity, and ‘what about debt?’ ‘Won’t we have to raise taxes, and will that not crowd-out the job creators?’

Representative Ocasio-Cortez already has given the best answer possible to such queries, most of which seem to be raised in bad faith. Why is it, she retorts, that these questions arise only in connection with useful ideas, not wasteful ideas? Where were the ‘pay-fors’ for Bush’s $5 trillion wars and tax cuts, or for last year’s $2 trillion tax giveaway to billionaires? Why wasn’t financing those massive throwaways as scary as financing the rescue of our planet and middle class now seems to be to these naysayers?

The short answer to ‘how we will pay for’ the Green New Deal is easy. We’ll pay for it just as we pay for all else: Congress will authorize necessary spending, and Treasury will spend. This is how we do it – always has been, always will be.

The money that’s spent, for its part, is never ‘raised’ first. To the contrary, federal spending is what brings that money into existence.

If years of bad or no economic education make that ring counterintuitive to you, you’re not alone: politicians and pundits who ought to know better are with you. But the problem is readily remedied: just take a look at a dollar (or five dollar, or ten dollar, or … dollar) bill. The face you see is George Washington’s – a public official’s – not yours or some other private sector person’s. The signatures you’ll find, for their part, are those of the Treasurer and the Treasury Secretary, not yours or some other private sector person’s. And the inscription you’ll read across the top is ‘Federal Reserve Note,’ not ‘Private Sector Sally’s Note.’

‘Note’ here, note carefully, means ‘promissory note.’ Money betokens a promise. Hence money’s relation to credit. We’ll come back to this later. The money that Treasury spends is, in any event, jointly Fed- and Treasury-issued, not privately issued. That is to say it’s the citizenry’s issuance, not some single citizen’s issuance. It’s like a promise we make to each other. Hence the term ‘full faith and credit’ you’ll hear about when asking what ‘backs’ our currency and our Treasury securities.

This fact of public finance bears real consequences. Chief among them for present purposes is that ‘raising the money’ is never the relevant question for federal spending, any more than ‘finding the promises’ is a question for people who make and keep promises to one another. The relevant question, rather, is what limits, if any, there are on the promises we can make and fulfill. How many promissory notes, in other words, can Fed and Treasury issue without ‘over-promising’?

This is, effectively, the question of inflation – the question of promises’ outstripping capacity to redeem promises and hence losing credibility as promises. (The ‘cred’ of ‘credibility’ is the ‘cred’ of ‘credit,’ not to mention of ‘credo’ – or ‘faith.’) This is precisely why lawyers, accountants, and economists schooled in the simple mechanics of public finance always tell you the relevant constraint upon spending is not some non-existent ‘fundraising constraint,’ but ‘the inflation constraint,’ also known as ‘the resource constraint.’

The truth of the resource constraint is that money usually can be publicly issued and spent only at a rate commensurate with new goods and services supply. If the money supply grows too rapidly for goods and services to keep up, you get the old problem of ‘too many dollars chasing too few goods’ – inflation. If the money supply grows too slowly to keep up with productive capacity, you get the opposite problem – deflation, a far more serious threat, as we’ve seen since the crash of ‘08.

Over the past four decades or so, inflation in consumer goods markets – so-called ‘Consumer Price Inflation,’ or ‘CPI’ – has been by and large nonexistent in the ‘developed’ world. Our problem has been just the opposite – deflation. That is what slow, ‘anemic,’ and even ‘negative’ growth rates across the ‘mature’ economies in recent decades have been about. What inflation we’ve had has been concentrated in financial markets, where the ever-more rich in our ever-more unequal societies gamble their winnings. Meanwhile those below the top have had to spend less and borrow more, bringing deflation and, worse still, debt-deflations after the financial crashes inevitably brought on by asset price hyperinflations in our financial markets.

Which takes us to the Green New Deal. Representative Ocasio-Cortez, whose educational background is in economics, understands as few leaders seem to do that our problems of late have been problems of deflation, not inflation. She also knows well that both inequality and the loss of our middle class have both caused and been worsened by these deflationary trends, along with their mirror images in the financial markets: our asset price hyperinflations – ‘bubbles’ – and busts. Her Green New Deal aims to do nothing short of reversing this slow-motion national suicide – and end our ongoing ‘planet-cide’ in the process.

Because the Green New Deal aims at reversing undeniable long-term deflationary trends in our national economy, there is reason already to deem inflation fears, sure to be stoked by conservative pundits and scared politicians, a silly canard. But we can go further than this. We can catalogue theoretical, empirical, and policy instrument reasons to laugh such fears off.

The theoretical case against inflation worries is straightforward and comes in two parts. Recall the popular ‘too much money chasing too few goods’ adage above. What this slogan captures is that inflation is always a relational matter. It’s about money supply in relation to goods and services supply.

The Green New Deal aims to stoke massive production of a vast array of new products, from solar panels to windmills to new battery and charging station technologies to green power grids and hydroelectric power generation facilities. The new production and new productivity that renewed infrastructure will bring will be virtually unprecedented in our nation’s history. This will be more than enough to absorb all new money spent into our economy. It will also distinguish the Green New Deal starkly from pseudo-stimulus plans of the recent past, none of which flowed to production or infrastructure and nearly all of which simply inflated financial markets.

The second theoretical reason not to fret about Green New Deal inflation is related to but distinct from the first. It is that our economy now is operating at far below capacity even as is, before the Green New Deal adds to capacity. Labor force participation rates still languish at historic lows, and wages and salaries have yet to catch up even to such little growth as we’ve had since our crash of ten years ago. Indeed they have stagnated for decades. These are classic indicators of slack – slack which by definition is opportunity-squandering, and which the Green New Deal now aims to ‘take up.’

The empirical case against inflation worries corroborates the theoretical case, and can also be made from a number of angles. Note first that billions of dollars in tax cuts flowed into the economy during the Reagan years, while multiple trillions more in both tax cuts and war spending flowed during the George W. Bush years. The tax cuts of December 2017 pumped yet more trillions – two of them – into the economy just a bit over a year ago. And still we have seen nothing – nothing – in the way of undesired price inflation in consumer goods and services markets. Indeed no ‘developed’ economy has seen significant CPI inflation for some forty years. Why do inflation ‘Chicken Littles’ think ‘this time [or place] is different?’

My referring to ‘undesired’ price inflation just now hints at another empirical reason to scoff at inflation scolds. Since 2012, the Fed has formally aimed at a 2% inflation target that it has informally targeted even longer. Yet in only a few quarters during all of these years has

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, and Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., stand together on the House... [+] floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, on the first day of the 116th Congress with Democrats holding the majority. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, and Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., stand together on the House… [+]

 ASSOCIATED PRESS

it managed, just barely, to reach it. If the Fed with its massive balance sheet cannot get our inflation rate up to its very low 2% target even while trying to do so, why does Chicken Little think things will grow scary even should the Fed seek one day to tamp prices down?

The final empirical reason to dismiss the inflation Scaredy Cats comes from investors themselves. For years now the Treasury Department has issued ‘inflation-protected’ securities along with traditional ones. The ‘spread’ between prices of the former and prices of the latter is effectively a measure of investors’ inflationary expectations: if they are willing to pay substantially more for inflation-protected than for ordinary Treasurys, they have substantial inflation fears; otherwise not. So what is that spread? It is virtually nil, and has been for years.

But what if the Green New Deal works so well that inflation comes anyway, Chicken Little now asks, notwithstanding all the theoretical and empirical reasons to discount such worries? Here we find even more reasons for comfort. For the ‘toolbox’ of counter-inflationary policy instruments is filled to near overflowing. Let’s consider a few of them.

We can begin with the familiar. Targeted taxes and bond sales, long familiar to most of us, have long been employed to absorb ‘excess money’ during times of high growth. This is precisely what they are for. Because money is issued by citizenrys rather than citizens as noted above, sovereign taxes and bond sales are never about ‘raising money,’ but about ‘lowering money aggregates.’ If inflation should one day emerge, we shall use them accordingly. Once again: always have, always will.

We should note also that such tools can be targeted at specific sources of inflation. A financial transaction tax such as that favored by Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, would operate on financial market inflation – asset price ‘bubbles’ – of the sort that have plagued us in recent years. A ‘value added tax’ – a ‘VAT’ – on particular items that become objects of speculation would work similarly. Such are the real aims of taxation – to act on incentives and press down on price pressures – not to ‘raise money’ we already issue. We know how to use them, and can use them again should it ever prove necessary.

Similar truths hold of the other familiar anti-inflationary policy instrument just mentioned – sovereign bond sales. Treasury already offers a variety of these instruments, classified by time-to-maturity and yield. Such classification offers the option of soaking up money from different sectors of society, from those seeking short-term yield to those seeking longer-term yield. These sales are swaps of unspendable instruments for spendable instruments – dollars, a.k.a. ‘legal tender.’ The New York Fed trading desk does this daily to fine-tune the money supply – we call its activities ‘open market operations.’ It would do likewise, save in the opposite direction, were inflation ever again to become ‘a thing.’

Turning now to less familiar policy instruments, note next that much of financial regulation both can be and should be deployed in the cause of what I call money modulation – that is, inflation- and deflation-prevention. Banks ‘create’ – they generate – money by lending; any banker will tell you that. So do most other financial institutions – especially those of the so-called ‘shadow banking’ sector. This is the sense in which credit is money, or what smart economists call ‘credit-money.’

Regulations that we impose upon credit-extension are accordingly regulations on money-creation. Require banks to raise more equity capital per dollar’s worth of credit that they extend, and you effectively lessen the amount of dollar-denominated credit, hence money, that they can generate. Place greater limits on what kinds of lending or investing they can do, and you do likewise.

We call these things ‘capital’ (or ‘leverage’) and ‘portfolio’ regulation, respectively. And though we initially developed them to protect individual institutions and their depositors or investors, we now use them also to modulate credit aggregates economy-wide. It’s called ‘macroprudential regulation,’ and its rediscovery post-crash in the last decade is one of the signal achievements of the post-crisis era. But its importance for Green New Deal purposes is that it’s a powerful anti-inflationary as well as anti-deflationary tool, all thanks to money’s relation to credit.

As if these tools were not enough, there are yet others we could use but don’t use as yet, presumably because we’ve not needed to yet. I’ve proposed these in other work. One is for the New York Fed trading desk to buy or sell not only Treasury securities of varying maturities and yields, but also other financial instruments – in order to target specific prices of broad economic significance when they grow too low or too high (what I call ‘systemically important prices’).

During the Fed’s experiments with ‘quantitative easing’ (‘QE’), for example, commodity prices ended up rising in ways that harmed lower income Americans. I therefore proposed the Fed ‘short’ commodities in its open market operations to put downward pressure on their prices. Though I worked at the Fed at the time, the central bank didn’t take me up on my suggestion. But it could have done so. And it can in the future, in as narrowly targeted a manner as necessary, if ever inflation emerges. And with a balance sheet of its size, it can influence prices quite massively.

A final way we might combat inflation, should it ever emerge, is by use of a new infrastructure that I’ve proposed elsewhere. Suppose, for a moment, that the Fed offered what I call interest-bearing ‘Citizen Accounts’ for all citizens, instead of just offering ‘reserve accounts’ to privileged banks as it does now. Were it to do so, we’d not only eliminate our nation’s ‘financial inclusion’ problem in one swoop, we’d also gain a most powerful money modulation tool.

During deflations like that after 2008, for example, the Fed could drop debt-free ‘helicopter money’ directly into Citizen Accounts rather than giving it to banks in the hope that they’ll lend (which they didn’t – hence the notorious ‘pushing on a string’ problem of the post-2008 period). And were inflation ever to emerge, the Fed could likewise simply raise interest rates on Citizen Accounts, thereby inducing more saving and less spending.

I believe that the ‘fintech’ revolution renders something like what I’m proposing here all but inevitable. The point for present purposes, though, is simply that once this thing happens we’ll have yet another quite powerful anti-inflationary and anti-deflationary policy tool – and therefore yet more reason not to be timid about moving ahead energetically with the Green New Deal.

Have I succeeded, then? Have I convinced you both that there isn’t a ‘pay for’ challenge and that there isn’t, thanks to a multitude of theoretical, empirical, and policy lever reasons, an ‘inflation’ challenge either? If you are bold, know finance, and care about our future, you probably didn’t need much convincing. If instead you are frightened, financially untutored, or cavalier about our economy or our planet, please buck up, wise up, and suit up. It is time to say game on for the Green New Deal.

Robert Hockett

Robert Hockett

I teach legal, financial and some philosophical subjects at Cornell University in New York, where I am the Edward Cornell Professor of Law and a Professor of Public Policy. I also am Senior Counsel at Westwood Capital, a socially responsible investment bank in midtown Manhattan, and a Fellow of The Century Foundation, a think tank near Battery Park in lower Manhattan. My principal research, writing, and practical concerns are with the legal and institutional prerequisites to a just, prosperous, and sustainable economic order. I have worked at the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and continue to serve in a consultative capacity for a number of U.S. federal, state, and local legislators and regulators. I grew up mainly in New Orleans, America’s most wonderful city (sorry, New York), and return to it often. I was educated at Yale, Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar), and the University of Kansas.

 

Warnings from Erich Martel

I am reposting the entirety of a sobering and warning letter from my former DCPS colleague, Erich Martel, about the current political situation, which he posted on the Concerned4DCPS list-serve. I am positive he wants it disseminated. — GFB

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ehmartel@starpower.net [concerned4DCPS] <concerned4dcps@yahoogroups.com>UnsubscribeTo:ehmartel@starpower.netSat, Oct 31 at 7:33 PM

FYI – There are links to a number of articles.  Be sure to recommend to friends in Pennsylvania and North Carolina – and other states – to vote in person, if possible. 

Republicans have launched over 300 lawsuits to challenge mail ballots arriving after November 3rd.

The anti-democratic forces that have periodically threatened to tear this country apart. What Pres. Trump is threatening has happened before.  I don’t mean slavery.  I mean the unleashing of white nationalist terror to purge the South of biracial state governments after Reconstruction and the evisceration of the 14th and 15th Amendments by the Supreme Court. 

In 1896, 126,000 Black men were registered to vote in North Carolina; six years later, in 1902, only 6,100 remained registered: https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2020/11/19/wilmington-american-pogrom/  

I hope everyone agrees that every legitimate vote should be counted. I have linked a number of articles, all very unsettling. 

Erich

By now, I hope everyone is aware of and understands the seriousness of President Trump’s threats that, if he loses his re-election bid, he will not accept the results. 

On the other hand, if he wins, he will remove all restraints on autocratic power (think: Orban, Putin, Xi, Kim, Bolsinaro)

I assume everyone shares these concerns:

Trump’s Threats to the Election (as is his pattern, he signals his intentions, in part to test the loyalty of his base):

  1. The potential turmoil threatened by Trump bears some resemblance to the violence during the Election of 1876 and the consequences of the Compromise of 1877:  

Contested election results in 3 states (FL, LA, SC) + a replaced elector from Oregon led to The Compromise of 1877: https://www.270towin.com/1876_Election/ that gave the election to Republican Hayes (Democrat Tilden won the popular vote) in return for ending federal military supervision of those states to protect the biracial Reconstruction governments from White nationalist terror. This led to so-called “Redeemer” (White supremacists Democratic) takeovers and passage of “Jim Crow” laws disenfranchising and segregating Black citizens that lasted until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.  The spate of voter suppression laws passed after the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision makes clear that voting rights are threatened.

  1. The Barrett nomination:

If Trump loses, he and his allies will attempt to create confusion in order to find a technicality that will open a path to the Supreme Court. Barrett will be the third SC justice (in addition to CJ Roberts & Justice Kavanaugh) who was on the 2000 legal team that oppose a recount of the Florida votes in question:  https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/17/politics/bush-v-gore-barrett-kavanaugh-roberts-supreme-court/index.html .  With all the qualified judges available for SC nomination, even among those who are conservative, how is it possible to have put three veterans of the 2000 election on the SC?  Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI) explains the role of the Federalist Society.

10/13/20 (Senate Judiciary Comm.): Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse explains how Trump and his Senate allies used judicial candidate lists prepared by the Federalist Society, funded by anonymous money, to pack the Supreme Court with reliable right wing allies: https://twitter.com/i/status/1316126029522575363 and 10/14/20: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5-Snk_thAs&feature=emb_rel_end  

https://www.startribune.com/barrett-ads-tied-to-interest-groups-funded-by-unnamed-donors/572873311/

  1. Two Trump comments:
  2. July 30th, Trump tweeted:

“With Universal mail-in voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history.  It will be a great embarrassment to the USA.  Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

On August 1st, Brian Williams asked Yale historian Timothy Snyder, specialist on the Holocaust, authoritarianism & fascism, to analyze that tweet (https://twitter.com/TimothyDSnyder):

It is troubling to see the term “fascist” used to describe the behavior, words and actions of an American president.  It shouldn’t; fascism takes many authoritarian forms, all anti-democratic; the Holocaust was the most extreme.  In fact, German Na zi lawyers saw American race laws as a model: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/what-america-taught-the-nazis/540630/ and James Q. Whitman, “Hilter’s American Model” (2017).

  1. On Sept 23rd, Trump said,“We’ll want to have — get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very — we’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/trump-peaceful-transition-if-he-loses-get-rid-ballots-there-n1240896

  1. “The Election That Could Break America” by Barton Gellman

The most thorough and dire account of the many ways that Trump and his allies could throw the election into confusion is in The Atlantic:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/

If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?    Excerpt:

Let us not hedge about one thing.

Donald Trump may win or lose,

but he will never concede.

Interview with Gellman: https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2020/10/15/the-elections-threat-of-political-violence

https://www.salon.com/2020/10/18/historian-timothy-snyder-warns-that-america-is-already-in-its-own-slow-motion-reichstag-fire/

Wash Post columnist E.J. Dionne explains the role of Roe v. Wade in judicial nominations (excerpts):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/capitulating-to-the-right-wont-end-the-judicial-wars/2020/09/23/5402f378-fdd5-11ea-9ceb-061d646d9c67_story.html

[[Why do President Trump and the Republican majority in the Senate feel empowered to launch a right-wing judicial coup? They can do so because the mainstream media have largely accepted the false terms of the Supreme Court debate set by conservatives — and because progressives and moderates have utterly failed to overturn them.

As a result, we face a crisis moment. The Supreme Court could fall into the hands of activist reactionaries for a generation or more. Preventing a political minority from enjoying indefinite veto power over our democratically elected branches of government requires getting the facts and the history right.

This polarization is the conservatives’ doing. And it did not start with Robert Bork. The current incarnation of Supreme Court warfare began in the early 1960s when the far right launched its “Impeach Earl Warren” campaign against the chief justice who presided over the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision and other liberal victories. /…/

Yes, liberals were very tough on Bork when President Ronald Reagan nominated him. But … Bork got a hearing and a floor vote. In the end, 58 senators, including six Republicans, voted against him. /…/

Conservatives use Roe v. Wade as a decoy. Of course Roe will continue to matter. But conservatives have brilliantly used the abortion question to distract attention from the core of their activist agenda: dismantling regulation, gutting civil rights laws, narrowing voting rights enforcement giving moneyed interests free rein in our politics, strengthening corporate power, weakening unions, undercutting antitrust laws — and, now, tearing apart the Affordable Care Act.

Conservatives would much rather talk about abortion than any of these other questions. Why? Because they don’t want the public to hear about issues related to democracy and economic justice on which the right takes the unpopular side. What they can’t win in Congress, they want to win through the courts. That is the dirty secret of conservative judicial activism that McConnell and his friends would love to keep under wraps.]]

Erich   ehmartel@starpower.net

Further reading:

Before I took leave from Kto16, there was a discussion about the president’s comments on the teaching of American History.  In response, the American Historical Association (AHA) released a statement (46 organizations have signed on as of mid-October):  https://www.historians.org/news-and-advocacy/aha-advocacy/aha-statement-on-the-recent-white-house-conference-on-american-history-(september-2020) 

Fauci  60 minutes  He describes death threats against him.  10-18-20

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S PATTERN OF POLITICAL INTERFERENCE IN THE NATION’S CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE:

“USPS documents link changes behind mail slowdowns to top executives”: 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/09/24/usps-delays-dejoy-documents/

Nancy MacLean, “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America” (2017)

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2018/03/08/democracy-chains-interview-author-nancy-maclean

Timothy Snyder, “Not a Normal Election: The ethical meaning of a vote for Donald Trump”:

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/not-normal-election (Commonweal is a Catholic magazine)

Timothy Snyder, “On Tyranny:  20 Lessons from the 20th Century”:

Below are a few of the 20 chapter titles and his commentaries on Trump. Some are relevant right now:

1.       Do not obey in advance

2.       Defend institutions (notice how Trump wants to reduce the federal civil service to personal loyalists)

6.       Be wary of paramilitaries (Where was Trump’s condemnation of “militia” threats in Michigan?)

8.       Stand out

10.     Believe in truth

“To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.  If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”

11.     Investigate – “Figure things out for yourself. … Subsidize investigative journalism …”

16.      Learn from peers in other countries

17.      Listen for dangerous words__._,_.___


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Suggestions on what to do about the Supreme Court nominee, redux

Remember the list of suggestions by Bill Svelmoe for what to do about Amy Coney Barrett’s illegitimate nomination to the US Supreme Court?

The list went viral, as you may be able to read below.

I hope that Harris and other senators are taking those suggestions seriously.

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