Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Speaking of Failure...

Nothing like the party that brought us the the Katrina disaster relief, the Iraq war WMD fiasco and Operation Ignore prior to 9/11 coming out of the woodwork to criticize President Obama's response to the Christmas Day terrorist plot over Detroit.

This is especially galling considering how similar the Obama administration's response to the Detroit bombing attempt was to the Bush administration's response to the shoe bomber Richard Reid eight years ago.

Politico notes the hypocrisy:

Eight years ago, a terrorist bomber’s attempt to blow up a transatlantic airliner was thwarted by a group of passengers, an incident that revealed some gaping holes in airline security just a few months after the attacks of Sept. 11. But it was six days before President George W. Bush, then on vacation, made any public remarks about the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, and there were virtually no complaints from the press or any opposition Democrats that his response was sluggish or inadequate.

That stands in sharp contrast to the withering criticism President Barack Obama has received from Republicans and some in the press for his reaction to Friday’s incident on a Northwest Airlines flight heading for Detroit.


The similarities between last Friday’s incident and the attempted shoe bombing in 2001 are striking.

This year’s attack came on Christmas. The attempt eight years ago took place on Dec. 22. Obama was on vacation in Hawaii when the suspect, Omar Abdulmutallab, allegedly used plastic explosives in his try to blow up the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight. Bush was at Camp David when Reid used similar plastic explosives to try to blow up his Paris-to-Miami flight, which diverted to Boston after the incident.

Like the Obama White House, the Bush White House told reporters the president had been briefed on the incident and was following it closely. While the Obama White House issued a background statement through a senior administration official calling the incident an “attempted terrorist attack” on the same day it took place, the early official statements from Bush aides did not make the same explicit statement.

Bush did not address reporters about the Reid episode until December 28, after he had traveled from Camp David to his ranch in Texas.

Democrats do not appear to have criticized Bush over the delay. Many were wary of publicly clashing with the commander in chief, who was getting lofty approval ratings after what appeared to be a successful military campaign in Afghanistan. The media also seemed to have little interest in pressing Bush about the bombing, or the fact that the incident had revealed a previously unknown vulnerability in airplane security — that shoes could be used to hide chemicals or explosive devices.

Do I think Obama should have made a stronger statement on Christmas about the bombing?

From a political standpoint, I do. Knowing that Repubs would jump on this to portray him as weak and ineffectual (i.e.. Jimmy Carter), he should have gone before cameras to say "I'm on top of this, we're investigating and making sure airline security will be safer going forward."

Instead he let Director of Homeland Security chief Janet Napalitano issue her "The system worked..." statement and has been on the defensive ever since.

So two things here - once again, Obama, perhaps in an attempt to break away from the "politics of the past," has allowed an issue to be framed by the opposition party to make him look weak.

Second, Dems are not doing a good enough job pointing out that Bush and Cheney did not respond for days to the Reid bombing, and for that matter, they didn't respond to any of the pre-9/11 intel about an impending attack coming in the U.S. either.

Republicans are very good at lying to the cameras with a straight face - just watch Peter King or Pete Hoekstra on FOX News talk about how responsive the Bush administration was to the Reid bomber and you'll see what I mean.

And Cheney - oh, boy. Five Deferments Cheney, the guy who ran away and hid on September 11, 2001, sure is a tough guy when his fat ass is safe from actual harm. Then he talks about how we're at war and Obama doesn't know we're at war, blah, blah, blah, but when it came to actual effective anti-terrorism policy or creating a system where intelligence agencies actually effectively traded intel, well, that Cheney wasn't so good at.

As you know if you have been reading this blog, I think Obama is an abject failure as president. He's great at demanding accountability from teachers and blaming the education system for the country's ills, but not so great at demanding accountability from the bankers and hedge fund managers who nearly destroyed the economy, the economic policy makers like Bernanke, Geithner and Summers who helped create the economic mess in the first place, or the people in his administration who fail at the very tasks they were put in charge of - like Napolitano at Homeland Security.

But for the party of Bush/Cheney - the people who gave us Katrina, Iraq and 9/11 in the first place - to call Obama incompetent and ineffectual...that's just too much horse#$%* to take.

Too bad Dems aren't calling them on it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

If Napolitano Were A Teacher, She'd be Fired

Make no bones about it, George Bush engaged in Operation Ignore prior to 9/11. He was told in no uncertain terms in an August 2001 presidential daily brief that Al Qaeda was determined to attack inside the United States. He told the official who delivered that PDB, "All right, you've covered your get outta here!" Then he went back to pulling brush at his ranch while jihadis flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Also make no mistake about it that George Bush completely ignored the disaster in New Orleans until his adviser, Dan Bartlett, made a DVD of the evening news broadcasts and showed him that people were dying. Only then did Bush act and even then, it was more about making it look like the government was responding rather than actually doing anything effective to help.

Clearly Mr. Bush was not too effective at safeguarding the United States, no matter what his cheerleaders at Fox News or the Washington Post editorial page said.

Unfortunately neither is the guy who replaced him.

Last Friday, a Nigerian jihadi set his penis on fire trying to bring down a jet plane over Detroit. President Obama was vacationing in Hawaii with his family and rather than make any statements about the incident or the investigation, he let members of his administration, primarily Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano, do the talking for him while he rode the waves.

Napolitano told CNN on Sunday "The system worked" even though American intelligence agencies ignored a tip from Penis On Fire's father that he had become radicalized and could pose a threat, particularly because he had disappeared. Intelligence agents did not act on the tip and Penis on Fire came close to bringing down a plane.

President Accountability finally put his surf board away yesterday to say "Actually the system didn't work," after he and his administration were ridiculed by critics for their blase reaction to Friday's incident and their inability to accept responsibility for the failure of intelligence agencies.

Today, President Accountability spoke again, saying there had been a "systemic failure" that allowed Penis on Fire to get through two layers of security at airports despite being on a U.S. terrorist watchlist and his father telling U.S. officials his son had become "radicalized."

In education, President Accountability is very big on closing "failing" schools and firing "failing" teachers as part of his vaunted Race to the Top lottery game, but when it comes to his own failure to address national security or intelligence matters or even make it look like he was on top of the mess at the airports this weekend (administration officials said airport security was chaotic, but that would confuse would-be terrorists as much as it angered travelers), he's not so big on taking responsibility or "firing" anybody. Not until the heat gets too tough to take, and only then does he emerge from sand and surf to address the problems.

Unfortunately for President Accountability, it may be too little too late to save his administration. Once a president gets stereotyped, it's hard to get people to think differently. Initially Bush had people fooled that he was on top of things, but Katrina changed all that. Barry the Surf President ran as a competent manager who would bring change to Washington and hold government officials accountable, but all people seem to see is a guy who passes the buck when he or his administration screws up and a guy who seems to screw up a lot.

And the only people he seems to hold accountable are teachers.

Everybody else gets to screw up again and again (think Geithner and Summers on unemployment and the financial bailout, think Bernanke on Fed policy, think Napolitano on "The system worked...") and they get a "heckuva job" pat on the back from him.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Alice's Airport Masacree

The guy who set his penis on fire trying to blow up a jet plane over Detroit was waving all kinds of red flags saying "DON'T LET ME ON THIS PLANE!!!"

He bought his ticket with cash - a one way ticket from Nigeria to Detroit with a change in Amsterdam. He had no luggage, he was on a U.S. "watch-list," and his visa stated that he was visiting the United States for a "religious ceremony," which is apparently code by jihadis for martyrdom.

Now it's possible somebody with the "Going to U.S. for Religious Ceremony" designation on his visa with a one-way cash ticket and no luggage is an okay fellow, but you might want to check him out just a little more before you let him on the plane.

But that didn't happen, neither in Nigeria where government security screened him nor in Amsterdam where secondary security - private security personnel hired by the airlines - screened him again.

So he was able to get on a plane with an explosive secured to his penis.

And the Obama administration said "the system worked."

Uh, huh.

Now let me tell you my experience in the Rochester airport on Saturday, the day after Christmas.

The initial screening was no more rigorous then when we flew before Christmas. Shoes off, bags through security. I kept my contact solution and deodorant in my carry-on bag, nobody said a thing about them. But they were both less than 3 ounces, so I think those are allowed.

Next, we had to walk by an additional security checkpoint with a very important looking guy standing there with his arms folded scrutinizing everybody. That was an added layer of security but again, we got by without incident.

Once we got inside and found our flight had been delayed 3 or 4 hours, we sat and watched these four security goons in blue come out of a door every so often, slap on some plastic gloves and randomly search people stuck in the airport waiting for delayed flights - people who had already been through security.

The searches seemed random - grab a couple of people off a line and pat them down and search their clothes. Scrutinize the chapstick in their shirt pockets. Open their bags and see what magazine they brought for the flight. You know, really important stuff.

As I sat with my girlfriend waiting for our delayed flight to Newark to board, I wondered aloud how I would react if the goons in blue decided I needed to be searched. Already peeved by the flight delay, I didn't think I would react too well. Probably like Arlo Guthrie at the end of Alice's Restaurant:

Security Goon: Sir, would you please stand up so you can be searched.

Me: Officer Obey, you got a lot of damned gall searching me. I mean, I mean, here I am, sitting on the Group W airport bench, waiting for my delayed flight to Newark, drinking the last of my coffee which I cannot replace because the entire god damned Rochester airport shuts down at 8 PM and there is nowhere else to buy coffee, and holding my disgusting Subway sandwich which I had to buy because there is no other vegetarian food option in this rinky-dink airport, and you want to search me because you think I might be a terrorist with an explosive powder strapped to my penis who wants to blow up women, children and Continental Airlines property?

Yeah, I just don't think that rant to security would have gone so well, not even if I was as charming as Arlo or sang it to Officer Obey and the rest of the security goons in four part harmony on the guitar.

And yet, the silliness with which they were randomly picking people to search and the things they were searching for sure did echo the ridiculousness of Officer Obey and Arlo's arrest for littering in Alice's Restaurant.

Another example of American blind justice indeed.

Effective anti-terrorism measures?

Not so much.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

And This Will Do What?

Flying home from holiday visiting was a big pain in the ass.

A blizzard in Chicago, fog and rain in Newark, and the idiot in Detroit who set his penis on fire trying to blow up a jet made for a very hectic day.

Took almost 9 hours to get from Rochester to Newark.

Watching the parrotheads and hysteria mongers on TV this morning (CNN has this on the screen: SINGLE ACT OR PART OF A LARGER PLAN?), I keep wanting to headbutt somebody through my TV.

I know it's the media's job to create and hype fear (after all, it's good for both the news business and many of the businesses the corporate conglomerates that own these media outlets run) and it's obviously also good for the politicians both in and out of power (when was the last time you saw a HEALTH CARE REFORM SUCKS story? How long before Cheney emerges from the bunker he dwells in and appears on TV to say I TOLD YOU SO!!!!!! BOMB YEMEN!!!!!!!).

But let's be honest here - none of these security measures that the "terrorist experts" on TV want put in place, nor the measures the administration has put in place already, will keep people 100% safe.

Nor will expanding the WoT to Yemen as Holy Joe Lieberman called for on FOX News this morning.

There is no way to keep one or two crazy people from getting on an airplane and setting their penises on fire trying to blow it up. Doesn't matter how much security you add, how many pat-downs you do, how often you make people bend over and grab their ankles before you allow them on a plane - when you are a corporate power like the United States and you create the kinds of enemies we create by allowing the corporations and the corporate whores that rule us to exploit people all over the world, this kind of stuff will continue to happen.

But you sure can make life hell by adding ridiculous restrictions at airports, on trains and in other public places that do little to keep people safe while continuing to stoke fear in the general public by running hysterical stories like SINGLE ACT OR PART OF A LARGER PLAN? or I TOLD YOU SO!!!!!! BOMB YEMEN!!!!!!!

But maybe that's the point - maybe the idiots who rule us want it this way - keep us on edge, fearful of losing our jobs during the week and our lives when we fly on vacation, so that whatever they want to do they can with little scrutiny or criticism.

Dunno, just feels like the WoT crap will be back in full force after this incident and it's a completely useless exercise unless the idea is to distract Americans from other stuff like why do they have to work longer and harder to make less or why don't they have decent affordable health care that isn't a total giveaway to the health insurance industry or why aren't all the hedge fund managers in jail for fraud?

One last thing: I do think it's interesting that this attack came after President Obushma doubled down on the war in Afghanistan.

Just doesn't seem like the war on Iraq, the war in Afghanistan or the war in Yemen that neo-cons will undoubtedly be drooling for in the coming months is stemming the spread of radicals who want to set their penises on fire trying to bring down airplanes.

Maybe we should try something else?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Should Be Fun

Flying home from Christmas visiting today.

Anything happen over the holidays?

Oh, right:

A Nigerian man tried to ignite an explosive device aboard a trans-Atlantic Northwest Airlines flight as the plane prepared to land in Detroit on Friday, in an incident the United States believes was “an attempted act of terrorism,” according to a White House official who declined to be identified.

The device, described by officials as a mixture of powder and liquid, failed to fully detonate. Passengers on the plane described a series of pops that sounded like firecrackers.

Federal officials said the man wanted to bring the plane down.

“This was the real deal,” said Representative Peter T. King of New York, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, who was briefed on the incident and said something had gone wrong with the explosive device, which he described as somewhat sophisticated. “This could have been devastating,” Mr. King said.

I don't want to underplay this. but Peter King, the go-to Congressman for national security leaks when the press needs quotes, thinks everything is the "real deal."

My initial feelings about this "attempted terrorist attack" as the White House is calling it, is that it is fairly serious and more than a little scary, but once again, the so-called Al Qaeda terrorists seem to have more than a little Laurel and Hardy in them when they're trying their attacks.

Think shoe bomber Richard Reid trying to blow up his shoes with matches instead of a lighter (ironically, Reid tried his attack 8 years ago this week.)

While Peter King and other Repub Congressman are linking this incident to Al Qaeda, this could also be some disgruntled crazy guy acting alone.

I guess we'll learn more in the coming days.

But one thing I am sure about today - flying home post-Christmas is going to suck.

Rumor has it they've added proctology exams and stir-ups to the pre-flight security check.

Can't wait.

UPDATE: Fantastic - new flight restrictions, including you're no longer allowed to access carry-on baggage during the last hour of your flight or have personal items on your lap.

You know, none of this crap makes me feel safer. You know what would make me feel safer? An American foreign policy that didn't create enemies by the tens of thousands along with a country willing to invest in effective airport security technology that could detect the kinds of the things that can bring down planes and pay airport security screeners more than the minimum freaking wage.

But I guess that would be asking for too much.

So sir, can you please bend over, touch your toes and spread? We think you're hiding a bomb up there...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Goldman, Morgan Stanley Rob Clients, Make Huge Profits

The Times reports this morning that financial firms like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and others created mortgage-backed securities made up of bad debt, sold it to clients, and made huge profits while their clients lost billions on securities they were led to believe were solid investments.

The SEC is looking into the matter, especially to see if Goldman and the other firms purposely helped clients select securities that would lose money

But many of the financial wizards and hedge fund managers who made a killing on these toxic collateralized debt obligations are laughing all the way to the bank with their ill-gotten gains.

And of course the firms themselves are Masters of the Universe with so many of the others - like Lehman and Bear Sterns - out of the picture.

With cronies in both the Bush administration and now the Obama administration looking out for them, these predators and vultures at Goldman and Morgan and the other connected financial firms have gamed the system and turned the "free market" into one huge rigged casino - and its investors and the American taxpayer who continue to lose (the stock market had the worst decade ever from 1999-2009.)

But until people start to go to jail for this, nothing will change on Wall Street - the rigged casino will continue.

And now, as has been noted before on this blog and elsewhere, the very boys who created the rigged casino and have stolen billions want to turn their attention and efforts to public education.

And the Obama administration is cheering them on.

What more evidence do we need that taking Wall Street management style and business ethics and transferring them to any other area of life is a bad idea than the piss-poor record of the overall stock market this past decade and the financial collapse that was created by the financial geniuses on Wall Street to enrich themselves and bilk everybody else?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

House Dems Will Cave To Ben Nelson and Obama

Politico reports that House Democrats say they will not be steamrolled by the Senate on the health care reform proposal when it gets to committee negotiations.

Nonetheless, with Senator Ben Nelson, the 60th vote for the proposal in the Senate, saying he will vote against any reform bill that replaces the excise tax on employer-provided health care plans with a surtax on people making over a millionaire dollars a year and with even more Dems in the Senate saying they vote no if the public option winds up in the bill, it seems to me House Democrats have already been steamrolled.

House Dems do want to raise the "threshold" on the excise tax on employer-provided health care plans so that only really high end plans get hit with the tax. But the Obama administration wants the level to stay where the Senate put it because that offsets other costs in the reform proposal.

Wanna bet the House gives Obama and Ben Nelson what they want and caves on the excise tax on employer-provided health care plans?

Obama wants this done before January 20th so he can take a victory lap during the State of the Union address.

These negotiations are going to happen fast and Obama will get what he wants.

I maintain that if this "reform" is as big a giveaway to the insurance industry as it seems to be - and there are quite a few people who say this is going to exacerbate the problem with health care, raise costs for everybody and reinforce the power of the already powerful health insurance industry (see here, here, and here) -Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are going to be reviled for a long, long time.

As Arianna Huffington wrote, "as we approach the end of Obama's first year in office, this public subsidizing of private profit is becoming something of a habit" - and it's Obama and the Dem's doing all of it.

Democrats own these bailouts now, they own this 1% vs. 99% economy where the connected and the powerful get paid off and everybody else gets robbed, and when they take a drubbing in the next election, they are going to deserve it.

We need to stop the sell-outs.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The more I learn about the Senate health care proposal which Obama supports, the worse it seems.

As detailed here, the Obama administration wants to keep the excise tax on employer-provided health care plans as a way to control overall health care costs. The idea is, if your plan costs too much, you will be taxed 40 cents on every dollar your plan costs over $8,000. The cost will be so high that your employer will shift more costs to you or drop your coverage completely.

Rose Ann DeMoro, the Executive Director of the California Nurses Association, says this plan is a fraud devised by health insurance company lobbyists that will continue to allow the health insurance industry to gauge Americans:

Advocates of the current bill say it's most important feature is that it expands coverage to 30 million Americans. But their method for accomplishing what NNU Co-president Deborah Burger calls a "wishful statement" is an individual mandate forcing the uninsured to buy private insurance or be criminalized and subject to fines, in fact symbolizes the power of the insurance industry.

Individual mandate was the top priority of the insurance industry, which also succeeded in fending off meaningful restraints of its predatory pricing practices. The likely outcome is that far too many people will still face health care insecurity or medical bankruptcy due to ever rising out-of-pocket costs, or continue to skip needed medical care because of the high prices.

Indeed, discouraging provision of care as the preferred way to control costs, rather than rein in the pricing practices of the insurance and drug giants, is a central tenet of the insurance industry and conservative policy wonks.

That is also symbolized by the Senate bill's excise tax on comprehensive insurance, deceptively labeled as "Cadillac plans." In practice that tax will push employers to further reduce benefits for workers, and shift more costs to employees. Especially as more and more plans are subject to the tax every year due to the weak price controls on insurers in the legislation.


In exchange for lining up millions of new customers for the insurance giants, while failing to stop their price gouging or significantly cracking down on denials of claims they don't want to pay for, we're told that the legislation is historic for "ending" the worst industry abuses by banning exclusions of patients with pre-existing conditions and the shameful practice of dropping people when they become sick.

Yet both of those provisions are seriously marred by gaping loopholes for an industry which has perfected the art of adverse selection and gaming the system.

As the NNU has said in its statement on the bill, the loopholes include:

* Provisions permitting insurers and companies to more than double charges to employees who fail "wellness" programs because they have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol readings, or other medical conditions.

* Permitting insurers to sell policies "across state lines", exempting patient protections passed in other states. Insurers will thus set up in the least regulated states in a race to the bottom threatening public protections won by consumers in various states.

* Allowing insurers to charge four times more based on age plus more for certain conditions, and continue to use marketing techniques to cherry-pick healthier, less costly enrollees.

* Insurers may continue to rescind policies for "fraud or intentional misrepresentation" - the main pretext insurance companies now use to cancel coverage.

Does any of this sound like real reform? It sounds like a Christmas gift to the health insurance industry courtesy of President Obama and Senate Dems.

The House is going to go along with all of this because Ben Nelson and Holy Joe Lieberman say they'll bail if anything in the Senate bill is changed.

So basically millions of Americans with employer-provided health care plans are going to see their health care plans get worse while their costs increase, or their going to be dropped altogether from the plans, while those without health insurance now are going to be mandated to buy crappy insurance that has no public option competition to keep health insurance industry costs in check.

This is a sell-out, pure and simple. As Lawrence O'Donnell said on MSNBC this morning, this "reform" is going to give liberalism a bad name.

After all this stuff shakes out and people realize their health care has gotten worse but their costs have gotten higher, they are going to PUNISH Democrats for a long, long time in election after election.

And you know what? Democrats will deserve it.

And I am writing this as a person who has only voted for Democrats all my life.

If they pass this abomination and Obushma signs it, I am done with them.

Obama Wants Tax On Union Health Care Plans Over Millionaire Tax

The Senate's health care proposal that levies a 40% excise tax on so-called "Cadillac" employer-provided health care plans that exceed $8,000 a year in cost is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to hit 58 million people by 2019.

The House version of the bill levies a "millionaire's surplus tax" on people making over a million dollars.

Firedoglake reports that the Obama administration wants the excise tax on employer-provided health care plans rather than the surplus tax on millionaires:

• Excise tax: unions and progressive leaders are pushing strongly for the House’s version of financing, dropping the excise tax on high-end insurance plans that financed part of it and substituting it with a surtax on millionaires. Sen. Debbie Stabenow also noted today that the excise tax should be relaxed or eliminated. The White House has said that the excise tax is a major cost control component of reform, so they’ve staked some of the bill on it. In addition, Ben Nelson has objected to the House surtax on millionaires, saying “that would break” his promise to vote for the bill.

Slate says pretty much all employer-provided health care plans could qualify for the excise tax:

How do I know if my insurance plan is a "Cadillac plan"? Look at the cost. The finance committee defines high-cost or "Cadillac" as any plan with premiums higher than $8,000 for individuals or $21,000 for families. Keep in mind that these figures include everything you and your employer spend on health care except for the deductible: premiums for medical (the portions paid by you and by your employer), dental, and vision coverage, as well as any money you put into a flexible spending account, which allows you to set aside pretax money to cover medical costs. Since your pay stub may show only your personal contribution—not that of your employer—the best way to find out the total cost of your plan is to ask your human resources liaison. Many companies already list their employees' total premiums on their W-2 tax forms. The bill passed by the finance committee would make that mandatory.

What does a "Cadillac plan" offer? The top-of-the-line plans—say, the $40,000-a-year plan offered to Goldman Sachs CEOs—likely have no copayments, no deductibles, few limits on how much you can spend, and no need for prior authorization, i.e., to get special permission before you get treated.

But many not-so-fancy plans also qualify as "Cadillacs" under the finance committee's definition. That's because the term refers to total cost—not a particular set of benefits—and many factors—like the state you live in, the size of your company, and the makeup of that company's work force—can affect costs. Premiums tend to be significantly higher in Massachusetts than in Idaho, for example. (The employer/employee contribution also varies by state.) The smaller the business, the fewer employees who go into the pool, the less leverage the organization has to negotiate lower premiums. And if the workers have an average age of, say, 54, their premiums are going to be a lot higher than if the average is 25.

A lot of basic benefits packages, then, can still qualify as "Cadillacs." (The Senate finance committee has made exceptions for workers with high-risk jobs like firefighters, whose premiums tend to be high.) The Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that the tax would hit 14 percent of family health policies and 19 percent of individual policies in 2013, when the legislation would take effect. Those numbers would rise to 37 percent and 41 percent, respectively, by 2019, since premiums are expected to rise faster than inflation.

Those above figures are from the Joint Committee on Taxation; as noted earlier, the CBO estimates the excise tax will hit a much larger number of people by 2019 - 58 million.

So there you have it - Obama, the man who was elected with the help of union members and pledged to deliver change we could all believe in from the previous eight years of "Screw the Middle and Working Classes - Pay Off The Wealthy" has decided to tax middle and working class Americans rather than millionaires because he wants to say this health care "reform" plan that essentially forces 33 million people to buy private insurance and provide insurance companies with billions of extra revenue dollars is "revenue neutral."

I can't wait to deliver a message to this corporate shill in 2010 and 2012. Judging by how Dems and liberals are responding to polls these days about the president and the Democratic Party, I know I'm not the only one.

Moneybags Orders New Yorkers To Shop

Mayor Moneybags, fresh off purchasing a third mayoral term here in New York City for the mere price of $104 million dollars, issued an order to New Yorkers yesterday to "spend, spend spend!!!"

Moneybags was worried that this weekend's heavy snowfall would hurt Christmas season retail sales, which of course would hurt his buddies on Wall Street who want people to spend themselves into debt again this year after taking a year off from debting last Christmas season.

Of course people took a break from spending last Christmas season because they were experiencing the worst economic downturn since the depression, with over 700,000 people a month losing their jobs, records numbers of homeowners losing their homes to foreclosure, and record numbers of consumers defaulting on their credit cards.

But that was last year and this is this year and to the mayor's mind it's important for people to start spending more than they have once again so that Moneybags and his Wall Street pals can rake in tons of extra cash from bonuses and retail stock gains.

Never mind that Americans are still carrying records amounts of debt, never mind that the stock market is healthy again only because President Obushma and Helicopter Ben Bernanke have been printing money to hand out interest free to the banksters and financial institutions on Wall Street, never mind that the government is carrying records amount of debt because Obushma and Bernanke are printing money hand over fist to give to the banksters - Americans must do their patriotic duty and "spend, spend, spend!!!"

You would think people would have learned after near economic collapse last year that spending money you don't have, whether at the individual level, the corporate level or the government level, has negative consequences and running an entire economy on debt has REALLY negative consequences.

But I guess it will take a Mad Max kind of collapse before Moneybags and the rest of the banksters running our country in New York and Washington to learn that lesson.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Senate Health Care Bill Will Tax Union Health Care Plans

The Senate bill passed last night will raise taxes on union members with health care benefits. This includes UFT members.

Here's how SEIU describes what is in the Senate bill:

The tax would be paid beginning in 2013 on 40% of the amount by which a health plan's premiums exceeded a dollar cost. Currently, the Senate bill would begin taxing your health care benefits if they cost more than $8,500 for individual or $23,000 for family coverage in that year.



* Some for age and occupation:
For early retirees and certain "high-risk" occupations such as firefighters and law enforcement--the amounts are higher--$9,850 for individual and $26,000 for family coverage.

* Some for high-cost states:
For workers in the 17 highest cost states, there will be higher limits for the first 3 years. If you live in a high cost state, the amount in 2013 would be $10,200 for individual and $31,200 for family coverage.

has some good coverage on the excise tax on "cadillac health care plans." Jane Hamsher, quoting the CBO, says that by 2016 the excise tax will affect 19% of the people with employer-provided health care plans - that is roughly 30 million people. By 2019, the excise tax will affect 58 million American. You can be sure that will be every union member in America.

Now let me be very clear that what the Senate did last night was done with the approval of the president. The Obama administration supports this excise tax on union health care benefits. The administration does NOT want to raise income taxes on the wealthiest 1% in the nation to pay for the health care giveaway to the insurance companies, instead it wants to fund the giveaway on the backs of middle and working class Americans with union health care benefit plans.

We should be outraged by this betrayal from President Obama - this is the kind of attack we should expect from Republicans, not self-proclaimed "progressive Democrats."

The House bill does not have the excise tax proposal in it. The House and Senate bills still have to be worked in committee before the final bill is written. There is still time to kill this proposal.

Call your senator, call your congressman, call President Obama in the White House and explain to them that if they raise taxes on union members with health care plans, you will NOT vote for them for re-election and will work to make sure that many other working and middle class Americans do NOT vote for them as well.

Obama is a sell-out and shill for corporate America. He has bailed out Wall Street for the past year with trillions of tax dollars, the Senate, with his approval, has given the health insurance companies their bailout this week with this horrible health care proposal, and next year, the education privatization companies will get theirs when NCLB re-authorization gets done.

And it is middle and working class Americans who are bearing the brunt of this president's bailout policies.

Teachers especially are under assault from this president. Not only does he not think you are deserving of respect or deserving of tenure, he thinks you do not deserve your health care benefits either, not without paying a tax on them to fund his health insurance company bailout plan.

So call your senators, call your congressman, call the White House and let them know you're staying home in 2010 and 2012 if this thing passes with the excise tax on union health care plans in it.

Stop the sell-out.

Everybody Loses Except For The Banksters and Hedge Funders

The Wall Street Journal says the 2000's have been the worst decade for stock performance in America ever.

The article is behind a pay wall, but I'm posting it here in it's entirety so you don't have to give Rupert Murdoch any money for it:

The U.S. stock market is wrapping up what is likely to be its worst decade ever.

In nearly 200 years of recorded stock-market history, no calendar decade has seen such a dismal performance as the 2000s.

Investors would have been better off investing in pretty much anything else, from bonds to gold or even just stuffing money under a mattress. Since the end of 1999, stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange have lost an average of 0.5% a year thanks to the twin bear markets this decade.

The period has provided a lesson for ordinary Americans who used stocks as their primary way of saving for retirement.

Many investors were lured to the stock market by the bull market that began in the early 1980s and gained force through the 1990s. But coming out of the 1990s, the best calendar decade in history with a 17.6% average annual gain, stocks simply had gotten too expensive. Companies also pared dividends, cutting into investor returns. And in a time of financial panic like 2008, stocks were a terrible place to invest.

With two weeks to go in 2009, the declines since the end of 1999 make the last 10 years the worst calendar decade for stocks going back to the 1820s, when reliable stock market records begin, according to data compiled by Yale University finance professor William Goetzmann. He estimates it would take a 3.6% rise between now and year end for the decade to come in better than the 0.2% decline suffered by stocks during the Depression years of the 1930s.

The past decade also well underperformed other decades with major financial panics, such as in 1907 and 1893.

"The last 10 years have been a nightmare, really poor," for U.S. stocks, said Michele Gambera, chief economist at Ibbotson Associates.

While the overall market trend has been a steady march upward, the last decade is a reminder that stocks can decline over long periods of time, he said.

"It's not frequent, but it can happen," Mr. Gambera said.

To some degree these statistics are a quirk of the calendar, based on when the 10-year period starts and finishes. The 10-year periods ending in 1937 and 1938 were worse than the most recent calendar decade because they capture the full effect of stocks hitting their peak in 1929 and the October crash of that year.

From 2000 through November 2009, investors would have been far better off owning bonds, which posted gains ranging from 5.6% to more than 8% depending on the sector, according to Ibbotson. Gold was the best-performing asset, up 15% a year this decade after losing 3% each year during the 1990s.

This past decade looks even worse when the impact of inflation is considered.

Since the end of 1999, the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index has lost an average of 3.3% a year on an inflation-adjusted basis, compared with a 1.8% average annual gain during the 1930s when deflation afflicted the economy, according to data compiled by Charles Jones, finance professor at North Carolina State University. His data use dividend estimates for 2009 and the consumer price index for the 12 months through November.

Even the 1970s, when a bear market was coupled with inflation, wasn't as bad as the most recent period. The S&P 500 lost 1.4% after inflation during that decade.

That is especially disappointing news for investors, considering that a key goal of investing in stocks is to increase money faster than inflation.

"This decade is the big loser," said Mr. Jones.

For investors counting on stocks for retirement plans, the most recent decade means many have fallen behind retirement goals. Many financial plans assume a 10% annual return for stocks over the long term, but over the last 20 years, the S&P 500 is registering 8.2% annual gains.

Should stocks average 10% a year for the next decade, that would lift the 30-year average return to only 8.8%, said North Carolina State's Mr. Jones. It is even worse news for those who started investing in 2000; a 10% return a year would get them up to only 4.4% a year.

There were ways to make money in U.S. stocks during the last decade. But the returns paled in comparison with those posted in the 1990s.

Of the 30 stocks today that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Average, only 13 are up since the end of 1999, and just two, Caterpillar Inc. and United Technologies Corp., doubled over the 10-year span.

So what went wrong for the U.S. stock market?

For starters, it turned out that the old rules of valuation matter.

"We came into this decade horribly overpriced," said Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of money managers GMO LLC.

In late 1999, the stocks in the S&P 500 were trading at about an all-time high of 44 times earnings, based on Yale professor Robert Shiller's measure, which tracks prices compared with 10-year earnings and adjusts for inflation. That compares with a long-run average of about 16.

Buying at those kinds of values, "you'd better believe you're going to get dismal returns for a considerable chunk of time," said Mr. Grantham, whose firm predicted 10 years ago that the S&P 500 likely would lose nearly 2% a year in the 10 years through 2009.

Despite the woeful returns this decade, stocks today aren't a steal. The S&P is trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of about 20 on Mr. Shiller's measure.

Mr. Grantham thinks U.S. large-cap stocks are about 30% overpriced, which means returns should be about 30% less than their long-term average for the next seven years. That means returns of just 1.6% a year before adding in inflation.

Another hurdle for the stock market has been the decline in dividends that began in the late 1980s.

Over the long term, dividends have played an important role in helping stocks achieve a 9.5% average annual return since 1926. But since that year, the average yield on S&P 500 stocks was roughly 4%. This decade it has averaged about 1.8%, said North Carolina State's Mr. Jones.

That difference "doesn't sound like much," said Mr. Jones, "but you've got to make it up through price appreciation." Unless dividends rise back toward their long-term averages, Mr. Jones thinks investors may need to lower expectations. Rather than the nearly 10% a year that has been the historical average, stocks may be good for only about 7%.

In addition, Calculated Risk notes that we have fewer payroll jobs in 2009 than there were in 1999.

Fewer jobs, high unemployment, dismal stock market performance - gee, heckuva decade!

But of course somebody made money during the past 10 years...I wonder who that could be?

Oh, yeah - the connected people and institutions on Wall Street who gambled with their investments, then got bailed out by the government and gambled with taxpayer money.

Those guys did just fine.

And of course now they want to bring the magic they've brought to the American economy to the American public education system.

Imagine what that's going to look like in 10 years.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

No Raises For You!!!

Today the Daily News hammers Uncle Joel Klein for cutting the 4% pay raises that Mayor Bloomberg gave to city managers this year to 2% for NYCDOE educrats.

The News says that, given the current state of city finances and the money Bloomberg ordered schools to cut from their budgets, Klein should have made the raises 0%.

They note that UFT head Michael Mulgrew defended Klein because UFT members are hoping for 4% raises as well, so I'm sure that if teachers get even a 1% increase (and of course that will only come with givebacks to the city on ATR's and tenure), they'll be hammering us too.

I understand that times are very tough, believe me. But I also understand that people deserve salary increases and 2% is not a "huge raise," no matter what Mort Zuckerman or his minions at the Daily News editorial board think.

Over the last 12 months, the consumer price index is up 1.8%, which means people need to pay more for the stuff they need to buy, like food and rent and gas and medicine. A 2% raise, minus the 1.8% increase in prices, leaves DOE educrats with .02% when all is said and done. That's not even a raise, let alone a "huge raise."

And the rationale that city and state finances are bad so no raises for anybody working for either government is jive too.

The Daily News and the Post have been hemorrhaging readers and losing millions of dollars for years now.

The Daily News used to be profitable but has struggled recently while the New York Post has never turned a profit under Rupert Murdoch. Times have been so tough that last year the Post and News talked about combining some business operations to save money (though that never came to pass.)

Yet I never see editorials in either paper decrying the amount of money the journalists at those papers make, or the editors for that matter.

And I bet neither the journalists nor the editors offer to give back salary increases when they get them, despite the shitty financial standing of both papers and newspaper journalism in general.

So while I completely understand the incongruity of DOE educrats getting a raise when principals are being forced to cut their budgets, I also understand that the journalists and editorial staffs at the cash-challenged News and Post are, until they take pay cuts to help their papers survive in these challenging times, full of shit.

Friday, December 18, 2009


It's supposed to snow tomorrow.

Earlier in the week, the man on my TV told me to expect about an inch of snow.

Tonight he says 6-10.

It will be all done by Sunday afternoon, so there's no chance of a snow day in the New York City public school system on Monday.

But you can be sure that even if it snowed until 10 AM Monday morning and there were 36 inches of white powder blanketing New York City with drifts so high they were up to Mayor Moneybags beady, bloodshot eyes, Chancellor Klein would wait until the last second possible to close New York City schools - like 6:30 AM after thousands of teachers were already on their way to work.

And of course he'd make that call from a comfy chair in front of his fireplace in his Park Avenue duplex apartment while sipping cocoa and watching his favorite hedge fund managers/education reformers on CNBC's morning show.

Cuz' that's the kind of guy Uncle Joel is.

Mr Kotter

Minyanville says if Mr. Kotter from 70's sitcom Welcome Back Kotter were alive and teaching in New York today, he'd be at a charter school.

Of course, Minyanville is run by a bunch of hedge fund managers, so of course they think he'd be teaching at charter school if he were, you know, a real person and not a sitcom character from the 70's.

But what the hedge funders at Minyanville fail to realize is that the burn rate at charter schools is so high that even if Mr. Kotter were stupid enough to have quit his DOE teaching position to go work for Mistress Eva's charter network, he'd be so burnt out from the 65 hour/6 day work weeks that he would have long ago retired.

I guess then they'd be bitching about his generous retirement benefits and pension and wondering why he wasn't working himself right to the grave.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

If Obama Were A NYC School, He'd Be On The Closure List

President Accountability appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to award himself a B+ for his first year in office.

Sorry, but I beg to differ.

First, let's note that Accountability's signature domestic policy, health care reform, is heading for ignominious defeat. Most people hate the reform proposals (tonight's NBC News/WSJ poll has 32% favoring Obama's reform measures and 47% opposing them) and liberals and progressives in particular think the wishy-washy president caved to moderates and conservatives to create a health care reform proposal that is simply awful. It forces those without health insurance to buy insurance, but doesn't provide any mechanism like a public option or Medicare buy-in to help keep costs down for them. So essentially health care reform garners 33 billion more customers for the health insurance industry, but does little to hold down costs. Maybe the worst thing that could happen for Dems is if this thing does pass. The only thing worse than doing nothing is passing a bad bill that people hate.

Next, let's look at the economy Obama thinks he's turned around. Unemployment remains at 10%, long term unemployment is even worse, the national debt has skyrocketed, and Obama's stimulus package has done too little to add the necessary number of jobs per month to turn things around. Foreclosures continue to rise and are not expected to peak until 2011 and again, Obama's foreclosure plan has been a dismal failure. On the financial front, it's true the punch bowl is back for the boys on Wall Street and the financial markets are doing quite well. But Wall Street is taking Main Street to the cleaners and Obama is helping them to do it. Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture describes the latest Wall Street/Obama administration outrage:

The ongoing transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top 1% continues unabated.

The Treasury Department, via the IRS, has made a terrible deal with Citigroup for TARP repayment: They repay $20 billion in TARP money, and in exchange we give them $38 billion in tax abatements.


The looting of the Treasury, begun in panic under George W. Bush, continues in ignorance under Barack W. Obama.

As Matt Tiabbi wrote in the latest Rolling Stone
, Obama has done everything in his power to make sure the boys on Wall Street have been able to enrich themselves at the public trough while failing to get any meaningful reform passed. He didn't campaign on these Wall Street-friendly policies, but he certainly has governed this way:

What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.

How could Obama let this happen? Is he just a rookie in the political big leagues, hoodwinked by Beltway old-timers? Or is the vacillating, ineffectual servant of banking interests we've been seeing on TV this fall who Obama really is?

Now maybe Obama thinks he deserves a B+ for 10% unemployment, a record debt, trillion dollar bailouts to Wall Street without any meaningful reform in exchange, and a health care reform measure that only a health care industry executive could love, but I have to tell you, if he were a school under Arne Duncan's command, he'd be slated for "turnaround" via closure, not the merit pay President Accountability seems to think he deserves.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bringing Financial Industry Innovation To Public Education

So many education "reformers" these days come straight from the financial world - billionaire media tycoons like Mayor Moneybags, billionaire monopolists like Bill Gates, billionaire philanthropists like Eli Broad, and all those hedge fund managers/education reformers we met in last week's Style section of the Times.

They like to talk about how important it is we bring MBA management techniques, business innovation, deregulation and of course competition to public education.

You see, collaboration is Communist and the old way of managing schools is so 19th century and what we need to do is bring some of that brash thinking and knack for innovation the boys in finance have brought to the financial markets and the banks.

It sounds great, of course, until you realize that the brash thinking and knack for innovation the boys in finance have brought to the financial markets and the banks also brought us the Tech Bubble, the Enron scandal, the Housing Bubble, the 2008 financial collapse, the bailouts, and crooks like Bernie Madoff.

I'm a public school educator, so I know I'm suspect when I make snide and probably Marxist remarks about the disasters the financial geniuses have caused in the past twenty years.

But what about when Paul Volker, former head of the Federal Reserve and the man widely credited with bringing the U.S. out of the 70's/80's stagflation mess, says it:

Speaking at the Wall Street Journal's Future of Finance Initiative yesterday, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker looked to finance's recent past and saw little to like, noting that he has yet to see any evidence that financial market innovations have provided any benefit to the economy.

Apparently, Volcker thinks the industry reached a peak when it invented the ATM and, given what's happened over the last year or two, it's hard to disagree with that view.

Yeah, the list of innovations emanating from the financial industry that Volker likes has one item on it - the ATM machine.

All the other innovations he says not only did not provide any benefit to the economy, they "took us right to the brink of disaster."

If the best thinking of the MBA class and the financial industry types brought us the Tech Bubble, the Enron scandal, the Housing Bubble, the 2008 financial collapse, the bailouts, Bernie Madoff, and "right to the brink of disaster," maybe, just maybe, we want to take the innovations they offer for public education with a healthy shaker of salt too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To The Woodshed

Mayor Moneybags overturned the will of the people in New York City when he arranged to have the City Council dismantle term limits so that he and some of his fellow cronies could run for third terms.

In order to win that third term, Moneybags had to spend $104 million dollars against his opponent, the anemic and woeful Bill Thompson.

Even after spending $104 million dollars and blanketing the city with paper and media ads touting his leadership and charm, Moneybags still only won re-election to a third term by 51,000 votes.

Of course he called that slim election victory a "mandate" and began dictating new policy initaitves as if it is a foregone conclusion that his will is the people's will.

Turns out that's not the case, however.

The City Council voted down a Bloomberg initiative to turn an armory in the Bronx into a retail mall.

The vote was, hold your breath, 45-1 - with one abstention.

That's right, the City Council, led by Bloomberg pom-pom girl Christine Quinn, handed Moneybags a 45-1 defeat on a real estate initiative.

That's never happened before, not in the Quinn era at any rate, where what Moneybags wants from the City Council on real estate, Moneybags gets.

But not today, not anymore.

Moneybags says he'll veto the City Council decision but Quinn says she has the two-thirds majority to override him.

The message from that vote is clear.

Moneybags is a wounded lame duck mayor.

He struts like he's LBJ in December, 1964.

But let us remember, he's Mayor $104 million/51,000 votes.

He can be taken to the woodshed and beaten.

Let's take him to the woodshed on the school closures.

Schools closures are a different issue than real estate, of course, and the PEP board that will hold the hearings on the closures is a rubber stamp for Moneybags.

But let's at least make a lot of noise so that the citizens of this city start to notice that Moneybags has no education plan other than to keep closing things down and hope people mistake reckless activity for meaningful action.

Joel Klein: Mobbed Up? So What!!!

The NY Daily News reported yesterday that Chancellor Joel Klein plans to award a $206 million dollar contract to a school bus company run by a Mafia associate who turned Sammy the Bull on his mob associates and admitted that he had been involved in "multiple crimes" including bribing city safety inspectors and city officials in charge of handing out bus routes.

Klein has decided to give Logan Bus Company, which currently has 25% of city bus routes, an extension to its current contract without seeking bids from other companies despite owner Michael Tornabe admitting to organized crime activity.

The Education Department defended the no-bid contract with the mobbed up company by saying it is "still the best deal for the city."

The inspectors who took the bribes from several bus companies, including Logan Bus Company, were convicted of corruption charges and sentenced to prison.

But the company that offered the bribes?

They've been rewarded with a $206 million dollar contract.

Makes you wonder who the Logan Bus Company is still bribing in the Education Department.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pretty Please With TARP Funds On Top

Larry Summers, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council and President Obama's top economic adviser, appeared on ABC's This Week to explain how the administration plans to get banks lending money again.

They're going to beg them by saying "Please lend money, please, please, please!!!!"

Mr. Summers, Secretary of the Treasury at the end of the Clinton administration, said that “it doesn’t cost anything to encourage banks, as the president will be doing, to meet their responsibilities and expand the flow of credit to small business.” He said the president will remind the bankers of what the federal government did to bail out banks when they were in trouble, “that no major bank would be intact, would be in a position to pay bonuses, if that extraordinary support had not been provided.”

The president, he said, “will be talking with them about what they can do to support enhanced lending to customers across the country.”

”We were there for them and the banks need to do everything they can to be sure they’re there for customers across this country,” he said.

Seriously - that's the plan. We were there for you banksters, now you better be there for us by opening up the coffers and lending to consumers and small businesses again.

Gee, that should work.

Never mind that this administration has done everything in it's power to make sure that the banksters (those politically connected ones, at any rate) got 100 cents to the dollar "owed" to them by AIG, that they have bent over backwards to keep Ben Bernanke printing the money presses at the Federal Reserve night and day to provide liquidity for the big banks, that they have kept "Too Big To Fail" institutions like Citigroup and Bank of America and AIG on life support after they speculated on high risk investments, the best they can do to get banks lending again is to beg them.

No wonder the financial institution people treat Obama with contempt and scorn. If that's the best he can do to them after near financial collapse and trillion dollar bailouts last year, then he deserves to be treated with contempt and scorn.

Now compare how Obama and his merry men treat incompetent banksters and failed financial institutions with how they treat schools they declare "failing" and teachers they say are "bad."

What we hear from President Accountability and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is that failing schools need to be closed, never mind that the causes behind these supposed "failures" may have nothing to do with how good the teachers and administrators in those schools are but stem from larger socio-economic problems like entrenched generational poverty and family dysfunctions like alcoholism and addiction or more mundane problems like large class sizes and few resources.

We also hear from Obama and Duncan how bad teachers need to be fired, never mind that these teachers may have been doing just fine a few years ago before their schools were handed hundreds of "at risk" students with low test scores and troubling graduation rates from other schools that have been closed.

I guess Obama and company suffer from the same fetish so many in America suffer from - that is, the businessman fetish. No matter what happens, the businessman must always be listened to, the businessman always knows best, because he's a, you know, businessman.

Years ago, I used to listen to WFAN, the all-talk radio station, and at least a dozen times a day some know-nothing loud mouth from Jersey or Queens would call to say this is what the Yankees or Mets need to do with the line-up or the pitching staff or whatever. And when the host would say, "What you're saying is stupid and idiotic and makes no practical sense," the callers would say "Hey, I know what I'm talking about. I'm a businessman who runs a __________ business and what works in my place will work for the Yankees. What do you know, you're just a radio DJ!!! I'm a businessman!!!!"

So now some of these same idiots who call sports radio to offer their "business expertise" to their favorite teams are now telling professional educators with actual experience with actual students (usually about 340 a year) in an actual classroom how to educate children. And the rest of us, rather than pointing out the dismal record of business and businessmen in general the past 15 years (think Tech Bubble, think Enron, think Housing Bubble, think 2008 financial collapse, think Bernie Madoff) and noting how they ought to clean up their own messes before creating more of them in other areas of the public sphere, allow these know-nothing loud mouths and their allies in government and the press to call public education "failed."

And of course so much of it starts at the top, where President Accountability lectures teachers about what a bad job they're doing while he rewards the failed financial institutions and the incompetent and/or corrupt banksters who run them by handing them trillions and then begging them to lend some of it out.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Call To Arms

Last Sunday the NY Times ran an article in the fashion and style section, of all places, about the sexy new charter schools hedge fund managers are running courtesy of the education deform movement.

In the article we got to meet all kinds of hedge funders like John Petry, Joel Greenblatt and John Sabat and hear about how they have gotten "religion" and decided to embrace the charter school movement and help NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg privatize as many New York public schools as they can.

The Times says these self-described business mavericks and financial innovators, the same fellows who helped bring us wonderful and innovative financial products like collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps that caused near financial systemic collapse last year, love the idea of bringing their MBA business ethics and management ideas to education.

By starting schools with non-unionized employees and adding long hours, extended school years and six day school weeks, these hedge fund managers are bringing a little bit of the 19th century to the 21st century, acting out their robber baron fantasies and getting acclaim in the corporate media for acting charitably to help educate kids. And the kicker is they get to do it with taxpayer-provided money and contributions they deduct off their own taxes come April 15th.

Gee, no wonder these guys like associating themselves with the charter school/privatization movement so much.

John Petry, a partner in Gotham Capital and a backer of the Harlem Success Academy, says he loves crunching numbers and reading spreadsheets of education statistics containing things like test scores, graduation rates, and teacher performance ratios. What he wants to see in his schools is what he want to see in his stock portfolios - increases every quarter in every area of data he looks at.

But Petry isn't interested in helping individuals (“helping the world one person at a time just isn’t for me," he told the Times), so if the charter school/privatization movement that he is helping build in New York City cannot be replicated in other cities, then "it’s not as meaningful to us."

Luckily for Petry and other education "reformers" like him, he's got plenty of people in the Obama administration who agree, so much so that in order to receive federal education funds as part of the Race to the Top portion of last year's stimulus package, states have to agree to lift caps on charter schools.

And also lucky for Petry he's got plenty of people in the press to carry water for charters. You might say that between the financial power the public school privatization movement has backing it, the allies it has in government to change laws to favor it and the jive talkers in the press it has to spread its propaganda, there is nothing we who are in favor of traditional public schools can do to stop it.

But one thing I did take from the article is this - unlike the actual educators in actual schools who do the actual teaching of actual students, these guys from the hedge funds aren't particularly interesting in individuals. As Petry told the Times, he doesn't give a shit about helping one person; it's got to be a movement or he's moving on.

So, as we do battle with the hedge fund managers and public school privatizers, let us keep in mind that while the charter school movement is sexy and "in" for them now, they will abandon it if and when they meet some strong and persistent resistance to replicating it nationwide or it becomes clear it's not as successful as they want it to be. These are not people with long attention spans and they've already told us they're mostly involved for the notoriety and attention, not for actually helping people. It's true that the privatization movement does advance their anti-union/pro-management agenda, but there are other ways for them to accomplish that agenda besides sitting on the boards of charter schools.

So if you're committed to the preservation of directly democratically controlled schools responsible for the future of every child within their jurisdiction, as Deborah Meier put it at Bridging Differences, we've got to stick together, fight them at every turn, expose their hypocrisies, and continue to reveal their phonied data that supposedly proves the pre-eminence of charters (like Little Gloria Vanderbilt's kid's 60 Minutes piece that "proved" the Harlem Children's Zone had bridged the test score gap between black and Latino students and white and Asian students when Aaron Pallas of Teacher's College showed that it proved no such thing.)

This won't be easy. Not when you're doing battle with Mayor Moneybags, President Obama, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and scores of wealthy Bernie Madoff-types (I love the the "Voldemort" big industry star in the Times article who no one will name because he is, like so many others in the shady hedge fund business, obsessed with "secrecy') and the charter movement is grabbing the most motivated students, the best buildings, and the most resources it can from traditional public schools.

But we've got to do it. And maybe, just maybe, we can send the Voldemorts from the hedge fund industry on to other predatory opportunities and get back to the business of educating future voting citizens of this country and not the compliant corporate employees willing to work long hours for low wages the privatizers want us to create.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Just When I Thought I Was Out, They Pull Me Back In

I started blogging at back in March 2005.

Initially I started as an education blogger, but quickly turned into a political blogger outraged by the various high crimes and misdemeanors perpetrated upon the country and the world by George Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Tom Delay and the rest of the Republican Party establishment.

In 2007 I started to blog more and more about economics as it became apparent that the bubble economy created and maintained by both the Clinton and Bush administrations was about to collapse around the nation's ears.

I quit regular posts at reality-basededucator in December 2007. I became a full-time contributing blogger to for a while, but gradually blogged less and less. When the demise of the Bush administration and the rise of the "progressive" Democrats brought no real change to so many issues that are important to me - from the various wars we are currently fighting overseas to the closure of Gitmo to the extension of Big Brother's powers via the laws created in the wake of the WoT to civil rights for GLBT citizens of this country to fair work/fair wages for the working and middle classes to the continued extension of standardized-test based mandates to the privatization of the public school system to the trillion dollar welfare hand-outs both Bush and Obama have given the financial sector and Wall Street - I was disgusted and done with trying to effect even a small amount of change via my little blogposts.

But some things have happened in the past few months that have me feeling re-energized and re-outraged and ready to blog regularly again.

First, it became clear that the Obama administration, far from being a "change agent" that would usher in even a moderate amount of liberal reform to a country that has become owned and operated solely by and for corporate interests, is squarely interested in helping maintain the status quo (reign for Wall Street, pain for Main Street.) The financial bailout policy Obama has pursued has me outraged beyond belief - Nailin' Paylin and the other tea party people can call him a socialist all they want, it is clear that Mr. Obama is a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporatocracy (see Matt Taibbi's article in Rolling Stone for just the latest example of that) who is doing all he can to extend the power of multi-national corporations while further enslaving working and middle class people to working longer and harder to make less and less.

Next, Mayor Moneybags bought himself a $104 million third term here in New York City so that he could continue to destroy the NYC public school system. His reform movement consists of closing down every large high school in the city, firing all the unionized teachers and reopening charter and small schools in the same buildings that used to house some good schools destroyed by his administration's policy of shifting "at-risk" students to large schools without the necessary resources to educate them (see here for just one example of that.) Bloomberg and Klein have announced 22 schools closings this year and they intend to close 100 or more schools in the next four years (unless Bloomberg decides to overthrow the will of the people once again and runs for a fourth term or simply dispenses with the niceties of democracy itself and forms a military junta under the auspices of martial law - in which case he'll close ALL public schools.)

Finally, the Obama administration has decided that not only is No Child Left Behind the greatest education policy ever, they want to expand the testing mechanisms in the law by tying teacher pay and teacher's jobs to test scores. On top of that, they want to take Mayor Bloomberg's "Close All Public Schools and Reopen Them as Charter Schools Run by Hedge Fund Managers" policy nationwide through both the Race to the Top funds and the NCLB reauthorization next year. They have decided that public education needs to be privatized, because the boys on Wall Street need another punch bowl after the TARP/TALF bailouts, the Internet bubble, the housing bubble and all the rest of the government policies that have enabled Wall Street and top 1% to grab trillions at the expense of the working and middle classes of this country.

And so, just when I thought I was out of this lousy Internet shit, they've dragged me back in - Obama and Bloomberg and Klein and Duncan and Larry Summers and Treasury Timmeh Geithner and David Paterson and their allies in the press like Little Morty Zuckerman and Rupert Murdoch and GE Jack Welch and the rest.

My friend Norm at Education Notes Online has been asking me to get back on the front lines and fight the good fight against the corporate whores and multi-national lords in the great class war of the 21st century.

All right, Norm, I'm back, I'm mad as hell, and I'm ready to do battle at the barricades.