Captain Kirk: The Earth is our only home. Everything out there in space is hellish. We need to start taking care of our home before it, too, becomes a hell.

At age 90, the actor William Shatner got to ride briefly into outer space. He was expecting an epiphany of connection to the Universe out there.

He was not prepared to feel a deep sense of grief.

(I have been making the same argument on this as Shatner for many years now.)

Here is what he wrote:

The age of extinction

My trip to space made me realise we have only one Earth – it must live long and prosper

William Shatner

Star Trek prepared me to feel a connection with the universe. Instead, I felt terrible grief for our planet. At Cop15, our leaders must negotiate to protect it

Wed 7 Dec 2022 10.00 ESTFollow William Shatner

Star Trek actor William Shatner, 90
Click to see figure captionThe age of extinction is supported byAbout this contentLast year, at the age of 90, I had a life-changing experience.

I went to space, after decades of playing a science-fiction character who was exploring the universe and building connections with many diverse life forms and cultures.

I thought I would experience a similar feeling: a feeling of deep connection with the immensity around us, a deep call for endless exploration. A call to indeed boldly go where no one had gone before.

I was absolutely wrong.

As I explained in my latest book, what I felt was totally different. I knew that many before me had experienced a greater sense of care while contemplating our planet from above, because they were struck by the apparent fragility of this suspended blue marble.

I felt that too.

But the strongest feeling, dominating everything else by far, was the deepest grief that I had ever experienced.

While I was looking away from Earth, and turned towards the rest of the universe, I didn’t feel connection; I didn’t feel attraction. What I understood, in the clearest possible way, was that we were living on a tiny oasis of life, surrounded by an immensity of death.

I didn’t see infinite possibilities of worlds to explore, of adventures to have, or living creatures to connect with. I saw the deepest darkness I could have ever imagined, contrasting starkly with the welcoming warmth of our nurturing home planet.

I worry about the world my grandchildren will be living in when they are my ageThis was an immensely powerful awakening for me. It filled me with sadness. I realised that we had spent decades, if not centuries, being obsessed with looking away, with looking outside.

I played my part in popularising the idea that space was the final frontier.

But I had to get to space to understand that Earth is, and will remain, our only home. And that we have been ravaging it, relentlessly, making it uninhabitable.

I was born in Montreal in 1931. During my lifetime, this world has changed faster than for any generation before us. We are now at an ecological tipping point. Without the bold leadership that the times require, we are facing further climate breakdown and ecosystems collapsing before our eyes, with as many as one million species at risk of extinction, according to the latest scientific assessments.‘We are at war with nature’: UN environment chief warns of biodiversity apocalypseRead more

And of all places, it is in the city where I was born that a crucial meeting of the United Nations is being held. At Cop15, the UN biodiversity summit in Montreal, taking place from 7 to 19 December, world governments will negotiate a global deal to stop the loss of biodiversity by the end of the decade. We need world leaders to give their diplomats a powerful mandate for these talks: agree on strong targets to change the way we produce food, to drastically cut pollution, and to conserve 50% of our planet’s land and ocean, with the active leadership of Indigenous peoples and local communities, who have historically been pioneers on all these necessary actions.

I was the oldest man to go to space.

I worry about the world my grandchildren will be living in when they are my age. My generation is leaving them a planet that might pretty soon be barely livable for many of Earth’s inhabitants. My experience in space filled me with sadness, but also with a strong resolve. I don’t want my grandchildren to simply survive. I want them, as an old friend used to say, to be able to live long and prosper.I will do everything I can so that we can protect our one and only home. Our world leaders have an immense responsibility to do the same in Montreal.

William Shatner is a Canadian actor who played Captain James T Kirk in Star Trek for almost 30 years.


He is also author of Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and WonderThe age of extinctionCop15OpinionEnvironmentConservationBiodiversityStar TrekWilliam ShatnerArticleCommentWilliam Shatner

The age of extinction

What is the most important thing (or character trait) a teacher must have?

Peter Greene has thought about this for a long time.

He doesn’t think the answer is high grades, nor a side-arm, nor even deep content knowledge (though the latter is required, but not itself the number 1 requirement).

He thinks it’s the deep desire to do the job.

I generally agree with Peter on most things, but I am not so sure about this, since school boards and administrators around the nation have been able to cause literally millions of bright, energetic, committed young people to quit the teaching jobs in despair and humiliation after failing in an increasingly insane school environment in which the teachers feel they have no control.

And so their desire to do the job slowly or catastrophically disappears. And they quit, or get fired. See https://marcolearning.com/teacher-turnover-rate-by-state/ and https://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-rising-number-of-us-teachers.html?m=1

Thoughts?

Perhaps the most

Here is his column:

How Much Does Knowledge Matter For Teaching

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an editorial that was picked up and run in my region, raising a question about the “most important component of teaching.”

The actual issue was the substitute shortage (which I can report, via the experiences of the Board of Directors is severe–they have never had a sub when their kindergarten teacher is absent, but are just shunted into the other K teachers). Ohio has shifted to their own version of a warm body substitute law; in Ohio, if you have a college degree, you can apply for a subject-specific substitute license. IOW, if you have a BA in English, you can be an English class substitute in Ohio. 

Pennsylvania has loosened up the rules as well, including letting near-graduated teacher program students sub and allowing retirees to sub without having to give up pension payments (though no retiree I know, including me, has gotten a call from a district to step in). This measure would loosen things up more. But what raised the question is part of the Post-Gazette’s rationale:

Knowledge of the subject matter is the most important component of teaching.

Is it? And if not, what is?

I am a huge believer in the importance of subject matter knowledge. When you are standing in a classroom, there is no substitute for knowing what the hell you’re talking about. It helps enormously with classroom management and earning the respect of your students (yes, you have to earn that). It helps you stay fast on your feet and adapt to whatever kind of teachable moment presents itself. 

I’m not saying you have to be the world’s foremost expert, nor is your job to strut your stuff as the smartest person in the room. But a teacher who plans to get by by just following the textbook makes me cringe. It’s the difference between being a guide who knows the paved path to the destination, but is stumped if anyone takes one step off the asphalt, and a guide who knows every part of the territory, on the path and off, and can guide you to any spot from any other spot. I want a classroom with the latter.

But teaching also involves being able to convey that knowledge you have. Everyone knows (and some have experienced) the cliche of the person who’s really smart but can’t actually explain what they know to anyone else. You can’t be a good guide if you arrived at the destination with no idea how you got there and the only advice you can offer others is to keep hollering, “Well, just go to the place!” You have to be able to break the trip into comprehensible pieces.

And that means you have to understand your audience and read the room. You have to be able to communicate with the young humans that you are supposed to be teaching. For the younger students in particular this means some exceptional communication and empathic skills are required of teachers. If you can’t read the room, every teachable moment will fly right past you and every opportunity will be lost. 

And you have to be in charge, but not a tyrant. You have to maintain the safe learning space, which means all those people skills have to be harnessed in service of balancing all the needs in front of you.

Yes, there are plenty of pieces of conventional wisdom that dance around this issue.

“I want them to love learning.” And that’s absolutely the important goal, and you can only achieve it if you know something to teach them and are able to do so. 

“We teach students, not subjects.” Sure. What do you teach them. I get the point of this one, that we should not get so caught up in our material that we get things backward and think that the students are there to serve the content instead of vice versa. But we still have to teach the students something.

“Be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” Honestly, I don’t know a teacher who still sticks closely to the sage model and just stands up there bloviating away the days, but it would be a lousy model to follow. But it’s a serious mistake to over-correct into the 

“We’re all just here to learn together and I’m just one more learner and they teach me as much as I teach them.” If you don’t know more about what you’re teaching than your students do, just go home. You are the grown up adult specialist. That is the gig. If you don’t know more than the students, if you are not the expert guide on the learning journey, then what exactly are the taxpayers paying you for? Your heart can be as big as all outdoors, but your brain needs to be full, too. 

None of this means you have to be an all-knowing teacherbot who is the supreme authority on all matters, just standing in the classroom spewing forth your infallible wisdom. 

All of this is a lot of work, and constant work because teaching is about balancing a whole bunch of things and the eight is always shifting so you can never ever get into a stance and think, “Well, I can just lock this down exactly here.” 

Which means on top of all the rest, you have to want to do the job. You have to want to succeed, to do everything that’s called for. You have to want to teach, not just grab a paycheck or add a line on your resume. You have to give a shit. You have to care.

So I’m torn, because in my mind, almost everything on the list rests on knowing your content. Except the desire to do the job. But of the two, content knowledge is the element that can be learned. I don’t know how to teach you to give a shit about teaching, but I know lots of ways for you to learn the content so that you can do the job. 

So I think I have to put knowledge of subject matter at #2, right behind “Want to do the job.” Which is why I suspect the Ohio idea won’t help much, just like most of these bar-lowering warm-body-recruiting ideas aren’t helping all that much. It’s easy to find people with college degrees and warm bodies, but the people who want to teach and really care about the work are already there. If you are a policy maker (or newspaper publisher) who imagines that there are millions of folks just dying to teach and the only thing holding them back is some paperwork, then you have some subject matter knowledge problems of your own.

Published in: on November 30, 2022 at 4:23 pm  Comments (4)  

Vouchers are a disaster for students

[Edit: I did not write this article. I copied and pasted it from Diane Ravitch’s blog and carelessly left off the attribution. Josh Cowan was the author. https://dianeravitch.net/2022/11/15/josh-cowen-vouchers-are-a-disaster-for-students/ ]

It’ll be a few more days for the final election results to be tallied nationwide, but it seems clear that with midterm wins by voucher supporters in places like OklahomaTexas and even Pennsylvania—where even the Democratic gubernatorial victor is on record in cautious favor—voucher opponents are going to have to keep working hard to block public funding of private and religious schools. 

School vouchers have devastating effects on student outcomes. Full stop. That’s something even the nation’s voucher advocate-in-chief Betsy DeVos has had to admit, because the data are so stark. 

Large-scale independent studies in D.C.,IndianaLouisiana, and Ohioshow that for kids who left public schools, harmful voucher impacts actually meet or exceed what the pandemic did to test scores. That’s also a similar impact in Louisiana to what Hurricane Katrina did to student achievement back in 2005. 

Think about that next time you hear a politician or activist claim we need taxpayer support for private schools to offset what the pandemic did to student learning. Here, their cure would in test score terms be quite literally worse than the disease. 

There’s another data point you need to know up front: vouchers overwhelmingly fund children who were already in private school without them. In states that have released those numbers—ArizonaNew Hampshire, and Wisconsin—we know more than 75% of voucher applicants came from private schools. 

The bottom-line: most kids using vouchers didn’t need them to go to private school, and the few kids who actually did use vouchers to transfer sectors schools suffer average test score drops on par with what a once-in-a-generation pandemic did to test scores too.

If you’re a picture person, our friends at the National Coalition for Public Education were kind enough to put their considerable talents into two graphics based on these data I provided to them. 

Notice the citations these graphs include. They’re the same as the hyperlinks above. These data come from independent sources and from non-partisan journalists. That’s a critically important part of this story.

And then there’s this, before we get into the details: the same people pushing vouchers are the same people working to undermine fair elections and the right to vote. 

None of these are metaphors, and this is not a drill. 

So how did we come to this? 

1. A Quick History of Voucher Research

First let’s talk about the evidence. 

I came into the school voucher research community early. It was around 2001 or so, as a young graduate student assistant for a study of privately funded vouchers led by the conservative professor Paul E. Peterson who was based at both Harvard and the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford (never heard of Hoover? Think Condoleeza Rice.) 

Peterson and his protégé Jay Greene had already done one study of Milwaukee’s publicly funded voucher program, as well as the one in Clevelandthat was about to be the subject of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first favorable ruling on voucher funding. That work generally showed positive results for vouchers. As did the research of a young academic named Cecilia Rouse, who is now President Biden’s chief economist

But they were small programs. What policymakers and researchers call a “pilot phase.” Back then when both parties cared at least nominally about evidence, you wouldn’t expand a program like vouchers without testing it. So those early tests seemed somewhat positive. 

The first research I joined was Peterson and team’s next project: multi-site studies in Dayton, New York City, and Washington D.C. Those programs were also pilot-size. And the New York site in particular showed some limited evidence of voucher success. But overall the lead researchers focused as much on things like parental satisfaction and measures of civic engagement as metrics. That work resulted in a book called The Education Gap. You can find my name in the credits if you own a copy. If you don’t own one, don’t waste your money.

No one knew it at the time, but the mixed results documented in The Education Gap were to be the best vouchers were ever going to do—and ever have done since by an academic based team looking at voucher test scores. 

Just a short time later in 2005, I joined a new voucher evaluation led by Patrick Wolf, another Peterson protégé and contributor to The Education Gap. Wolf was by then ensconced with Jay Greene at the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, a Walton Family-funded academic group that was about to train a new generation of voucher advocates. Most notably Corey DeAngelis, now at Betsy DeVos’s 501(c)4 voucher lobbying group American Federation for Children

The Milwaukee evaluation, which was officially done for the state of Wisconsin, lasted from 2005-2010. We found no evidence in five years that voucher kids outperformed public school kids. Two exceptions: we found limited evidencethat graduation rates and college enrollment were somewhat higher for the voucher kids. We also found that voucher kids improved when the state required private schools to participate in the same No Child Left Behind-style accountability systems as public schools. In particular once voucher schools knew their performance would be made public they—shockingly!—improved their outcomes. 

At the same time as the Milwaukee evaluation, Patrick Wolf and other Arkansas colleagues were working on a new evaluation of Washington D.C.’s federally funded voucher program. That study showed no difference in test scores, but large positive graduate results. 

That pattern of “no test score benefits, some attainment benefits” has stuck in the research narrative even among voucher skeptics. But as I recently explained in a piece for the Brookings Institution, it’s just that: a narrative. Other studies in New York, Louisiana and Florida all show no real advantages for vouchers on educational attainment. 

And certainly nothing to offset the cataclysmic results that began to come out after the early-stage evaluations I just described. The newer D.C., IndianaLouisiana, and Ohio studies that took place after 2013 and have showed pandemic and Katrina-sized harm to student test scores are all of at-scale voucher programs. 

What do I mean by “at scale?” I mean that despite limited evidence in those pilot programs, vouchers have been steadily expanding across the country, and within states. So those D.C., Indiana Louisiana and Ohio studies represent our best understanding to date of what happens when you expand vouchers beyond the initial test phase. The answer: horrific impacts on student outcomes.

There are a number of reasons this could be, but I tend to argue we need not overthink this. Vouchers just don’t work. The kids who stand to gain from private schooling were and are already there. For the vast majority of kids, they’re better off in public schools. That’s what the latest voucher research shows.

As an example of what I mean: consider that in Wisconsin (which has not had a statewide study since ours ended in 2010), 41% of voucher-receiving schools have opened and then closed and failed since public funding began in the early 1990s. 

That’s what happens when policymakers divert tax dollars to private schools: it’s like venture capitalism for education. It’s like Theranos but for private schooling. New providers race to gobble up new taxpayer money, but most of them have no business near kids. 

Now, to fully understand why these terrible policies exist and in fact have never spread faster and further than they are today, we need to understand the politics. And to understand the politics, we need to understand the money. 

On the one hand it’s pretty simple. Once you understand that the same people pushing vouchers are the same people funding groups that insist Donald Trump won the election and are now organizing a similar “Big Lie” for 2022’s results, you understand a lot. But read on.

2. Funding Vouchers, Funding Election Lies

It’s difficult to tell how much money has been spent to advocate for school vouchers over the years. But we know perhaps the biggest single funder—perhaps even larger than Betsy DeVos herself—is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation is a little-known group based in Wisconsin and they’ve given tens of millions of dollars to voucher activism over the years. 

Bradley not only funds voucher activism, it funds voucher research too. It was a major funder of the Milwaukee evaluation I was part of and described above. I don’t think they directly influenced our results, but generally speaking you don’t want activism and research funding to mix. Think about it this way: should the Sackler family fund research on the addictive properties of oxycontin? Should Exxon fund studies about the existence of climate change? 

For me though, the real problem today is that the Bradley Foundation is hardly limiting itself to supporting research and political advocacy for private schooling. As the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer has meticulously documented in her reporting on financing behind Big Lie activism sowing doubts about President Biden’s 2020 victory, the Bradley Foundation is the convening funder around those activities—the “extraordinary force”, in Mayer’s words, funding and coordinating the Big Lie and other efforts to undermine the integrity of democratic elections.

Bradley is not alone. The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing organization known for its pro-voucher advocacy is, according to Mayer, “working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a corporate-funded nonprofit that generates model laws for state legislators—on ways to impose new voting restrictions.”

In recent months, Heritage has also distributed talking points that under the guise of objective research attack school diversity and inclusion and directly question health care support for LGBTQ children. Heritage has recently released a report-card style rubric rating state laws on a so-called “Education Freedom” index for tax-supported private tuition. That report card includes the extent to which issues like diversity or sexual preference are components of public school teaching curricula. 

The author of each of these documents is a Heritage Senior Fellow named Jay P. Greene. The same Jay Greene who while a conservative scholar at the University of Arkansas was co-director of that Bradley-funded voucher project that hired me back in 2005. 

Greene is not alone in the Heritage-Bradley nexus. Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who participated in Donald Trump’s infamous phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State demanding evidence that would overturn the state’s election results, was actively training pollwatchers to question voters leading up to the 2022 midterms in places like my own state of Michigan. The night before the election, the New York Times even ran a story about Mitchell’s work in Michigan. The headline read: “Fueled by Falsehoods, a Michigan Group is Ready to Challenge the Vote.”

Mitchell is a known elections conspiracy theorist, according to CNN, and figures prominently in Mayer’s New Yorker reporting on broader election-related organizing. In her spare time Mitchell is on the Board of Directors of—wait for it!—the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. She’s actually an officer on the Board too.

Michigan is important because we have a voucher proposal waiting to go to the state legislature—even though voucher opponent Gretchen Whitmer has won reelection. That proposal, backed by billionaire and privatization advocate Betsy DeVos, exploits a quirk in the state law allowing lame-duck Republicans to pass the voucher plan without the governor’s signature. 

The spokesman for the DeVos voucher campaign is a man named Fred Wszolek. Wszolek is also the strategist for a group that tried unsuccessfully to prevent abortion access from becoming enshrined in the Michigan state constitution. And he heads a political action committee (PAC) called Michigan Strong, which has worked to elect now-defeated DeVos-backed GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon.

Also working for Dixon was Kyle Olson of the Education Action Group, an entity devoted to right-wing education reform that’s received money from Charles Koch, the DeVos Family and Harry Bradley—he of the Bradley Foundation.

That’s just one example, but you get the idea: the same people working to push school vouchers are the same people working to undermine elections. And in some cases even reproductive rights.

3. So Why Now?

I’ve spent the last six months writing column after column in opinion pages across the country trying to warn ordinary readers who aren’t education lifers about the dangers of vouchers. You can read samples here or here or here or here if you like. There are more than 10 in all.

Because of my long career working in the middle of all these voucher advocates and researchers, I’ve been asked multiple times what changed my mind. Or, more specifically, why am I speaking out today? 

I hope the story I’ve told you above answers some of that. But the reality is, I was also doing other things. I had a young family, other research interests, and other professional tasks like editing the country’s premier education policy journal

Most of all I had a naïve sense that the facts would speak for themselves. Remember, those pandemic-sized voucher failures began appearing back in 2013. I was an associate professor then, newly arrived at Michigan State University after receiving tenure at the University of Kentucky. 

To me, after a decade of mixed-at-best results that I outlined here, I assumed that catastrophic results like those in Louisiana—and then confirmed in Indiana, Ohio, and D.C.—would have killed vouchers a thousand times over. 

It’s sort of quaint now, that assumption of mine. In my research community, which is centered in the Association for Education Finance and Policy, we talk a lot about using evidence to inform policy. It’s a nice idea, but vouchers are the big, glaring and alarming counterpoint. We have never seen such one-sided, consistently negative research results as we have for school vouchers in the education research community. 

And yet they thrive. 

To me, the piece to that puzzle is politics. Negative voucher results aren’t the only thing to happen since 2013. 

2016 happened. Donald Trump happened. January 6th happened. Dobbs v. Jackson happened.

Voucher advocates are overwhelmingly on one side of those events. And they’ve racked up some wins.

We know voucher programs exist today not for how they might help some kids, but for how they might exclude others. We know private schools taking public money can and often do discriminate against certain children. In Florida for example, one private school barring LGBTQ kids has received $1.6 million so far in taxpayer funding. In Indiana, more than $16 million has gone to schools refusing to admit LGBTQ kids—or even kids with LGBTQ parents!—or about 1 out of every 10 private schools on the taxpayer dime.

I wish I had come around earlier to the level of alarm I’m raising today. Others have even without having to take a kind of road to Damascus like I did. 

I’m a tenured full professor now. I’ve had a successful career working hard to bring evidence to public policy. I firmly believe that school vouchers are a fundamental threat not just to student learning, but also to democracy and to human rights. 

So on vouchers I’ve come to the same view any number of us would if we stumbled onto a massive fraud in our workplace, or if we saw a young child being bullied simply for being who they are. None of it is okay. 

And if you see something, you have to say something.

Published in: on November 16, 2022 at 10:12 pm  Comments (1)  

Obama’s betrayal of underwater homeowners explains a lot of working-class and middle-class bitterness

This long article analyzes the details of how the Obama administration sided with the banks and pulled the plug on homeowners (borrowers) who could no longer afford to pay their mortgages, and who often lost their homes.

Reading this account reminds me of the skin-flint policies of Betsy Devos in refusing to forgive outrageous student loans from fraudulent for profit colleges. Another similarity is to the absolutely racist way that redlining and plain old lies and obfuscation made it so that close to zero percent of all African-American WW2 veterans were able to use the loans and free college education given to so many White vets at the time.

This article, which I got from Diane Ravitch’s blog, shows how the Democratic Party, under Obama, turned its back on the working class by refusing to forgive the massive debts taken on by so many ordinary folks — instead, bailing out the very largest banks and corporations.

Long read, well worth it.

Lindsay Owens and David Dayen note that some of the most outspoken critics of Biden’s decision to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt are Obama-era economists. Republicans have called it “socialism” and worse, but some Democratic economists are also upset. Owens and Dayen attribute their anger to the failure of Obama’s policy to solve the home foreclosure crisis. 

They write: 

President Biden’s long-awaited decision to wipe out up to $20,000 in student debt was met with joy and relief by millions of borrowers, and a temper tantrum from centrist economists.null

Moments after the announcement, former Council of Economic Advisers Chair Jason Furman took to Twitter with a dozen tweets skewering the proposal as “reckless,” “pouring … gasoline on the inflationary fire,” and an example of executive branch overreach (“Even if technically legal I don’t like this amount of unilateral Presidential power.”). Brookings economist Melissa Kearny called the proposal “astonishingly bad policy” and puzzled over whether economists inside the administration were “all hanging their heads in defeat.” Ben Ritz, the head of a centrist think tank, went so far as to call for the staffwho worked on the proposal to be fired after the midterms.

Histrionics are nothing new on Twitter, but it’s worth examining why this proposal has evoked such strong reactions. Elizabeth Popp Berman has argued in the Prospect that student loan forgiveness is a threat to the economic style of reasoning that dominates Washington policy circles. That’s correct. But President Biden’s elegant and forceful approach to tackling the student loan crisis also may feel like a personal rebuke to those who once worked alongside President Obama as he utterly failed to solve the debt crisis he inherited.

Let’s be very clear: The Obama administration’s bungled policy to help underwater borrowers and to stem the tide of devastating foreclosures, carried out by many of the same people carping about Biden’s student loan cancellation, led directly to nearly ten million familieslosing their homes. This failure of debt relief was immoral and catastrophic, both for the lives of those involved and for the principle of taking bold government action to protect the public. It set the Democratic Party back years. And those throwing a fit about Biden’s debt relief plan now are doing so because it exposes the disaster they precipitated on the American people.

One reason the Obama administration failed to swiftly help homeowners was their obsession with ensuring their policies didn’t help the “wrong” type of debtor.

President Obama campaigned on an aggressive platform to prevent foreclosures. Larry Summers, one of the critics of Biden’s student debt relief, promised during the Obama transition in a letter to Congress that the administration “will commit substantial resources of $50-100B to a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis.” The plan had two parts: “helping to reduce mortgage payments for economically stressed but responsible homeowners,” and “reforming our bankruptcy laws” by allowing judges in bankruptcy proceedings to write down mortgage principal and interest, a policy known as “cramdown.”

The administration accomplished neither. On cramdown, the administration didn’t fight to get the House-passed proposal over the finish line in the Senate. Credible accountspoint to the Treasury Department and even Summers himself (who just last week said his preferred method of dealing with student debt was to allow it to be discharged in bankruptcy) lobbying to undermine its passage. Summers “was really dismissive as to the utility of it,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said at the time. “He was not supportive of this.”

Summers and Treasury economists expressed more concern for financially fragile banks than homeowners facing foreclosure, while also openly worrying that some borrowers would “take advantage” of cramdown to get undeserved relief. This is also a preoccupation of economist anger at student debt relief: that it’s inefficient and untargeted and will go to the “wrong” people who don’t need it. (It won’t.)

For mortgage modification, President Obama’s Federal Housing Finance Agency repeatedly refused to use its administrative authority to write down the principal of loans in its portfolio at mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—the simplest and fastest tool at its disposal. Despite a 2013 Congressional Budget Office study that showed how modest principal reduction could help 1.2 million homeowners, prevent tens of thousands of defaults, and save Fannie and Freddie billions, FHFA repeatedly refused to move forward with principal reduction, citing their own efforts to study whether the policy would incentivize strategic default(the idea that financially solvent homeowners would default on their loans to try and access cheaper ones).

Virtually everyone involved with the housing system was stunned that the options of cramdown and principal reduction weren’t taken. Banks literally held meetings in expectation of Obama’s team requiring writedowns, until they didn’t.

Instead, the Obama administration rolled out the industry-backed Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), relying on the voluntary cooperation of servicers to modify mortgages. The program was, even by the administration’s own modest objectives, a failure, ultimately reaching less than a quarter of the three to four million homeowners it hoped to target. In the critical first two years, the administration did not even spend 3 percent of what they were allotted to save homeowners.

Just as with cramdown, one reason the Obama administration failed to swiftly help homeowners was their obsession with ensuring their policies didn’t help the “wrong” type of debtor. When Obama first announced HAMP in 2009, he said the program would “not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never afford.” The resulting “Goldilocks” proposal, with its focus on weeding out undeserving borrowers, would not be available to homeowners with incomes too high or too low and would be backstopped with voluminous income and financial verifications (in many cases, more than what was required to take out the loan in the first place). Treasury also tweaked the program numerous times as they went along, confusing servicers and borrowers. The barrage of paperwork ground the program to a halt at many servicers, and ultimately nearly a quarter of modifications were rejected on the grounds that incomplete paperwork was provided.

But it was much worse than that. The mortgage servicers used HAMP like a predatory lending program, squeezing homeowners for as many payments as possible before canceling their modifications and kicking them out of their homes. These companies had financial incentives to foreclose rather than modify loans. In one particularly excruciating example, the servicer arm of Bank of America offered its employees Target gift cards as a bonus for placing borrowers into foreclosure.

This was also by design, or at least benign neglect. Then–Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner candidly told officials that the program was intended to help banks, not borrowers. The purpose was to “foam the runway” for the banks, Geithner said, with homeowners and their families being the foam crushed by a jumbo jet in that scenario. If the goal was just to let the banks use HAMP for their own benefit, it’s not surprising that would come at homeowners’ expense.

And those banks executed their plan fraudulently, using millions of forged and fabricated documents to illegally foreclose on people. Even with this new leverage against the banks, the administration failed to provide equitable relief. A new program, the National Mortgage Settlement, promised one million principal reductions but delivered only 83,000. Meanwhile, millions more unlawful foreclosures ensued, and no high-level executive was convicted in association with any of these crimes.

In short, the policy apparatus ultimately failed to assist the majority of people who sought help, a suboptimal policy outcome by any metric. Student debt relief skeptics like Furman spent the Obama years advocating for privatizing Fannie and Freddie, rather than apologizing for falling so short on dealing with the massive debt overhang, which stunted the economic recovery.

President Biden’s approach has been markedly different and, if well implemented, is poised to be extremely effective. The simplicity of the program design, with its straightforward cancellation thresholds ($10,000/$20,000) and eligibility criteria (Pell status and household income), means the policy should deliver nearly 90 percent of its relief dollars to those making less than $75,000 a year. Will some small amount of relief dollars land in the bank accounts of borrowers who will make higher incomes in the future? Absolutely. Is preventing that outcome more important than delivering relief to 43 million borrowers? Of course not.

It’s not just the policy design that is a rebuke to the old guard’s theory of debt relief; it’s also the rhetoric. Notably, in his 20-minute speech announcing the rollout of the student loan relief program, President Biden didn’t mention “bad debtors” once. He didn’t spend a single breath on the individual failings of borrowers, make any reference to their poor decision-making, or nod to a handful of unscrupulous debtors trying to game the system.

Instead, he talked about the failings of our higher-education system, in which “an entire generation is now saddled with unsustainable debt.” Instead of blaming borrowers, he showed them empathy. Instead of talking about borrowers taking advantage of the system, he vowed to hold “colleges accountable for jacking up costs without delivering value to students” and crack down on “schools luring students with the promise of big paychecks when they graduate only to watch these students be ripped off and left with mountains of debt.” And he headed concerns about moral hazard off at the pass, vowing to “never apologize for helping the working and middle class.”

Moreover, Biden wasn’t afraid to use all of the tools available to him to get results for indebted borrowers. The Obama administration was given funding from Congress, an explicit mandate for foreclosure prevention, and at the end, a settlement with the banks that authorized even more money. They still failed, because they were more interested in deluded notions of “personal responsibility” than acting to avert disaster.

Biden has flipped the Beltway consensus on policy design around debt forgiveness and modeled a path for viewing student debt as a national crisis, rather than an individual failing. It’s a stunning reversal of the Obama-era consensus and one that casts that failed legacy of mortgage debt relief in an even darker light. Biden has shown us there was an easier, softer way all along.

Published in: on September 11, 2022 at 1:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Truckers Unite!

There was a time when driving a long-haul truck was a pretty good job. They had organized a strong union, and had decent wages, conditions, health care benefits, and more. It was said that in order for a person to get a job in that field, someone else had to retire.

(Yeah, I am quite aware that much of the Teamsters union leadership has been often extremely corrupt and in cahoots with organized crime. That sort of nefarious activity never benefits the rank-and-file workers!)

After deregulation began around 1980, many trucking companies sprung up that were anti-union, and required their drivers to work longer hours and more miles for less pay and fewer benefits. Right now, the annual turnover rate in the trucking industry is over 90% per year! Think about what that means!

Very simply, this is because driving a long-haul truck is now such a crappy job that workers very frequently quit. That’s why one sees billboards advertising for anybody with a Commercial Drivers’ License (CDL), because the companies are desperate for warm bodies behind those wheels. One result of all these brand-new, inexperienced drivers, is that since 2009, there has been a serious increase in the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses> Not only the absolute number of crashes, but also if you divide the number of such crashes by the total number of miles driven.

See these two graphs that I prepared using data from the US DOT. While this data does not go past 2018, my understanding is that the pronounced upward trend continued into the current pandemic era as well. Part of the reason is that drivers are exhausted — IIRC they generally don’t get paid for all of the time that they have to wait around for somebody either to load or unload their truck, nor for time stuck in traffic: just by the mile.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the many truckers that have to poop and pee into little containers in their sleeping compartments, because there is nowhere else to do that? Not fun.

It looks like nearly a 50% increase in the total number of fatal crashes from 2009 to 2018

If all long-haul truck drivers organized themselves properly into a strong, honest union, and were able to prevail against the billionaires and banks that own the big trucking firms, they could do a lot of good for themselves and the public as a whole by reducing their actual work hours to something manageable, thus avoiding exhaustion and many of the accidents and near-misses that happen when a driver is drowsy. In addition, with better pay and benefits and more reasonable hours, then we would have many fewer people uninsured or bankrupt, more stable family lives, more home ownership, and all the rest.

It would be a hell of a struggle though, because the bankers and billionaires (including Jeff Bezos, who owns the Amazon juggernaut) that own those trucking lines do not want to reduce their profit margins.

Remember: if all long-haul bus and truck drivers were to go on strike, then the whole country would grind to a halt.

It would be a far better struggle than the idiotic MAGA caravan that is currently going around the DC beltway, whose main complaints seem to be that they don’t like any of the COVID vaccines and that they think that the last election was stolen.

Judging by the signs on their vehicles, that pitiful handful of deluded men that I saw on the Beltway a few days ago appear to think that 20-to-1 odds **against** you is a good bet — because those who are unvaccinated are 20 or more times likely to get seriously sick and die from COVID than those who are fully vaxxed and boosted. (link)

I guess that’s the job of fascists: to prevent working people from uniting against the actual ruling class of billionaires and bankers, and instead to get workers to fight each other along racial, ethnic, or linguistic lines.

Unbelievable Progress in Compressing Data

I just got in the mail a small shiny object, about as long as a packet of cigarettes (remember those?) but much less wide or thick, that holds 2 Terabytes of data.

It weighs about 43 grams (or one and a half ounces).

(I am neither a Luddite nor an early adopter! I like my technology to be cheap!)

It’s an external hard drive, which I will use to transfer data from my old (10-year old) laptop to a new one. It only cost me 40 bucks.

See the photo for scale:

my very first 2-TB external hard drive (Not SSD)

It holds 2 Terabytes of data.

It is not solid state, because (a) I’m not an early adopter and (b) I’m frugal. Heck, I even build my own telescopes!)

I looked at the little device, and decided to compare its memory capacity to the biggest library I know of, the Library of Congress.

(By the way, when I was younger, I many hours in various sections of the LOC, researching all sorts of stuff. The halls and stacks of the LOC have a very old-fashioned atmosphere, totally different from this little gizmo.)

How big is the LOC? If you look it up, you will find that the estimates made by different people are not very close to each other. Obviously the degree of compression would matter a lot and would vary from work to work, and whether you are including all the videos and songs and other recordings.

If you leave out all the digital material, some estimates (like here) found that the printed part of the LOC, (books, newspapers, magazines, maps, menus, and so on) if scanned from the printed page into digital versions of those would add up to somewhere between 8 and 200 Terabytes of data.

8 to 200 Terabytes.

And my cheap little gizmo holds 2 Terabytes.

In other words, anywhere between 4 and 100 of these cheap little metal-and-plastic boxes would hold ALL of the useful information in ALL of the printed material in the world’s largest library ever.

LOC says their printed collections fill over 500 linear miles of shelving. Or maybe ‘only’ 100 miles of shelving if you stack your shelves 5 units high.

(Yes, I’m leaving out the electronic material.)

For a hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on whose estimate is correct, and if someone were to digitize all that material, you could theoretically hold the biggest print library in the world – one that holds a copy or two of every single copyrighted book published in the US and most of the world.

That’s just incredible. Yes, we had microfilm when I was young, and it appears it may stay with us for the forseeable future, but the the compression factor for microfilm or microfiche is nothing like what we get now, electronically For example, a single roll of microfilm might hold a month or so of a daily newspaper – and that roll of film occupies roughly the same volume, and weighs close to the same as, one of these little external hard drives.

But my little drive can hold anywhere from 1/4 to 1% of the entire Library of Congress!

A shoe box could hold all of the printed data in the world!

And have room for lots of the film, video, recordings as well!

Amazing.

Now let’s see if it actually works!

========

ON THE OTHER HAND:

There is a lot of meta-information in each and every physical, printed object, and much of the time, the scanned copy of a printed map, painting or photograph is way less satisfactory than original, and harder to use. Plus, there is no guarantee that an electromagnetic pulse won’t wipe out all of your data in a microsecond. Plus, we can’t guarantee that our smart electronics devices will always be able to read this data — have you ever tried to get old data program from a 5.25″ floppy or a large reel-to-reel tape or an 8-track tape? Not easy!

Newspapers from the mid-1700s are often in very good, readable shape.
But where are all the photos you took on your very first cell phone?

So don’t scrap old important documents just because you have a digital copy. Back it all up! Your hand-written diary, or a paperback book, will probably survive much longer than your cell phone. And they don’t need any batteries.

=================================

“Let me be like Jesus!”

Would you *really* like to be like and to live like Jesus did?

Steven Ruis explains


Dear God, Make Me Like Jesus

by 
Steve Ruis

Believe it or not, I saw this plea/prayer in print recently.

Make me like Jesus.

I am reminded of the skit created by the comedy duo of Burns and Schreiber, “The Faith Healer,” in which a faith healer was approached by a man with a mangled hand and then who prayed “Dear God, make that one hand like the other; dear God, make that one hand like the other!” and then the man had two mangled hands. I guess it was one of those “be careful what you ask for” things.

Okay, I will make you like Jesus.

First you will live to the age of thirty, not doing anything of note. You do not go to college, or play sports, or even get a decent job. You do not marry, nor do you have children.

Then you embark on a preaching mission, for which I will let you have a posse, that will last a year or three, I am not sure. You will travel around during that time (VW bus?) sharing your wisdom.

Then you will be executed by the government for sedition. This being a modern enlightened age, the trial, conviction, and execution will take many months, even years, but basically that is the upshot.

You will be buried and then resurrected, but because of modern funerary practices (a rich believer made sure you were buried with all of the accouterments), you will be locked into a metal casket buried in a concrete surround in a grave yard from which you will not escape and then you will die a second time, this time from suffocation.

Ta da!

Is that what you wanted?

Published in: on March 20, 2022 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Battle of Blair Mountain

As in most other cases in America where the rich, racist, and powerful forces attacked the poor, the workers, and racial minorities — and got away with it, “Those in power decide what gets preserved, and what stories are told about it, the ways in which the narrative is shaped…And those who don’t have the power and resources are left out of the narrative. And often their sites are destroyed.”

Published in: on December 9, 2021 at 5:47 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,

High-Profile Cancer Studies’ Results Often Not Reproducible

A group of scientists have attempted to reproduce a bunch of the most striking results from a swath of popular published scientific studies on cancer.

Unfortunately, they were mostly unable to reproduce the results.

The reasons varied.

This paper can be read at https://www.science.org/content/article/more-half-high-impact-cancer-lab-studies-could-not-be-replicated-controversial-analysis?utm_campaign=news_daily_2021-12-07&et_rid=17050347&et_cid=4025069&

In a number of cases, the original published study did not contain sufficient details about the cell lines or reagents or procedures being used. In some cases, the original authors declined to answer follow-up inquiries on those topics.

In most cases where this effort did indeed reproduce the general result of the study (say, that treatment X caused cancer cells of type Y to shrink by a factor of Z), the degree of shrinkage was only about 15% of what was claimed.

It sounds like the tendency of scientific journals to publish the most remarkable results **before** other researchers have tried and succeeded in confirming them is the source of the problem.

Published in: on December 8, 2021 at 9:34 am  Comments (1)  

Vaccinated vs unvaccinated: the math

Very informative article on the vast differences in death rates from COVID among two groups: the Vaccinated vs the Unvaccinated.

This needs to be more widely known.

https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths-by-vaccination

Published in: on December 5, 2021 at 6:52 am  Comments (2)  
%d bloggers like this: